Category Archive: blogs


Worth a read: Before they resurrect the noble savage

Africa is a Country - Before They Resurrect the Noble Savage

Africa is a Country – Before They Resurrect the Noble Savage

The message found there is this: let us, the tainted citizens of modernity, bask in the beautiful simplicity and cultural purity of these exotic people of color before they become corrupted beyond redemption by the burdensome complexity of our lives. While you’re at it, make sure to take special note of the photographer’s unique ability to tame these mysterious and wonderful tribes with his inexhaustible charm. -Zachary Rosen, Before They Resurrect the Noble Savage

I’m disappointed I missed this post by Zachary Rosen at the excellent Africa is a Country blog when it was published in late 2013, just as photographer Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away project was getting a lot of press. The work shows members of tribes from around the world in unspoiled landscapes decked out in their traditional garb. CNN lamented the disappearance of “tribal beauty.” The Daily Mail was worried about people “disappearing forever.” Time Lightbox introduced the work with the odd phrase “Portraits of Authentics.” If those headlines don’t scream postcolonial gaze or white guy photography to you, the project website certainly will.

Rosen’s critique of the work, titled Before They Resurrect the Noble Savage, is a strong and well reasoned indictment of the project and its approach. Referencing the “noble savage” and salvage ethnogography, Rosen argues that the work doesn’t show the people of these tribes but rather the photographer’s (and the West’s) vision of what they should look like. The people are presented as exotic; they’re pure and uncorrupted by modernity. There’s an argument to be made for photographing all sorts of people and cultures around the world, but an unquestioned romanticizing of “the natives” is an approach long since written off as specious and condescending. Rosen also points out the breathless praise of Nelson’s work as it was published around the world late last year. It’s surprising that this idea of the exotic “other,” which seems to be the impetus for Before They Pass Away as presented by a photographer qua explorer and reality TV star, was so widely accepted and acclaimed.

By the way, keep your eye on Africa is a Country, the blog that is not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama, if you’re interested in a critical look at the way the African continent is represented in contemporary media and culture.

Must read: Jörg Colberg on How to write about your photographs

“For the love of God, please don’t tell me you’re investigating or exploring something with your pictures! You’re not. You’re not a scientist (unless you are literally one, in which case you publish the work in a scientific journal). ” -Jörg Colberg, How to write about your photographs

If you’re like me, you struggle writing about your own photographs. But it’s an incredibly important skill. Just about every call for entry on our deadline calendar requires a written component, whether it’s just a story summary or an artist statement or a full-blown grant proposal. Jörg Colberg just posted a great guide to writing about your pictures that focuses both on practical advice–start writing while you’re photographing, don’t just describe what’s in the pictures–to more abstract approaches to the task–write using your voice. Ultimately, he thinks that your writing should answer one question: “Why should I, the viewer, care about your pictures?”

There’s a lot more to Colberg’s advice, and I don’t want to summarize it here. Head on over to Conscientious and read it for yourself. And while you’re there, spend a little time perusing his recently completed Index of the site…there’s so much there if you haven’t checked back in a while, and now you can browse by subject. The conversations with photographers are not to be missed.

National Geographic launches photography blog

With the inspirational video above featuring a diverse collection of National Geographic photographers talking about why they take pictures, the magazine has launched a new photography blog called “Proof.” There’s not much there just yet besides a welcome message, which says the blog will feature behind-the-scenes looks at National Geographic’s storytelling process, and an odd little post called “Musings: Bonnie Briant.” It’s not clear whether Proof will publish long-form journals like what John Stanmeyer has written on and off again on his personal blog or shorter snippets like what many National Geographic photographers have been posting at the Photo Society blog. Nevertheless, it’s a space worth watching.

Worth a read: American Photo’s How You Living series

“instead of trying to pick apart the meaning and motivation behind photographs, these articles will try to find out how photographers are actually surviving in 2013. I want to talk concretely about the challenges facing photographers, and the conditions that affect their work, both in the personal and professional sense of the word.” -Dan Abbe, Why How You Living?, American Photo

We’ve been on the subject of business in photography recently. American Photo has embarked on a fascinating series profiling photographers around the world and how they cobble together a living. Called “How You Living?” the series takes a candid look at what photographers do to get by. Here’s a short explanation about the motivation behind the series. The crux of the interviews, though, is something not often talked about in photography circles: how do you make a living? The short answer is that there are very few people who make their living entirely from taking pictures.

Only a couple of the photographers make some or a substantial part of their income by using a camera. Others fit in photography alongside full-time jobs, freelance design work, teaching, or whatever else it might take. For those of us making a go of freelance photography, this might not be news, but it’s refreshing to hear photographers speak openly about how they make things work. For those of you just starting out, know that you’ll probably need to supplement your photography with other work (or less interesting types of photography) for some time. I know I certainly did.

There are five articles in the series so far: Ed Panar, Peter Dixie, Mark King, Sean Marc Lee, and Jin Zhu.

Interview: Pete Brook on the Road

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.

