Category Archive: art
In 2011 writer Pete Brook took his blog Prison Photography on the road. He used Kickstarter to successfully fund his trip, and produced a number of interviews with photographers, prisoners and activists, gave six lectures and visited three prisons. Last year the project grew in to the exhibition Cruel and Unusual at Nooderlicht in the Netherlands, with a newspaper-style exhibition catalogue and an upcoming Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) book.
After he was safely back in Portland last fall, he and I were discussing some of what he had accomplished and what he was thinking about doing next. Fortunately for us, he agreed to an interview so I can share some of his interesting insights and ideas. It has taken a while for us to find the time to put this together, but I’m excited to share some of Pete’s reflections on PPOTR and how he sees his work as a writer and curator evolving. It is especially relevant for other photographers and bloggers as they think about producing work ‘across platforms’ and offline, and what is possible when engaging and collaborating with our community at large.
dvafoto: I heard through the grapevine that you had an interesting experience right as you hit the road?
Pete Brook: I think you’re referring to my arrest. Before the trip began officially, I was in California. I’d been at a wedding, dancing and drinking in the sun all day. When the after-party began to die down, and being a gent, I offered to walk a couple of ladies home as they were across town and not staying at the hotel. Along the way, I took a piss on a palm tree (not so gentlemanly).
Thirty seconds later, two California Highway Patrol squad cars pulled up. I was pulled aside and told that urinating in public was an offense. I didn’t think a discrete piss on parkland at 5 am would land me in jail so I may not have taken the interaction as seriously as the officer expected.
I was on the road, had no permanent address, I was a bit merry, had no ID with me and was generally bemused as to why so much attention had fallen upon me. When asked if I would answer the officer’s questions, I said I didn’t feel compelled to do so. He took my wrist, turned me round, cuffed me and walked me to his patrol car.
The officer said, “We’ll do it your way. You could be in jail for days, weeks, months, even years.” A nonsense statement. He was reacting emotionally to the situation. Not good. He was also proving who had the power. I’m guessing it was late in his shift and he may not have had the patience for an inebriated me. I get that, but his solution, so to speak, was unnecessary and disproportionate.
I was in jail for 9 hours (as quick as they process anyone, I was told). Upon release, I was served with a court date and faced two misdemeanor charges of ‘Disorderly Conduct’ and ‘Willfully Resisting Arrest’. Just ludicrous. The court date was two weeks away, by which time I had scheduled to be in Ohio. I had to juggle my itinerary, bring all my Southern California appointments – that were to be in the last week of PPOTR – forward, and extend my research in the Bay Area.
Two weeks later, at the courthouse, I didn’t even see a judge. Not wanting to waste court time, the District Attorney threw the charges out. Common sense prevailed but not before I’d been inconvenienced.
The arrest nearly jeopardized PPOTR’s main prison visit, to Sing Sing in New York State.
Visitors to prisons must go through a criminal background check and mine flagged the arrest. So, now the New York Dept. of Corrections knew of the interaction, but had no details. I had to explain that no charges were brought and scramble for the paperwork to back up my claim. The workshop I did with the men in Sing Sing was a highlight of the trip and it would have been a sore loss to miss out.
I remain in the system. I am interviewed about the interaction by Customs & Immigration every time I re-enter the U.S. I’ve been told the record cannot be updated to include the info that there was no conviction; I’ll have to go through the same conversation every time I travel from overseas.
The experience was not great, but the irony could not have been greater. If I can get a copy of my mug shot it’ll be my press-photo for life!
Now that you’ve finished the fieldwork for PPOTR, co-curated an international exhibition, and printed a newspaper, do you think that Prison Photography the blog will change at all?
I’d like to say no, but it probably will. Not because of these projects but because more like them are in the pipeline. These emerging projects will take away from my time at the keyboard-helm.
Before I tell you about those new developments, I should say that PPOTR was designed to test the limits of the blog, test my stamina with the issues and test the reception of the public. In some ways, maybe I could or should have had the imagination to take on new formats earlier?
