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.

Jon Stewart slams Time Magazine (and Pellegrin’s cover image)

Time Magazine - covers for International and US editions - February 20, 2012 | Vol. 179 No. 7

Dismissing Paolo Pellegrin’s portrait of Mario Monti as a stock photo for a heart disease ad, Jon Stewart takes Time magazine to task for the lightweight cover stories on its American editions. The current issue, shown above, the American edition of the magazine has a cover about animal friendships, while the worldwide editions have a cover featuring Italian prime minister Mario Monti. This isn’t the first time there’s been such a disparity between the various editions, though it’s not always the Americans who get the lightweight cover.

This is pretty easy criticism that shows up every time this happens with Time, and it isn’t entirely fair. The different covers make Time look bad, but if anything, a closer look shows that the difference between the editions reflects more poorly on the American news consumer than on Time magazine. The contents of the US and various international editions is basically the same; both cover stories are in all editions. The covers are used primarily to attract readers at the newsstand, and this has got to be the reason behind different covers for different markets. In the US, the magazine is on stands in grocery stores and airports alongside fluffier magazines. Time needs to compete with the likes of O, People, and Cat Fancy. Outside of the US (in my experience, anyway) the magazine is most often sold in locations frequented by business and government travelers next to copies of the International Herald Tribune and the Economist. I don’t have Time’s per-issue circulation figures at hand, but I’d bet the lighter covers sell much better in the US than covers relating to hard news and international affairs. So, while I’m usually on board with Jon Stewart’s comedy, I think the Daily Show’s reading of Time magazine’s covers misses the mark with a simple reading of the magazine and its marketing.

Be sure to check out this short video of Pellegrin’s less-than-15 minute portrait shoot with Monti.

And also on the subject of newsweekly covers, here’s a look at all the cover options Newsweek tried for its recent sex issue.

Worth a look: Joakim Eskildsen’s “Below the Line: Portraits of American Poverty”

Joakim Eskildsen - Below the Line - Time

This is one of my favorite series in a long time. Joakim Eskildsen traveled to New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia over seven months for Time magazine to photograph the growth in poverty in America. According to Time, more Americans live below the poverty line that at any time since the Census Bureau began collecting such data. Eskilden’s work here illustrates the striking diversity of Americans now living below poverty, showing the viewer how wide our continuing economic crisis has spread. The portraits are moving and emotive, portraying both the severity of the subjects’ situations and their underlying humanity.

I wasn’t well acquainted with Eskildsen’s work before, and ending up spending a while looking through his website. His book The Roma Journeys is available through Amazon; some of the pictures can be seen on his website.