Almost 1500 photographers applied for the Individual Photographer’s Fellowship grants this year presented by the Aaron Siskind Foundation, honoring the legacy of the legendary photographer best known for pioneering lens-based modernist abstraction.
“He was a wonderful teacher, he was always interested in new ideas and in things that challenged us,” says Charles Traub, president of the Aaron Siskind Foundation and Chair of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts. “We’re interested in all aspects of the creative photographic medium and all genres of photograph investigation — as long as the work is new and fresh.”
The eligibility requirements for the $5-10,000 grants are exceptionally democratic. They’re open to any professional, a citizen or resident of the United States, “who’s working on a serious body of work, who is trying to do something imaginative, important, moving the dialogue of our medium forward,” Traub says, and adds: “the term ‘professional’ is of course a loosely defined word.”
“There are no strings attached. It’s not like you have to have five million references, and a complete bio and all this stuff. It’s really just what you present.”
The Foundation selects three new judges each year — one from the editorial field, one artist and one curator — with an effort to avoid being East Coast-centric. This year’s judges were Natalie Matutschovsky, senior photo editor at TIME, photographer Andrew Moore, who recently published a new book on Cuba, and Tim Wride, curator at the Norton Museum of Art, formerly at LACMA.
“[The jury] tends to lean towards younger photographers,” since they are the ones who usually bring forth the newest, yet-to-be-recognized work, but occasionally, Traub says, “there is a better known older photographer who does submit new work that surprises the jury.”
This year, six photographers were each awarded $8,000 grants. “We gave six instead of our usual five this year because we just couldn’t pare it down any further,” Traub says. They are:
Michelle Frankfurter presented her series Destino which portrays the “perilous journey of undocumented Central American migrants along the network of freight trains lurching inexorably across Mexico, towards the hope of finding work in the United States.”
Wayne Lawrence documented the diverse experiences of African-American Orthodox Jews living in New York City.
Joshua Lutz presented a conceptual portrait of his mother’s descent into mental illness as “she slowly slipped away from the aggressive paranoia of my youth to an almost calming sense of delusion,” he writes. The series was published as a book titled Hesitating Beauty by Schilt in 2012.
Justin Maxon documented life in Chester, Pa, where industry has collapsed and the murder rate is among the highest in the nation, “a place where a domino effect of socio-economic issues and a long history of government corruption have revealed the community to be a microcosm of the wounds of racism that stain this country today.”
Jenny Riffle presented a complex portrait of Riley, a scavenger who as a child read “Mark Twain’s stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and decided he wanted to be like those mythical boys. He wanted a life full of treasure and adventure.”
Sasha Rudensky presented her series Brightness which focuses on “an orphan generation of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians that came of age in a social vacuum, having disowned their past but lacking any means of orientation within the present.”
“I thought these were all wonderful photographers from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, from different parts of the country,” Traub says. “Largely, the work had a kind of narrative in it, a sort of structure of a story not told in a linear way and not told necessarily in a traditional documentary way. There was a great deal of technical competence and a kind of idiosyncratic look at life.”
Eugene Reznik is a Brooklyn-based photographer and writer. Follow him on Twitter @eugene_reznik.
Amateur astronomers call it the Penguin, and no wonder. Even through a good-size backyard telescope, that’s exactly what seems to be out there, hanging in distant space 326 million light years from Earth. With the clear-eyed vision of the Hubble Space Telescope, the resemblance is even more striking: it’s as though some cosmic artist has captured a bright-eyed, sharp-beaked bird leaning protectively over a reddish egg, with two stars — one shooting — in the skies above.
Both bird and egg are fully certified galaxies, though, lying in the constellation Hydra. The bird is a spiral galaxy, officially known as NGC 2936, and it would normally look like the Milky Way — a great, majestically spinning pinwheel made up of hundreds of billions of stars.
But the egg has changed all that. It’s a blob-shaped elliptical galaxy, NGC 2937, and its gravity has pulled and elongated the spiral, stretching one side into a sharp, beak-shaped projection and smearing the other side into the penguin’s body. (The reddish streaks are clouds of interstellar dust that formerly permeated the galaxy’s spiral arms). The two bright spots hovering above the penguin’s head are plain old stars within the Milky Way that just happen to lie in the same direction as the two galaxies — and the streak that seems to be flying away from the right-hand star is yet another galaxy, far in the background.