Directly out of PPOTR came the opportunity to co-curate Cruel and Unusual at Noorderlicht and that was a phenomenal privilege. Given how much I enjoyed that there’s no reason to draw back from activities outside the blog.
Cruel and Unusual travelled to the Melkweg Gallery in Amsterdam last April and then to Photoville in New York in June. This year it will show in Ireland and Australia. There’s some logistics involved in making those exhibits happen, and Noorderlicht and Photoville are greasing the wheels with that.
I initially planned to self-publish the Prison Photography photobook for the PPOTR Kickstarter backers, but Silas Finch a non-profit photobook publisher expressed interest and I decided to make it a bigger production … and print run.
We’ve signed on the dotted line and I’m writing the text for it now. The image edit will come in the summer and we hope to release it later this year. It’s wonderful to have, again, institutional support.
A couple of photographers working on the topic of prisons have expressed interest in collaborating on books and that interests me, but it has to be right for them too. That might sound silly, but how many essays would I need to do before I became the guy who writes introductions for prison photography books? Not many! It’d be good bylines for me, but not necessarily for the photographer. As a reader, I generally enjoy photobook essays that are not about the photography per se but about the larger subject and there’s many activists, advocates and academics who can write better on aspects of the prison system than I. Perhaps one or two essays will get done in time.
Furthermore, I just agreed to curate a photography show on the East Coast in January 2014. It’ll be an entirely new collection of works with a new curatorial statement.
Gizmodo has written about the “World’s Highest Resolution Camera”, with 1.8 gigapixels, which is being developed for the US government. They shared this clip from the PBS show NOVA which recently broadcast an episode called “Rise of the Drones”.
This is the next generation of surveillance. … It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist. – BAE Systems Engineer Yiannis Antioniades, who designed the sensor
I know some folks working on drone-related journalism and drone-related photography. This should give you some more ideas about what might be possible. And I can’t help but think of what extreme ‘Google Street View’ style projects could be possible from a camera also known as “Wide-Area Persistant Stare’. Maybe some day we’ll see such a thing, for now it remains a classified US Government program.
Prasiit Sthapit is a photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was introduced to his work by Sohrab Hura recently as he wanted to share some of the work of photographers he had met and tutored at a workshop in Kathmandu last fall. Sthapit’s project “Change of Course”, presented as an multimedia piece, immediately impressed me. Striking pictures mixed well with gorgeous music and documentary audio; it is evocative storytelling for such a hard to illustrate political and climate change story.
The story is also presented simply as photographs and text on his website, and you can get a chance to admire the quiet, intimate photographs themselves. Sthapit also describes the project as a work in progress, and that we will see more family photographs and found objects along with the photos of the place.
Change of Course
“We fought a lot for Susta, we suffered a lot in Susta. We didn’t know when we would be killed. Even after all that, we survived. But in the end, Gangaji swept us away,” Rajkumari Rana (Muwa), reminisces. I met Muwa, 79 years old and blind, at her house in Keulani,Triveni. She was one of the first settlers of Susta. Having come here from Kathmandu with her daughter and a small bag of belongings in 1967, she worked as a schoolteacher, headmistress, local leader and also as night patrol. She remembers times when even women had to patrol at night, with sticks in hand as protection against dacoits from Bihar. There had been numerous clashes in the past, which had wounded many and killed some.
Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which has long been considered the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a small, contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by Indian land, and on the fourth by the Narayani. The original settlers now express anger at the fact that they have been sidelined by both India and Nepal.
The flood of 1980 shifted the land to the east, displacing the whole village in the process. Muwa was among the displaced. The government gave each family a small plot of land in nearby villages of Triveni Susta VDC for temporary settlement, but this generosity was limited to those with Nepali citizenship. There were quite a few who were originally from India, and others needing a place to hide.
After the floodwaters receded, the people who were not given land parcels started returning to Susta, although it was now nothing but sand and rocks. They worked in these barren conditions, trying to get whatever little they could out of the land. Meanwhile, the Border Security Force of India was gradually preparing to encroach on Susta. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have been appropriated through Indian encroachment thus far.