Pete Brook at Sing Sing Prison in New York State. Photo courtesy Tim Matsui.

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?

THEN

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.

NOW

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.

LATER

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.

So, I’d say I am busy. Somewhere in that whole mix I have to be submitting copy to Wired.com so I can pay my bills!
Read on »

Matt Lutton: 2012 in Photos

This was a very interesting year for me, definitely the busiest since I moved to Belgrade, Serbia in February 2009, filled with lots of travel and some interesting assignments. Notably I had the chance to visit Africa for the first time, on assignment in South Sudan, and received the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Fund Grant for my ongoing project “Only Unity”.

I started the year in England, then was in Sarajevo for a story about the 20th anniversary of the start of the war there. My mother came to visit me in Belgrade in April, but our trip was interrupted by Presidential elections in Serbia, which I covered for the Wall Street Journal. That assignment led to one of the strangest days of my career, when I photographed both Serbian President Boris Tadic and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani hours apart in the same TV studio (see the WSJ article about Giuliani in Belgrade).

Soon after I was documenting the destruction of the Belville Roma settlement. My friend Darko Stanimirović and I handed out disposable cameras to residents of the camp so that they could document the eviction themselves. We published a multimedia piece at Newsmotion.org with these community pictures alongside Stanimirović’s audio recordings, a text by Alan Chin and some of my pictures as “The Sound of Barking Dogs: The Eviction of the Roma from Belville”.

In September I was in South Sudan reporting a story about the future of the Jonglei Canal and the issues of water rights for the youngest country on the planet. The project was commissioned by Austrian magazine 2012, an interesting one-year-only magazine published by Red Bull Media House. I have included a few images from the project here, but for now the only other pictures online are the tearsheets from ’2012′ which you can see on the clips section of mattlutton.com.

I also spent a total of four months in the United States, and was able to finally visit the area of the former Republic of Serbian Krajina in Croatia to document the remnants of Serbian life there. I was invited to be on the jury of the Organ Vida international photography festival in Zagreb, and was a speaker and juror at the “Foton” Makarska Photo Days Festival.

The biggest news of the year for me though was the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Fund Grant, which I received in June for my project “Only Unity”: Serbia In The Aftermath of Yugoslavia.

The response to the project has been very exciting, and I’m eager to finish the work this year. If you would like to know more, have a look at one of the interviews I did last year following the announcement: “Award-Winning Project Documents a Fractured Serbia” with Pete Brook at Wired’s Raw File blog, “Picture Story: Holding up a Mirror to Serbian Nationalism” in PDN Magazine (subscribers only unfortunately, see what it looked like in print here), and my chat with fellow EPF-finalist and friend Ian Willms on “BOREAL Spotlight: Matt Lutton, “Only Unity””.

You can have a look at my previous year-end posts on Dvafoto: 2009, 2010 and 2011. If you’d like more regular updates about my work, feel free to sign up for my occasional newsletter.

Thanks again everyone for continuing to follow Dvafoto and supporting all of the photographers we feature here. I wish you all a fun and successful 2013!

The New York Photography Portfolio Review: Interview with James Estrin

Yesterday James Estrin, co-Editor of the New York Times Lens Blog and Staff Photographer for the Times, announced that they are inaugurating the first New York Photography Portfolio Review, a two-day event in April 2013. It will bring together 160 photographers, in two one-day sessions, with more than 50 prominent reviewers, including a diverse selection of photo editors, agents, publishers, curators and buyers. The event will include private portfolio reviews, discussions and workshops.

They’ve also announced that the event will be free to attend for invited photographers, a step away from other major portfolio reviews in the US and Europe which can cost hundreds of dollars. The event, on April 13 and 14 at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, is divided in two sessions: on Saturday the 100 invited photographers will all be 21 years or older, and on Sunday all 60 photographers will be aged 18-27. To attend you must submit a portfolio by February 13, and invited photographers will be informed by March 8, 2013.

This is such an interesting event that I wanted to pose a few questions to Estrin, and he agreed to fill us in.

The New York Times Lens Blog.

The New York Times Lens Blog.

Dvafoto: Whose idea was this project, and how does it fit Lens’ and the NYT’s goals?

Estrin: I’ve always thought that the web, and social media were very powerful tools for communication, but significantly different than actual human interaction. Real Analogue interaction can have important and profound consequences.

I came up with the idea for the review with Lens co-editor David Gonzalez.

We have been lucky that our marching orders, from our boss [assistant managing editor for photography for the New York Times] Michele McNally, have always been to make the very best blog we could. Make the best editorial judgements that we could make, be willing to be smart, try to be principaled and don’t worry about traffic or business. So if this event can help the photo community, and create opportunities and discussion, then it fits into our mission. There are many ways to communicate.

Why did you choose to make the event free? This surely bucks the trend of most portfolio reviews and events for photographers these days.

It’s free because we wanted to create as many opportunities for photographers, regardless of background, to share their work.
There are fine portfolio reviews that charge- most of them non profit either by design or execution. I reviewed this year at Review Santa Fe and also at Lens Culture Fotofest in Paris and I think both were very was helpful for many photographers as well as for myself as an editor. At the same time I think we all have a responsibility to our fellow photographers, particularly the youngest new photographers amongst us.

