Category Archive: Worth a look
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 »
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.
With only a few days left of the Sochi Olympics, I can’t say that I’ve been impressed by American television coverage of the games. The sports coverage has been on par with NBC’s usual broadcasting. But I knew the other coverage (looking at Russia’s culture, politics, economy, etc.) would be bad when an NBC commentator didn’t explain symbolism during the opening ceremonies and instead told viewers to “google it.” I loved the opening ceremonies (having been a student of Russian history and culture), but there were serious omissions.
One of the most comprehensive resources I’ve found on everything surrounding the games, from what Sochi was to what it has become to what’s going on in nearby regions, is The Sochi Project‘s An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, published by Aperture. They’ve just posted on Facebook that the first edition is 85% sold out. That’s no small feat for a huge art book with 4500 copies. The book is available (alongside other publications by the pair) in The Sochi Project’s online store or through the Aperture website. The cheapest price to be had is through Amazon ($57 as of this writing), where only a handful of copies remain in stock, though more are on the way.
Don’t let the book cover fool you (my girlfriend hates it!). This is a serious document, the end product of 7 years documenting the region. There are great bite-sized briefs on many of the surrounding regions and histories interspersed among excellent and incisive photography and writing of Hornstra and van Bruggen. For a centuries-old conflict (and the current rat’s nest of corruption and crime), the book is an astonishing accomplishment. At over 400 pages, it isn’t easy to digest. I’ve taken to working through short sections day by day in addition to just leafing through it. Don’t take my word for it, though. Joerg Colberg called it “Highly recommended” in his review, or see what the New York Review of Books had to say, or Slate, or Fast Company, or Mother Jones, or the Guardian, among others.
Make sure to also spend time with the entire Sochi Project website. I find the book to be a more accessible way of viewing this project, but the website has a lot that isn’t included in An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus. By the way, both Hornstra and van Bruggen have been banned from Russia, which we wrote about previously.
You might also be interested in previous posts about Hornstra and the Sochi Project on dvafoto, going back to 2008:
- Rob Hornstra denied Russian visa; Moscow exhibition of The Sochi Project cancelled
- Rob Hornstra talks about his process and books
- Worth a Listen: Rob Hornstra on funding projects
- Worth a look: Rob Hornstra
And on the subject of Sochi, my favorite reporting on the games has been by The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe (link to author; link to TNR’s Sochi reporting, which includes other authors). Check out: Evgeni Plushenko Pulls Out of the Olympics, Proving That Corruption Is Bad or The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists or Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. or Why Did Someone Put a Giant Wooden Cock on a Kremlin Critic’s Car? And be sure to check out the New York Times’ An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone and Sochi or Bust: Have Niva, Need Hammer. I’ve also enjoyed the Guardian’s coverage of the sports themselves, including Sochi 2014: 10 high contrast shots at the Winter Olympics – in pictures.
By the way, if you click through our links to buy anything here, we get a small cut of the sale. It’s a way for us to keep the lights on here at dvafoto. Thanks to those of you who have clicked through us in the past! Consider bookmarking this link to Amazon. It doesn’t change prices for you and gives a small portion of the sale to dvafoto.
“This is it. This is your country. This is what I saw.” – David Guttenfelder
David Guttenfelder, Associated Press Chief Photographer in Asia, has made 30 trips and stayed 100 days in North Korea, one of few Western photographers with regular access to the isolated country. The AP was the first news organization to open a bureau in Pyongyang, in January 2012. Guttenfelder, an American photographer who has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize seven times and has won seven World Press Photo awards, oversees the bureau’s photography and staff.
He posts regularly on his instagram account (@dguttenfelder), including images transmitted directly from the streets of Pyongyang since he was first allowed to bring a cell phone in to the country in February 2013. Just Something magazine published a blog with 41 of his instagram images that are well worth checking out; the feeling we get with instagram and mobile photography – casual, personal, instant – is very interestingly applied in the context of the “hermit kingdom”. These are not images we’ve seen before.
Guttenfelder is in a unique position to document a country that had almost no independent photographic record for 60 years, and luckily for all of us he is doing a wonderful job and is very eloquent about what he is trying to accomplish. National Geographic, who recently sent him on assignment in North Korea, invited him to speak at a recent National Geographic Live! event, and they’ve published a video of his talk.
After earlier comparing his vision of North Korea on his first trips to the country to the movie The Truman Show he talks about his mission as “trying to interpret reality, trying to reveal what is real inside the country.”
This is one of the more inspiring videos about photography and how it can be used that I’ve seen in recent memory.
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.
