Category Archive: Worth a look


Worth a look: Kola Superdeep by Sergey Novikov

Russian photographer Sergey Novikov wrote in a little while ago to share his project Kola Superdeep. The project offers a glimpse into a remote area in Russia’s Murmansk Oblast above the Arctic Circle that is home to one of the deepest holes ever drilled on Earth. Drilling and research in the area, which borders Norway and Finland, was abandoned in 2008, but a small population remains and Norilsk Nickel continues some mining operations which have a devastating effect on the landscape.

Take a look at the project and be sure to look at the rest of Novikov’s work. I particularly like his series of street portraits in Moscow and Grassroots, a look at Russian soccer fields, which reminds me of Hans van der Meer’s European Fields.

Covering a violent weekend in Chicago


“I found myself barefoot, ankle deep in water, holding the hand of a 17-year-old boy who had been shot during the downpour. I told him to hang in there and that the ambulance was on the way.” -Vincent D. Johnson, He was motionless with his big eyes staring up into the rain

It was a particularly violent weekend in Chicago, with some 82 shootings in 4 days. Vincent D. Johnson, a freelancer for the Sun Times, wrote a moving piece about the watching one of the weekend’s victims die while Johnson kept him company waiting for the police. The piece is well worth a read. It’s part of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch section.

Huffington Post has collected tweets and instagram posts of two Chicago Tribune staffers, reporter Peter Nickeas and photographer E. Jason Wambsgans, as they covered the violence, too. As you progress down the sequence of events, the victims keep filling up lines in a notebook.

In his piece, Vincent D. Johnson said he remembered advice from one of his teachers, “You’re a human first and a photojournalist second.” The Columbia Journalism Review just published an article about this very subject, which is more contentious than you might think. I was glad to see LA Times’ Clarence Williams’ toothbrush picture lead the article; before I considered myself a photographer, I attended a lecture by him at my university and the story of that image and what effect it had has always stuck with me. There was massive backlash against the phtoographer and writer for not intervening in the situation, and they won awards for the work. Williams’ work on the story won the 1998 Pulitzer for Feature Photography. The story had a real impact, though. The subjects’ lives were improved as a result of the reporting and Los Angeles and the state moved quickly to reform child protective services there.

Make sure to read CJR’s Are we journalists first? It’s a good survey of the issue.

And while you’re at it, revisit Daniel Shea’s Chicago Fire for Fader from last year.

Worth a look: Offside Brazil by Magnum and local photographers

Screenshot of Offside Brazil

Screenshot of Offside Brazil

Following in the footsteps of the ongoing Postcards from America tumblr project, five Magnum photographers and five Brazilian photographers are posting daily photos to Offside Brazil. I’m not a sports fan, but the project appeals to me because it focuses on the social and economic impact of the World Cup games as they happen. I wish there was more text to go along with the project (and I’d bet there will be a book or exhibition of this work in the future) but it’s a fascinating glimpse into daily life in the country from a variety of perspectives.

There’s Jonas Bendiksen’s super slow-mo videos (the New Yorker has a little more information about those, which he calls “Still films”) and Alex Majoli doing his usual interesting work. And there’s Paulo Fehlauer’s triptychs, Barbara Wagner looking at the city of Recife, Pio Figueiroa’s stories of Sao Paolo’s urban nightlife, and Midia Ninja‘s documentation of different protests (Midia Ninja is an independent journalism/activist group in Brazil).

Tumblr might not be the best way of presenting the work, but it helps get the work out fast and to a large audience. There’s a lot to look at, and the project is moving fast. There were three or four new pictures added while I wrote this post. However, the project is definitely worth keeping an eye on and does a great job at providing context to the circumstances surrounding the World Cup as it all unfolds.

Remembrances of Camille Lepage

I’m still shocked by the news of Camille Lepage’s death in Central African Republic last week. We finally met in person a few weeks ago at the New York Times Lens Portfolio Review. It’s been tough to see her picture all over social media, but it’s good to see her infectious smile and her work reach so many.

There has been little new information regarding her death, though this Le Monde article has more detail than most publications, and Google Translate does a passable job on it. A number of publications and individuals have published thoughtful remembrances of Camille and her work in the past few days (and I’m sure many more in French, as well), and I thought it’d be good to collect the links here.