Back in the 1960s, astronomer Halton Arp included this weird configuration in his Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, but as telescopes have gotten more powerful, scientists now know that such distorted shapes are usually caused when two or more galaxies venture too close to each other, “exchanging matter and causing havoc” as a press release puts it.
The explanation is prosaic, but the image, taken recently in both infrared and visible light by the Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 3, is anything but. It’s just one more in a long list of space objects that look at least passingly biological — the Horsehead Nebula, the Crab Nebula, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, Jupiter’s moon Europa (which looks something like a bloodshot eyeball), and the infamous Face on Mars are just a few examples. Even the structure of the universe itself resembles the structure of the human brain, according to some scientists.
It’s no surprise, though: humans are hard-wired to see patterns in nature. That’s why we see all manner of creatures, not just in the heavens, but also in clouds. It’s a consequence of evolution — but it also transforms the world around us into a sort of living poetry.
Michael D. Lemonick is a regular contributor to TIME, writing on science, space and technology.
The artistic collaboration between Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin has spanned over two decades since their beginnings working as photographers for Tibor Kalman’s Colors magazine in the early 1990s. Using a wide variety of means, their practice, which has often concerned itself with how history and current events are perceived through images, reevaluates and challenges the classic ideas of photography as a tool for documenting the social condition. Broomberg and Chanarin have authored ten books including Trust (2000), Ghetto (2003), Chicago (2006) and People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (2011). Their latest book project Holy Bible is being released this month by MACK.
Jeffrey Ladd: Can you talk a bit about this current book project Holy Bible? Had it evolved from your recent work War Primer 2 which is a modern reinterpretation of Bertolt Brecht’s Kriegsfibel (War Primer) from 1955?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: When we were researching Brecht’s work in Berlin we stumbled across his personal copy of the Holy Bible. It caught our attention because it has a photograph of a racing car glued to the cover. It’s a remarkable thing, and in retrospect, seeing and handling this object definitely planted the seed for this book. Just like the War Primer, our illustrated bible is broadly about photography and it’s preoccupation with catastrophe. Brecht was deeply concern about the use of photographs in newspapers. He was so suspicious of press images that he referred to them as hieroglyphics in need of deciphering or decoding. We share this concern. Images of conflict that are distributed in the mainstream media are even less able to affect any real political action now then they ever were.
An essay by Adi Ophir called Divine Violence is reproduced in an epilogue to Holy Bible. How did you come to this particular essay?
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin—Courtesy MACK
Holy Bible, 2013
If you read the Old Testament from cover to cover, you notice very quickly that God reveals himself through acts of catastrophe, through violence. Awful things keep happening: a flood that just about wipes out most of his creation, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra – we constantly witness death on an epic scale and the victims hardly ever know what they have done to deserve such retribution. Adi reflects on this theme of catastrophe in a really interesting way that connects with our modern lives. He concludes:
“States that tend to imitate God benefit from disasters… even when they cannot claim to be their authors, because any such disaster may serve as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency, thus reclaiming and reproducing the state’s total authority. And when earthly powers imagine that they can take His place in the divine economy of violence, faith may provide resistance but no shelter. It is not God’s response to human sins but sheer human hubris that might bring the world to its end.”
This extract from his book, Two Essays on God and Disaster, became a philosophical and political map for the whole project. We felt lucky that he permitted us to publish it, as it’s previously only appeared in Hebrew. We’re going to badly paraphrase his argument, but Ophir suggests that the Old Testament is essentially a parable for the growth of modern governance (God eventually chooses his people, issues them with a set of commandments and punishes them when those are broken). At the same time, he points out that when his laws are broken, he meters out the most radical, unimaginably violent punishments. So this reading of the Bible suggests a contract we are all silently and forcibly bound into with the modern state and our naïve acceptance of the harsh punishments the state meters out; prison, the death sentence, a war on drugs, on terror… The camera has always been drawn to these themes, to sites of human suffering. Since it’s inception it has been used to record and also participate in catastrophic events. Catastrophe and crisis are the daily bread of news.
Is it possible any longer in your opinion to provide images directly with a camera from war or natural catastrophes that are not in some way undermined by this?
We both believe that events still need to be witnessed and documented. But what happens when those images of suffering are turned into currency, into entertainment/ Recently we were asked to give a presentation of our book, War Primer 2, which contains some of the infamous Abu Ghraib torture images. We had a moment of concern regarding the copyright of these images and did some research into the reproduction rights. It shocked us to discover that most of these well-known torture images are syndicated by the Associated Press. When we approached AP before we gave a public lecture showing the material, they requested that we pay £100 per image per presentation. How is it possible that those images have become currency? We must owe them hundreds of thousands of dollars by now.
