Tag Archive: blogs

Interview: Pete Brook on the Road

In 2011 writer Pete Brook took his blog Prison Photography on the road. He used Kickstarter to successfully fund his trip, and produced a number of interviews with photographers, prisoners and activists, gave six lectures and visited three prisons. Last year the project grew in to the exhibition Cruel and Unusual at Nooderlicht in the Netherlands, with a newspaper-style exhibition catalogue and an upcoming Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) book.

After he was safely back in Portland last fall, he and I were discussing some of what he had accomplished and what he was thinking about doing next. Fortunately for us, he agreed to an interview so I can share some of his interesting insights and ideas. It has taken a while for us to find the time to put this together, but I’m excited to share some of Pete’s reflections on PPOTR and how he sees his work as a writer and curator evolving. It is especially relevant for other photographers and bloggers as they think about producing work ‘across platforms’ and offline, and what is possible when engaging and collaborating with our community at large.

Pete Brook at Sing Sing Prison in New York State. Photo courtesy Tim Matsui.

dvafoto: I heard through the grapevine that you had an interesting experience right as you hit the road?

Pete Brook: I think you’re referring to my arrest. Before the trip began officially, I was in California. I’d been at a wedding, dancing and drinking in the sun all day. When the after-party began to die down, and being a gent, I offered to walk a couple of ladies home as they were across town and not staying at the hotel. Along the way, I took a piss on a palm tree (not so gentlemanly).

Thirty seconds later, two California Highway Patrol squad cars pulled up. I was pulled aside and told that urinating in public was an offense. I didn’t think a discrete piss on parkland at 5 am would land me in jail so I may not have taken the interaction as seriously as the officer expected.

I was on the road, had no permanent address, I was a bit merry, had no ID with me and was generally bemused as to why so much attention had fallen upon me. When asked if I would answer the officer’s questions, I said I didn’t feel compelled to do so. He took my wrist, turned me round, cuffed me and walked me to his patrol car.

The officer said, “We’ll do it your way. You could be in jail for days, weeks, months, even years.” A nonsense statement. He was reacting emotionally to the situation. Not good. He was also proving who had the power. I’m guessing it was late in his shift and he may not have had the patience for an inebriated me. I get that, but his solution, so to speak, was unnecessary and disproportionate.

I was in jail for 9 hours (as quick as they process anyone, I was told). Upon release, I was served with a court date and faced two misdemeanor charges of ‘Disorderly Conduct’ and ‘Willfully Resisting Arrest’. Just ludicrous. The court date was two weeks away, by which time I had scheduled to be in Ohio. I had to juggle my itinerary, bring all my Southern California appointments – that were to be in the last week of PPOTR – forward, and extend my research in the Bay Area.

Two weeks later, at the courthouse, I didn’t even see a judge. Not wanting to waste court time, the District Attorney threw the charges out. Common sense prevailed but not before I’d been inconvenienced.

The arrest nearly jeopardized PPOTR’s main prison visit, to Sing Sing in New York State.

Visitors to prisons must go through a criminal background check and mine flagged the arrest. So, now the New York Dept. of Corrections knew of the interaction, but had no details. I had to explain that no charges were brought and scramble for the paperwork to back up my claim. The workshop I did with the men in Sing Sing was a highlight of the trip and it would have been a sore loss to miss out.

I remain in the system. I am interviewed about the interaction by Customs & Immigration every time I re-enter the U.S. I’ve been told the record cannot be updated to include the info that there was no conviction; I’ll have to go through the same conversation every time I travel from overseas.

The experience was not great, but the irony could not have been greater. If I can get a copy of my mug shot it’ll be my press-photo for life!

Now that you’ve finished the fieldwork for PPOTR, co-curated an international exhibition, and printed a newspaper, do you think that Prison Photography the blog will change at all?

I’d like to say no, but it probably will. Not because of these projects but because more like them are in the pipeline. These emerging projects will take away from my time at the keyboard-helm.

Before I tell you about those new developments, I should say that PPOTR was designed to test the limits of the blog, test my stamina with the issues and test the reception of the public. In some ways, maybe I could or should have had the imagination to take on new formats earlier?


Directly out of PPOTR came the opportunity to co-curate Cruel and Unusual at Noorderlicht and that was a phenomenal privilege. Given how much I enjoyed that there’s no reason to draw back from activities outside the blog.

Cruel and Unusual travelled to the Melkweg Gallery in Amsterdam last April and then to Photoville in New York in June. This year it will show in Ireland and Australia. There’s some logistics involved in making those exhibits happen, and Noorderlicht and Photoville are greasing the wheels with that.


I initially planned to self-publish the Prison Photography photobook for the PPOTR Kickstarter backers, but Silas Finch a non-profit photobook publisher expressed interest and I decided to make it a bigger production … and print run.

We’ve signed on the dotted line and I’m writing the text for it now. The image edit will come in the summer and we hope to release it later this year. It’s wonderful to have, again, institutional support.