The UN, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, have all condemned the killing and joined calls for an investigation into Lepage’s killing. Reports seem to indicate that the people she was travelling with were ambushed and all were killed. Immediately after news of her death became known, French president François Hollande called the killing a murder or assassination, and called for an investigation into the circumstances of her killing. Camille Lepage is not the only journalist to have been killed this year. As of this writing, Reporters Without Borders lists 18 journalists killed in 2014, and the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 15. Those killed have been both foreign and local journalists.

Must read: When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

“Publishers reap all the rewards of working with freelancers, but assume none of the risks. If something terrible happens at any point leading up to, or following the transaction, the publisher bears no responsibility.” -Jaron Gilinsky, When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

In the past year, we’ve posted a few items about the increasing use of freelancers in conflict reporting. Using freelancers, publications save money and mitigate risk, shifting the substantial risks, both personal and financial, to vulnerable and often young freelancers. If you haven’t already, spend a few minutes with Jaron Gilinsky‘s piece When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer. Gilinsky is CEO of Storyhunter, a website that helps freelance video journalists pitch and showcase their work.

In the piece, Gilinsky details a few recent cases of freelance conflict reporters who’ve been kidnapped or killed in recent years. Ali Mustafa‘s family was saddled with $20,000 in debt just to retrieve the young photographer’s body from Syria, and the photo agencies who bought his pictures offered no help. Both James Foley (previously) and Austin Tice have been missing for years; the Global Post has helped Foley’s family search for the reporter, but the Washington Post has apparently done little to find their stringer. Molhelm Barakat (previously) was killed while stringing for Reuters without hazardous situation training, insurance, or protective gear, and he may have been under 18.

Gilinsky offers the most detail in contrasting the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova in Syria. Espinosa is a staff reporter El Mundo, but Vilanova is a freelancer who has worked with Gilinsky’s Storyhunter website. Both were eventually released after six months in captivity, but the ordeal played out differently for the two journalists. Because he was a staffer, Espinosa’s family received his full salary and benefits throughout his captivity. For Vilanova, on the other hand, debt began to pile up as his studio rent, home mortgage, and other financial obligations began to pile up. There was no news organization to lend financial or legal resources to any negotiations that might have helped secure his release or provide for his family or funeral should the need arise. Friends and family created a crowdfunding campaign which raised nearly €40,000 as of this writing, which will pay Vilanova’s debts and allow him to purchase new gear to resume working.

Ultimately, Gilinsky argues that there needs to be systemic change within journalism to make it so freelancers no longer feel the need to undertake such substantial risk to make a living in the industry. He says publications and news organizations should require (and provide) insurance and conflict training to freelancers, and freelancers should refuse to work with publications that work with uninsured journalists. Last year, the Sunday Times said it would not buy work from Syria from freelancers, and other organizations should do the same. And organizations such as RISC, the Rory Peck Trust, and Reporters Without Borders, offer training and support to freelance conflict journalists.

Make sure to read Gilinsky’s piece.

Boston event: 20/20 with Boreal Collective and other New England Photographers

20/20 with Boreal Collective and their New England friends

20/20 with Boreal Collective and their New England friends

This week I’m joining members of the Boreal Collective and a few other New England photographers showing work at a slideshow event in the Flash Forward Festival in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The event is free and open to the public on April 30 at 7pm at Petit Robert Central, 101 Arch Street, Boston, MA 02110 (entrance at 34 Summer Street, and it’s happening in the Paris Room). Each speaker will show 20 slides at 20 seconds each, accompanied by a talk about the project, following the Pecha Kucha format. The work shown covers diverse subject matter–I’ll be showing recent work from Russia–and it all fits, more or less, in the realm of documentary photography.

The photographers presenting are: Laurence Butet-Roch, Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Brett Gundlock, Johan Hallberg-Campbell, Tony Luong, Mauricio Palos, John Tully, Ian Willms, and M. Scott Brauer. Justin Maxon is listed as a participant, but couldn’t make it at the last minute, unfortunately.

Hope to see you there. And if you don’t make it to this slideshow, hopefully you can attend some of the other Flash Forward events this weekend. There’s a great lineup this year.

