Category Archive: discussion


Photojournalist Camille Lepage Killed in Central African Republic

Camille Lepage, a 26-year old French photojournalist, has died in Central African Republic. The Guardian reports that French President Hollande has said “all necessary means will be deployed to shine light on the circumstances of this assassination and find the killers of our compatriot.”

Camille Lepage leaving a fishing village on the Nile River near Terekeka, South Sudan in September 2012. Photo by Matt Lutton.

I don’t have much to say right now. So read Nicholas Kulish piece on the New York Times’ Lens Blog: “Bearing Witness, Losing Her Life”. He describes how he came to meet Lepage in Juba, South Sudan. I had a very similar experience, and we were both left impressed by this young journalist.

We at dvafoto have known Camille for a couple of years and have been following her work and career closely. We published an interview with her in March 2013, “Notes from the Field: Camille Lepage in South Sudan”. We talked about her decision to move to South Sudan straight from journalism school in England and her motivation to cover seemingly unknown conflicts and the struggles of trying to get those stories published. I urge you to have a look at this interview to learn more about Lepage and see a gallery of her work.

Camille was a hardworking and ambitious young journalist already producing quality stories that hadn’t yet found a wide audience. She was working to bring these stories to more people’s attention. Her future was very bright, and we at dvafoto are extremely saddened by this news.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

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.

Interview: Marija Janković’s “GAK”

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.

Debate swirls around World Press Photo (again)

John Stanmeyer / VII - World Press Photo of the Year 2013 - African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East.

John Stanmeyer / VII – World Press Photo of the Year 2013 – African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East.

It wouldn’t be February without debate and controversy surround the annual World Press Photo awards. In past years, the chattering classes (that includes us at dvafoto) have gone back and forth on the images or techniques given awards, this year questions have been raised about the voting process itself.

Looking through the year’s winners, I thought there wouldn’t be any debate; the categories this year were filled with strong work from many of the year’s major (and soon-to-be-major) news events. John Stanmeyer‘s winning image, one of my favorite pictures of the year, seemed like a subtle choice for the top award. It’s an image that regards marginalized people with a sense of humanity and dignity, rather than using people from the developing world as puppets for pity or handwringing. The subjects, with cell phones aloft, are people with families and histories and futures, trying to communicate in a situation beyond their control. The photo rises above the usual sex, drugs, and war tropes that dominate the major photojournalism contests.

The selection of this image has not escaped controversy. As duckrabbit first pointed out, John Stanmeyer (the winning photographer) and Gary Knight (World Press Photo jury chair) are business partners (full disclosure: I interned at VII in 2005-6). The photojournalism industry is a small one–though that can also be debated, especially if we look outside of the US and western Europe–and it’s inevitable that the judges of these major contests will know or have worked with the photographers whose work wins awards, since both tend to come from the upper echelons of the photojournalism industry. In this case, Knight and Stanmeyer’s ties are very close. In a World Press Photo video discussing the winning image (above), Knight says that he voted the story out of the competition, but the jury kept the image in the running for a single award. Speaking with the New York Times’ Lens Blog, Knight said that he tried to recuse himself from the jury when the image was considered, but that contest regulations did not allow that. Because of this, we must rely on trust that the award was reached in a fair manner. Even the appearance of unfairness in the judging process, however, undermines the award. If nothing else, there is now a strong reason for World Press Photo to amend their the contest rules and create a procedure for dealing with apparent conflicts of interest in the judging. Ironically, it was in a press release announcing Knight as jury chair that World Press Photo said they would alter the rules to increase transparency for examining digital files for ethical violations after the controversy over Paul Hansen’s winning image last year.

I’m not sure that Stanmeyer’s and Knights close ties are the largest issue here. Knight has said that looking at the images entered in the contest, the industry lacks resources to cover the year’s important issues, though he says that is not the case with the winning images. Furthermore, 8% of images chosen for the final round of judging had to be thrown out due to ethics violations. And only 14% of entrants to the contest were women (that number is under “Data on Entries” in David Campbell’s post as secretary of the jury). We’ve written before about sexism and gender bias in the photography industry, but this is a stark statistic.

