Category Archive: newspapers


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.

French newspaper publishes issue without photos in support of photographers

A spread from the 14 November 2013 issue of Liberation. The entire issue was published without photos. Photo by British Journal of Photography.

A spread from the 14 November 2013 issue of Liberation. The entire issue was published without photos. Photo by British Journal of Photography.

If you were following dvafoto on twitter yesterday, you would have seen our retweet of Jon Levy’s photo of a Libération spread without photos. The British Journal of Photography has a bit more information about the stunt: the French newspaper published an entire issue without photos in concert with the opening of Paris Photo. It’s intended as a show of support for photographers. A note about the special on the front page reads, “Libération vows an eternal gratitude to photography, whether produced by photojournalists, fashion photographers, portraitists, or conceptual artists. Our passion for photography has never been questioned – not because it’s used to beautify, shock or illustrate, but because photography takes the pulse of our world.” This is the first time since the newspaper (wiki) was founded in 1973 that it published an issue without photos.

As you can see above and at the BJP’s coverage, the pages seem empty without photos. Just as when Russian media blacked out photos in protest of the imprisonment of photographer Denis Sinyakov, this Libération issue serves as a stark reminder about photography does for the understanding and communication of news and ideas. Bravo!

Photographers hit hardest by newspaper layoffs

20131112-094333.jpg

A Pew Research Center study shows that photographers have been hit hardest by US newspaper layoffs since 2000. There has been a 32% reduction in writing staff (from ~25,500 to ~17,500 writers), but newspaper photographers’ numbers have decreased about 42% (from 6,171 to 3,493). Newspapers frequently cite changing technologies or ease of training writers to take photos or video as they report the news. Over at Sun-Times/Dark Times we’ve seen just how bad that can get through comparisons between Tribune and Sun-Times coverage after the Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff.

I always find it curious that newspapers are quick to train writers to serve as photographers in these situations, and that almost never goes the other way.

Tyler Hicks Photographs the Nairobi Mall Attack

New York Times staff photographer Tyler Hicks was nearby to the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday when he heard about gunmen opening fire inside the popular shopping center. He immediately went to the site of the attack and entered the building, photographing as security forces and police attempted to find the gunmen and rescue hostages. He was interviewed by James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog about what he saw and they published a gallery of the terrific and harrowing photographs that Hicks took inside of the Westgate mall yesterday.

We managed to find an entrance where people who were hiding inside the mall were coming out. We ran into that service entrance and we hooked up with some police who let us stay with them as they did security sweeps clearing different stores — very much like what you see when the military enters a village. Shop to shop and aisle to aisle, looking for the shooters who were still inside. – Tyler Hicks on the New York Times Lens Blog

As of the time of posting the siege at the mall is ongoing and the New York Times is reporting that 59 people have been killed in the attack and more than 175 wounded, including family of the President of Kenya. Foreign Policy Magazine’s Passport blog is also covering the story with analysis about the attackers and the broader situation in Kenya.

Update (9/23): Scott pointed out this gallery of images on Buzzfeed about the attack a few minutes after I published this post. It shows the work of other photographers from inside the Westgate mall and the scene outside. They are also harrowing and gruesome, and also notable for their quality. It is interesting to note that so many professional conflict photographers, like Reuters’ Goran Tomasevic, were present when this breaking news happened. More on that later.

Also worth reading is BagNewsNotes’ analysis of the images in Michael Shaw’s post “Things to be Concerned About in the Mall Attack Photos from Nairobi”, which as usual is thought provoking.

A conversation with Scott Strazzante about Common Ground

I first met Scott Strazzante about 7 years ago standing in the dirt of a horse track after a million-dollar race. I didn’t know much about him or his work then, but he seemed like a nice guy. We met up for a drink this week in Boston while he was in town to shoot the NHL championship series, and he’s still the same nice guy I remembered. I’d seen his work over the past few years and become a huge admirer of what he does. He’s a skilled sports photographer, having photographed a number of recent Super Bowls, Olympics, and other big events, but his dedication to community storytelling through his work for the Chicago Tribune is what really sets his work apart. His 3-season effort to document different high school sports teams is well worth a look (though the website is a bit dated; here’s a 12 image edit of the first season following a girl’s basketball team, and here’s a short edit of a season following a men’s basketball team.) And check out his favorite photos from 2012 and 2011.

