Category Archive: discussion
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.
UPDATE: The deadline for the dvafoto / Think Tank Photo contest has been extended by one week, to April 6, 2012. See note below.
We’re proud to announce a dvafoto contest in partnership with Think Tank Photo. They’ve donated a Retrospective 5 bag for us to give away to friends and fans of dvafoto. We’ve got the bag in hand, and if we weren’t giving it away, it would be going out on assignment with one of us. It’s small, doesn’t look like a camera bag, and has a ton of neat features (extra pockets, customizable dividers, great strap, a special velcro-less silent mode, and on and on). It’s a great bag, and now there’s a chance for you to get one free.
We thought this presented a great opportunity to start a discussion about powerful imagery, similar to our recent post about the most powerful photography as chosen by Reddit users. We want to hear about which photograph you would nominate the most powerful picture you know and to give away a great camera bag to one lucky person who has answered our question. We will randomly draw a name from all the entries and discuss submissions in a future post on dvafoto.
For all the information you need about entering this contest and to see which images both Matt and Scott chose to nominate themselves, visit the contest page at www.dvafoto.com/contest.
The deadline is
March 30, 2012 DEADLINE EXTENDED to April 6, 2012
We’re looking forward to seeing your entries!
NOTE: We apologize to all the folks who have submitted wonderful entries over the past two weeks and respected the original deadline, but both Matt and Scott have been busy on assignments this past week and have not had a chance to view all the entries and promote the contest widely. We look forward to seeing more submissions in the next week and to share the images and discussion this contest has generated in the coming weeks. Thanks!
…framing the problem in terms of either the diminishment or promotion of compassion means we are incapable of generating the move from singular expression to collective action. The myth of compassion fatigue, then, frames the issue in a way that can only fail. ‘Compassion fatigue’ – aside from being unsupported even in its own terms – is entirely the wrong concept for thinking about how the images produced by photojournalism work. And for too long it has prevented that thinking from progressing. -David Campbell, The Myth of Compassion Fatigue (pdf)
Susan Sontag’s long reach extends to current discussions of the effects of photojournalism, but one of the central arguments in On Photography, that audiences have become weary of caring about humanitarian crises due to the endless promulgation of reporting and photography, was vague and baseless. But the idea of “compassion fatigue” continues.
David Campbell, a thoughtful writer on photojournalism, has just published a draft of one of his most recent papers, “The Myth of Compassion Fatigue” (pdf). There’s a summary of the paper’s main points on his blog. The paper addresses the origins of the idea of compassion fatigue, Sontag’s own reversal of her original thesis, current thinking about compassion fatigue, and, most importantly, a look at what sort of evidence might indicate that compassion fatigue is a problem. Looking at figures on charitable giving, Campbell shows that an overabundance of images and things to care about has not diminished public donations. Compassion fatigue isn’t a significant problem in the way that most people think it is. The paper “reviews all the available evidence of which I am aware relating to the relations between photographs, compassion and charitable responses. None of that evidence supports the compassion fatigue thesis.”
Campbell raises a point at the end of his paper which deserves more investigation. The constant stream of imagery and reporting from crises near and far continues to create compassion among audiences, but measuring public response to extreme circumstances only in terms of compassion may be the wrong way of looking at things.
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.
“If we don’t get that then we’ll helplessly stare at all these images, to project what we already know onto them. Samuel Aranda’s photograph provides a good opportunity: It’s easy to see the veil, it’s easy to see the pose (the expression of human suffering and of compassion), it’s easy to see (or at least somewhat realize) the very specifically Western visual imagery. But it’s quite a bit harder to put all that together and to then find out what we are really looking at.” -Joerg Colberg, The Problem with Western Press Photo
The winners of World Press Photo 2012 were announced on Friday, and while no awards went to anything as controversial as an iPhone or Google Street View series, there have been varied reactions to Samuel Aranda‘s winning image of a woman in a niqab comforting an injured man in Yemen. I was struck by the image when I saw it published without a photo credit on the cover of the New York Times. The image is strong, but it allows much to be read into it. Over the weekend, everyone came out with an opinion on the image. Some were fawning, others were more measured or outright critical. Of particular note, be sure to read these: Michael Shaw’s Aranda’s World Press Photo of the Year: Pietàs and Burkas and Just Plain Obscurity, Oh My!, JM Colberg’s The Problem with Western Press Photo, Jim Johnson’s Uses of the Pietà ~ Criticisms of World Press Photo Award. Make sure to read WPP juror Nina Berman’s response to Jim Johnson in the comments (that link may or may not go directly to the comment. If not, scroll down to comment #9).
