Tag Archive: interviews
“instead of trying to pick apart the meaning and motivation behind photographs, these articles will try to find out how photographers are actually surviving in 2013. I want to talk concretely about the challenges facing photographers, and the conditions that affect their work, both in the personal and professional sense of the word.” -Dan Abbe, Why How You Living?, American Photo
We’ve been on the subject of business in photography recently. American Photo has embarked on a fascinating series profiling photographers around the world and how they cobble together a living. Called “How You Living?” the series takes a candid look at what photographers do to get by. Here’s a short explanation about the motivation behind the series. The crux of the interviews, though, is something not often talked about in photography circles: how do you make a living? The short answer is that there are very few people who make their living entirely from taking pictures.
Only a couple of the photographers make some or a substantial part of their income by using a camera. Others fit in photography alongside full-time jobs, freelance design work, teaching, or whatever else it might take. For those of us making a go of freelance photography, this might not be news, but it’s refreshing to hear photographers speak openly about how they make things work. For those of you just starting out, know that you’ll probably need to supplement your photography with other work (or less interesting types of photography) for some time. I know I certainly did.
Joerg Colberg’s Conscientious is a never-ending font of thoughtful writing about photography. The interview series there is required reading. Now,
three extended interviews (updated) five interviews, three not available online, are available in a new book, Conversations With Photographers, Vol. 1: Brian Ulrich, Hellen van Meene, Christopher Anderson. Here are the original conversations with Brian Ulrich and Christopher Anderson.
At $10 delivered in the US, the book’s a steal, and it’s a great way to support writing about photography. I’ve already got my copy. But there are only 300 in the first edition, so get ‘em while they’re hot!
And while you’re at it, make sure to check out the recent conversation at Conscientious with Benjamin Lowy, and get your work ready for the deadline this weekend for the 2011 Conscientious Portfolio Competition.
UPDATE: Joerg just wrote in to say that there are 5 interviews in the book. It was a bargain before, but now you get twice the deal!
Earlier this year, we wrote about two US states trying to outlaw unauthorized photos of farm operations (The Florida was changed in a few important ways after our initial report). That’s been the most tweeted and shared post in the history of dvafoto, and generated a great conversation on the value and imperative of photography of American agriculture. Of the many comments and messages I got from that post, one of the most intriguing was from a California-based photographer named Barron Bixler. He’s been working on a project on agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, A New Pastoral, and wanted to start a dialog about these issues. As he said in his introductory email, “I’m sick of shouting into the wind about these issues and would love to start a meaningful conversational thread about it with someone who’s similarly implicated.” So that’s what we’ve got here below. Be sure to check out the rest of Bixler’s work, and if you’re near Fresno, California, between August 19 and January 6, 2012, you can see A New Pastoral: Views of the San Joaquin Valley in a solo exhibition at the Fresno Art Museum.
dvafoto: Why do you photograph the agricultural industry?
Barron Bixler: I’m going to begin with a fairly provocative comparison, so bear with me.
Last week I stumbled across a talk given by photography luminary Fred Ritchin in which he quotes one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders on the power of photography to document events that would otherwise go unseen: “Without a photograph we’ve never been able to prove a massacre….If we have no photographs, there are no massacres.”
Reading this quote within the context of agriculture, many will rightly ask what human rights abuse has to do with where produce comes from. The short answer is, more than you’d think. In September 2010, the “guest worker” recruiting firm Global Horizons was charged with operating the largest forced agricultural labor ring ever prosecuted by the federal government. Sadly, the Global Horizons case is anomalous only in its scale. Google “florida agricultural slavery” and you’ll get a cross section of entries that expose the high cost of cheap produce.
My own approach to photographing industrial agriculture operations in California is decidedly ambivalent, and my focus is on the land rather than the people who work it, but in the back of my mind there’s always this same nagging question: what price have we paid (and do we continue to pay) to farm in this massive, industrial way? Even Monsanto—the company that 50 years ago repurposed Agent Orange into commercial pesticides and has been a driving force behind the Green Revolution—has tacitly admitted that indiscriminate and ongoing pesticide use is probably not environmentally sustainable. So when we look at our industrial food system as it’s existed since the 1940s, and at the downstream social and environmental consequences of that system, what we’re left with is a fairly disquieting picture.
Through our federal ag and trade policy over the last century, we’ve engineered our food system in a way that measures success as a ratio of units of input to units of output. And while this all sounds good and highly rational in that 1940s-systems-engineering-fetish sort of way, the problem is the units of input aren’t abstract concepts or inert materials. They’re farmers and farm workers. They’re animals. They’re entire communities and ecosystems. All of which we’ve placed on the same level in our equation of success as John Deere tractors and gallons of petrochemical fertilizer.
At the same time, as consumers of food, you and I gobble up the seductive myth of the independent family farmer and allow ourselves to indulge, if momentarily, the belief that Hidden Valley Ranch is an actual place tucked away in the rolling coastal hills of California. (For a case in point, read The Story of Hidden Valley.)