He’s received countless awards in the NPPA Best of Photojournalism contest, Pictures of the Year International, and the Illinois Press Photographers’ Association annual awards. His street photography, now exclusively done with a phone, has drawn 18,000 followers to his instagram account, but it’s his 20-year-long project documenting farmland that was turned into a suburban housing subdivision that has really taken the photojournalism community by storm. The work is a series of diptychs comparing life on the land when it was farm in 90s to when it became home to a number of families in the Willow Walk subdivision in the 2000s. The image pairings are surprising and emotionally charged, and have been published in National Geographic and Mother Jones. Now, Strazzante wants to make a book of the work (edited by Mike Davis, designed by Deb Pang Davis, and foreword by David Guttenfelder) and has a kickstarter as a way to pre-sell the book and pay for its creation. I’ve reserved my copy of the book, and you should, too.

We recently had a short conversation by email about Common Ground’s history and future, which you can read below.

dvafoto: Could you give just a basic overview of how the project came about? If I remember, you did a story about the sale of the farmland and then had an assignment in the same area of the new subdivision? It was only later that you noticed similarities in the pictures.

Scott Strazzante: In 1994, while working at The Daily Southtown, a south suburban newspaper, I was assigned to photograph Harlow and Jean Cagwin, as part of a story on people who raised animals in Homer Township, a mostly undeveloped area near Lockport, Illinois.

After my two hour shoot, I asked Harlow and Jean if I could come back and photograph them from time to time. They agreed and over the next 5 years, I would occasionally stop by for a visit.

In 1998, I moved on to The Herald News in nearby Joliet. The Herald News was a fabulous photo paper and I was encouraged to find stories to work on. I mentioned that I knew a pair of senior citizen cattle farmers and started spending a lot more time documenting the Cagwin’s daily lives. I photographed on the farm until July, 2002, when, a year or so after selling their land to a subdivision developer, the Cagwin farmhouse was razed just minutes after Harlow and Jean removed their possessions.

Several years later, I started to look for a subdivision family to document, but, nothing ever came of that.

In March 2007, I gave a talk at a College of DuPage photo class. After showing my farm story, a woman raised her hand and mentioned that she lived in the subdivision that was built on the Cagwin farmland. That woman, Amanda Grabenhofer, invited me to come photograph at her house on Cinnamon Court in the Willow Walk subdivision. I was excited to find a family to document, but, I was at a loss at how I was going to tie the two halves of the story together. My first shoot was during an Easter egg hunt on the cul de sac that the Grabenhofers lived on.

On my second visit, I photographed Amanda’s son Ben wrestling with his cousin while trying to tie each other up with a jump rope. That image reminded me of a photo that I had made of Harlow Cagwin struggling to lasso a two day old calf that had escaped out into a field. I put the two images together as a diptych and decided to tell the story of this piece of land’s evolution through pairings.

So, I first starting photographing in Willow Walk in April, 2007 with no real idea of direction and within a year the project was featured in National Geographic, was honored with POYi’s Community Awareness Award and Best Feature Video in NPPA’s BOP contest. Pretty crazy stuff!

After MediaStorm debuted Common Ground at Look3 in 2008, I have continued to document the Grabenhofers and their neighbors. I have made roughly fifty new diptychs since then, so, it will be cool to get some of those out there in the book.

Twenty years on the same project is impressive. It seems like you didn’t set out to work on the project for 20 years, but it just sort of happened. How do you keep things organized? Old notes and slides/negatives must have been all over the place before you started the diptychs.