Photographs are essentially mute in telling the “who, what, why, when, where of journalism without a caption and where simple gestures are read, properly or not, as a kind of photographic “shorthand” – what responsibilities do you feel a contemporary journalist with a camera has in bringing images to the public?
Is there still such a thing as a contemporary journalist with a camera? Anybody with a telephone could pass for one. And the world, particularly war zones, are littered with cameras. Soldiers, insurgents, civilians, even weapons — all have cameras attached to them. The so-called professional journalist must contend with all these other forms of witness. We have engaged with so-called war zones and skirted around the parameters of violence. But we’re cowards and have always kept back from any real prolonged danger. The Tim Hetherington’s and Chris Hondros’s of this world are a different breed. Our role, is to instead think about how images produced in the theater of human suffering are consumed; the individual response to such images. We only went to conflict zones to explore these ideas, never to responsibly document any specific war.
How did you come to decide to use the Archive of Modern Conflict for gathering images as opposed to using many sources? Was there a method you applied to sifting through AMC since it contains vast amounts of material? How did you approach such a task?
The Archive of Modern Conflict is a weird place — a lot of that comes through in our book. Officially it’s an archive that spans the history of the medium and concentrates on images of conflict. Looking through the thousands of images at the AMC, the narrative that unfolds is not at all a straightforward account of war. It’s an extremely personal and very idiosyncratic one; an unofficial version of the history of war.
One shelf contains hundreds of personal albums of Nazi soldiers. We see moments of intimacy between men — we see them kissing their wives goodbye, hugging their children and then fooling around with their friends. These images run counter to the narrative we can morally cope with. We’re not used to seeing Nazi’s displaying human traits; showing tenderness, emotion, desire. Our days at the archive sifting through all this material was difficult. So many dead people. It’s depressing. But somehow we discovered a lot of humor, too. In particular, a large collection of photographs of magic tricks became a running motif through the book. We always pair these delightful images with the phrase, “And it came to pass,” which appears again and again like a form of punctuation throughout the text.
Words as image (I am thinking of work on the Egyptian surrealists), or texts integrated into the images, have played a part in your practice. In this work had the underlined fragments found on the bible pages come first and then the images paired?
Our only intervention is to underline phrases on each page to add an image. Pick up any old Bible and you might see similar notations. There is a long history of this. But we wanted to avoid a purely illustrative relationship between words and images, so at times the connection is quite oblique. Anybody reading through will be able to make their own connections.
The scope of your practice has extended beyond making images in fairly traditional ways (working as creative directors at Colors magazine) to including appropriated images from archives and exploring different narrative styles. How has this shaped (and evidently challenged) your notions of photography?
We’ve always been more interested in the ecosystem in which photography functions rather then in the species itself; more intrigued by the economic, political, cultural and moral currency an image has then in the medium. We’re fascinated by how images are made but also how they are disseminated, and how that effects the way they are eventually read. Photographs are the most capricious objects — way less faithful then words. They can’t be trusted. So we need to be on guard just looking at them, never mind making them. We still take photographs, however. It’s just that we don’t radically discriminate between images we take and those that we find. We’re equally mistrusting of both.
As collaborators, you have worked both in books and exhibitions in a certain degree of success where many of your projects work well in both forms. You have also started your own small imprint Chopped Liver Press. I was wondering if you have a preference for the intimacy of books over the public exhibitions?
The definition of ‘book’ is undergoing a radical transformation. Far from becoming obsolete, the book — particularly the photo book — is experiencing a new lease of life. They speak to us. They turn their own pages. They update themselves. They have been de-materialized. Chopped Liver Press emerged as a response to this. We make handmade books in our studio. Very limited runs. When they are gone, that’s it. For War Primer 2, however, we produced two versions, a handmade edition of just 100 copies that was instantly sold out, and an e-book version that was freely available and continues to be downloaded. The code that powers these digital books is limited. But there’s great potential for intimacy.
I understand you are both artists and your role is bringing thoughtful art and ideas to the table and where it leads after is not really your business. But, is there any frustration in the thought that these ideas or philosophies get trapped by the “art world” in which they are presented and the world of philosophy (another comparatively small arena)?
We are more interested in the world than the art world, which is exactly why we are so honored to have this conversation with you.
Holy Bible is being published by MACK in June 2013.
Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions.
