Understanding photography as dialogue goes beyond the broad postmodern critique of representation to examine more closely the power and the voice in specific communication practices: who is visible, who speaks and what forms participation in dialogue? Images have a discursive agency; They work “in an imperceptible but powerful way” to frame the conditions of possibility in which politics takes place (Bleiker 2018). Many of the projects presented explore how photography as [or as a catalyst for] dialogue can alter dominant hierarchies and stories.
However, we are wary of what might be called “dialogic determinism” (Kester 1999) and the tension of romanticism that has come to characterize the rhetorical claims about photography’s ability to give voice and enable participation and collaboration. We do not assume that dialogic photography can in itself overcome systemic power differences or that it can radically transform social relationships. Dialogic exchanges can be as limited and superficial as they are transformative and emancipatory. They can rule out. They can be limited and co-opted. They involve tension, denial and inequity. But they can also emphasize what is common.
The projects that appear in this issue are all produced in collaboration or collectively. Photography is understood as a series of shared, applied and unfinished processes that allow us to think, feel and exchange as much as we see. Images reveal themselves as unstable spaces in which meanings are sought and negotiated rather than given. Collaborators make visible some of the ways in which photographic reports make dialogue possible, both alone and for artistic, social, political and educational purposes. They blur the typical focus on the photographer and instead consider the network of relationships that is activated through photographic acts.
The issue considers the dialogues between individuals and communities in several ways: between artists; among young people in divided communities; between different generations; between those who cannot see and those who can; between researchers and photographic subjects. Attention focuses on the character of the dialogic exchange, on its meanings and effects at specific moments and moments (Kester 1999).
The frame of photography as a dialogue is evoked to create connections between scattered examples in which communities, researchers and artists use photography to carve out and open spaces for conversation. Valuing dialogue means evaluating the space between people not as a sign of disconnection but as a potential for exchange, for movement in feelings, position or understanding, no matter how small. This intermediate space is where photographs find potential, as moments of connection, which open up stories, interpretations and futures. Photographs, whether digital files on screen or physical prints, can be touched, felt, manipulated, reflected and, most importantly, moved. They provide focus and can create a distance between the subject and the image that can open up a reflective space where dialogue thrives.