By the way, here is a video of Gary Knight talking about some of the other winning entries:
 

There have been a number of responses to the awards and analyses posted online. Here are a few that I found most interesting (some linked above):

Handout Photos as Propaganda

A week or so ago I posted this photo from Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on dvafoto.tumblr.com, but in retrospect we wanted to feature it on the main blog as well. It is an important demonstration of what press freedom and access to power is all about and the inherent hazards in allowing government entities (or any other group) to provide their own coverage. The images may emerge from a democratic government, but they really won’t look much different than the propaganda released from a dictatorship.

Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, December 30, 2013.

This is the essence of a debate that has been raging since the Fall about access to President Obama’s White House (and before that, honestly: Scott wrote about issues of photography in the White House days after Obama took office). Ron Fourniner’s article in The National Journal titled “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You” has a thorough account of a meeting that took place on October 29 in the office of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. At that meeting New York Times photographer Doug Mills laid out the complaints of the White House Press Corp about access to the President’s activities, and likened the White House’s activities to the Soviet Union’s state-run news agency TASS, whose successor ITAR-TASS, and fellow state-run media RIA-Novosti, is more recently known for supplying famously heroic images of Vladimir Putin to the international media.

Doug Mills’ meeting with Jay Carney was followed up by a letter hand delivered to the White House on November 21st (PDF), signed by a number of prominent media and media advocacy organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times, The White House News Photographers Association, ABC, CNN, NBC, Getty Images and the Associated Press. The AP also issued their own statement about this issue. Santiago Lyon, AP Vice President and Director of Photography, answered questions on the AP’s own blog:

The photos on that page [The White House official Flickr page] are visual press releases and are carefully vetted by administration employees before distribution. Such images are increasingly offered to the media by the White House in lieu of real journalistic access and we and other media organizations find this unacceptable. Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?

Santiago Lyon also penned an op-ed for The New York Times on December 11, 2013: “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control”. If you are interested in this topic, it is a critical piece to read. He reiterates his point above:

The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.

And he ends with strong and wise words:

Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.

Part of this issue is the distinction between public and private events. Some editors and photographers are arguing that when the White House releases its own images from events on social media – such as Presidents Obama and Bush meeting on Air Force One en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which was off-limits to the press corp pool also onboard the aircraft – they are demonstrating that the events are not private and are indeed newsworthy. BagNews’ discussion “As Press Battles WH Over Photo Access, Did Media Cross its Own Line Publishing Obama/Bush Mandela Trip Pictures?” provides many good examples of the difference between White House coverage of events and that of the free press, including the Obama/Bush pictures on Air Force One. Another post at BagNews, “Photo Ops and Staging: Beyond White House Access, the Larger Issue is What We Have Access To” by David Campbell, has more examples of the exclusive framing of events that the White House photographers have that they deny members of the press access to.

For more context, photographer David Hume Kennerly talks about his time in the White House in an interview with James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog. Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog also published an article by former White House photo editor Mike Davis: “The Backstory: Why Photographers Need More Access In The White House”.

Furthering their terrific studies of these issues, BagNews announced this week that the subject of their next salon would be The Debate over White House Photo Access. It will take place on February 9, 2014. I also want to thank Michael Shaw, Publisher of BagNews, for providing me with resources and his insight on this topic.

BagNews argues, rightly, that, “One thing we need are images that address the construction of the image, including pictures showing photographers in the photo, the set-up of the photo-op, or using particular visual strategies such as different angles, depth of field, and framing.” One important function of the press is to create transparency about how the political machine works. Being able to have an independent look at how events are set up and designed is critical in understanding what exactly the events mean.

Time magazine points this out in other ways too with another of Phil Bicker’s great edits of handout photos in a post called “Public Service or Propaganda? Top Handout Photos of 2013″. Bicker posts often on Time Lightbox under the title “Man on the Wire”, and we wrote about one of his post’s last year: “Déjà Vu in 2012″. In this post he shows off all manner of official photographs that have been published in the press.

