Tag Archive: photojournalism
Worth a look again: Paula Lerner’s “Behind the Veil: An Intimate Into the Lives of Kandahar’s Women”Mar 13, 2012 by M. Scott Brauer 1 Comment »
Paula Lerner‘s death last week came as a shock. At 52, Lerner succumbed to breast cancer, leaving behind a legacy of strong photojournalism and long-reaching influence throughout the photojournalism community. Working with the photography business advocacy group Editorial Photographers, Lerner helped negotiate magazine contracts that paved the way toward fair pay and copyright protections for freelancers. With the non-profit Bpeace, she helped startups in conflict areas provide local jobs as a means toward reaching peace. I never met Lerner, but knew many who did. She was a strong force in photojournalism–we’ve all benefited from her efforts to guide the business of photography–and she will be missed.
One of her most significant achievements is Behind the Veil: An Intimate Into the Lives of Kandahar’s Women, a look at the lives of women in Afghanistan. The work earned Lerner and the rest of the reporting team at the Globe and Mail an Emmy. Vital and in-depth, it addresses an issue that’s frustratingly under-reported and treats its subjects with dignity and humanity. We need more photojournalism like this. Spend a few minutes watching (or re-watching) Behind the Veil.
[T]his is a start on a “canon” to which you may contribute a suggestion. I’m looking not just for a list of the “great photographers” nor the most famous or successful. I’m looking for photographers who:
-Produced documentary work reflecting the important standards and ethics of the profession,
-Stood the test of time by repeatedly producing notable work, and
-Innovated in the art or profession by being first to adopt an important style or approach, break a barrier or rise above the limits of the day.
Kevin Moloney, photojournalist and professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has just finished a series of posts on the canon of photojournalism. It’s a great look through the history of the medium, including many photographers whose names aren’t as readily recognizable to most as Cartier-Bresson or the like. The whole series, linked below, is worth a read.
The posts ask for contributions to the canon, so if there’s a photographer that you feel should be listed, send in a contribution. I could see, for instance, the addition of Richards, Rodchenko, and Goldin.
BagNews is one of my favorite places online for thoughtful (sometimes snarky) analysis of news photography as it is used. They’ve been growing over the years, producing original photography and award-winning videos and generally being a can’t-miss stop if you’re interested in contemporary visual journalism. A periodic feature of the site is BagNewsSalon, online roundtable discussions about photography with photographers, editors, professors, and anyone who wants to watch, listen, and ask questions. On March 20, there’ll be another such event, Assignment Egypt, in which key images of recent coverage of Egypt will be discussed, dissected, and deconstructed, by photographers who were there and thoughtful members of the larger photographic community. Put this one on your calendars.
The title is a quotation from Walter Lippman, who argued that the herd of people saw things and made decisions through stereotypes fixed in their minds, and that the job of elites was to circumvent this “democratic defect” by operating their own channels of fact-based and critically-informed insider information.
It may be that people recently believed things; certainly McLuhan et al. avowedly all believed in the truth – but is the truth/falsity just part of the fading artifacts of a dethroned logical system?
In essence, it’s time we recognize our solipsistic viewpoint of only one way to record and document what we deem “photojournalism.” For far too long we have been held hostage by our own stringent rules, guidelines, methodologies and processes of making and distributing what was supposedly photojournalism. To discount Wolf’s work as anything less then what we all do is a rather fearful and, as quoting Lippman, a “democratic defect” in the pursuit of what really should be an egalitarian form of documentation. We cannot thrust upon the public or ourselves an outline of a “proper way.”
Frankly, I am very much surprised by the vitriolic reaction to this work, if anything this only heightens the exclusive worldview we have been maintaining for far too long as photojournalists. I see this as a freedom to begin looking at photography and journalism not as a source collected by the very few for the very large, but a release to finally allow ourselves to break free from a Victorian-era/Early 20th Century construct and create photojournalism that is reflective of the times it is created in.
Digging around I found this very prescient paragraph: “Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as ‘intelligence work’. Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.”
What I also find fascinating about this work, is that Wolf has exposed our roles as photojournalists as essentially creating work based on Pure Chance, a secret we like to keep to ourselves. Again, this plays into the myth of the Photojournalist and the role he plays (yes, He, as what we do is still very dominated from a White, privileged, middle class background; it really is only Us who can afford to roam the world and report other people’s miseries). Are we so upset at the fact it was a series of appropriated images? That these were not images made in a “classical” HCB kind of way? That we now realize that perhaps our role really isn’t that functional anymore? What I see is a lot of panic, when in reality this is a very valid form of journalism. In the end, what is Journalism? To me it’s about looking and seeing, a very pure form of expression, filtered through an analytical mindset, in the end, it’s about “Bearing Witness” (as has been stated time and time again). Why are these photographs by Wolf anything different? Are we truly worried about the way technology plays a role in photo-gathering? Why? What I perceive is Wolf has found a series of events, edited them into a cohesive whole, and presented the results. Not much different from what the rest of us do. If anything, we are now in the early stages of great dissemination of our work, we need to embrace these changes lest we get shunted aside even further. It should never be about the photography, but what that photography says about our contemporary condition – this idea of “Bearing Witness.”
