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VICE Loves Magnum: Chris Steele-Perkins Can’t Let Go of England 

Chris Steele-Perkins studied psychology before turning to photography. His early work focused on social ills in British cities, at the time working with the EXIT collective. His time with EXIT culminated in a book by the group called Survival Programmes. In 1979, he released his first solo book, Teds, examining the British Teddy Boy subculture of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. After that, Steele-Perkins started to travel more widely, photographing Africa, Afghanistan, and later Japan. A Magnum member since 1979, we talked to him about all that and his obsession with England.

VICE: Your background seems pretty varied, having studied things like chemistry and psychology. Has that informed your work at all?
Chris Steele-Perkins: I’m not sure about that. I was obviously searching for something that I wanted to do, so I started off with chemistry and I soon figured out that wasn’t where I wanted to be. Psychology was interesting and fun, but again didn’t feel right. It was during that time that I got to working for the student newspaper as a photographer and that kind of got me going. When I finished my degree, I realized that was the route I wanted to follow.

Going back to the psychology bit, it feels like you have a strong connection to the personal aspect of photography. Clearly you’re shooting a lot of people, but you seem to really get to the soul of a lot of personal issues. Do you think studying psychology made you more easily connect with people and their plights? 
I think that’s more to do with common sense, honestly. I could argue that the best connection psychology offered was the fact that it wasn’t nuclear physics. It was a relatively easy course, I must say, which gave me a lot of time to develop my photography. I think my interest indeed is, without meaning to sound pretentious, the human condition. How people live around the world and in the world. I was also hugely influenced by the great humanist photographers; Kertész, Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Smith, people like that. They were a powerful influence early on, when you’re most influenced.

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VICE Loves Magnum: Thomas Dworzak Takes Photos of Sad Marines and Taliban Poseurs

Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.

Thomas Dworzak joined Magnum in 2000. His books often deal with war. His first, Taliban, was a found photo project which freaked out a lot of Americans who didn’t want to see what the Taliban looked like when they were fooling about. M*A*S*H IRAQ examined the daily lives of US Medevac teams in Iraq, and his latest book,Kavkuz, explored the impact years of brutal war had on the Caucasus region. Oddly enough, in spite of shooting in some of the most hellish conditions imaginable, he thinks Paris is the hardest place to work in.

VICE: You are often described as a “war photographer.” How do you feel about that?
Thomas Dworzak:
 It’s a label. What are you going to do about it? I’m not going to say I am not one, because I do go, and I used to go very often, to these conflict areas. But there are definitely people out there who are more into combat than me. There is a scale of how much involvement in war one has. And I’m not all the way up there.

How did working in Chechnya during the war there differ from your time in Iraq?
I think in Chechnya, I was more “on the ground.” I was hitchhiking around, trekking alone. You would talk to the fighters, you would spend time with them, and then if there was an attack you would arrive with them. It was all done in a very disorganized, one to one, personal way. I think Chechnya was very extreme as a war, compared to anything that I have seen since.

Extreme in what way?
Just the sheer amount of stuff I saw flying around. It was an atrocious war. Bosnia was very brutal of course, but there was not so much physical destruction, it was more killing and revenge on a very personal and human level, between neighbors or whatever. Chechnya was brutal in every way. The destruction of Grozny reached a level I had not seen until then, and haven’t seen since. I guess you might come across something like it now in Aleppo, for example. There was no accreditation when I was working there, no paperwork. I learned Russian so I could talk to the fighters. They were welcoming, so I spent time with them. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan I was embedded. You get your piece of paper and the military has to take care of you.

In what way did that affect your work? What’s your view on the embed format, do you think it worked well?
I think there is a strange kind of freedom in the structure of an embed. A lot of people have been bitching about it, going on about the embed being “the end of press freedom” and all that, but I don’t really think that’s true. I don’t know anything about Iraq really; I haven’t seen Iraq outside of the American point of view for so long now. But if I choose to cover the American angle, then an embed is not a bad way to do it. Because it is so institutionalized, you can actually move around and do a lot. You don’t have to beg, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s a bit duller in that sense. You just have to follow the guys in front of you. And there are not that many decisions to be made. I find embeds pretty relaxing in that way.