On the windowsill above my desk sits a postcard-sized portrait of my mother, made in a Detroit department store in 1941, when she was just one-year-old. Whenever it catches my eye, I’m always struck by how strange it is that, despite the generic studio setup, the soft even lighting, the baby-faced cheeks and the wide-eyed gaze, I can distinctly recognize her in the picture. Seventy-two years later, not only do I see a little girl with a white ribbon in her hair; I can also discern the woman she became (and is) decades later, and even perceive faint traces of myself in her features and expression. It’s as if the photograph conveys not just the present that it portrays, nor simply represents a memento from the past today, but in some mysterious way has always – ever since its making – contained very subtle intimations of the future, of her future, as well.
That said, I am fully aware that everything that I now glean from this image is entirely retrospective. And fundamentally I know that this is not the purpose of such standardized childhood portraiture, nor does it in any way reflect the intentions of the photographers who make such images. Instead, their motives are to reassure parents and relatives that the children sitting before their camera are safe, sweet, healthy, happy, and in a sense, forever young; to preserve and protect their subjects’ youth, and in many ways subdue any traces of their approaching adulthood. To prove the point, each year when my own children return from school with similar portraits of themselves – in front of the same pleated backgrounds, under the same even light – I am endlessly frustrated by the fact that no matter how hard I try, I always fail to see how these pictures might predict how my children will look, or who they will become, in twenty, fifty or even seventy-two years time. Nevertheless, with my mother’s picture in mind, I cannot help but suspect that somewhere, even in the tiniest details, they must carry within them this potential.
At 27 with my dad, 2009
Strikingly, the Finnish portrait photographer Nelli Palomäki – who often focuses on similar subjects: poised children and young adults – has an uncanny gift for tapping into just such potential. Whilst acutely engaging with her subjects in the immediate present, her images also bear the feeling of perpetually looking forward, and are hauntingly pregnant with intonations of the possible future-selves of her subjects. As the artist and curator Timothy Persons notes in his introduction to Palomäki’s recent monograph, Breathing the Same Air, “Whether these photographs are of children or young adolescents they all share a knowledge beyond their years.” Palomäki has said herself, “I like to play this game, imagining where they will live and what they will look like in twenty years time,” and her photographs adamantly insist that the viewer share this curiosity, and join in the game alongside her.
Of course, it’s vital to recognize that despite their convincing nature, the ghostly echoes of maturity that reverberate around Palomäki’s young subjects are in fact both imposed and imagined; that as much as these pictures might resemble their sitters today and perhaps in future, they are also self-portraits – reflections of momentary yet intense relationships that the photographer herself has constructed and nurtured. “Each and every portrait I have taken is a photograph of me too,” Palomäki acknowledges, “What I decide to see, or more likely, how I confront the things that I see, inevitably determines the final image.” Palomäki generally hidden but subtly potent presence within each photograph, and her determination to portray something that profoundly speaks not only to the past, but also more specifically to a shared present and a potential future is the underlying key to their power, and re-positions photography’s relationship to memory and notions of possibility – the past and the future – in a remarkably affecting way. At 27 with my Dad (2009) – by no accident the opening image of Breathing the Same Air, and one of the few in which the artist herself appears – makes both the intensity of the present and the time-spanning scope found within her portraiture poignantly clear. As she herself explains it:
“I never had the courage to take a portrait of my father. Maybe something would happen to him after the picture been taken. Or maybe I would succeed in revealing something that I didn’t want to be seen…We don’t hug in our family. We’re not so close in that way…So it felt somehow so forced, suddenly to stand there, like that, him holding me. But after developing the film I realized something. My dad was actually bigger than me – a lot taller, and maybe slightly wiser too. Suddenly my role as a daughter was clear. My father’s hand on my shoulder was protective. I looked like a fifteen-year-old child. I believe my father realized the same thing…We didn’t fight after the portrait. This is a portrait of my father. This is exactly how I want to remember him.”
Nelli Palomäki is a photographer living and working in Helsinki, Finland.
TIME LightBox presents our monthly round-up of the best books, exhibitions and ways to experience photography beyond the web—from the Steve McCurry exhibition in Colorado and the 55th Venice Biennale to Roger Ballen’s ‘Portraits from South Africa’ in Los Angeles and the Belfast Photo Festival.
‘The Guide’ on LightBox will be published monthly. If you have submissions or suggestions for upcoming round-ups of the best books and exhibitions, feel free to pass them along via email before June 15. We’ll also be updating this gallery throughout the month.
