Last week, I spoke over skype with Ernesto Bazan from his home in Veracruz, Mexico, about his new book, ISLA, and about his life. Bazan’s work often flies under the radar in the world of online photography. His CV has some information, and this interview with American Suburb X has more. Bazan was asked to join Magnum Photos at the age of 23 in 1982, but left a few years later. Born in Italy, he was based in New York for a number of years but moved to Cuba in 1995, where he lived until 2006, when he was forced to leave the island. He has released two previous books on Cuba: Bazan Cuba (on amazon), a collection of black and white 35mm images, and Al Campo, a collection of color 35mm images. His new book, ISLA (←pdf teaser), completes the trilogy with black and white panoramics. He quit assignment work around 2002 and now funds his work now primarily through self-produced, intimate shooting workshops in a handful of locations around the world. The books have all been self-funded and -published, though over the years he was received countless awards and fellowships, including the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, the Mother Jones Foundation for Photojournalism, World Press Photo, the Alicia Patterson Foundation (two stories: Education in Cuba and El Periodicio Especial in Cuba) and the Guggenheim Foundation. I first met Ernesto in 2012 when he was staying at a friend’s place in Boston during a workshop. I fell in love with his book, Bazan Cuba. As his latest book begins the final stages of publication, I asked him to talk about this new book, his process, and how his life and his work intertwine.
Here is our conversation, transcribed from the recording:
M. Scott Brauer: Could you give a little background about the book and how it fits in with the trilogy? Is there one unifying statement that fits all of this work together?
Ernesto Bazan: I can only say that I believe that having gone to Cuba wasn’t just another trip to a foreign land to discover and take pictures. Cuba, as I’ve said in the past, was one of the most important chapters in my life, both as a man and as a photographer. Why? Because if somebody would have told me when I first set foot in Cuba that I was finally going to find my mate in life, that I was going to be the father of twin boys, that Raul Castro was going to allow me to photograph the Cuban army or that I was going to finally–after attempting 14 times to get the W Eugene Smith Award–get it thanks to my pictures in Cuba in the same year that my twin boys were born….I would not have believed any of that. But all of that, I can happily say, has happened. Going to Cuba was part of my destiny. And the most beautiful things about the trilogy is that when I was living and working Cuba, I had no clue that I was taking pictures even for one book.
“Going to Cuba was part of my destiny” -Ernesto Bazan
What happened in 2001 is that I started carrying three cameras with me instead of one, because one curator had asked me to take some color pictures in Cuba for a book, which then came out. At the same time I was offered a second-hand panoramic camera, which I tried and loved. But you see, I had no clue or idea that this was going to become a trilogy, but it just happened. That’s the best answer I can provide you with.
I had no idea that you were shooting all three of these books at the same time.
Well, the first one was shot starting when I arrived in Cuba in 1992. The last two books, Al Campo and ISLA, were shot from 2001 to 2006, the last five years I was in Cuba.
Was it a lot of work, mentally, to switch between black and white, color, and panoramic. What makes you decide to shoot an image in one format? How did you juggle three cameras at once?
That’s a good question, and it requires sort of a long answer. I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, I think I was only able to do this totally insane switching from one camera to the other thanks to the full immersion I was able to be in in Cuba. I’ve tried to shoot three cameras at the same time in other countries, and I’ve failed miserably. At best, now, I can do black and white 35mm and panoramic, but I can not do color at the same time. It was very schizophrenic, because, you know, you have to think in three different ways, which is very difficult, and then decide in a split second which camera I would use first. Sometimes I also felt that I could take pictures of the same situation with maybe two cameras. In the end, what we’ve been trying to do with my students during the editing of the three books is to put the best photographs of all the possible photographs that I have. That means that I do have, in certain situations, pictures in both color and black and white, or color and panoramic. We spent two years, at least, editing, and we decided that in order to make each book stand out, we couldn’t really have the same situation twice, even though both pictures are good. And you know, if you start comparing two pictures, you always find which one is best between the two.