Was your M•A•S•H• IRAQ project concluded over one single embed?
It was almost all embed work. I don’t want to over-emphasize the fact that some photos—just a few—weren’t taken in embeds as it’s meant to be an embed book. I don’t know, maybe it was two years or three years, something like that. The core of the work was done over a year, I did maybe five or six embeds with the medical units over that time.

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TIME Photo Department

Columbia University has announced the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winners for breaking news and feature photography. A five-photographer team from the Associated Press was recognized in the Breaking News photography category for their photographic coverage of the ongoing Syrian civil war. Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Khalil Hamra, Muhammed Muheisen and Narciso Contreras were members of the team that contributed to the agency’s coverage of the two-year-old conflict.

“Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Narciso Contreras, Khalil Hamra and Muhammed Muheisen are some of the bravest and most talented photographers in the world and I am immensely proud of them for this tremendous and well-deserved recognition of their work covering the tragic and dangerous story of Syria,” said AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon. “In addition, I want to underscore the tireless and careful coordination and assigning work done by Manoocher Deghati, our regional photo editor for the Middle East, whose broad experience covering conflict is an invaluable asset.”

Javier Manzano, freelance for Agence France-Presse, was recognized with the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography from his work in Syria.

US-MEDIA-PULITZER-SYRIA-FILES

Javier Manzano—AFP/Getty Images

This photo taken on October 18, 2012 shows two Syrian rebels taking sniper positions at the heavily contested neighborhood of Karmal Jabl in central Aleppo. Manzano, an AFP stringer, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in New York on April 15, 2013.

A full list of winners can be found on the Pulitzer Prize website.

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By Paul Loomis exclusively for ASX, Interview conducted on Monday, February 11th, 2013

Antoinette De Jong and Robert Knoth are the authors of a book called “Poppy: The Trails of Afghan Heroin” that has transformed the way we think about photojournalism.  It doesn’t fall victim to the reporter’s myopia of five hundred word stories three times a week, nor does it follow the western media’s coverage of religious extremism.  Instead it does something that is magical, and that we at ASX have not seen a book of photojournalism do before.  It opens a world that you rarely consider and shows you its pulsing red insides.

Knoth and De Jong are married, and have worked together for many years.  They are from the Netherlands, and have learned to share the task of explaining their project harmoniously.  When they speak, they seem to leave some for the other to finish.

A search for their names on the Internet is little good, you merely find them on Dutch television shows, and maybe encounter a blurb about one or the other.  For us, after reading Poppy, this internet silence was Pynchonesque mystery, and so when they responded to our request for an interview, we were elated. We were not disappointed.

 

ASX: You were both photojournalists before you left the world of commercial journalism and started working on Poppy and other projects.  What led you set out on your own?

De Jong:  I worked in newsrooms for a long time before finally quitting my job and going to India.  From there I went to Afghanistan because at the time, in the 1990s, everyone was telling me how beautiful it was, and saying how much I would love it.  The best times of my life have been in Afghanistan.  Riding through the mountains there on horseback, you just can’t beat it.  I became fascinated.

Knoth: I think it was when I was in Pakistan after 9/11 and then suddenly 3000 journalists showed up all looking for a story.

De Jong: Yes, I had the same experience.  I had been working in Afghanistan, and I was mostly the only person there.  When there are no other journalists you are free to pursue the stories that you feel are important, but when everyone shows up you cannot sell your story, because then there is only one narrative and everyone wants to tell the same tale.

Knoth: It becomes very focused on just a few things, like religious extremism, terrorist groups, attacks, the Taliban, and Afghans beating their wives.  These kinds of stories are what everyone is after.  That was one of the reasons that I began leaning towards these long-term projects instead of the daily news.  When you write three stories a week they are bite sized, and no one knows what is going on in the larger picture.  With Poppy, we were able to cover so much more.

ASX:  As a child I lived in the Netherlands, and it was a very peaceful, idyllic time of my childhood.  What do you think drove you to get on the plane to Somalia or Afghanistan for the first time and go so far away from that European safety?