Just today I passed a billboard in Oakland, California proclaiming that “99% of California Dairy Farms are Family Owned.” A quick visit to the California Milk Advisory Board website confirms the source of this latest campaign. Watch some of CMAB’s gorgeous short documentaries about family-run dairies and you might be willing to forget, just for a minute, well documented cases of migrant dairy workers drowning in toxic manure evaporation lagoons the size of football fields or official reports from the USDA, EPA and others about the role industrial dairies and feedlots play in global climate change and the pollution of local air, soil and water.
If nothing else, I hope my pictures of California agriculture destabilize our cozy vision of where most of our food comes from—and more importantly, what it leaves behind. After all, if we have no photographs to show how things are, there’s nothing a good marketing agency or PR crisis response firm or government information ministry can’t get us to swallow: whether it’s rounding up political dissidents for a massacre or the latest formulation of Roundup PowerMAX®.
You say you work both with permission of the farmers and without. Do the farmers you work with know that you have such a critical stance on their practices?
A few months back I posted a question on Twitter to the effect of, “As a documentarian, where do one’s loyalties lie? To ‘objectivity,’ or to the people who trust you to photograph them?” The question was prompted by a piece on the NYT Lens blog called “Bonding with Subjects in Harm’s Way” in which Finbar O’Reilly recounts personal experiences photographing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
For documentary photographers, these are the large and rather prickly horns of the dilemma that defines our discipline: to what extent can or should you strive for objectivity when your subjects are engaged in practices that are, at best, ethically muddy? How do you separate out the complicity of the individual from the larger system of which he or she is a part? How does your empathy toward or dependence on your subjects (in Mr. O’Reilly’s case this most certainly was a matter of life or death; in my case it’s more a matter of access and good will) affect your capacity to remain dispassionate and brutally honest? Who or what are your pictures ultimately in service of?
Read on »
The video above featuring Zoe Strauss talking about her public exhibitions under an I-95 overpass in Philadelphia is just one of the pleasant findings at The Shooting Gallery, a tumblr featuring videos about photographers. The videos are divided into two categories: photographers talking and photographers shooting. There are 14 pages of archives to the blog, in which you’ll find videos about the likes of Richard Prince, Donald Weber, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jeff Mermelstein, Stephen Shore, Terry Richardson, Juergen Teller, Cindy Sherman, Ryan McGinley, William Eggleston (including this ridiculous interview on the Today Show), and many others.
The blog is the work of photographer Jennilee Marigomen.
Stephen Voss, a photographer based in the Washington DC area, announced a personal project earlier this year called 91 Days. For the 91 days of spring he would make one 4×5 instant picture a day in his backyard and send it to those who sent in an email asking to reserve a day. I was one of the lucky 91 to receive a picture (this one). There’s an archive of all 91 days at the project’s tumblr site.
The project interests me for a number of reasons: it’s worlds away from Voss’s other work, it incorporates older technology with social media ideas, the limitations of the project force the photographer toward creativity and innovation, and the whole undertaking is a fleeting affair (none of the photos will be together ever again except in the digital record).
I asked Voss a few questions about the project:
dvafoto: 1. Are you a flower photographer now?
Stephen Voss: No, though when I first started taking pictures, I was convinced I was going to be a nature photographer like John Shaw. Thankfully, photojournalism intervened.
2. Since you aren’t a nature photographer, why undertake a project like this? What’s the value (monetary, emotional, publicity, whatever) of these photographs? Do photographs need to have value?
This project came out of my feeling a little burnt-out on the editorial photography I had been doing at the time, and a real desire to work on something that would challenge me to be creative every single day. I also was interested in creating something unique, then giving it away, without expectations. Shooting instant film produces a single, non-repeatable image, so every print I made was the only copy of that picture that will ever exist.
Lastly, one thing I’ve learned about the way I take photos is that I tend to exhaust all visual possibilities when taking pictures and sort out what’s good later. I think this has made me a little bit lazy, visually-speaking. With the rigor and process of 4×5, I hoped this project would challenge this way of working and hopefully make me do a bit more of my thinking before I released the shutter.
3. What has the response been?
It’s been good. I’ve received some nice notes from recipients of the prints though honestly just sending them out has been the most satisfying part of this project. I’m very protective of my digital images- backing them up in multiple places, etc. and there’s something really freeing about making a picture, mailing it out, and only being left with a crappy 800px wide scan.
4. Who is getting these pictures?
The prints have gone to eight different countries, including to a product engineer at Leica in Solms. I’m waiting for an M9 to arrive as a thank you.
5. What’s the goal of the project?
On one level, it’s just about creating something, then giving it away. But probably more importantly, the goal was to create a structure and series of limitations under which I could be creative every day. I think freedom and limitless choices are the death knell of my creativity, and the more constraints I have to work under, the more creative I can be.