I have photographed the project over a twenty year span, but, that is a bit deceptive. I photographed in 1994, 1998-2002 and 2007-present., so, it is, more like, a 13 year project over 20 years. The farm story was shot all on film and I have kept all the negative sheets in one big binder. The subdivison, which is shot on digital, was on a hundred cds until I finally organized them on several hard drives when I got ready to work with MediaStorm.

I heard Eugene Richards talk once about how disappointed he was with himself that he’s been shooting in basically the same style for decades (this was before The Blue Room). Is it surprising, comforting, disturbing, etc., that your style has stayed consistent enough to marry 20-year-old pictures with much more recent images? I’m still very early in my photographic career, but I couldn’t imagine putting some of my pictures from year 1 or 2 next to pictures from this year. Or perhaps, did you have to shoot in a particular way to match the style of the old pictures?

As a newspaper shooter, my images have to be accessible to a wide range of people with a wide range of visual literacy. In general, I try to not get too “creative” with my daily work. However, my street photography is a little more out there and, therefore, appeals to a more limited group of people.

Also, as a newspaper photographer, one day you are a sports shooter, the next day you are doing a food shoot, a magazine style business portrait and covering a house fire. You have no choice, but, to be a photographic chameleon. I haven’t ever thought about it, but, I guess, my story-telling style hasn’t changed much over the years, except, I don’t tilt my frames anymore, like I did back in the late 90s and early 2000s.

The one regret I have with the story is that I did the majority of the farm story on Mondays, one of my off days. At the time I did the bulk of the work, I was a single father of two young children, so, I didn’t have the flexibility to be at the farm on holidays or Sundays or other days that might have added a bit more depth to the Cagwin photos and given me more material to match up with the Grabenhofer photos. However, as a farm couple raising a herd of Angus beef cattle, Harlow and Jean never had much free time to do much and when they did, they were exhausted from their work.

I don’t know all of your work, but I think this is the only time you’ve worked with diptychs. Once you embraced that method, did you end up shooting to fill out a diptych?

The vast majority of my successful diptychs have come about when I just shoot without looking to match farm photos. Only two of the pairings were planned before hand. One was the aerial comparison and the other was shooting out of a second floor bedroom window in the Grabenhofer home to match a photo I had from the second floor of the Cagwin farmhouse. The rest happen when something I shoot on Cinnamon Court reminds me of a farm photo or I make an image that I really like and I pore through my farm negs looking for a match. I don’t really put much thought into the project as a whole when I am shooting at the subdivision. I photograph there like I do when I shoot any other assignment.

Basically, I have worked this like three separate stories- the farm, the subdivision and the evolution of the land.

You’re a newspaper photographer, and I know many newspaper photographers don’t retain the copyright of their images made for the paper. You’ve been able to license (I presume) these pictures in National Geographic, MediaStorm, and now use them in the book. What sort of arrangement did you have with the Tribune? How did you negotiate that arrangement?

After the initial assignment, this has always been a personal project. I worked most of it on my off days. However, wanting it to be published, I have made the work available to my employers for free in exchange for copyright ownership. This agreement started at The Herald News in Joliet when I made this deal with the managing editor Lee Trigg. When I was being interviewed at the Chicago Tribune in 2001, I mentioned this project and made the same agreement with Bill Parker, the AME of Photo at the time. If I hadn’t made those agreements up front, I highly doubt that I would have been able to get published in Mother Jones, Nat Geo or do the video with MediaStorm.

For me, this is a once in a lifetime project and for the rest of my work, I have come to peace with not owning my images in exchange for health insurance and other benefits.
I still self-generate almost all my stories and I do a ton of street photography when I am both on and off work, so, it is quite murky on which of my iPhone images I own and which the paper own.

$42,500 is one of the largest photo-related kickstarters I’ve seen, especially for one that doesn’t involve the creation of new work or travel. Where will that money be going? Why not go the traditional book publishing route, especially since the project seems to have a good deal of institutional interest or support (Nat Geo, Tribune Co., etc.)?