Knoth: We both grew up in the Netherlands and had very happy childhoods.  My grandfather was a military man actually, as were other people in my family.  My grandfather had a travel agency in the 1920s.  He organized trips all over the world and was one of the first people to take tourists to Africa, the Middle East, and the United States.  He was also a great photographer, a lot better than me. So I think it’s in your blood sometimes, a little bit of gene programming. 

I went to Somalia in 1993 simply because the opportunity arose, and while we were coming over the city I saw a UN convoy moving very fast through Mogadishu.  Then when I stepped off onto the runway I was almost run over by a UN tank, and there were all of these smiling Somalis asking “Whose he? Why is he here?”  I just thought it was a big mistake, almost turned around and got back on the plane, but I ended up staying.  Some people can do this kind of work and some people can’t.

ASX: Which conflicts have you covered for the international press, before starting on the Poppy project?

Somalia in the 1990s, starting in 1994, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tamil conflict in the 1990s, Kosovo, Sudan  and others.

ASX: Somalia gets a lot of press as one of the wildest places in the world.  I think a lot of westerners couldn’t even imagine going there.  Describe a typical day of reporting there, what should a visitor never do there?

De Jong: (laughing) Walk around alone on the street! That’s something you shouldn’t do.

But a typical day there, well, I would always be sick!  Usually I never got sick, and Robert was the one who was sick everywhere we went, but in Somalia it was me.  So I would wake up, boil the water, filter the water, chlorinate the water and then boil it again, and then still get sick!  Then we would go out with our translator and try to take some photographs and talk to some people.  I remember that almost every day there Robert would reach for his camera in the street, and almost in exactly choreographed motion, these little boys would reach down to pick up rocks to throw at him (laughing), it was just hilarious.

Knoth: Its true!  Also in Somalia it never is a smart thing to offend anybody. That might get you killed on the spot, conflicts over work and payment included.  In this case it’s a bit of a story: Weeks before our arrival in the region of Geddo in Western Somalia everyone was already aware that we were coming. We were warned that quite a few people were already competing with each other to provide us with a car and fixer to earn some cash. If you pick one, you piss off the others, who then might pressurize you in working with them.

Before our arrival we already had arranged a safe fixer and car, while landing at the airstrip of Bardera we already saw other cars waiting for us. One of them was Abdi, a nephew of the king of the Marehan clan, which we found out later.  Off course Abdi wanted to work with us, guaranteeing our safety, and he was not inclined to let us go. We managed  telling him that we already had another team, which took a while.

The next day, just when we thought we would not see him again, Abdi returned triumphantly. With him was an old man who was introduced to us as ‘the king of the Marehan.’ Abdi handed us a letter starting with: “Read this letter carefully, it is good for you.”  The king of the Marehan recommended we work with Abdi. If not, the letter read, our safety could not be guaranteed. After a quick discussion amongst ourselves we promised to work with Abdi tomorrow, after which they left. Within half an hour we were on our way to Garbahaarrey, knowing that it would be rather suicidal to return to Bardera any time soon. It’s like being in the Godfather. Offers you can’t refuse.

But I love Somalia.  The people there, they are incredible.  They have this wonderful sense of humor, a playfulness about them, and they really know how to enjoy life.  For them, the fact that you are a westerner isn’t important, it often plays a complicating  role when working in Africa.  It’s a fabulous country.

 

 

ASX: So in all of these countries you must have spent a lot of time finding the right people to talk to. Did you have a method?  Or more broadly, how did you do it?  For example in Afghanistan when you were photographing people working in the illegal poppy fields they seem very relaxed and unconcerned.  This is the case for many people and situations you’ve photographed.  Is there a strategy that works consistently?

De Jong: Just walking in the street and getting to know people is a great way to do it.  You get invited into homes, invited to eat, and people tell you stories.  We prefer to stay in one place for a longer period of time rather than go to five places in the same period.  And always we are looking for people who, by sharing the details of their lives with us, tell the region’s story.

Knoth: An excellent translator is the most important thing. They not only translate but they also introduce you to people in the community.  But no, there is no method that works consistently everywhere.  Working in Afghanistan is completely different than working in Somalia.  The only consistent thing is that you must have someone to break the ice between you and the community. 

De Jong: We also try to always have fun wherever we go.  With the people working in the poppy fields we have a good time, we laugh, and take their pictures.  This is the same everywhere we go. 