I’ll give you a good example of that, which you will only be able to see once you see ISLA. I had the opportunity when I was photographing one of the farmers’ families in Cuba to take what I would describe as intimate portraits of some of the family members, including Juana Margarita, who is the mother of two sons that are my friends. I remember one day I was walking around the house and she was lying in bed, and she looked beautiful and, I would say, sensual, even though she was already in her sixties. So there I was and I ask her if it was okay to take a picture and she said yes. So I took the picture first with color film. It’s a beautiful, novel portrait of her just lying in bed, but then I picked up the panorama camera. All of the sudden a little puppy came out from under the bed and started barking at me. So I was lucky enough to incorporate the puppy in the panoramic photograph. When we compared the two photographs–even though we liked the color portrait of Juana Margarita in her bed–since we were going to do a panoramic photo one day, we decided to use that one picture. [MSB: You can see this image in the ISLA teaser pdf.]
Defamation, Girls, and pictures through a window: recent legal news affecting photography and copyrightMar 25, 2014 by M. Scott Brauer 1 Comment »
There’ve been a bunch of legal developments in the world of photography and copyright in the past couple weeks. Here are a few things that have been on my radar that all have relevance to freelance and staff photographers in the US:
- A woman’s photograph was used in a New York State Division of Human Rights advertisement stating that she is HIV positive. The woman did not sign a model release, but Getty argued that the real culprit in the case is the State of New York. A judge recently ruled that the issue should be taken to trial rather than dismissing the case, as Getty had hoped. The woman seeks $450,000 in damages, according to the New York Daily News.
- A new law has made it illegal to take photos of people without their permission in Hungary. An April 2013 post on the New York Times’ Lens Blog has good coverage of other strict privacy laws around the world, including France’s principle of droit d’image. I haven’t read the original Hungarian law and don’t have extensive knowledge of privacy law around the world, but it seems that the new law in Hungary outlaws the taking of photos without permission, not just the publication of photos without permission; this seems like a new development in photography-related law. Recent legal efforts to regulate paparazzi behavior around celebrities’ children in California would similarly limit the act of photography and not just publication.
- A judge has dismissed the invasion of privacy lawsuit against Arne Svenson for his photographs through windows of a Manhattan apartment building. The judge ruled that Svenson’s photos are protected by the First Amendment. At the time the photos were first shown last year, The Atlantic Cities posted a comprehensive look at the issues surrounding Svenson’s work.
- Calumet Photo (website now down) filed for bankruptcy, leaving employees without pay or explanation. Calumet served as the only local photo rental house in many markets around the US, so their absence will be sorely felt by many working photographers. Calumet also did camera repair work, and many customers have been left wondering what will happen to their gear that was in for service at the time of the bankruptcy. Others had rented gear and now don’t know how or when to return it.
- The defamation lawsuit against Institute photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield brought by the subjects of her excellent documentary Queen of Versailles (wiki) has been thrown out. An arbitrator for the Independent Film and Television Alliance stated that “Having viewed the supposedly egregious portions of the Motion Picture numerous times, [the Arbitrator] simply does not find that any of the content of the Motion Picture was false.” By the way, I recently saw Greenfield speak, and she provided a fascinating and revealing look at her process and how her work, from this documentary to her early work on the French aristocracy to girl culture to rich children, fits together. If you’re near one of her lectures, I’d strongly recommend going.
- The 9th District Court of the United States recently ruled that Alaska Stock had valid copyright registration for images in its collection, despite only listing some of the image authors and titles. This one deals with the nitty-gritty of copyright registration, but it’s a departure from an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York regarding Corbis’ copyright registration on behalf of its contributors. You can read an explanation of all of this at Photo Attorney.