Worth a listen: Tyler Hicks on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

On the heels of winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography and the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for his photos of an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks was interviewed by Terry Gross on the WHYY/NPR program Fresh Air yesterday. I’ve been a long-time fan of Terry Gross’s interviews; they’re usually well-informed and wide-ranging and address hard questions on the subject at hand.

It’s rare for a photographer to appear on the program, but there have been some from different genres over the past years of the show. Here are a few that I’ve found searching the Fresh Air archive, though not all are available to listen online: Horst Faas, Roy DeCarava, Robert Freeman, Ashley Gilbertson, Joel Meyerowitz, David and Peter Turnley (audio not available), Randy Olson, William Gottlieb, Doug Niven (audio not available), Fazal Sheikh (audio not available), David Douglas Duncan (audio not available), Marion Ettlinger, and “>James Nachtwey (audio not available)

You can listen to the interview, which is just over 40 minutes, in the above embedded player or on the Fresh Air website.

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

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

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

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

In conversation with Ernesto Bazan about his life and his new book ISLA

Ernesto Bazan - from ISLA

Ernesto Bazan – from ISLA

Last week, I spoke over skype with Ernesto Bazan from his home in Veracruz, Mexico, about his new book, ISLA, and about his life. Bazan’s work often flies under the radar in the world of online photography. His CV has some information, and this interview with American Suburb X has more. Bazan was asked to join Magnum Photos at the age of 23 in 1982, but left a few years later. Born in Italy, he was based in New York for a number of years but moved to Cuba in 1995, where he lived until 2006, when he was forced to leave the island. He has released two previous books on Cuba: Bazan Cuba (on amazon), a collection of black and white 35mm images, and Al Campo, a collection of color 35mm images. His new book, ISLA (←pdf teaser), completes the trilogy with black and white panoramics. He quit assignment work around 2002 and now funds his work now primarily through self-produced, intimate shooting workshops in a handful of locations around the world. The books have all been self-funded and -published, though over the years he was received countless awards and fellowships, including the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, the Mother Jones Foundation for Photojournalism, World Press Photo, the Alicia Patterson Foundation (two stories: Education in Cuba and El Periodicio Especial in Cuba) and the Guggenheim Foundation. I first met Ernesto in 2012 when he was staying at a friend’s place in Boston during a workshop. I fell in love with his book, Bazan Cuba. As his latest book begins the final stages of publication, I asked him to talk about this new book, his process, and how his life and his work intertwine.

Here is our conversation, transcribed from the recording:

M. Scott Brauer: Could you give a little background about the book and how it fits in with the trilogy? Is there one unifying statement that fits all of this work together?

Ernesto Bazan: I can only say that I believe that having gone to Cuba wasn’t just another trip to a foreign land to discover and take pictures. Cuba, as I’ve said in the past, was one of the most important chapters in my life, both as a man and as a photographer. Why? Because if somebody would have told me when I first set foot in Cuba that I was finally going to find my mate in life, that I was going to be the father of twin boys, that Raul Castro was going to allow me to photograph the Cuban army or that I was going to finally–after attempting 14 times to get the W Eugene Smith Award–get it thanks to my pictures in Cuba in the same year that my twin boys were born….I would not have believed any of that. But all of that, I can happily say, has happened. Going to Cuba was part of my destiny. And the most beautiful things about the trilogy is that when I was living and working Cuba, I had no clue that I was taking pictures even for one book.

“Going to Cuba was part of my destiny” -Ernesto Bazan

What happened in 2001 is that I started carrying three cameras with me instead of one, because one curator had asked me to take some color pictures in Cuba for a book, which then came out. At the same time I was offered a second-hand panoramic camera, which I tried and loved. But you see, I had no clue or idea that this was going to become a trilogy, but it just happened. That’s the best answer I can provide you with.

I had no idea that you were shooting all three of these books at the same time.

Well, the first one was shot starting when I arrived in Cuba in 1992. The last two books, Al Campo and ISLA, were shot from 2001 to 2006, the last five years I was in Cuba.

Was it a lot of work, mentally, to switch between black and white, color, and panoramic. What makes you decide to shoot an image in one format? How did you juggle three cameras at once?