Dva: How did you come to produce “Change of Course”?
Sthapit: This project was first conceived for an exchange programme between Oslo University College, Norway, Pathshala, Bangladesh, Drik India and photo.circle, Nepal. I had already thought of it as a long term project and later on while the project was ongoing, Sohrab was also very much involved with the editing and the look of the project. (we had a workshop with Sohrab on September, 2012). He also gave me a lot of insights on how to continue the project further. By the end of the workshop with Sohrab we had to come up with somesort of a presentation and he suggested I do a projection.
How did you decide on the format of this video, with sound and audio and stills-as-motion? Are you showing it any other way, such as an exhibition of single photographs or some other medium?
While I was out photographing the place, I didn’t have anything concrete in my mind (I wanted the experience there to guide me along the way) so I collected everything that caught my interest. I recorded interviews with the people because even though I try to share my own experiences with the people there, I want them to speak for themselves. Sound is also a very important element in the whole story, if not the most important one. The family photographs also do the same. Photographs in the villages are prized possessions, they cherish these pictures. This is the way they want to be portrayed. The story is currently being exhibited as a print exhibition in Kathmandu International Art Festival, Kathmandu which also includes sound installation. The sound used in this is different than the one in the video.
Can you tell me about the music you chose?
The song that goes as the background is by a Nepali neo-folk band called ‘Night’. The song talks about the flood that waged havoc in Nepal in the river Koshi a few years back. I thought it would be appropriate for the piece and the music felt just right. As it doesn’t over power the piece with overwhelming sadness. I felt the sounds, the voice and the music gave a sense of community, a village.
Prasiit Sthapit is a Kathmandu-based visual storyteller whose work deals with societies at the borderline, both literally and figuratively. Through photography, he chooses to show the experiences he has shared with the people he has met, and what they mean to him. He graduated from Manipal Institute of Communication, India with a Bachelors in Arts (Journalism and Communication) and was the recipient of the Dr. TMA Pai Gold Medal for Best Outgoing Student, 2010. He is associated with Photo.Circle, an organization working towards building a strong community of visual storytellers in Nepal, and Fuzz Factory Productions, a multimedia collective.
In 2010, fifteen young South-East European photographers and three masters met in Berlin for the SEE New Perspectives masterclass, organized by World Press Photo and Robert Bosch Stiftung. After the first meeting in Berlin all of the photographers were given a grant to photograph a story within the region but outside of their home country.
The resulting projects are now being exhibited in Belgrade, Serbia (on display until December 14 at the ARTGET gallery on Trg Republike) after debuting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in October. The show will soon move to Zagreb, Croatia and Berlin, Germany. The exhibition features an interesting concept of displaying oversized “magazines” each devoted to one photographer’s project, with only one image from each project along with the photographer’s name on the wall.
You can see all of the stories produced in the masterclass on the SEE New Perspectives website as well as more information about the organization of the project.
The photographers are:
Andrei Pungovschi, Romania
Armend Nimani, Kosovo
Bevis Fusha, Albania
Dženat Dreković, Serbia
Eugenia Maximova, Bulgaria
Ferdi Limani, Kosovo
Jasmin Brutus, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jetmir Idrizi, Kosovo
Marko Risović, Serbia
Nemanja Pančić, Serbia
Octav Ganea, Romania
Petrut Calinescu, Romania
Sanja Jovanović (née Knežević), Serbia
Tomislav Georgiev, Macedonia
Vesselina Nikolaeva, Bulgaria
And the Tutors are:
Regina Anzenberger, Austria, artist, curator, photographer’s agent, gallerist
Silvia Omedes, Spain, president at Photographic Social Vision Foundation
Donald Weber, Canada, photographer VII Agency
I asked my old friend Jasmin Brutus, a Bosnian photographer who was part of the masterclass, to paraphrase the statement he gave at the Sarajevo opening which expresses his feelings about the years-long masterclass project: “We [the participating photographers] all returned with nice small toolbox which our employers will never know how to utilize. So, I think experience in the masterclass is very useful for my personal projects and for my job is almost useless. I gained new skills and my old skills got enhanced. But, for me the most important thing is that I met a group of really great people and great photographers.”