See the previous editions of The Guide:
Photographic technology was born in Europe, but the art of photography as we know it, was invented in the USA during the 1950s and 60s, sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. John Szarkowski, MoMA’s powerful Director of Photography, declared that great British photographers belonged to a “documentary tradition” that included Bill Brandt (whose press pictures of Britain in the 1930s were exhibited at MoMA in 1969). David Moore’s work from 1987-88, which was first published in Creative Camera in 1988, and now published as a book, Pictures from the Real World, conforms to the expectation that British photographers should, like Brandt, be primarily social observers.
The notion of a “documentary tradition” does not stand up to scrutiny, however, because of the many disparities between Brandt’s generation and Moore’s. Unlike his forebears, Moore benefited from a cultural climate that recognized and rewarded his artistry (the state-funded Arts Council supported dedicated galleries and magazines). This made it possible for him to cultivate a personal style that did not yet conform to the demands of the mass media. Commentators of the 80s interpreted the rather shocking use of color photography, by Moore and others, as a rebellion against the old black-and-white school, but in fact color became simply an extension of a “documentary aesthetic” popularized by the American formalist, William Eggleston.
While Moore was at college (he studied with Martin Parr from 1985 to 1988 at the West Surrey College of Art) the first serious challenge arrived to those who championed documentary photography as both an art form and a tool for reform. In the US and Britain, the theories of French thinkers such as Roland Barthes, challenged claims that photographs were objects of artistic expression or transparent reproductions of “reality.” As these ideas took hold two things happened: the supposed truth of documentary photography became discredited, and it was “saved for art.”
There have been many claims for British documentary photography of the 1980s, including the claim that it was a social critique of the Thatcher years in Britain. This has yet to be demonstrated. Arguably, the most radical aspect of these pictures, is Moore’s refusal of the role of “neutral observer” — something he shares with others of his generation. To eyes accustomed to digitally enhanced photography, many of these pictures will seem familiar. This is because they were cleverly manipulated, both formally (using flash mixed with ambient light to invoke a heightened reality), and conceived, not as “records of life” but opinions. Did Moore just happen to pass by and “snap” the conjunction of the baby and the television image, or did he find the image on a video? Looking back, we can see that this “documentary-style” photography (a term coined by the great American photographer Walker Evans) marked an important stage in the unravelling of the sacred bond between photographer/witness and “reality” that forms the basis of the authority of photography in the press and in society. The relatively recent invention of Photoshop has taken the process much farther.
This is a welcome and important book that is part of a current reappraisal of the British photography of the 1970s and 80s.
David Moore is a London based photographer who has exhibited and published internationally. He has been working as a photographer and educator since graduating from West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, in 1988.
David Brittain is a curator, critic, documentary maker, lecturer and was editor of the respected international magazine, Creative Camera, (1991-2001). In 2000, his anthology of writings, Creative Camera: Thirty Years of Writing, was published by Manchester University Press.
What do we want from our media revolution? Not just where is it bringing us—but where do we want to go? When the pixels settle, where do we think we should be in relationship to media—as producers, subjects, viewers? Since all media inevitably change us, how do we want to be changed?
There used to be a time when one could show people a photograph and the image would have the weight of evidence—the “camera never lies.” Certainly photography always lied, but as a quotation from appearances it was something viewers counted on to reveal certain truths. The photographer’s role was pivotal, but constricted: for decades the mechanics of the photographic process were generally considered a guarantee of credibility more reliable than the photographer’s own authorship.
But this is no longer the case. The excessive use of photographs to “brand” an image (whether of oneself online, of celebrities, of products, of major companies, or of governments), and to illustrate preconceptions rather than to uncover what is there (presidents are made to look presidential, and poor people are generally depicted as victimized), as well as the extraordinary malleability of the photograph due to software such as Photoshop, make photography more of a rhetorical strategy, like words, rather than an automatic proof of anything. Photographs must now persuade, often in concert with other media, rather than rely on a routine perception that they inevitably record the way things are.
The billion or so people with camera-equipped cellphones, meanwhile, make photography, like all social media, an easily distributed exchange of information and opinions with few effective filters to help determine which are the most relevant and accurate. The professional photojournalist and documentarian, now a tiny minority of those regularly photographing, often are unsure not only how to reach audiences through the media haze, but also how to get their viewers to engage with the often extraordinarily important situations they witness and chronicle.