Besides the White House, Kremlin and the North Korean official news agencies, other notable sources for handout photos include the NTSB (for photos of the crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco and a train crash in New York), NASA (for photos of space research, manned space flight and an unfortunate picture of a flying frog during rocket launch), the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa for pictures of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the U.S. Army for a photograph of Chelsea Manning.

I’ll finish this roundup with two examples of images that cross more obviously in to the sphere of possible-propaganda, images that look like they could be news photographs but are in fact handed out by political organizations: a photo of bodies of victims that Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta and a photograph that the Kenyan Government provided from the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi showing the collapsed roof of a parking garage.

BagNews also provides startling examples of powerful official imagery that has, in one way or another, been made available to the press. “Ready, Aim, Backfire: Police Photographer’s “Rolling Stone Retribution” Photos” examines the photographs of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaked by a Massachusetts State Police official photographer. This is an interesting example of how official photographs might actually undermine the official narrative; see BagNews for more on this argument. Another post, from January 6, 2014, “Even if the Police Report Wasn’t Buried by the Holiday, What Photo Would Make Us Understand Sandy Hook?” is a powerful anonymous essay about the police report and evidence photos taken by Connecticut State Police from their investigation into the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. This post looks closely at the photographs, ponders their meaning (or lack thereof), and asks why they were buried in the Holiday news cycle and rarely published.

The prevalence of handout photos being published in news sources demonstrates the success organizations are having in shaping the narrative they prefer by controlling the photographs that are available of an event. This is something that we should all be aware of, and wary of. There are times and places – for example, the President’s private family dinners and on the launch pad during a rocket ignition – where restrictions on access are acceptable and logical. But so many other times, as clearly laid out in the photos and articles above, this power is being abused. And we the media and the people are right to resist this.

Worth a Look: Adam Magyar’s Stainless

Photographer Adam Magyar, whose slit-camera photographs Scott wrote about in 2009, has a new project called Stainless. It is composed of both massive prints of subway cars and subway riders and innovative slow-motion videos of subway platforms as trains arrive at stations around the world. It is captivating work. And involved a tremendous amount of ingenuity and invention by Magyar to make it possible.

There have been a lot of articles about the work recently so do have a look: Matter has published a feature and interview with Magyar as Einstein’s Camera: How one renegade photographer is hacking the concept of time that I highly recommend. PetaPixel also published a piece about the Stainless videos and followed-up with a link to a fascinating video where Magyar speaks about the technology and code that he developed himself to make these projects work.

FAA says drone photojournalism illegal…for now

Spokesman-Review video made using drone photography.

Spokesman-Review video made using drone photography.

On January 1, the Spokesman-Review (of Spokane, Washington) published a video of the city’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. A portion of the video was taken with a remote-controlled helicopter. Though a small helicopter doesn’t match what most of have in our minds when we think of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for legal purposes they are the same thing. News of the Spokesman-Review’s video spread widely after a few tweets, with some questioning the legality of using a UAV for journalism in the US. The Spokesman-Review photographer responsible for the video, Jesse Tinsley, said the use fell into a legal gray area. Poynter has a good review of the conversation and an interview with Tinsley. But on Monday, an FAA spokesperson said that there is no legal gray area regarding drone journalism. “If you’re using it for any sort of commercial purposes, including journalism, that’s not allowed,” the FAA told Poynter. In June of 2013, in fact, the FAA sent cease-and-desist letters to two American drone journalism university programs, the University of Missouri’s Missouri Drone Journalism Program and the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab. Check out the Drone Journalism Lab’s tumblr, by the way.

RC copters with camera mounts are a growing industry. You can buy them at Amazon. DJI Innovations has a handful of other models available, too. As a result, drone journalism is taking off around the world, alongside other nonmilitary drone usage. Livestreaming Occupy WallStreet journalists used toy helicopters to gather aerial footage. Paparazzi have used drones in their celebrity coverage, leading to an anti-drone anti-paparazzi bill in California. Eric Cheng, formerly of Lytro, spoke with Popular Photography about using drones in his work. Even wedding photographers are getting into the mix, but sometimes with disastrous results (see the video below).