A couple of photographers working on the topic of prisons have expressed interest in collaborating on books and that interests me, but it has to be right for them too. That might sound silly, but how many essays would I need to do before I became the guy who writes introductions for prison photography books? Not many! It’d be good bylines for me, but not necessarily for the photographer. As a reader, I generally enjoy photobook essays that are not about the photography per se but about the larger subject and there’s many activists, advocates and academics who can write better on aspects of the prison system than I. Perhaps one or two essays will get done in time.

Furthermore, I just agreed to curate a photography show on the East Coast in January 2014. It’ll be an entirely new collection of works with a new curatorial statement.

So, I’d say I am busy. Somewhere in that whole mix I have to be submitting copy to Wired.com so I can pay my bills!
Read on »

POYi Chatroom Heroes collects the snark so you don’t have to

Modified screenshot - POYi Chatroom Heroes

Modified screenshot - POYi Chatroom Heroes

Taking a page from the Overheard in… series of blogs (New York, the Beach, the Newsroom), POYi Chatroom Heroes has been chronicling conversation in the chat window of the online streaming of 2012 Pictures of the Year International judging process. There’s snark, armchair judging, admiration, and anything else you’d expect to hear among the audience. Worth a laugh.

While you’re at it, make sure to look at the winners as they are announced, and sit in to watch the judging as it happens. Judging continues through Feb. 24.

(via Matt Mills McKnight on Tumblr)

Must read: John Stanmeyer’s blog

John Stanmeyer - Blog

John Stanmeyer - Blog

I didn’t know John Stanmeyer‘s work before my internship at VII in late 2005, and then it only crept up on me. His work distinguishes itself not by the sexiness of blurry black and white or other trends of the moment but by the slow burn of a dogged, investigative, and thoughtful approach to complex and abstract notions. You might not see wars directly in most of his work, but you will see the issues that lay behind them or the numbers underpinning a report in The Economist or an exploration of long-standing sentiment giving rise to social change. This is not easy to do, but thankfully Stanmeyer has just started blogging, showing the rest of us the process that goes behind illustrating the undrawable.

Of particular interest, check out Stanmeyer’s intermittent series detailing the process of shooting a story for National Geographic, The Amazing Yellow-Bordered Magazine (and part 2). I don’t know how many features he’s shot for the magazine, but his work for the publication is always wide-ranging and intriguing. In the blog posts, Stanmeyer details how he approaches an assignment, from the first cold call from an editor to the reading of anything related to the topic to story research to working with fixers to editing work along the way to more reading and so on.

In another series of posts, Why Choose a Holga (and parts 2 and 3), Stanmeyer begins discussion by answering a question from facebook about why he chose to use a plastic Holga camera for his book Island of Spirits (website) and continues on with a discussion of the entire process of making the book. There are more posts promised in the series.

Also, make sure to check out Stanmeyer’s field recordings–he’s spent much of his past 25 years of photography with a microphone in his hand or in his ears, and some of those recordings are coming out now through the blog.

Worth a Look: The New Bag

Congrats to our friends over at BagNews with their wonderful and expansive redesign. Already the preeminent source for the analysis of “political” photography, Michael Shaw has outlined his plans to develop the project and their increased focus on original photography created for BagNews. The new site is easily organized in to three sections: the Notes, the Originals and the Salon. Absolutely worth digging in to the archives even if you follow the site regularly now, especially with their Visual Archive.

In the Originals section, which is organized by Alan Chin, they are featuring a serial by Anthony Suau, continuing his World Press-winning work on the “Great Recession”. The first post, with photos from the Detroit Auto Show, is called Success or sarcophagus?.

If you’re interested at all in how pictures can be read and interpreted once they’re out of the photographer’s hands, this site is a must read. Even my mother adores them.

Worth a read: Picture editor at large Mike Davis’ blog

You should be reading Mike Davis’ blog if you aren’t already. Now a freelance editor, Davis started at the Albuquerque Tribune and has worked for numerous books, the White House, the Oregonian and National Geographic; his awards are too many to name and he’s edited the winning entries of many top awards numerous times. In short, the guy knows what he’s doing. His blog now serves as a sort of oracle into the process of picture editing, and it’s full of practical advice. The posts are varied–there are interviews with photographers he’s worked with (here’s one with Matt Slaby on creating long term bodies of work (Slaby previously interviewed on dvafoto)), discussions of compositional theory, ideas behind how bodies of work should be edited, career advice, and on and on. Bookmark it, subscribe to the RSS feed, read it every day.