That’s a good question, and it requires sort of a long answer. I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, I think I was only able to do this totally insane switching from one camera to the other thanks to the full immersion I was able to be in in Cuba. I’ve tried to shoot three cameras at the same time in other countries, and I’ve failed miserably. At best, now, I can do black and white 35mm and panoramic, but I can not do color at the same time. It was very schizophrenic, because, you know, you have to think in three different ways, which is very difficult, and then decide in a split second which camera I would use first. Sometimes I also felt that I could take pictures of the same situation with maybe two cameras. In the end, what we’ve been trying to do with my students during the editing of the three books is to put the best photographs of all the possible photographs that I have. That means that I do have, in certain situations, pictures in both color and black and white, or color and panoramic. We spent two years, at least, editing, and we decided that in order to make each book stand out, we couldn’t really have the same situation twice, even though both pictures are good. And you know, if you start comparing two pictures, you always find which one is best between the two.

I’ll give you a good example of that, which you will only be able to see once you see ISLA. I had the opportunity when I was photographing one of the farmers’ families in Cuba to take what I would describe as intimate portraits of some of the family members, including Juana Margarita, who is the mother of two sons that are my friends. I remember one day I was walking around the house and she was lying in bed, and she looked beautiful and, I would say, sensual, even though she was already in her sixties. So there I was and I ask her if it was okay to take a picture and she said yes. So I took the picture first with color film. It’s a beautiful, novel portrait of her just lying in bed, but then I picked up the panorama camera. All of the sudden a little puppy came out from under the bed and started barking at me. So I was lucky enough to incorporate the puppy in the panoramic photograph. When we compared the two photographs–even though we liked the color portrait of Juana Margarita in her bed–since we were going to do a panoramic photo one day, we decided to use that one picture. [MSB: You can see this image in the ISLA teaser pdf.]
Read on »

Worth a look: Chloe Bartram’s Sparkle, Baby

Australian photographer Chloe Bartram wrote in a couple weeks ago about her projects Sparkle, baby I and Sparkle, baby II, which look at children’s beauty pageants. I’ve seen projects on this subject before, but what really strikes me about Bartram’s work is the still-lifes of all of the equipment, for lack of a better term, that goes into turning a young girl into a beauty pageant contestant. I suppose I sub-consciously realized that all of these accouterments must exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of the context of a pageant. Seeing the fake eyelashes and tanning solution and wigs presented in such an isolated way in Sparkle, baby II reinforces the surrealism of these contests of traditional notions of beauty and femininity. The girls are being constructed into an ideal as the sum of these constituent parts. Bartram also documents the pageants themselves, in Sparkle, Baby I, focusing on vulnerable moments behind the scenes and during the competition. You can see images from both parts of the project above and more on Bartram’s website. This work is also a finalist in the Sony World Photography Awards Professional Arts and Culture category.

“The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.” -Chloe Bartram

I asked Chloe to talk a little about what drew her to this subject and why she approached it in these two separate ways. Here’s what she had to say:

“One day I was searching YouTube for no real reason and somehow I landed on a story on child beauty pageants in America. I knew about the culture in the United States but it sparked my curiosity to know whether or not the events existed in Australia and if so to what extent. I tend to look at issues that involve self or ones where I can compare my own personal experiences and thoughts. For me, this makes the project more personal and relatable. Growing up I wasn’t a beauty queen and had quite low self esteem so I wanted to discover what it was like for a girl growing up now and in a privileged society. I wanted to know if those that competed in the pageants were disadvantaged when it came to conforming to the idealised view of girlhood or do the girls see it as a celebration of self. Did it increase the pressures they face or did it actually help them with self esteem and confidence?

“Beauty pageants for the young are a controversial issue and it is because of this that I went into the project unbiased and completely open to the situation. I wanted to allow the girls a chance to tell their own story. This project became a collaboration and I was able to photograph a more intimate documentary series. Regardless of political standpoint it was important for me to remember people matter much more than images. I was able to get to know the girls and the families outside of the pageants and photographed them within the home environment. These images did not make into the final edit but the process was essential to my research and establishing relationships and the story.

“I chose to take the pageant paraphernalia into the studio to separate the girls from the objects and to show the full extent of what goes into competing in such an event. Pageants are very busy; there is an overwhelming amount of colour, glitter and hairspray. By taking the objects away from the situation they become plastic and static. The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.”

By the way, Bartram just launched a kickstarter campaign this week to, in part, continue her work on sexuality.