The use of drones in journalism (and everything else) will only increase. The Reuters Institute released a report in June 2013 on just this subject (pdf of report). In the report, they argue that newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters, will turn to drones because they vastly simplify and cheapen the process of collecting aerial photography. The Canadian Journalism Project has a good interview with Alexandra Gibb, a graduate student whose thesis addresses the use and future potential of drones in journalism. And Poynter has a nice set of links and discussion about what journalists need to know about drones, though that focuses more on the coverage of drone issues than use of drones by journalists.

Not everyone’s happy about the rise of drones. The ACLU warns about risks to privacy and safety caused by the increasing use of drones in domestic security issues. And one Colorado town made national news last year with a proposal to issue hunting licenses and bounties to shoot down drones in the town’s airspace.

And while the use of drones for commercial operations, including journalism, remains illegal in the US now, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 says that the FAA needs to allow drones and UAVs in American airspace by September 2015. To that end, the FAA has announced plans for six drone test sites around the country which will be used to determine how to integrate drones into the nation’s airspace by experimenting in varied locations and climates.

Vermeer’s Camera Obscura

My mother recently sent me an interesting article in Vanity Fair magazine about Texas inventor Tim Jenison’s quest to prove that Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer used a camera obscura-based device to make his photorealistic paintings. Jenison’s experiments are the subject of a new documentary called Tim’s Vermeer produced and directed by the magicians Penn and Teller, which is now in limited release.




Tim Jenison, who had a career developing video editing and post-production software and hardware, endeavored to not only reproduce the apparatus he thinks Vermeer used – a camera obscura fitted with a handmade four-inch lens, a parabolic mirror and a smaller mirror to paint from – but to test his theory by painting a replica of The Music Lesson. This required building and sourcing a fully accurate set that mirrors the room in Delft, Netherlands that Vermeer depicted. The construction of the set in his San Antonio studio took over eight months and the painting took over 230 hours of work. It is worth noting that Jenison is an amateur painter, with no training prior to undertaking this project.

Jenison was inspired by earlier research that suggested that Vermeer might have used an optical device to assist in making his most famous paintings. The theories were based on analysis of the accurate depiction in Vermeer’s work of out of focus areas of the scene, the perfect reflections in a mirror and the proper display of the light values falling on the white wall in the painting The Music Lesson. These attributes of the paintings are claimed to not be possible without the assistance of an optical device, suggesting that the details Vermeer included in his work could not have been seen by the human eye alone or with the era’s understanding of the nature of light.

Other critics though are resisting these proposals, at least insomuch as they “oppose drastic devaluations of the role of art”, which Metropolitan Museum of Art curator of European paintings Walter Liedtke is quoted as saying in the Vanity Fair article. We’ll leave it to you to determine if these discoveries about how likely it was that Vermeer used new technology to create his art undermines the artistry and beauty of his work or if it strengthens his reputation as a master of the use of light.

Left, Tim Jenison, with part of the optical apparatus he created above him, at work in his San Antonio studio. Right, Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, the painting Jenison chose to re-create. From Vanity Fair article “Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)”

Questions remain after death of 17-year-old Reuters stringer

Bloody cameras posted alongside announcement of the death of 17-year-old Molhem Barakat, a Reuters stringer

Bloody cameras posted alongside announcement of the death of 17-year-old Molhem Barakat, a Reuters stringer – posted to twitter by DitaaSely

I first heard about the death of Molhem Barakat in Syria by way of the above image posted to twitter on Dec. 21. Barakat was killed while covering fighting between rebels and loyalists over the Kindi Hospital in Aleppo, Syria. Covering Syria has been an especially dangerous endeavour for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists, as of this writing, states that 55 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992, all in the past 3 years. However, Barakat’s death raises even more questions.

Many of the reports of Barakat’s death state that he was 17 years old. Reuters has not confirmed this, but nor has the media organization given any age. As usual, duckrabbit is on the case, with a large set of links surrounding Molhem Barakat. British journalist Hannah Lucinda Smith wrote a remembrance for the boy, whom she’d known over the past year. She first wrote about him in an interesting, and provocative, piece called “My friend, the aspiring suicide bomber.” When the boy couldn’t join an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, he turned to Reuters to freelance. He was accepted. His work was good, used to accompany articles by major media outlets. Buzzfeed has a collection of some of his most powerful work from the conflict.