The $42,500 number came about from some quick math I did in my head- 1000-1500 books at roughly $20 a copy, editing and design costs, mailing the books to backers, thank you post cards, prints for backers and then, of course, Kickstarter takes 5% off the top and there are credit card fees that are taken out by Amazon. In comparison to other Kickstarter photo campaigns, I think mine is a much better deal. Instead of just supporting new work, my supporters get a book for $50, so, I am, basically, just pre-selling the book.

I did try to get Common Ground in book form through a traditional publisher, but, no one would touch a photo book project without me coming up with about half the cash. I couldn’t swing that. I guess if I keep searching maybe I could have found one that would have, but, I am pretty busy and wasn’t able to devote much more time to the process.

If all works out and I sell all the books, I will make some money off of the project, but at this point, I have made roughly 15 thousand dollars on Common Ground over the decades and that includes photo contest prizes. I figured it out at one point and I calculated that I have made about $1.70 an hour working on this. I hope no one gets upset if I make a little bit of money off of my hard work.

How have the subjects of the pictures (or their descendants/families) responded to the work? I imagine everyone in the pictures has complex emotions about the economics and emotions of the change in use of the land. How do the kids in the subdivision relate to what the Cagwins’ loss of the land and their home?

Both the Cagwins and Grabenhofers and their families feel honored that their lives have been given a bit of immortality. Harlow died last August and Jean expressed to me how much it meant to him to have his life documented and published around the world.

At this point, I don’t believe that the subdivision kids make a connection between me photographing them and the project as a whole. Overall, it just seems to be a normal occurrence in suburban America that homes on built on farmland and few, including the kids, even think twice about it.

What other plans do you have for the work? Exhibitions? Partnering with agricultural/housing/development organizations? Other educational efforts?

Once the project is funded, I am hoping to set up exhibitions around the country to coincide with the book printing. I haven’t put much thought into partnering with organizations because I don’t want groups to use my book as some sort of anti-suburban propaganda. For me, this is an unbiased historical document and is not intended to support a cause. I would like to keep it that way.

I have always been thrilled that so many photo teachers show Common Ground in their classes. Being part of the education of young visual documentarians is a huge honor.

Any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to share?

I am always working on stories at the Chicago Tribune and this year is no different. I still love to tell focused stories that have a bit of universality to them. Currently, I am documenting a 68-year-old man who is teaching etiquette to young residents of his apartment building as a way to stop the cycle of violence in Chicagoland.

How can people see more of your work or connect with you?

Shooting from the Hip blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Common Ground: The Book Kickstarter campaign

Reactions to Chicago Sun-Times photography lay-offs

Chicago Sun-Times front cover parody after photography staff lay-offs (via Romenesko)

Chicago Sun-Times front cover parody after photography staff lay-offs (via Romenesko)

“Being in the room with John White when we got laid off was a highlight of my career. About 30 of us got the axe. As soon as [Sun-Times editor] Jim Kirk said they were going to have the reporters produce multimedia for their rapidly changing platforms, I just had to walk out.” -Rob Hart, former Sun-Times Media photojournalist, speaking to News Photographer

We’ve covered lay-offs before (the Paper Cuts website is a good primer on recent history), but this week the Chicago Sun-Times took the unprecedented move of laying off their entire photo staff. Twenty-eight full-time staffers, including photographers and photo editors, were given the ax, and now there’s a major metro newspaper in the US without a photo staff. Among those laid off was the great John H. White, 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner and elder statesman of news photography, who’d worked at the paper for 44 years. Read Scott Strazzante’s ode to the photographer, The Great John H. White. Now, here’s a photo of White and others receiving their walking papers.

The Sun-Times says the reason for the lay-offs was a general move toward video and multimedia, and that still photo needs would be filled by freelancers and reporters who will be trained in “iPhone photography basics.” I always find it curious that newspapers expect reporters to fill the roles of photographers and newspapers after lay-offs; I’ve never heard of photographers being asked to take on the writers’ roles after a round of cuts. Here’s a May 30 story published by the Sun-Times featuring an awful photo taken by the writer of the article to give you an idea of what the paper’s visual coverage might look like going forward.