I think of course what else Wolf has managed to do is approach the thorny issues of appropriation, authorship, collaboration, and multiple perspectives in the making of a contemporary story. I believe there should be a deeper concern: what is enough, to generate a meaningful datum in this solipsistic era? What are the limits of self-knowledge and objective description? How far can we go before coherence fragments and fades under the weight of mass observation? Does subjectivity have a future in an accelerated culture? Or are we secretly collaborating in a jittery facsimile of an invented order?
Most importantly, what is the relationship of photography to the unsettling phenomenon of a society veering into this icy state of flux? I sensed from all these responses to the Google Streetview work is our lack of control over our destinies. It reminds me cheesily enough from a line spoken by the narcissistic heroine in the film Beaches played by Bette Midler: “Now what do you think of me?” The photographer has become so entrenched in their own invincibility that we neglect to actually be journalists and photographers and just get on with seeing – and disseminating – what’s out there.
Lastly, I enjoyed this statement from VII’s Stephen Mayes writing on photojournalism in Dispatches Magazine, and feel that his argument is very valid:
“There’s a joke: how many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb? Four: one to change the bulb and three to sing about how good the old one was. Wherever three or more photojournalists gathered together I find this song is sung, but it’s not funny. The “crisis” in photojournalism is not an absence of newsworthy events, nor even the absence of an eager audience, it is the absence of imagination in bridging the two, and we are limited by the constant backward hankering for the way things used to be. People ask who is the new Robert Capa or Eugene Smith? But the question is misguided, and just as so many innovations have been misunderstood because they were defined in terms of what went before, so we are missing the opportunity to make a meaningful step forward in photojournalism because we are hanging onto the old references. How long did it take for people to realize that the automobile could be so much more than a horseless carriage?…”
“I know that, individually, photo editors still want to push the boundaries; they want to use edgier photos, they want to use less literal imagery. But the fact of the matter is that magazines have become fancy wrapping paper for advertisements.” -Aaron Huey: ‘It feels like a lottery these days and I’m tired of buying the tickets’ on the Emphas.is blog
Emphas.is is starting the new year off with a bang on their blog with a great series of interviews looking at the current state of photojournalism and people who are pushing beyond the traditional bounds of newspaper and magazine photography. All are worth a read:
Emphas.is is definitely going to be one of the projects to watch in 2011.
Antonio Bolfo‘s got a couple of interesting projects under his sleeves. Despite getting raked over the coals by his writer for a Newsweek piece, his work covering the ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti offers a telling view into the current situation. I thought I recognized the name under those pictures, and it turns out he’s the photographer behind the excellent NYPD Impact story that I saw a few months ago on the Reportage by Getty site. There’s more on his personal site and a good interview with him on the Photoletariat.
“Five years feels like a long time, and many buildings have been rebuilt and a lot people have returned to the Gulf Coast devastated by Katrina. But many have not come home, and they may never. Some neighborhoods have never looked better; other areas are returning to nature. There, the vegetation grew wild and high after the ruins were bulldozed away.” -Alan Chin, Katrina: the Fifth Anniversary
Alan Chin has a wonderful piece revisiting Hurricane Katrina up at Newsweek just now. The presentation pairs images from the immediate aftermath of the hurricane with a look at how the life has moved on for the city and its people. Definitely worth a look.
Facing Water Crisis is Balazs Gardi‘s latest project. The project incorporates stills, video, and a comprehensive website, and addresses the coming global water crisis. The work, as we can expect from Gardi, is beautiful and poignant. The project, moreso, serves as an example of what the future of visual journalism might look like, produced and published by the photographer through the website.
Love the music in the above video, by the way. Reminiscent of Lynch, perhaps. In the credits, come to find out, the music was made by fellow photographer Tivadar Domaniczky.
VII and MSF (Doctors without Borders) have just unveiled their latest collaboration, Starved for Attention. The project, a multimedia campaign featuring photos, videos, interviews, petitions, exhibitions, panel discussions, and other events, seeks to “expose the neglected and largely invisible crisis of childhood malnutrition” worldwide. Photographers Marcus Bleasdale, Jessica Dimmock, Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Franco Pagetti, Stephanie Sinclair, and John Stanmeyer, have produced documentaries for the project in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico, and the United States. Marcus Bleasdale’s piece, Frustration, from Djibouti is the only one online right now, but more will be released over the coming months. The exhibition is currently on display in Brooklyn at the VII Gallery (map), and will travel through the rest of the year. Check out the project blog, too.
Following up on our previous coverage, Marco Vernaschi let us know that the Pulitzer Center has published another post about the subject, “Uganda: Response to Critics.” The post includes both a response by Vernaschi and a note from the Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer. The response specifically addresses questions raised by A Developing Story and Vigilante Journalist and includes a link to an interview with a Ugandan lawyer about the inadequate police response to the murder of Margaret Babirye Nankya, as well as a video of Vernaschi’s interview with the girl’s mother. Of specific note, also, is Vernaschi’s statement about removing another photo from the project, this one of a child’s coffin. Three bodies were exhumed in a separate case and this coffin was one of the exhumed bodies.