This moment of enormous transition forces a rethinking of what photography can do, and what we want it to accomplish. For example, if a young person wanted to become a war photographer, we have hundreds of books showing how others have photographed war. But what if a young person wanted, instead, to become a photographer of peace? The genre, unfortunately, does not yet exist.
Perhaps, then, we might want to begin focusing less on the spectacle of war and more on those impacted by the consequences of war—as Monica Haller has done, along with many others. The all-type cover of her book, Riley and His Story, disputes any conventional reading: “This is not a book. This is an invitation, a container for unstable images, a model for further action…. Riley was a friend in college and later served as a nurse at Abu Ghraib prison. This is a container for Riley’s digital pictures and fleeting traumatic memories. Images he could not fully secure or expel and entrusted to me…. This is not a book. It is an object of deployment.”
The collaboration is intended to help Riley Sharbonno resurrect buried memories and deal with some of what he went through in a war that destabilized his life. There are pictures that he does not remember taking of events that he does not remember witnessing. Photographs, once rediscovered, sometimes assuage his guilt, providing a reason for what has happened. Some of the grand half-truths about war are diluted. But there is anger, too: “I want you to see what this war did to Riley.”
Similarly, Jennifer Karady revisits the enduring trauma of violent conflict in her collaborations with soldiers, working for about a month with each one to re-stage calamitous situations in civilian life that they had experienced in war. Finding a discarded tire on the side of the road in Virginia evokes memories of a possible IED, for instance, or looking out of a window in upstate New York while protected by sandbags recalls a vulnerability to attack—each of these pictures is made with family members participating. Karady views the procedure as potentially therapeutic for those involved, while helping to make the legacy of war somewhat more comprehensible to family and friends stateside. And unlike the imagery from so many war photographers, her pictures are not at all glamorous.
Some are also using their photographs to make sure that the violence is not forgotten by the broader society. In her project “Reframing History,” Susan Meiselas returned to Nicaragua in 2004 with nineteen murals created from her own photographs made during that country’s Sandinista Revolution twenty-five years earlier. She placed the murals at the sites where the imagery was originally made, collaborating with local communities in visualizing their own collective memories and also helping to better acquaint Nicaraguan youth with their own past. (Imagine then if it were possible to place photographs from Robert Frank’s landmark book, The Americans, made in the 1950s, on billboards around this country where the photos were made—given the critical nature of many of his photographs, it would be an extraordinary way to gauge societal change, or the lack of it.)
And some are trying to share the vagaries of war as they occur in a sort of real-time family album. Basetrack, created by Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi, was an experimental social-media project that consisted of a small team of embedded photographers primarily using iPhones, which focused upon about a thousand Marines in the 1st Battalion, Eighth Marines, during their deployment to southern Afghanistan in 2010–11. They curated a news feed alongside their own efforts, employed Google Maps as an interface, wrote posts in addition to photographing, all with a view “to connect[ing] a broader public to the longest war in U.S. history,” intent on involving their audience, many of them family members, in the discussion. Trying to establish transparency, they created an editing tool for the military to censor photographs and texts that might put soldiers in danger, and asked the military to supply reasons for the censorship, which were then made visible when a viewer placed the cursor over the blacked-out section.
It was a relatively effective system, until in 2011, when the Facebook discussion became too difficult for the military to handle and the photographers were “uninvited” a month before the troops’ deployment ended. Apparently a good deal of the content that military officials found problematic was about relatively minor matters, such as parents complaining that their sons and daughters had to wear brown and not white socks on patrol. Now only the Facebook page is still active, with curated news and continuing audience discussions. One mother’s response to the project: “It has truly saved me from a devastating depression and uncontrollable anxiety after my son deployed. Having this common ground with other moms helped me so much and gives me encouragement each day.”
And then there are others who, rather than wait for the apocalypse, are attempting to see what can be done to help prevent it. In James Balog’s long-term photography project, “Extreme Ice Survey,” cameras are positioned in remote arctic and alpine areas, automatically photographing the melting of the ice to help more precisely calculate the impact of global warming, and to create a visual record of a planet in crisis. According to the EIS website: “currently, 28 cameras are deployed at 13 glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. These cameras record changes in the glaciers every half hour, year-round during daylight, yielding approximately 8,000 frames per camera per year.”
Or, if we want to make sure that the opinions of the subjects photographed are better understood, why not at times show them their image on the back of the digital camera, and ask what they think of the ways in which they are depicted, and record their voices? An even more collaborative exchange of perceptions is that between Swedish photographer Kent Klich and Beth R., a former prostitute and drug addict living in Copenhagen whom he began photographing in the 1980s. In the 2007 book Picture Imperfect, his photographs, along with case histories and images from Beth’s family album as a child, are paired with an enclosed DVD of Beth’s daily life for which she herself was the primary filmmaker.