- A police officer forcibly removed Baltimore Sun photo editor Chris Assaf from public space outside the scene of a police-involved shooting. The Sun’s Darkroom blog has the story about what happened, and it fits right alongside other cases in which police have overstepped their bounds in limiting press access in public areas. Baltimore Sun http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2014/03/in-defense-of-the-first-amendment/#1
- The Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/beastie-boys-and-toy-company-settle-lawsuit-over-ads-use-of-girls/“>have reached a settlement regarding the unauthorized usage of the Beastie Boys’ song Girls in a GoldieBlox ad (the music has now been replaced) that went viral last year. The ad was for a product that encouraged young girls to build and construct, and at the time, commentators felt that it was a positive appropriation of a misogynistic song. People argued “fair use” or that the Beastie Boys should just let it happen, despite a stipulation in Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s will that read “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” The settlement requires that GoldieBlox post an apology on their website (now visible at the bottom of the homepage) and donate a percentage of the company’s revenues to “one or more charities selected by Beastie Boys that support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for girls.” That strikes me as a great solution: the Beastie Boys’ art is not used against their will and donation achieves GoldieBlox’s (and hopefully everyone’s) goal of getting young girls interested in topics usually dominated by boys.
A few months ago, at a Belgrade photo night called Periskop, I saw Marija Janković present one of her new projects about her time as a patient at a Serbian maternity hospital, which she calls GAK. The first time I saw this work, with Serbian text, I could only really react to the photographs and the audience around me, who were often left gasping. After the event she told me the project would soon be available on her new website with English captions. I found the quotes she paired with the scenes she had photographed to be extremely compelling. They added a fascinating depth to the reportage and made me think of a slew of questions about the project and the hospitals themselves. Janković has generously agreed to publish the complete series GAK here on dvafoto and to answer some questions about her wide-ranging projects.
I’ve long admired Janković’s approach to her work and the novel ways of framing some very serious topics in Serbian history. I’ve known Janković for a few years but we had not had the chance to have an in-depth conversation about her work and what she was accomplishing. It is my pleasure to present this interview with Marija where she elaborates on GAK and some of the other projects she has completed in her career. Visit her website www.marijajankovic.com for these and many more projects.
dvafoto: Where are you from and what is your background? How did you come to be a photographer?
Marija Janković: I grew up in Sombor, a small baroque, multiethnic town in [the Serbian province of] Vojvodina. Before the WWII, four large ethnic groups lived together in this quiet little town. Now there are two, plus the minorities. My father was from Kosovo and this mix was important for my future work.
Visual art is pretty much all I ever wanted to do in my life. I went to a design school, than I studied painting. I quietly painted still-life until the day in 1999 when the bombings of Serbia started [ed: the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia]. It was the first time I experienced fear for my life. The involvement of the media was shocking to me. I thought that the news was supposed to follow the events, not to create them. On one side there was the Milosevic’s manipulated news, on another, the Western manipulated news. From that moment, there was two ways: close your eyes or get involved. I chose the second. I wanted to understand how the media machine looked like from inside. And I also got my first decent camera, so when I had to make my living, working in the newspapers was the solution. And I loved it, at least at the beginning…
Some of the work on your work on your new website is classic reportage, and other projects are very conceptual, featuring dioramas and models. Do you work on both of these sorts of projects simultaneously? Or do they represent different periods of your career?
If there were only two… hahaha. It’s a parallel work, sometimes more conceptual, sometimes more photojournalistic. Sometimes conceptual becomes documentary, and reportage artistic. I had, for years, worked in the press in a more traditional way (and I still do). I noticed that there are some patterns on how to make a good picture for publishing. Once I learned how to do it, I got bored. To me it was more interesting to do things differently. Unfortunately, at least here in Serbia, there is little space for that. But if I am touched by something I’ll do it, published or not. And then I decide about the approach. Not being under pressure of publishing gives you a beautiful freedom. But it also means that you will work on some other creepy, non-creative photo job to support yourself.
What do you see as the difference between these two ways of working, and why do you choose one approach over the other? How did you first come to make set-up scenes for your pictures?