6. What’s the importance of personal projects to you, as a pretty successful working photographer?
Personal projects are my little photo laboratory where I try to break things and blow stuff up. What hopefully emerges out of lots of bad photographs and failed experiments is some subtle changes regarding how I look at the world and a fine-tuning of what I pay attention to.
7. How does the project relate to the rest of your work?
Most of the work I’ve been shooting for myself recently hasn’t had any people in it, and despite my love and deep attachment to documentary photography, I sometimes wonder if this is the kind of work I’m better suited to.
8. You’re pretty successful with magazine portraiture…are you typecast? If yes, does that bother you?
I don’t think I’m typecast, but I do shoot a lot of portraits these days and most of my documentary work is self-funded, like my Gulf Coast work (here and here) and all my China work has been entirely self-funded. With that said, I’ve had some great opportunities over the last year to work on pure documentary stories for The Wall Street Journal, Stern and the Guardian among others.
9. What’s your next project?
I’ve been working on a series of photos about closed car dealerships. I’ve also been walking around the border of Washington, DC, where I live, and documenting the boundaries and people. Neither has any real end in sight, but they’ve been filling up my days when I’m not shooting for clients.
10. Whose work or what projects have been getting you excited lately?
Be sure to check out Stephen Voss’s portfolio and blog, which often offers a good look behind the scenes of editorial work, such as in this recent post about making an anonymous portrait.
Earlier this year I posted my thoughts on Richard Mosse’s new project from Congo. Today Joerg Colberg from Concientious (and Extended too) posted an interview with Mosse about the project, and I think it touches on some very interesting things. I hope you have a look.
JC: Can you talk a little more about what you mean when you talk about art forms beyond photojournalism? What role can art play? And needn’t we worry about art being seen as, well, art, in other words something that’s “just made up”?
RM: I feel strongly that something that is ‘just made up’ can speak more powerfully and more clearly than a work of journalism.
At the end of the day, I feel that journalism’s premise is often not simply to inform, but also to affirm our world view. I take issue not with its informing role, but with this affirmation. I believe that it’s imperative to challenge our thinking, particularly in more volatile and loaded landscapes whose narratives are frequently calcified by mass media interests. My work is not intended as a criticism of journalism (which is tremendously important). Rather, it operates within the open field of contemporary art, where the emphasis is not on the answers, but on the questions – not on the facts, but on what they add up to.
Two Way Lens is a project of interviews with international, contemporary photographers. Their answers to three simple questions about their career paths, presented in this project, should help, inspire and inform emerging photographers. The tips and advice provided will be of value to every young photographer. A new photographer/ interview is added to the project every month.
The original context, of course, was the Vietnam War, a storm cloud that, through the last years of the 60s, overarched our daily lives here in America with a terrible weight….What had been general and unbearable became specific and agonizing. At least that’s how I felt as I set out on this project, a feeling I carried with me through the eight months that I worked on it and through Nixon’s presidency and the rest of the war….But while there’s an obvious parallel between that war and Bush’s wars today, and one I meant to draw with this book, it’s difficult for me to identify any existential connection between the hysterical state of things back then and the narcotised country I find myself living in today…”
-Tod Papageorge on American Sports 1970: or How We Spent the War in Vietnam in an interview with Foto8
Foto8‘s just published a long interview with Tod Papageorge. Well worth a read. He discusses the recent publication of his books American Sports 1970: or How We Spent the War in Vietnam and Passing Through Eden: Photographs of Central Park, the nature of “documentary photography,” collaboration with Garry Winogrand, and other topics.
Lu Guang won this year’s W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography with his work documenting pollution in China. The pictures are astounding. In an interview with China’s NetEase, Lu Guang discusses how he funded the project, how he found out about the subjects he photographed, and how he has built a network of people all over the country who keep him up to date with pollution in their areas. Thankfully, China Hush has a translation of the interview.
My RSS reader has been full to the brim with photographer interviews of late. Here’s a few worth checking out to fill a lazy Sunday afternoon:
- Dodge and Burn talks to World Press Photo spot news winner Walter Astrada about his career and goals.
- Foto8 talks to Andreas Gursky about, among other topics, the evolution of his work.
- Voices of San Diego talks to Matt Mallams about his plans for the summer and his style.
- The Fader talks to Andrea Diefenbach about her excellent work documenting AIDS in the Ukraine.
- The New York Photo Festival talks with Jacob Holdt about his process and thoughts about photography (scroll down a bit) (via 2point8)
- Camera Obscura talks with Mehrdad Naraghi about, among other things, how he publishes and shows his photos in Iran. (via Asian Photography Blog)
- Conscientious and Bomblog talk with Will Steacy about the process and intentions behind his recent project “Down These Mean Streets.” (second link via Rachel Hulin)
- +1 Magazine talks with Boogie (in a pdf; here’s Boogie’s site, too.).
- 100Eyes Magazine talks with Brenda Ann Kenneally about her own history and how her life has intertwined with her photographic subjects.