Finally, when making pictures, maybe they can serve another, more practical function. For French artist JR’s 2008–2009 project, “28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes,” photographs were not only used to document the faces of women living in modest dwellings in various countries, but in Kenya he began to make the oversize prints water-resistant so that when used as roof coverings the pictures themselves would help to protect the women’s fragile houses in the rainy season
Countless innovators, often working far from the spotlight, are today creating visual media that can be useful in a variety of ways. Rather than simply attempting to replicate previous photographic icons and strategies, these newer efforts are essential to revitalizing a medium that has lost much of its power to engage society on larger issues.
And then what is needed are people who can figure out effective and timely ways to curate the enormous numbers of images online from all sources—amateur and professional alike—so this imagery too can play a larger role. As badly as we need a reinvention of photography, we also will require an assertive metaphotography that contextualizes, authenticates, and makes sense of the riches within this highly visible but largely unexplored online archive.
Fred Ritchin is a professor at NYU and co-director of the Photography & Human Rights program at the Tisch School of the Arts. His newest book, Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen, was published by Aperture in 2013.
Shared human experience.
That was the driving force behind photojournalist Chris Hondros’ work. Moments of humanity, brought into the light and into the consciousness of the greater public. His images — whether made within the baked-clay walls of a compound in Basra, the mold-blanketed alleys of post-Katrina New Orleans or the quiet glades of a snow-covered Central Park — reflected an innate desire to photograph the human world he saw unfolding around him. His work was deeply empathetic, a quality that allowed him to tell stories that lingered in viewers’ minds long after the page was turned. And Hondros’ staff position at Getty Images amplified his reach — his photos sent on the wire to thousands of publications around the world, with the potential to reach literally billions of eyes.
In April 2011, in the very midst of doing the hard, important work that he loved, Hondros’ life was cut short by a mortar round.
The Chris Hondros Fund, established in his name by his fiancée Christina Piaia and close friends, aims to “continue and preserve Hondros’ distinctive abilities to bring shared human experiences into the public eye.” Now in its second year, the Fund offers financial support to photographers who work in the same vein that Hondros did — with empathy, dedication and humility.
“This award recognizes and supports photojournalists who bring the news stories of our time into view,” says Piaia.
Today, the fund, in conjunction with Getty Images, gave Chilean photographer Tomás Munita the $20,000 award, citing his “fierce commitment to photojournalism and endless drive to tell a story.” Munita’s portfolio of work, shot in a wide variety of settings and locales, reflects a strong and nuanced grasp of the human condition. His photographs of refugees in Afghanistan, prisoners in El Salvador and daily life in Cuba all demonstrate just how in touch Munita is with the currents (and undercurrents) of life.
“I would like to express my gratitude,” Munita told TIME. “[This award] is not just a recognition. It is the means to keep working on personal projects, which I am definitely going to do.”
Photographer Bryan Denton was selected as a finalist for the 2013 award; the committee cited Denton’s “rare ability to capture both the complexities and daily life of those living in conflict and its aftermath with an unyielding commitment and intellectual curiosity.”
Libyan residents of Tripoli stormed through the Bab al-Azizia compound in search of weapons as a structure burned in the background. Aug. 23, 2011.
Previously, on the first anniversary of Hondros’ death after he was killed in Libya in 2011, the fund awarded $20,000 to NOOR photographer Andrea Bruce. Emerging photographer Dominic Bracco received a $5000 runner-up award.
For more information on the Chris Hondros Fund, visit ChrisHondrosFund.org.
On Wednesday, the Open Society Foundations will mark their 20th group exhibition of “Moving Walls” at their new location in midtown Manhattan. Initially conceived 15 years ago as a way to highlight the foundation’s issues and to support documentary photography, the exhibition highlights and adds value to important (and often under-reported) social issues.
Initially, the Foundations’ goals were focused on Eastern Europe and Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But now, the Moving Walls exhibition encompasses work from around the globe. This year, the exhibition features the work of 5 photographers from China, Russia and Ukraine to Sierra Leone and the countries of the Arab Spring.
“On Revolution Road,” a project by TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev, features work from the uprisings and unrest in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Shot on assignment for TIME, Kozyrev’s work demonstrates both the collective nature of world politics as well as the individual characteristics inherent to each nation’s unique issues. “In the end, the differences between the aftermaths of the region’s revolutions may be more important than their similarities,” he said.
