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Social Knowledge and Representation

Photographer Gregory Halpern takes a studio approach to documentary photography. Similar to Phillippe Halsman, Halperns photos do not appear to be "documentary in nature" because they are set up. However, Halpern is not choosing to document a particular scene that requires a natural background, rather documenting sexuality and gender expression.


Doxa is a Greek word meaning belief, opinion, and the way things seem to be. It is based off of a social knowledge acquired through lived and shared experiences. In an age where fragile masculinity is increasingly under scrutiny, many people find themselves liberated and able to do and wear things I'd never been able to before. Gender identity has been simplified and henceforth complexified by a social knowledge of binaries that marginalizes anything and anyone that doesn’t lie on an extreme side of the feminine/masculine spectrum. Halsman challenges this social knowledge by providing us with images in which you see masculinity such as hair legs and femininity such as a pink and grey dress all on the same subject.


We live in a world where our social knowledge assumes a binary. This means, we see gender as a strict division between man and woman. Anything that isn’t strictly on one side of the binary is considered queer or abnormal. Additionally, our social knowledge contributes to our societies compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity. This means we are born into a world that assumes the standard way to exist is as a heterosexual man or woman. If you are not strictly heterosexual, again, you are queer or abnormal. Here Halsman challenges our typical assumption of what a relationship should look like by documenting what appears to be an intimate girl on girl relationship. However, he does not fetishize them as the media often does whenever depicting two girls. He simple photographs them as they are. The low angle of the shot gives them power. In a way, their poses reinforce gender roles of the dominate man (sitting on stool) and feminine woman (in a demoted, lower down position) but empowers both of them by allowing them both to appear feminine in they way they dress. Structurally you see gender roles but phenotypically you see balance. This counters the narrative of the common question in lesbian relationships: "who wears the pants?"


Rhetoric, the set of words we have to describe our reality, and the way in which we represent our reality all strictly contribute to what is accepted into our way of thinking and living. In conjunction, when rhetoric shapes what we include into our reality, it inevitably shapes what we choose to excluded. For example, when you grow up watching Disney, you know that the princess is supposed to wait for a prince. Therefore the option of two princesses or two princes is never considered to be a possibility in a child's reality. Everything we watch and absorb throughout our lives works in similar ways. We only accept the realities that have been previously presented to us, therefore, the media only represents things they wish for society to deem as a possible reality. Our media tends to depict black people as violent and cruel towards the world in which we live and also our own people. The myth of black on black crime has plagued our news. The framing of the violence occurred in minority neighborhoods leads you to believe that black people commit crime against their own people disproportionately more than white people do when this is not the case. In this image, Halsman documents black love and black beauty as a means of countering the typical narrative that circulates amongst our American society.

"Being photographed gives me a view of myself from a different perspective. That allows me to see myself for who I truly am, in full form. Not just how I feel about who I am"
-Gregory Halsman
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