But many have been asking just what a 17-year-old was doing working for one of the largest media organizations in one of the most dangerous conflicts in recent history, especially for journalists. NPR’s On the Media broadcast a tremendous piece last September called “The Freelancers’ War,” which lays out what coverage of Syria really means. Although some media organizations have banned the use of reporting from Syria by freelancers, the vast majority of reporting from the conflict remains the domain of freelancers. For some, it’s war tourism. Vice had a particularly telling piece in 2012 called “I went to Syria to learn how to be a journalist.” The freelancers face extreme danger without insurance, training, adequate gear, institutional backing, or even a plan for what to do when things go bad.

After the news of Barakat’s death, people have been wondering why the organization hired a 17-year-old to work in this danger. Corey Pein’s blog post covers the important issues, and includes an empty response from Reuters received by Stuart Hughes.

So the questions remain:

  • Was Molhem Barakat 17 when working for Reuters?
  • If so, why is a child working for one of the largest media organizations in the world?
  • Why would a media organization hire someone who had previously tried to join Al Qaeda?
  • Did Reuters provide the expensive camera gear to Barakat?
  • What was the agreement between Reuters and the 17-year-old? Was he given safety equipment, training, insurance? What about assistance for his family?
  • Does Reuters, or other news organization, regularly employ people under 18 when covering conflict? If not, why now?

Corey Pein has many more questions, all of which demand an answer.

Worth a look: Women in Photography and the conversation about sexism in editorial photography

WomeninPhoto.com - screenshot 9 December 2013

WomeninPhoto.com – screenshot 9 December 2013

It would seem that the biggest magazines with the most hiring power hire mostly male photographers. -Daniel Shea

In September, Daniel Shea provoked quite the conversation with a post on his tumblr called “On Sexism in Editorial Photography.” We reblogged the original post on our tumblr but due to travel and assignment work never got around to a roundup on the main blog here. One great result of the conversation is Women In Photo, which collects the online conversation about these issues and presents a list of American and international women photographers that any editor shouldn’t hesitate to hire for assignment work. It’s a work in progress, with a few names I like left out (Melissa Golden, Melissa Lyttle, Alixandra Fazzina, Vivian Sassen, Sandy Kim, Ariel Zambelich, Megan Spelman, Narelle Autio, Krisanne Johnson, Carolyn Drake, Nadia Shira Cohen, Sim Chi Yin, Anastasia Taylor Lind, Jessica Dimmock, Stephanie Sinclair, Lynsey Addario), but it’s a great resource so far.

Shea pointed out that the biggest magazines have mostly female editors and hire mostly male photographers and presented a few observations and thoughts about why this situations has arisen, none of which he claims to be exhaustive or anything more than his own experience: editors say they don’t know female photographers who fit their magazine’s style; men might be more aggressive in pursuing assignment work; collectives and loose organizations of photographers don’t do a good job of including women; men have an easier time assisting due to sexism and climbing the ranks that way. The whole post is worth a read. Another particularly troubling statistic that saw recently that likely has a profound affect: 64% of women journalists responding to a survey said they had experienced “intimidation, threats, or abuse” in the field or in the office. That study was conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Women In Photography also collects much of the rest of the conversation started by Shea and discussion about the conversation. There are responses by editors, photographers, and industry publications. Here’s a few I liked:

Be sure to take a look at National Geographic’s Women of Vision exhibit and Proof’s recent post about Alexandra Boulat.

Firecracker does a great job finding and highlighting the work of European women photographers (featured on dvafoto previously), and offers an annual grant. There’s also the Women Photojournalists of Washington and their annual contest.

Buzzfeed also had a wonderful post a little while back: Women Are Covering The Hell Out Of The Syria War — So Why Haven’t You Noticed?

Also, a similar conversation went around photojournalism circles in 2011, during which we had a guest post on gender and photojournalism by Melissa Golden.

And check out the International Women’s Media Foundation.

While we’re on this subject, I imagine that we could have a very similar conversation about racial and ethnic diversity in the photo industry…