Many people helped me when I was a young freelance photographer. I wouldn’t be here without them. I always remember how difficult it was to show my work in the pre-digital era, and how alone I often felt. There is an important tradition of experienced photographers helping newer ones.

Why the age categories? Will there be a different curriculum for each session?

The age categories are because I wanted to make sure that we did the utmost we could for up and coming photographers.
All photographers 21 and older can go on Saturday and I think the opportunities will be great. But on Sunday you have to be 18 -27 and there will be many workshops as well as reviews. By the way a very accomplished 21 -27 year old photographer could apply and get in for both days.

Ultimately, we just wanted to do some good, have fun, and help our colleagues in any way that we can. So we asked what would be a meaningful thing to do.

My colleagues from the New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Aperture, Abrams books, PDN, and many museums, magazines, galleries and blogs have generously agreed to share their time. We are adding new reviewers daily.

Thanks to James Estrin for answering some of our questions and for organizing this fantastic opportunity for photographers.

The deadline for submitting your portfolio is February 13, 2013 on the entry page. Good luck to everyone applying!

Déjà Vu in 2012

Scott and I began sharing pictures with each other when we met at the University of Washington – a practice that ultimately became Dvafoto – and we’ve always been interested in what we call “photo battles”, instances of photographers publishing similar photographs either from the same event or the same place shot years apart. One classic example is the pair of photographs of a boy on a tank in Chechnya taken by James Nachtwey and Christopher Morris in 1996.

We’ve posted a few of these ‘battles’ on Dvafoto over the years but I have to hand it to Time Magazine photo editor Phil Bicker for putting together a fantastic post and gallery of 73 pairs of images from the last year that show off photography déjà vu on the Lightbox blog. Read the whole post 2012: A Year of Déjà Vu for intriguing descriptions (and categorizations) of the different kinds of photographic referencing that take place, from photographers repeating themselves to pure coincidence half a world apart. Bicker also wrote a post in 2011 about photographers who travel together, particularly in war zones, coming up with similar pictures in another great post Two Takes: One Picture, Two Photographers.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective déjà vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events — at the same time and place, year after year— as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of déjà vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same moment—seeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of masters—Cartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mind—who have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

-Phil Bicker, Time Magazine’s Lightbox.

Worth a look: Kai-Huei Yau’s Football On the Campaign Trail portraits

It’s not often that a local newspaper’s fall football preview package doubles as on-the-money political satire, but Kai-Huei Yau’s portraits of high school football stars for the Tri-City Herald in eastern Washington state do just that. The spectacle and pageantry of the national presidential campaign has been distilled to its essence in these portraits of competing football players from area high schools. And what do we have in the national presidential campaign if not a high school popularity contest writ large. Just as with high school football players, the politicians have supporting team members, cheerleaders, adoring fans allied to one team or another rather than a particular player, sponsorship and recruiting deals, and parades playing to the hometown base. In one image (above #3), we have a stern looking player appearing to deliver a serious speech with the word “Bombers,” the high school’s team name and mascot, written across his chest; at the Republican National Convention last week, Senator John McCain’s might well have worn the same jersey during his war-mongering foreign policy speech. In another (see the whole series here), we have a player wearing a suit with dirty and bruised fingers standing at a podium holding a football; it’s a perfect visual metaphor for the compromises made behind the scenes that underpin the clean images that candidates present to the public.

Kudos to Kai for his work on this piece. Not all of the images are entirely successful (he’s relying on the acting chops of high school football players, after all), but the idea is right on the money. High school football coverage can be a bear to do, but this silly, over-the-top send-up of high school is creative commentary on the national political campaign process and beats the pants off of most other fall football previews I’ve seen.

Be sure to check out his blog post at the paper’s website for more images from the project and explanation of how he pulled off some of the shots.

A beginner’s guide to visiting Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan

Visa pour l'Image International Festival of Photojournalism

Visa pour l'Image International Festival of Photojournalism

“If it’s your first year at Visa pour l’Image, be prepared. It. Is. Scary. You will find yourself among thousands of photographers who are, just like you, trying to make it in a very competitive market. My first year at Visa, five years ago, was dreadful. I didn’t know who to talk to, I didn’t know where to hang out, I didn’t know what to do. But don’t give up. Come back the following year, and the one after that. And you will get the hang of it.” -Photojournalism Links’ Guide to Visa pour l’Image and Perpignan – Sunday 02 September 2012

Professional Week has just started at the Visa pour l’Image International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, and it can be a daunting experience. Photojournalismlinks.com just published a beginner’s guide to visiting, and it’s required reading if this is your first visit to the festival this year (or you’re planning to go next year). The guide has a good map, tips about where agencies and magazines will be located during the festival, and other useful information such as if you want to have a feast on Sunday celebrating a week well spent, you’d better buy your food on Saturday, since everything will be closed the day of.