Katharina Hesse‘s project, “Borderland: North Korean Refugees,” tells the individual narratives of North Korean refugees along the Chinese border. Because they’re classified by the Chinese government as ‘economic migrants’, the refugees are ineligible for official UN refugee status. “After experiencing a world like this, it just didn’t feel ‘right’ to take pictures and move on to the next job,” Hesse wrote. She has been shooting the project for nine years.
“Juveniles Waiting for Justice” is a project by Fernando Moleres shot in the Pademba Road prison in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There, some 1,300 prisoners languished in squalor, lacking proper hygiene and provisions while awaiting trial. “My Sierra Leone prison photography has been published in the European press,” Moleres said, “but I feel that the story has not exposed a broad audience to this tragedy.”
Ian Teh‘s project, “Traces: Landscapes in Transition on the Yellow River Basin,” explores the existential impact the Yellow River has on the more than 150 million people it directly sustains. “My photographs play with the tension between the Yellow River’s place in Chinese culture and history and China’s emergence as a major economic power,” he said. “By using the landscape, I attempt to show what happens when an area that was largely rural becomes increasingly urban and industrial.”
VII photographer Donald Weber‘s “Interrogations” takes a surreal view on the Russian judicial system. Photographing people inside police interrogation rooms, Weber captures “a place where justice and mercy and hope and despair are manufactured, bought, bartered and sold.” Says Weber: “With each image, I was looking to make a very simple photograph of an actual police interrogation, but also a complex portrait of the relationship between truth and power.”
Moving Walls in on view at the Open Society Foundations at 224 West 57th Street, New York City, from May 8 – December 13, 2013.
As the old expression “a canary in a coal mine” suggests, the small songbirds have long been a symbol of a type of early-detection system — a way of indicating something that might otherwise remain unknown. And just as the old coal mine canaries alerted miners to invisible gases and fumes, the camera is capable of capturing moments that might pass unrevealed, or undiscovered. The striking pictures in Japanese artist Lieko Shiga’s series, Canary — currently on display at the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam FOAM — references this powerful metaphor with images that are not immediately recognizable, nor easily understood, but that are nevertheless laden with meaning.
The Amsterdam show is comprised of an extensive body of work first published as a book in 2007 — a book that has since become something of a classic among photobook collectors. The majority of images in Canary are utterly fantastical, bordering on the surreal: a giant animal skull in a room lit by mysterious blue light; a fireball writhing in midair; a woman floating above the half-naked body of a man lying in bed. Elaborate and visually arresting dreamscapes, the pictures’ effectiveness is largely achieved through an intriguing interplay between light and color. However, much of the work is also manipulated: relying on analog technologies, some negatives appear scratched while other effects appear to have been produced in the darkroom. The extent of this manipulation varies. As Shiga points out: “I always try to approach the subject in its own way.” The photographer’s methods, in other words, are dictated by the subject of the image, and not the other way around.
Perhaps because most of the images in the Canary series were produced at night or in dark, interior spaces, the work at-once possesses and exudes an unsettling, ambiguous aura. The viewer’s sense of stumbling upon another’s intensely personal dreamscape is heightened even further in the photos where the identity of the subject is disguised.
In “Restaurant Surtaj,” for instance, the details of a restaurant interior recede before the eerie presence of a woman whose face is obscured by a ghostly black presence. The photograph has the palpable sense of a half-remembered dream. The dreamer struggles to give shape to a dream — perhaps even recalling the table number in a restaurant — but can not bring into focus the face of her dinner companion.
Shiga’s work is strongly reminiscent of the black and white photography of Masatoshi Naito. In his classic project, Tono-Monogatari, from 1983, Naito interrogates the complex relationship between mysticism, spirituality and Japanese folklore in a striking series of nocturnal landscapes and portraits. By manipulating the photographic negative or print, however, Shiga also points to the inherent vulnerability of the human body. If not suspended, as it were, in Shiga’s imagination, many of her subjects would fall, collapse or drown, simply as a consequence of the laws of physics.
The emphasis on the body perhaps relates to Shiga’s past experience as a dancer, which she practiced before teaching herself photography. Rather than depicting or documenting a recognizable physical world, however, Shiga instead employs photography as a means of choreographing an emotionally and psychologically complex inner landscape.
Lieko Shiga is a Japanese fine-art photographer.