ASX: What kind of camera(s) do you use?

Knoth: I have always used film cameras for a few reasons.  A Hasselblad, a few others.  When you go to Afghanistan with digital cameras you run out of batteries in a few days, and then you’re in trouble with no electricity available.  Film cameras also tend to be lighter, and we try to travel as light as possible.  Then you don’t seem as official or as much like a journalist.  Your not holding the newest digital camera.  People tend to forget about you and allow you to work, they don’t give you the same respect and they are more natural. 

De Jong: I shot video the last time we were in Afghanistan with a 200 Euro flip camera.  It was small, lightweight and cheap, but the footage was good and that is what’s important.  One of our translators in Somalia used to make fun of Robert all of time for using these old cameras.  He couldn’t understand why a westerner would use old equipment.

ASX: Poppy is a powerful book, and much of this power comes from how succinct it is.  Although very large, it distills a vast amount of information into a single volume.  Did you have a method for synthesizing so many years of reporting into a single book, once all of the work was done?

Knoth: This was one of the most horrible parts of the entire project.  We agonized over what to include and what to leave out for almost three years.  This project spanned twenty years of our lives, and when you look at it you might think that we set out to do it, that we began with a plan.  But no, there was no plan, we merely realized at some point, several years ago, that we had worked in the region long enough to see something really large and unique.  We saw that it was many of the countries or issued we had been reporting on were in various ways connected and decided to make a book.

De Jong: Of course there were many arguments over what to include and what to throw out.  We both had things that were very important to us.

Knoth: Yes we fought a bit didn’t we?  But after going through 1000 or so rolls of film, maybe more, we had come out with a series of photographs, around 1500, that we felt showed our experience.  Then the book designer got involved, and we gave him what we had.  After he’d looked at it we asked him if it made sense and he said no, he had no idea what had happened or what we’d seen. It made no sense at all. So he broke it up into these epochs, sort of trails that we’d travelled, and suddenly it all began to come together.  That was around a year before the book was published.

The photos were incredibly difficult to choose from because we had all kinds of formats.  I have shot in these regions with large format black and white, with my Hasselblad, with 35mm color, and then Antoinette with an old Olympus 1,her flip camera and a digital Canon, so the mediums really were incredibly diverse.  At one time this might have been unacceptable, but now with the internet, you could even shoot pictures with a cell phone camera, the aesthetic standard has been seriously altered.  We threw out all of the aesthetic photos and focused only on the story. That was a very important part of the process.  We discarded everything that was merely beautiful and had nothing to say.

De Jong: Combining all those different formats also worked well to provide an element of fiction to the book, and at times an almost surreal feeling. As far as keeping it succinct, rather than going in depth on some issues, we felt it was more important to paint a mosaic. Often you only need to hint at something or suggest something in a few words and images. That can already show the fluidity of events and explain the chains and networks and how it’s all connected. We wanted to provide a high density of all sorts of information that seemingly had nothing to do with each other and then peel off the layers and allow the reader to see the story emerging.

We split it up in three layers: first a historical timeline, second our own observations/reportage elements and diary fragments, and the third was captions/extra information related to the pictures shown. And then the main text. Each element was needed to understand the others.  For each country we started to collect information, roughly from the beginning of the Afghan civil War in 1972 till 2011. So it was quite methodical.

ASX: That confirms my initial suspicion that all of the images are highly curated and none are lightly placed. One of the photographs I remember best best from the entire book is the one of Mamik, the blind girl you photographed first in 2001, and again in 2009.  Her transformation was so tragic, and it is one that reveals the desolation and poverty that drives so many people in Afghanistan to cultivate poppy.  Have you seen her again?  Can you talk a bit about your relationship with her?

De Jong: Yes, Mamik’s image was one I was absolutely convinced had to be in the book.  When we first met her we were riding on horseback, not even in trucks, through the mountain communities who were experiencing a terrible drought.  There were many fresh children’s graves.  All of the men had gone off to Pakistan, to Iran, or to Kabul to find work because nothing could be grown any more in the villages.  There were only women and children and old people, and many of the old had stopped eating in order to save food for the children and their mothers.  It was devastating.