Congratulations to my friends from around the region who were able to take part in this interesting project and many of whom were able to produce terrific photo stories that may otherwise never have seen light or been published. I encourage you to explore the work published on the SEE New Perspectives site or peruse the photographers’ own websites linked above.
The video below features interviews with all of the photographers about their work and experience in the masterclass:
At that extreme distance [44miles] vision itself collapses. Literally you can look as hard and with the most powerful equipment you can and there is nothing to see. Because at those distances there is so much heat and so much haze and so much turbulence in the atmosphere that the photons that make up light are literally coming apart from each other. Color is literally coming apart.
Now it turns out that it is harder to take a picture of something on the ground that is 30 or 40 miles away than it is to take a picture of Jupiter, for example, that is hundreds of millions of miles away.
You come up against the physical limit of vision. That is really what you see in the photograph, is you see vision falling apart. Now at the same time it is a photograph of this weapons range, but it is also a photograph of the impossibility of trying to see this weapons range in a certain way.
We have previously written about Trevor Paglen’s groundbreaking photography projects about military patches, spy satellites, CIA Black Sites and Limit-Telephotography but I just came across this video interview with him explaining the physical limits of light and photography that his work about “black sites” is confronting. An interesting thought.
Corey Arnold’s fun blog just announced an awesome looking and massive outdoor exhibition as part of the “Wonderland” Photo Festival in Knokke-Heist, Belgium. I’ve been growing more fascinated with outdoor exhibitions in the last year, and am considering doing something similarly grand here in Belgrade soon. So put this exhibition right into the inspiration folder. For more, see our reader-favorite post Bringing Photos Back to the Street, or Taking it to the Streets in Belgrade and a Simon Norfolk outdoor exhibit at the Guernsey Festival (I love those stone bases for the frames). And don’t forget all of the terrific outdoor exhibitions by JR.
Click the photo or the link above to see the rest of Arnold’s blog post with many more photos of the installations, work from other photographers at the festival and even some prints inside buildings. Bravo.
More than a year ago my friend John Malsbary and I began trading emails about a couple of films and some ideas that they inspired. I suppose it is a follow-up to our first post together: Dvafoto Book Club, Vol 1: The Hurt Locker. This discussion started when he told me to watch Winter’s Bone and after I saw it I started drawing a lot of connections to my fascination with the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. So I asked John to watch that documentary. This post is an edited form of the ongoing discussion John and I have been having, and jumps around quite a bit to other bits of art and society that we’re interested in. We hope you find it interesting. Watch the trailers for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Winter’s Bone.
I think the most important thing that sticks out to me personally with Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (directed by Andrew Douglas, 2003), in concert with Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik, 2010) is the different approaches to telling stories that I’m interested in. I could see myself working on the stories at the heart of either movie, but I don’t know how I would do that with still images.
Watching Winter’s Bone, I kept thinking .. could I do something like this? Take a very realistic story and use some fiction to be able to communicate the story better? Would it allow me to give the audience more than they could see if I shot it ’straight’ as a documentary? For instance, some of the stories I’ve heard in the Roma camps (I spent much of 2009 photographing the destruction of a Belgrade Roma community), there is no way to show all of those elements in still images made at the moment. These were things that happened in the past, things happening where I can’t photograph, or mental images described to me. It seriously makes me think about doing some work on films some day, to explore that itch to tell a more complete story than “purely” what is in front of my lens. Or maybe there is indeed a way to do that within documentary photography.