When stock photography became hysterically popular I thought to join the crowd. In my shopping basket for the set I just dropped the bag of cheap plastic soldiers; it was a strong symbol to me. Back in the studio I made a salad spiced with figurines and I was suddenly in the war zone. [ed: see Janković's War Story]. Pictures from the front line followed me from childhood and in 1999 I made collages with pictures I found in newspapers from the war zones around the world. I got a wish to make my war material but I was aware that, despite my wish, I will have little opportunity to go and cover one. So I created my own. That way I could be critical about whatever I wanted. As I said: freedom.
From the series “Bor” by Marija Janković
Did you feel there were limitations in the traditional reportage you practiced before? Are there freedoms that you are able to explore with these studio photographs? Do you consider them documentary? Either if so or if not, is that label important to you?
Two of my stories (Staro Sajmište and GAK) would be impossible to make as a classical reportage but they are based on true stories. Sajmište happened 60 years ago and many people photographed the actual place, or wrote historical essays or books. For me it was important to show the feelings of the victims and not only the political background. This is how I chose testimonies of survivors, to give them a second life. During the process of making every picture, besides double-checking facts, I had to ask to myself “Who am I in this story? Am I a victim, a reporter, a German soldier or a simple citizen?” As a matter of fact, there are only few original pictures from the time of the camp and none from the period when it was the “Judenlager”. But we are aware that the Germans made pictures and movies. In the way I tried to make the missing pictures. Later I found only one single picture of the “Semlin Judenlager” in the archives of the Novi Sad museum.
Also GAK wouldn’t have been possible as a classical reportage. No woman would tell these things with a camera or a microphone pointed at them. Because I was a patient, without camera, in the intimate atmosphere, women shared to each other their life stories. Gynecological hospital is like a micro extract of our society.
Now we see all the fantastic work from photographers reporting from Kiev. I must admit that I would like to be there, I love the adrenalin of the protests and teargas. I did cover protests in Serbia, but we all know how classic photojournalism can also be manipulative.
Labeling… I couldn’t care less. If somebody needs labels they have all the freedom to attach some to my work but I don’t start my project by giving them this kind of definition. I begin with the problem.
Your work takes on some very complicated and occasionally sensitive topics, such as concentration camps, the destruction of a mining town and loss of the German community in Vojvodina. What motivates you to photograph these stories?
In Serbian society many historical topics are either forbidden or rewritten and people tend to go with the mainstream flow. Nobody ever told me what happened with the Germans after WWII. First, it was dangerous to speak. Then people forgot that thousands of German women and children were kept prisoners by the Partisans in camps in ghost villages in Vojvodina. Thousands died from hunger, cold and diseases. That story was challenging. Many of these German men, husbands and fathers, committed crimes, but we tend to generalize. Women and children were not guilty. It can sound naïve, but I’m often driven by the simple feeling of “justice for everyone”. Some of this motivation comes from the feeling of guilt for the crimes that the Serbs committed, against the will of many Serbian citizens.
Across the body of your work I feel there is a very thoughtful and determined confrontation with certain areas of Serbia’s history that I don’t see many other artists or photographers tackling. Do you in any way see all of the series you’ve published as part of a single, larger narrative? And why do you focus on Serbian stories rather than regional or global issues?
I don’t see Serbia as a very happy or healthy place. It’s country with a constant problem of finding its place and direction. For example, you can’t be a patriot and in the same time say that your people committed crimes. I think opposite: first as a citizen, and then as a photographer. But no matter how much I’m stressed about many things in Serbia, it’s my country and my people and I wish them well. I would like that the Serbs know their history better and that Serbian women (and all other women in the world, for that matter) have better conditions, more human rights, more jobs and better work conditions. I traveled around the region and in Europe and made some good pictures, but there are still a lot of topics to be covered in Serbia. I’m sure that the female stories are similar in the whole world but I think we should start with what we know the best. And experiment.
Are there other artists, from Belgrade or the region, that you look to for inspiration or camaraderie?