When I met Mamik the vulnerability of her position was immediately clear.  There was no medical care for her, and only her friend to take care of her in these very difficult conditions.  She said it herself; she said that she didn’t know what she would do without her friend.

And when we came back almost ten years later, her friend had been married off to another village, and Mamik had to live with her brother and there she was pretty much confined to the house, without anyone helping her. She had no hope left. I thought her position was like that of much of population and in that sense it helps to explain the context of life in Afghanistan.

ASX: When I saw the first picture I thought that you understood her situation much better than she did, and that the horror of that second picture is part of life’s fundamental horror. In that second photograph she has been finally introduced to her own reality.  I thought too that she in many ways represents many of the people in the book, people who participate in the global drug trade because from their situation it is a very viable, reasonable option.  I kept having this reaction to Poppy as I was reading and viewing the photographs, realizing that people react in a logical way to their surroundings, and that if I were them I would almost certainly do exactly the same thing.  I would become involved in the drug trade if it was my only option.

De Jong:  I’m glad you said that, because throughout the book we tried very hard not to be judgmental, to show people in the places they live with their options around them.  This was very difficult, and I worry sometimes that to some people the book might seem a judgment on those it depicts.

Knoth: The heroin trade in Afghanistan set off in the 1980s, as way of funding the Mujahedeen which received large sums of money and weapons from the West and the Saudis, and being quite aware of the fact that they were dealing in opium and heroin on a large scale. Much to the chagrin of the DEA they were not allowed to go after these cartel.  From Afghanistan the drug trade  started to tap into this emerging global network and it has continue to grow ever since. Millions of people now depend on it.

Drugs have become an integral part of our economic system and drugs have been a byproduct of modern warfare since the dirty wars in South East Asia in the 50ties and 60ties.

ASX: This sort of brings us to my next question.  I live in Mexico City, and Mexico has an enormous drug trafficking problem.  I had a friend who was a journalist here in the city, and who sadly died in mysterious circumstances shortly after I met him.  Before he did, he told me that the only option when it came to drugs was to put them in the hands of Governments and Corporations, who he claimed were only potentially evil when they were not regulated, in order to keep them from falling into the hands of criminals, who in his opinion represented a legitimate evil.  After tracing the effects of an extremely powerful (politically and physically) drug, what policies would you urge Western governments, who have drug consumption problems, and other governments, who have drug production and trafficking problems, to pursue?  Do those policies include legalization and taxation?

De Jong: We tend to support legalization, but reluctantly. It’s not going to be the silver bullet, there will always be a parallel market, but it will reduce a lot of the negative side effects, crime, healthcare issues and addiction. We think it is difficult to implement smart policies.  For example the semi-legal marijuana laws in the Netherlands have had some serious drawbacks, and are now playing out in organized crime and violence.  So yes to legalization, but with great care.

 ASX:  So that is one option, if governments decide to legalize, but for many Western governments that does not seem like a political reality within the next several decades.  Do you envision any kind of decline in the global drug trade in the next 50 years?  One precipitated, perhaps, by more advanced surveillance and enforcement methods by governments?  Or will the drug problem grow as new markets open up in the developing world?

Knoth: It is quite impossible to contain the flow of drugs or any other goods for that matter. Much if it having to do with scale.  New technologies and developments have allowed us to increase the scale in/of which we do things and also at a cheaper price.  Container ships can now carry up to 11.000 containers: in less than 10 years’ time the amount goods transported more than doubled from 332 million tons to 828 million tons. It’s impossible to check everything. At the same time drug cartels clog the judicial system with drug runners, often tipping off the police themselves while the big shipment bribe their way through. Another example are IED’s, they are cheap to produce, so in Afghanistan the Taliban have figured out that while planting one IED has little effect, planting a hundred of them is a very effective way of taking on an opponent who in terms of resources is vastly superior. The same goes for human traffickers, counterfeiting goods, etc. Scale has been an effective strategy for the ‘little men to take on the strong men’ so to speak, and to obstruct the entire system of control. The fact that crime has gone transnational makes it even worse since governments are restricted to operate within their own countries. The US and NATO logical response is drones and special forces operating in more than a hundred countries in a desperate attempt to stem the growing anarchy.

Whether that is the smartest response is a different matter altogether.