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.
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.
Robert Capa’s Mexican Suitcase (previously on dva) surprised the photography world when it was discovered a few years ago. This week, announcement comes of the discovery of a set of undeveloped negatives from the Ross Sea Party of Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was found frozen in a block of ice in a supply hut established by the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott Terra Nova Expedition. Conservators from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust found the box of photos (pdf) while restoring the supply depot, and have worked to restore the photos. You can see the collection of 22 photos at the Trust’s website.
Closer to the present, and a bit less interesting, comes the discovery of a lost roll of film taken The Columbian newspaper (of Vancouver, Wash.) photographer Reid Blackburn before the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. The film sat in a box in the back of a studio room at the newspaper for more than 30 years. Blackburn died in the volcano’s eruption a few weeks after the photos were taken. Blackburn’s camera was discovered about a week after his body was found following the blast. This roll of film, comprising mostly aerials of the mountain spewing ash, was recently found by the newspaper’s photo assistant. What interests me most about this case is that I don’t know whether something like this could happen with digital photography. It was a major news event and Blackburn’s photos were being taken for the local paper, National Geographic, and the US Geological Survey. A digital take from such a large event would be immediately distributed and backed-up by each entity and wire services. If, on the other hand, some digital photos were accidentally misplaced and forgotten for 30 years, changing formats, bit rot, and damage to drives, would likely make the photos unreadable.
(links via /r/photography)
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.
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.
Nina White’s Stay is a personal story of a woman coming to terms with the realities of aging grandparents with ailing health. It is quiet and simply presented and we wanted to know more about the project and the photographer. Nina White kindly answered a few questions about her work. You can see a larger edit of this work, and other nice projects, on White’s website. “Stay” is also available as a hand-made book and is White’s preferred way of sharing these pictures, she illuminates why in the interview.
Where are you from? How did you come to be a photographer?
I am from Brisbane, Australia. I live in a rural area called Ocean View, on a mountain, which is about an hour away from Brisbane city. My initial interest in photography was actually sparked by my grandparents and some of their close friends. My grandfather always had a camera, which I constantly ‘borrowed’ whenever I got the opportunity. One holiday when I was about 8 years old some of their friends dropped off a huge stash of back issues of National Geographic to keep me out of trouble. It is terribly corny, but Nat Geo was the reason I got my first camera.
Did you grow up nearby to your grandparents?
Yes, my mother and I actually lived in the same house as my grandparents in Brisbane city until I was 6. We moved to the Ocean View property and into our ‘shed’ whilst my grandparents built a house just up the hill, on the same property. My entire life they have never been far away.
One of your other projects, Prodigious, also deals with the idea of family. Is this common in your work? Why?
Yes, I suppose family is a common thread within my work. The concept of a family unit, and the various different forms and functionalities that can be encompassed by the term ‘family’ has always fascinated me. Coming from a non-conventional family myself, I am interested by peoples usually private interactions within familial environments. Prodigious was actually driven by my absolute awe of the Duncan family, who I photographed for the project. I have known them for most of my life and find their lifestyle and bonds extraordinary. More so possibly because they an example of the polar opposite family structure to my personal experience.
When and where did Stay begin?
I began actively making Stay in July 2012. My grandfather was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus and we had began investigating the possibility of surgery for him. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is fluid on the brain – the cerebral fluid doesn’t flow and drain or regulate itself properly and slowly swamps the brain, reducing its overall functionality, it presents symptoms similar to dementia and so is often misdiagnosed in the elderly. Less than a week later my grandmother’s artificial hip broke through her pelvis, and she was hospitalised for emergency surgery. This was the beginning of 8 months of hospitalisation, surgery and rehabilitation for them both. The project really began at home, and ended at home.
Can you tell me more about the title?
It is a selfish plea really, from me to my grandparents.
And can you tell me more about the book you’ve made and why you chose that as your medium for showing the work?
I chose to present this work in a book format for a number of reasons. All my life I have seen books as an ‘escape’. In my experience they have the ability to engage a reader in a very different way to other forms of media. With such a personal work, I felt it was important that it was experienced one on one with the viewer, and was small and tender enough to hold in your hands. Another benefit of book format is the ability to control the narrative and rhythm of the work through the organisation of layouts and design. The book itself was entirely hand made by me and is completely unique. It was hand printed on photo-rag-matte double sided paper and the cover is cotton. The text within the book is all written in my handwriting, scanned and then reprinted. Hand-making the work was important to me, as it was really a labour of love, and I wanted to create a soft, tactile object a viewer could interact with, rather than just observe.