Ten years ago I was more inspired by my colleagues work than nowadays. Many of them are good friends and I love to see their work, but at this point I have the feeling that I walk alone. Working with dolls is not my invention. Dolls are a universal symbol and inspiration to many artists. There is always something traumatic about these replicas of humans. However my recent work is more appreciated by my colleagues abroad. I don’t inspire myself just with photographs. Books, fine art, music, daily life and news, global news… All this make us who we are.
I see your latest series GAK and your photograph “Original and 52 notarized photocopies, 2012″ as a direct and logical continuation of the investigations that you completed in your earlier work. But it is much more personal. How has your work lead up to these projects? Do you feel better prepared now to document your own life and the people around you?
In the past few years I went through some difficult personal times. It’s not accepted today to complain, or to be weak. We should be up to every mission all the time, but we witness many complications due to unresolved personal problems. Domestic crime is very common in Serbia. I love the stories that nobody else talks about. I did it in my name and the name of other troubled women. Putting yourself out there is much more difficult than photographing hooligans (this is my artistic side). “Original and 52 notarized photocopies” was very popular in the Serbian media; it became a symbol of bureaucracy. It’s my baby on the picture and my documents, but the problem is universal, and concerns the whole region. During pregnancy, instead of working, I had to spend time collecting useless documents. If I had found that story and those documents somewhere else I would have used it. But one day I just realized that I am the story and the reporter in the same time. Hahaha.
“Original and 52 notarized photocopies” by Marija Janković
As a man – therefore not a patient – and as a foreigner who does not speak Serbian well, I cannot conceive of having any access to the stories of these women in a gynecological hospital if it was not for your reporting. The anecdotes and quotes struck me because of their very distinct and uncomfortable voice, I suppose because they are phrased in such a frank and unguarded way, overheard and not polished for quotation. This, coupled with your photographs of a dirty model of a hospital filled with ghoulish nurses, makes an interesting approach to reportage.
How did you come to conceive of this way of telling this story? Did you consider other more traditional approaches? What advantage (as I was asking above) did you see in telling the story with models and quotations? Do you see any disadvantages with presenting this story in this way?
As I mentioned above, I didn’t set out to make “GAK”. It wasn’t a situation where I made a decision and strategy, like we do for the stories. I was kept [in the hospital] in a t-shirt, with a dying mobile phone, and one notebook. During the next 5 days I was surrounded by sensitive women talking about their deepest secrets and fears. Two weeks after I found the notebook, it clicked together. I was just open to see it. Now, finding a text for this kind of work is difficult. Also, if I imagine the same text with the portraits of those women, it would be less strong. It’s like a painting of a shoe by Van Gogh; it’s much more exciting than a pair of real shoes.
I have my “test audience”, my closest friends and colleagues and I send them the projects to get some feedback before I publish more sensitive things. Most women replied “I can donate you a story!”, and men: “I didn’t know, I feel sick, great work but I can’t look at this twice”…
From time to time we read reports about hospitals and what is noticeable is that people react more to some dodgy pictures that patients made themselves with their mobile phone. You need to be extremely upset to take things in your own hands. 99% of these women accept with resignation these conditions, saying “What can I do?”
How would you like this project to be received? Is there any advocacy present in this project, for example to challenge for better conditions at your hospital?
Once I got the same question (referring to Original and 52 notarized photocopies). My answer then was “Yes, it would be nice to see somebody change something”. Today I am more realistic. I don’t think somebody will see those pictures and say “She is right, we don’t need form 227/b. II” or “We should order nurses to be nicer to patients”. But it can always serve as a support on the level of “woman to woman”, or help in reaching a critical mass of complaints where things need to be changed. It’s a job for all of us to make some pressure.
Are you continuing to photograph your family? Does this project mark any turning point in your work?