Here are a few reactions to the news that are well worth a read:

And for anyone who’s been laid-off (in news local to me, Boston University just laid-off their entire photo staff), know that things will get better. Here are resources from the NPPA for laid-off visual journalists. And here’s Chip Litherland’s open letter to newspaper photographers.

The Walmart of Photography makes $120,000/week selling old newspaper photos on eBay

Rogers Photo Archive on eBay

Rogers Photo Archive on eBay

This is weird. Old press card photos of staffers from the Miami Herald are up for sale on eBay. Above is a 1981 image of columnist Edwin Pope, a print of which can currently be had for $28.88. Wait…what?!

I knew that newspapers have been selling off their photo archives, and had heard about the Arkansas-based John Rogers Photo Archive buying up many major newspapers’ photos. But I didn’t know what Rogers was doing with the photos. He started with the Detroit News and then eventually acquired the licensing and print sales rights to the photo archives of the Boston Herald, the St. Petersburg Times, the Denver Post, and other storied news organizations and individual photographers. It’s a good deal for the newspapers. The cash-strapped publications get a one-time payment and a searchable digital archive of their work. For Rogers, the deal was less clear immediately. He’d managed to parlay old sports photographers’ archives into major deals with trading card manufacturers. Images of celebrities and politicians in the newspaper archives would be valuable, but Rogers also began to put ordinary newspaper images up for sale on eBay and the money started to roll in.

The Rogers Archive is now one of the largest stores on eBay, with over 2 million images for sale (I’m not sure if there are other seller profiles operated by the Rogers Archive, but here’s one with 50,000+ images). In a 2012 interview with the Arkansas Times (That’s a great link, by the way, and where Rogers calls his archive the “Walmart of Photography”. Read it for a good background on all of this), Rogers says that eBay sales of old newspaper images bring in $120,000 a week. That’s not a typo. And that’s not the Rogers Archive’s only source of income. But that’s why and how prints of old press card photos of newspaper staff are showing up on eBay.

The Rogers Archive website says that a stock licensing portal will be made to facilitate licensing these images, but promises says it will be coming soon in 2011. Digital Stock Planet‘s website just says “under construction.”

Weird.

(via Romenesko)

Artist preserves print by embroidering newspapers and magazines

In our first year at dvafoto, I wrote about Kim Rugg, an artist who rearranges the letters on newspaper front pages in alphabetical order. In another imaginative approach to the object of print journalism, Lauren DiCoccio has taken to embroidering snippets of newspapers and magazines (among her many other projects) and the results create a beautiful preservation of the periodical publication. In sewnnews, DiCoccio covers sections of the New York Times in muslin and embroiders sections of the cover photos and headlines. In 365 Days of Print, she isolates small segments of the page and renders the text in thread. In National Geographics, she creates thread and fabric idealizations of issues of the yellow-bordered magazine. Throughout these projects, threads dangle and the embroidery seems almost unfinished.

Citing risks of working there, Sunday Times tells freelancer paper won’t buy pictures from Syria

After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. -Sunday Times tells freelances [sic] not to submit photographs from Syria

The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, has told a freelance photographer not to submit photos from Syria because the risk of working there is too great. After sending pictures from Aleppo, Syria, to the paper for consideration, conflict photographer Rick Findler was told that the paper has a policy not to look at non-commissioned reporting from the country. It’s an interesting development for the photojournalism industry, especially since closures of foreign bureaus have increased news publications’ reliance on freelancers for international reporting. Conflict reporting is a dangerous and expensive operation, and when things go bad freelancers lack the institutional support afforded to staff reporters.

Speaking to the Press Gazette, The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson cited just these concerns in explaining the paper’s policy against hiring freelancers to cover Syria or license their work from the region even after the reporter has gotten out of the country. Speaking on the matter, Paterson said, “…we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely. This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future. The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”

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!