Martha Rosler: “The Bowery In Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems”

Martha Rosler’s “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems offers a critique of systems of representation. She suggests that the representation of the poor and marginalised is frequently categorised by “victim photography”, and that the images and language used are both simplistic and reductionist. The “inadequacy” of the title mirrors the inability of the photographs and text to account for the complexities of the subject, i.e. the Bowery, as a sphere of New York’s urban life.

In discussing her work, she offers this solution.”…my subject is the representation of people who live in these settings. Let’s look at the setting and leave the viewer to reimagine the people within. I realized that I could do this by incorporating language, and the poetics of drunkenness. It turns out that there are more words for “drunk” than for anything else in the English language. It’s got a tremendous lexicon of thousands of words. So there’s a way in which the poverty of representation that I was dealing with in the photography almost is undermined by the richness and the humor of the speech that I put back in”.

The Bowery In Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems 1974-75. (c) Martha Rosler.

The Bowery In Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems 1974-75. (c) Martha Rosler.

I’m not so sure, given my day job, that Rosler’s representation of poverty is any less reductionist than those she seeks to impugn. Try this link to select descriptors of your choosing for the photograph below. I may return to this theme…

Untitled. (c) John Callaway 2009

Untitled. (c) John Callaway 2009

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2 responses to “Martha Rosler: “The Bowery In Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems”

  • Julie Cook

    Mathas work could also be used in your discussion of semiotics. Is this the sort of work you like?

    It would be good to see some more examples and why.

    If its the juxtaposition of text and images how about Barbara Kruger? Could lead you into a discussion on feminism….

  • johnnyc1959

    Not sure “like” is the word, although I do find myself drawn to this type of image. I guess it offers a mirror to my day job, and although you don’t need to put your hand in a fire to know that it burns, it’s sometimes interesting to get a view from “without” so to speak.

    I’m trying to link some of my later posts to earlier ones. (Hence the link back to semiotics in my next post “Making The Invisible Visible”). You should see from this that I’m beginning to engage with the feminist perspective

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