Becoming a mother is a turning point, now all I do is photographing family. I’m less prepared to deal with heavy and dark stories, or to run towards burning buildings to get more dramatic shots. At least at this moment. On another hand, I want a better environment for my child, so I will continue to challenge this absurd but well established social structure.
Thank you Marija.
Getty’s latest move in the stock photography market has been met with shock and horror. 35 million of Getty’s images are now free to embed, unwatermarked, for “noncommercial use,” which includes websites that run advertisements (see the image embedded above). In an interview with PDNPulse, Craig Peters, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Marketing at Content Images at Getty, says that while there is no current plan for this embed system to result in money going to photographers, at some future point, Getty might add advertising into the embedded images (as YouTube does) and photographers would get a cut of that. “This is their content, and if we generate any revenue from that content, we not only have the obligation, but we have every intent to share that revenue,” he said.
Here’s a collection of reactions to the news from around the photography world. Unsurprisingly, people are not excited about this development:
- Getty Images Image Embed: Progressive or Destructive? by PhotoShelter CEO Allen Murabayashi (and check out his 2008 post, How Getty Is Killing the Stock Photo Industry)
- Getty did what? at the Digital Asset Management for Photographers blog
- Industry concerned about Getty Images’ free-for-all approach at the British Journal of Photography
- Getty’s move is cynical but inevitable, says British Press Photographers’ Association at the British Journal of Photography
- 10 facts about Getty Images’ embed feature at the British Journal of Photography
- Getty Images makes 35 million images free in fight against copyright infringement at the British Journal of Photography
- Getty’s Craig Peters on Why Free Images Are Good for Photographers, And for the Photo Industry at PDNPulse. Be warned, it’s heavy on positive PR speak. Example: “We’ve informed Getty contributors through a number of channels. I haven’t seen every reaction, but those I’ve talked with, or who have e-mailed me, have been incredibly positive.”
- Monetizing Getty’s 35M Image Archive via FREE Editorial Uses by John Harrington
- GettyMart and Their 35 Million Free Images by Todd Bigelow
- Getty Images blows the web’s mind by setting 35 million photos free (with conditions, of course) by Joshua Benton at Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab
- Getty Images Are Now Free For Online Editorial Use at A Photo Editor
Regarding all of this, I’ve seen a few photographers on facebook saying they’re pulling their images from Getty’s collections. I don’t have any images available through Getty, but if the past is any indication (Hume be damned), other stock houses will likely follow Getty’s lead. Keep an eye on this. I think Todd Bigelow and John Harrington are correct that Getty’s interest in making these images out for free is the browsing data that surrounds the image. Licensing directly to blogs for small fees hasn’t really worked out, if you remember the Associated Press debacle a few years back, but getting (and selling) analytics relating to image usage is likely worth a lot.
In other Getty news, the Getty/Flickr licensing partnership started in 2008 will be terminated at the end of current content agreement. PetaPixel has the details, which makes it sound like this is just temporary as the Yahoo/Flickr and Getty work out details for a new agreement.
“A ruling by an administrative law judge on Thursday held that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks clear-cut authority to ban the commercial use of drones in the continental U.S.” -Wall Street Journal
In January, I wrote about the legal issues of using drones for journalism in the US. This week, administrative law judge Patrick Geraghty struck down a $10,000 FAA fine against Raphael Pirker, a drone videographer, stemming from the 2007 filming of a University of Virginia advertisement using a 5-pound drone. The judge stated that the FAA lacks authority to regulate commercial drone usage, and as such, could not fine Pirker for his drone usage. The judge’s decision can be appealed. The Wall Street Journal also reports that the FAA is considering case-by-case waivers to its ban on commercial drone usage.
I’m very curious to see how drone usage evolves in the US and elsewhere. It could mean a lot for journalism and Facebook has plans to use 11,000 drones to facilitate internet access throughout Africa. As the ACLU has been documenting, however, police agencies across the US are using drones for surveillance and data colleciton.
UPDATE March 10, 2014: The FAA has appealed the decision, saying, “The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”