It is the same thing with Wrong-Eyed, it makes me dream about making a documentary film. What they are able to pull out of the story, with some scripting, some crew, some lighting, is different than what I would get with my still photographs if I were standing there the day before or after with the exact same idea or perspective. Likewise, their way of telling a story would probably not work at all with the stories I have done. My stories exist because I’m one guy moving quickly with one small camera, really no equipment, and just shooting what happens in front of me, no set-ups at all. That movie can not exist without those setups. It took a crew of people to set up access and equipment, to get those people (in jail, in the bar, the preacher) to say their deepest thoughts in those particular tableus. We could both get in to these places, but our way of working changes what we will get on film. And making the decision about how you physically approach a story changes what you will record.
That’s the essence of what I’m interested in this conversation: the nature and method of story telling. And how choices about a medium, given their specific limitations and advantages, can reveal new elements of the story.
Since watching the film the first time I’ve read up quite a bit more on Wrong-Eyed and have fallen deeply in to Jim White’s music (see the embedded video below for one scene of White playing some music and telling a story while driving around). If you like his tunes and want to hear him talk about the making of the film there is a great live set and interview from KEXP in 2005. There is also a nice press kit with much info about the film, found on the website of the distributer.
The White interview on KEXP gave me some interesting perspective on what they set out to achieve. In response to one of the things you raised in your reading of the film, the whiteness of it all. They say that they chose to focus specifically on the rural southern poor white perspective. And for me, that is something that I haven’t seen much real documentary of. My experience with this population is mostly just jokes about rednecks and northern snootiness. Man, I want to just go drive around the south now. I don’t think I have the balls or emotional space at the moment to actually open myself up to these experiences and go to all of these places right away though. Something I’ve realized living and working abroad: it really can be easier photographing away home. Less personal baggage that you hear off the cuff. Not knowing the nuance at first (though I am obsessed with finding it over time, this is why I am five years in to my project with barely an end in sight). You can photograph and not feel so bad not knowing word for word the details of their life story.
I have no idea why you would be afraid of these places. You are straight, white and male. People would make fun of you for being northern/west coast, but that would just be their way of trying to know you. The struggle would be to put up with the hateful shit they’d say, and keep your cool, and not judge them or fight it. Or maybe you would feel you have to fight it.
You know, I think you’ve put yourself at such a disadvantage by talking to people in a foreign country. In America I sometimes feel like narratives are a dime a dozen. Part of my job, as I’ve told you before, is just being where people are aching to be heard. My supervisors occasionally say that people with literally no money only have their story to trade. No one wants a hand out from me. So I receive stories like they’re legal tender.
For me it’s a pleasurable job. But I get a kick out of incoherent pandemonium. I think the hard part for a story teller would be sewing it all into something coherent.
Mishka Henner, a photographer we’ve written about before on dvafoto, has a new project out called Less Américains. It is a photo book of digitally manipulated Robert Frank photographs from the iconic The Americans, printed in an edition almost identical to the original book.
Less Américains is a remake of Robert Frank’s classic photobook, The Americans. Eighty-three new images have been created by digitally erasing most of the visual content from Frank’s photographs, leaving only solitary details from the originals. The sequencing remains faithful to Frank’s 2008 Steidl edition of the book whilst the design of the covers and title pages are influenced by the first Delpire edition printed in France in 1958.
I’m skeptical about this project, at least from seeing the book preview video, perhaps it is different to behold physically, maybe right next to the original. Many re-appropriation works (or musical remixes, which seem relevant) are interesting to me and build on the original or explore new territory; this at first glance just leaves me puzzled. But still it is a somewhat bold proposition: remixing one of the most iconic documentary photo books of all time and to print it as a companion volume. Further, even Robert Frank seems somewhat ambivalent about The Americans now and what the project “means” or “says” fifty years later. Much of Frank’s later work is some sort of deconstruction or re-layering of photographs or video. At least compared to the iconic “straight” documentary nature of the original Americans.
It might even be a trend in photography now (Brauer pointed out this print by Joe Webb as another example) of cutting solid shapes out of photographs while creating new works of art. I’m sure you can show us more examples, good and bad, of this sort of collage.