What do you think?
I’m always fascinated to learn how people outside of the insular photo community interact with and relate to photography, especially photojournalism. This Reddit thread, posted to the AskReddit subsection of the site, offers just such a glimpse into how (a section of) the public reacts to imagery, focusing on “powerful” photos. The gallery presented above collects the 10 most popular images in the thread and the most popular opinion posted in reply to those images. I’ve added caption and photographer information where I could find it.
The initial poster posed the question “Reddit, what is the most powerful photo you have ever seen?” and, to start off the discussion, offered this image of a monk praying for a dead man in a Chinese train station. This Reddit thread is particularly notable because of its popularity: the thread was featured on the front page of Reddit (no small feat for a site that receives thousands and thousands of posts each day), was posted to one of the most popular subsections (with 1.2 million subscribers), and, as of my writing, the thread had a total score upwards of 1200 and nearly 4000 comments. It’s a very popular post, to say the least.
The demographics of Reddit are hard to know, but a few attempts have been made. The site’s users are about 80% male, are 80% American, are middle class, have some college education, and are under 35 (most under 25). That doesn’t mean the respondents in the thread fit into this demographic, but it’s a good approximation.
So, taking a few assumptions, the thread shows us the types of pictures that young, educated, American men find important, powerful, and interesting. This is a demographic for which much of our culture is targeted and which I’m sure many magazines and newspapers would love to appeal to.
This selection is striking to me for a few reasons. One, it’s a pretty interesting collection of images from a community whose stock and trade is usually closer to LOLcats and “fail” pictures (~1.5 million subscribers) than great visual journalism (~400 subscribers). Two, it includes some very subtle pictures, especially those by NASA and those focusing on political tensions. The image of the sunset on Mars, in particular, is a wonderful surprise and a sensitive choice. It’s certainly not an “obvious” picture; the image speaks deeply about humanity’s role in the universe, but in a less clear way than, perhaps, The Blue Marble. Three, there are no images from Iraq or Afghanistan (the boy receiving the flag from his father’s casket comes close) and few from the US. The selection reflects some very contemporary events, but few are directly related the community’s own experience. Four, at least half of the images aren’t the sort that win awards, though a few here are from the canon of photojournalism (including the colorized self-immolation picture). In spite of that, the images communicate quite powerfully. Content is king.
Most of all, this selection gives me hope that strong imagery still has the power to reach out to the public, even sections of the public which may have been written off by publications desperate to hang on to their aging and dwindling audiences. Quiet and emotive imagery still resonates with the young and digital audience raised on the never-not-breaking-news cycle.
Taking a page from the Overheard in… series of blogs (New York, the Beach, the Newsroom), POYi Chatroom Heroes has been chronicling conversation in the chat window of the online streaming of 2012 Pictures of the Year International judging process. There’s snark, armchair judging, admiration, and anything else you’d expect to hear among the audience. Worth a laugh.
Thanks to Jonathon Worth for writing in to tell us about this short interview with World Press Photo 2012 juror Steve Pyke (embedded above). Pyke served as chair of judging for portraiture. The discussion offers an interesting perspective of the judging process from Pyke’s own perspective, especially focusing on the discussions between jury members during the process and the influence that each jury member’s own specialty and expertise plays in picking the winners. Particularly interesting, Pyke says (at about 5:45) that the winners in the Portrait category weren’t entered into the category originally. Jurors pulled images from other categories into the Portrait category and chose those as the winners.
There’s also an earlier short interview with Pyke that covers the chore of looking through 8,000 entries.
The awards will be announced tomorrow, Feb. 10.
VII have just announced a series of 5 free, online seminars with member photographers: the Visual Journey Seminars. The first of these will feature Seamus Murphy–one of my favorites,check out his website–speaking with Brian Storm of MediaStorm about his past work and recent videos for PJ Harvey. Other seminars, scheduled for 2012, will feature Ron Haviv (previously interviewed on dvafoto), Jessica Dimmock, Venetia Dearden, and Christopher Morris (also previously interviewed on dvafoto).
Though the seminars are free, space is restricted to those who RSVP prior to the seminars.