ASX: In Mexico the Narcos have more planes and better guns than the police.

Knoth: Right, they are being outspent.  It’s a matter of money. 

ASX: On the back of “Poppy” the first line is “In the 21st century, globalization has opened up the world for better or for worse.”  This question is simple, and at some point everyone decides it for themselves.  For you, globalization is ultimately what kind of force?  Do you fear its impacts or believe in its liberating power?

Knoth: Well I don’t know, it’s very difficult to say, I think it’s both.  For me it’s both.  It’s much better than the cold war.  (laughs)…  It has improved the lives of millions, if not billions of people though, without a doubt.  On the other hand some of the consequences we have seen are very dire.

De Jong: Absolutely, it’s very complicated and very difficult to understand as a phenomena.  Poppy is a result of it though, in many ways.  Its coverage, its expanse, which you have mentioned, was only possible with the Internet. But 21st century globalisation is a process of transformation, as it was in late 19th century when we moved from an agricultural society towards an industrial society.

Knoth: Back then it also led to massive instability eventually leading to WW1 and WWII. At the moment the chaos around us is growing as well. So maybe it’s time to start looking at what is going from a different perspective, the economic rationale behind it instead of religious extremism vs democracy. Our book is an attempt to do that. If anything Poppy is about transformation.

De Jong: Without the Internet… you’ve mentioned your debt to the Internet in terms of what you are aware of and what information is available to you, we are the same.  The amount of information that we were able to integrate into Poppy would not have been possible without the net.  Our research phase was enormous, and honestly I don’t think the series of realizations that made such a huge portrait possible would have ever been set into motion without the enormous amount of data at our fingertips. 

Knoth: There something called data journalism now, where you don’t listen to anyone, you don’t read the papers, you just look at massive amounts of data.  And frequently what you see in that data is completely different from what everyone is saying.  Poppy is somewhat like that.

ASX:  It actually makes more sense to me now, the book does.  Now that you’ve mentioned your debt to the Internet and its ability to put so much information at your fingertips, I recognize Poppy as a very unique object of our age.  I said repeatedly that I really know of no other book like it.  I think it is singular in its scope and perspective and in the vast amounts of information it synthesizes.  An impressive achievement.  What’s next?

Knoth: That’s still uncertain. We have some ideas for new work. We have carefully considered a film adaptation of Poppy, but that is still not much more than a plan.  We are continuing with Fukushima, and some other smaller projects. Right now we don’t have anything planned on the scale of Poppy. I guess Poppy is just once in a lifetime given the scope and depth of the project. It’s actually quite difficult to decide what is next in that sense.

 

 



















 

(All rights reserved. Text @ ASX and Paul Loomis. Images @ Antoinette De Jong and Robert Knoth)

The post ASX EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW – “Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth” (2012) appeared first on ASX | AMERICAN SUBURB X | Photography & Culture.

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A gunman killed 20 first graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, protests swelled in New Delhi after the gang-rape of a young woman, and Syrians continue to flee their country as a war is waged.

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Photojournalism_Links

The year 2012 is coming to an end today and I’m sure you have seen plenty of ‘best of ‘ lists already (If you haven’t, you can find a lot of them here), but I couldn’t resist adding one more by sharing my selection of top ten photographs of the year. Trying to make such a tight edit of all the great photojournalism I’ve seen this year was challenging, but I thought ten was a good round number. So here are the top photographs of 2012, as chosen by me, in chronological order.

Lorenzo Meloni’s photograph of two menacing looking militiamen, one in shades and one wearing a balaclava, patrolling the streets of Benghazi in January 2012 stuck in my mind as soon as I saw The Telegraph Magazine run it double truck in May (The tearsheet here). The picture perhaps gains certain extra power also from the fact that we know what went on in Benghazi later on the year.

LorenzoMeloni

Photo © Lorenzo Meloni

Libya. January 2012. – Militiamen patrolling the streets of Benghazi.

Stephanie Sinclair had a great photo essay on Yemen in National Geographic magazine’s September issue (See it here). One of the last photographs of the feature is of a young boy without eyes, cradled by his mother, of whom we don’t  see much more than the very body parts the son is missing. Sinclair’s photo, reminiscent of Samuel Aranda’s World Press Photo of the Year 2011, is powerful in how it shows not only trauma but also love and care.