Henner and Liz Lock together are represented by Panos Pictures, and their work is solidly within the documentary tradition. Henner however has many recent projects that involve reinterpreting or appropriating existing photographs. In fact, the timing of this new work is interesting, as I’ve already been thinking about Henner this week. An interview I’m preparing touches on one of Henner’s projects from 2011, No Man’s Land, which is built on Google Street View images of presumed prostitution. More on that soon. You can purchase the book Less Américains from Henner directly at this link for £80 + shipping. I can’t wait to read a proper art critic’s take on this project, and what it might mean to abstract this type or era of photography with modern methods. I’ll admit, the more I think or look at this project the more interested I become.
Richard Renaldi’s 4th Annual Secular Holiday Advent Calendar is a whimsical little holiday distraction that keeps on giving. Each day, a new date opens up–click on the numbers–and you’ll find a visual morsel hiding beneath.
Kuba Rubaj recently sent us his project “Rainbow”, a beautiful look into a community that I haven’t been introduced to before. We want to share the work with you and a few questions we had for Rubaj.
Rainbow Gathering is like alternative to modern world. Each year Rainbow Family attracts hundreds of thousands of people to spend time in wilderness.
Gatherings each year take place at over 100 locations all over the world, away from civilization, shops, sanitation, electricity, telephones, Internet, alcohol, drugs, money.
Participants feel deep connection with nature. They wish to live in peace and harmony. Some of them consider Rainbow as a new form of society. Spiritually, there is a very strong influence from native Shamanism. There is no membership, leaders, official spokespersons or any formal structure, everyone is equal. They live like a tribe.
First, how did you come across this group and movement?
It’s hard to say, probably by my friend who used to visit rainbows at the beginning of 2000. But I had many friends who travelled. So I’ve heard about it from time to time. I visited my first gathering in Czech Republic in 2007, actually by mistake. It was small thirty-people gathering with a very calm family atmosphere.
Are you part of Rainbow?
I don’t know if we can talk about a clearly defined “belonging to this movement” in general. If You are on the Rainbow gathering You are a part of it.
But in simple terms – I identify with many ideas from Rainbow. But simultaneously I prefer to go my own way in life all the time learn and just have an opened mind.
What is your background, how did you come to photography? Is there something in your background that draws you to this community?
The world has interested me as long as I remember. When I was twelve, I started to travel on bicycle along Eastern Europe. At the beginning with my father and later alone. When I rode a bike through all these countries, many images moved in front of me. I think it has a big influence on my perception and attitude. And later camera just appeared..
Is there any message from the community that you hope to see reflected in modern society? Is this at all a goal of the project, of sharing pictures of Rainbow?
I think Rainbow is in itself a message. People all over the world try to find different way of life, and change their relations. Sometimes it is more, sometimes less authentic, but that does not change the fact that it is. More and more people are tired of modern life.
As for my photographs – they are very simple. Do not have a clear meaning or opinion. I do not want my photographs to impose a judgement.
I wish that every viewer understands it their way. And had his own thoughts / ideas / requests. They can focus on aesthetics / visual side, or they can go on in the thoughts. It is up to them.
I would like it to be universal.
How do the people react to your work, your way of telling their story?
I guess that they like idea of simplicity. Taking photos is not unwelcome on the rainbow, but when I talk about my work and idea of traveling they usually cooperate. I always send them these photographs later.
You mentioned to me that you are planning this to be a part of a pair of books, the second strongly connected with the idea of “the road”. How are they interconnected?
How do you conceive of each project in relation to the other?
On the work of a rainbow as I thought from the beginning about the book, a book about the road came after some time. Book about rainbow will be simple, calm, harmonious; and the book about the road will be chaotic, personal, subjective, unstable – like road is. I wish that these two books will complement each other.
What work (photography, art, music, writers, etc.) are you looking at that excites you, and that our readers might not have come across?
I think the following line of thought about the modern world, I can say for sure that was a huge inspiration for works of Godfrey Reggio, his Quatsi trilogy. I looked at this when I was 13 years old and it had a big impact on me.