Readings: recent articles on business and photography and journalism

  • Banjo extraordinaire Danny Barnes (I don’t know his music) has a great essay on “How to Make a Living Playing Music,” and he might as well be writing about making a living taking pictures. He starts “if you are a very materialistic person, skip this article, i don’t think you are going to like what it says.” The article is partly philosophical–don’t gossip, avoid people who talk about gear, “all the trouble in the world is going to come for you in two ways. the things you say, and the things you agree to do. be very careful about these items.”–but mostly practical–”the main business strategy is to build your own audience,” “don’t be afraid to do other things to make money in the short term,” and

    “be totally square on your taxes. render unto caesar that which is caesar’s. if you try to fudge on this, it will come back to bite you every time. get receipts for everything, 1099 everyone no matter what, unless they are a corporation.”

    The whole thing’s a fascinating insight into what allows a successful musician to keep doing what he loves, and has many parallels to photographers working on a career.

  • Kenneth Jarecke’s “2009 – Year of Transition” has a great analysis of what 2009 meant to many freelancers. He explains why he turned down editorial work (a first for Jarecke), talks about new strategies for distribution, cogently analyzes the havoc caused by editorial layoffs and how it will affect the future, and the stupidity of photographers signing “work for hire” contracts for $1200 a day with big clients.
  • PDN talks with the Aftermath Project jurors to find out “What It Takes To Win An Aftermath Project Grant
  • Joerg Colberg’s excellent “We’re all Zapruders now (but that doesn’t make us journalists)” examines what it means when everyone has a camera and how that’s different from journalism.

    “I don’t ever recall hearing or seeing anyone describe Abraham Zapruder as a “citizen journalist”. He was seen as what we was: A chance bystander who happened to have a camera (and use it) the moment the American president was shot and killed.”

    The piece ends with strong argument for what society stands to lose by getting rid of professional journalists.

  • Magtastic Blogsplosion surveys many perspectives on upcoming tablet devices and what they may mean for magazines in “The revolution to come.”

    “The industry also wants to avoid the newspaper dilemma – publishers were so excited to give away their content for free in the early days of the web, that there was no thought to an industry business model – and the toothpaste is proving difficult to push back into the tube.”

    And check out Magtastic’s collection of groups using the newspaper format in innovative ways in “What Newspapers Did Next” and “What Newspapers Did Next (2).”

  • The New York Times covers big media companies’ likely plan to begin charging for online content in “Adding Fees and Fences on Media Sites.” Among the problems faced by the old guard,

    “It is the established media, with their legacy of high operating costs and outdated technology, that face this problem. Leaner, newer online competitors will continue to be free, avidly picking up the users lost by sites that begin to charge.”

  • PDNPulse talks with the Wall Street Journal photo department and examines how the newspaper’s attitude toward visual journalism has changed under Murdoch. PDN reports: “The good news for photography is that our editor, Robert Thomson, is a very visual person,” says Jack Van Antwerp, the paper’s photography director. And while you’re at it, check out the Wall Street Journal’s 2009 Year in Photos, which includes many friends.

The disconnect between Wired and Wired.com

There’s a great discussion over at Boing Boing Gadgets on the (dis)connection between Wired’s print magazine and Wired.com. Spurred by a New York Times report that Wired might die,former Wired.com contributor/architect Joel Johnson talks about the difficulties of marrying print content with online content, the separation of the newsrooms, and other goings-on behind the scenes. The comments are where it really gets interesting. Wired contributors Gary Wolf, Steve Silberman, editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, and a few anonymous Wired writers and Wired.com bloggers weigh in on everything from the magazine side’s liquor cabinet to the influence on content and decisions wielded by CondeNast and its proprietary content management system.

“Lens” – The New York Times’ new photojournalism blog

NYT Lens Blog - from What Has Four Legs and Follows Me by Todd Heisler

NYT Lens Blog - from What Has Four Legs and Follows Me by Todd Heisler

Just found via a friend on Facebook, “Lens,” the New York Times’ new photojournalism blog. From the description, it’s intended as “A showcase for Times photographers, it also seeks to highlight the best work of other newspapers, magazines and news and picture agencies; in print, in books, in galleries, in museums and on the Web.” I’ve already subscribed to the rss feed.

Photocompete.com’s contest listings

Photocompete.com seems like a great resource for the contest-minded among us. The site’s editors list open photo contests (16 soon to expire, as I write, though that list includes some November deadlines…) and tease out the contests’ copyright, eligibility, and fee information in an easily readable format. There’s a preponderance of amateur contests, to be sure, but access to more and accurate information can’t be a bad thing. Seems like a great complement to our own deadline calendar.

Behind the scenes at the Big Picture

There’s a short interview/post over at PBS’ Media Shift blog about the Boston Globe’s Big Picture photo blog (which we’ve written about before). Just a few tidbits to be had, but it’s interesting to note the resistance that Alan Taylor encountered when he first proposed the idea and the difficulty that Boston.com has in finding a way to generate money with the site through advertising.

In my mind the Big Picture’s biggest innovation is making it easy to look at photos on a newspaper website. The pictures are big, sure, but more importantly there’s little clicking and no clutter on the screen. No wonder the site often gets more than a million pageviews in a day.

(Thanks to Simon Owens for the news tip!)