Déjà Vu in 2012

Scott and I began sharing pictures with each other when we met at the University of Washington – a practice that ultimately became Dvafoto – and we’ve always been interested in what we call “photo battles”, instances of photographers publishing similar photographs either from the same event or the same place shot years apart. One classic example is the pair of photographs of a boy on a tank in Chechnya taken by James Nachtwey and Christopher Morris in 1996.

We’ve posted a few of these ‘battles’ on Dvafoto over the years but I have to hand it to Time Magazine photo editor Phil Bicker for putting together a fantastic post and gallery of 73 pairs of images from the last year that show off photography déjà vu on the Lightbox blog. Read the whole post 2012: A Year of Déjà Vu for intriguing descriptions (and categorizations) of the different kinds of photographic referencing that take place, from photographers repeating themselves to pure coincidence half a world apart. Bicker also wrote a post in 2011 about photographers who travel together, particularly in war zones, coming up with similar pictures in another great post Two Takes: One Picture, Two Photographers.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective déjà vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events — at the same time and place, year after year— as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of déjà vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same moment—seeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of masters—Cartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mind—who have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

-Phil Bicker, Time Magazine’s Lightbox.

Fader 57 – The Photo Special

Fan favorite The Fader this week released its latest issue, “57” (pdf download). It is the annual Photo Special and has, coincidentally, one of my favorite bands (who I wrote about earlier this week) on the cover: TV on the Radio.

Fader 57: The Photo Special. October/November 2008

Firstly, congrats to the staff including Phil and John Francis Peters who put together a bang-up issue of an already terrific publication. (Ed note: I am an occasional contributor to the Fader)

(c) Peter van Agtmael, The Fader (c) Gabriele Stablile, The Fader

Most important, and relevant, to us are the great photo essays included in the book including work by Peter van Agtmael: “American Wars”, Krisanne Johnson: “The Conundrum” and Gabriel Estabile: “Temporary Residence”.

Another time I’m sure I’ll gush more about the Fader’s use of photography and the brilliant art work led by Phil, but I think if you take a look at the mag you’ll understand this immediately on your own.

But what I’ve been stuck on from this issue is this story/project/something by Lauren Fleishman as the ‘Style’ section of the mag. (PS.. I enjoy Fleishman’s work, especially the piece .. which also appeared in the Fader .. about Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, another one of my favorite artists.)

I haven’t contacted anyone about this for their response, so please take this simply as a first impression and question: ‘what the heck is going on here?’.

(c) Lauren Fleishman, The Fader

Seemingly documentary pictures of an interesting person in a ‘hard’ situation (read the story on page 142 of the magazine, page 73 of the pdf), but all of the pictures are captioned with the clothes the woman is wearing. It seems to be another example of ‘real life people’ being used as models? (the toxic link: “Tasteless Vogue Photo Shoot” from Lightstalkers, about Vogue India using impoverished people to model luxury goods. Lets be clear, I don’t think there is exploitation going on in the Fader pictures, but it draws the comparison to other uses of ‘nonmodels’ and the possible implications). M. Scott and I both have seen things like this before, I think in the Fader too (examples elude me at the moment), and we’re more curious what their goals are, rather than their motives.

Frankly, I don’t get it and don’t know what to think. The pictures are beautiful. The woman has an incredible story. Definitely seems relevant and important; why the emphasis on the style not her story then? Are the pictures set up, are they actually portraits, or does it matter? What are your thoughts?