StephanieSinclair

Photo © Stephanie Sinclair

Yemen. March 2012. – Cradled by his mother, Saleem al Hazari lost both eyes to a sniper. The 12-year-old was shot when he joined antigovernmental protesters in Sanaa in 2011.

I find Dominic Nahr’s Sudan photo of a soldier lying immersed in oil in Heglig, one of the most striking images of the past year, not only visually but contextually, capturing something very essential of the conflict the two Sudans had in the oil-rich region. (See the photograph larger here)

DominicNahr

Photo © Dominic Nahr – Magnum for TIME

Sudan. 17 April 2012. – A soldier of the northern regime’s army, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), lies dead, immersed in oil next to a leaking petroleum facility after heavy fighting with southern SPLA troops after they entered Heglig.

Timothy Fadek had a photo essay on Greece’s economic turmoil on the Foreign Policy website in June (See the series here. NB You might have to create a free login.). The opening picture of drug addicts shooting up in broad daylight shows in strong detail one of the more extreme examples of the human toll the country’s downturn has caused.

TimothyFadek

Photo © Timothy Fadek

Athens, Greece. May 2012. – Scenes from a failing economy. Heroin addicts shoot up behind the Athens Cultural Centeron Akademias Street in central Athens.

Egypt has continued to play a big role in the international news. In June, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy was announced as the winner of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. Below frame, by Daniel Berehulak, of Egyptians celebrating Morsy’s election win, is the one picture with its flags and fireworks, that I remember the most. (See it larger here.)

DanielBerehulak

Photo © Daniel Berehulak – Getty Images

Cairo, Egypt. 24 June 2012.- Egyptians celebrate the election of their new president Mohamed Morsy in Tahrir Square.

Pete Souza has been doing incredible work documenting President Obama’s first term, and it’s difficult to choose his best photo from this past year, but I thought the below picture of Obama sitting in a White House cabinet meeting is an extraordinarily quirky portrayal of the President, taken from an unusual view-point. It shows little more than the chair with a badge identifying who it belongs to, and the President”s back of the head . But I’m sure the head (and the ears!) would be recognisable even without the badge on the chair, but the metal tag does give an air of authority. Amusingly, The Obama campaign tweeted the photo after Clint Eastwood’s infamous empty chair speech at the RNC, with the words ‘This seat’s taken’. I also like how the roundness of the President’s head matches the curves on the wall on the other side of the room.

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Photo © Pete Souza / The White House

Washington D.C., United States. 26 July 2012. – A view from behind of the President as he holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

Nicole Tung did several trips to Syria in 2012 to document the civil war there. Time Lightbox showcased her work on number of occasions. The opening picture of her Aleppo photo essay ‘A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror’ shows a horrific scene of a group of men carrying a 15-year-old boy, Hatem, who had been trapped under a rubble following an airstrike on 6 August. Hatem later died in the hospital. His father, mother, younger brother and sister and two younger cousins were also killed in the same attack.

I and Olivier Laurent interviewed Nicole Tung about her work later the same month. You can read the interview here.

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Photo © Nicole Tung

Aleppo, Syria. 6 August 2012. – Men carry Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria.

Moises Saman has been doing terrific work in Cairo throughout the year. Above, I shared Daniel Berehulak’s picture of Egyptians celebrating their new president. Saman’s photo below shows a very different kind of flag-waving scene, this from the anti-Muslim YouTube video sparked riots directed at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt’s capital. Antonin Kratochvil once said ‘every photographer should have their own version of The Scream’, referring to the similarity of one of his own pictures to the famous Munch painting. If that’s true, I believe Moises Saman now has his. I can see and feel, real raw energy in the young man’s scream below. (See the picture larger here.)

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Photo © Moises Saman – Magnum

Cairo, Egypt. September 2012. – Protestors shout and raise a flag above a burned-out car near the clashes.

I’ve seen two versions of the below scene. One by Narciso Contreras, whose coverage of the Syrian civil war has probably been the strongest and most comprehensive of any photographer out there, and the one seen here by Javier Manzano. Both are striking photographs, but I just happen to prefer the Manzano one, perhaps as the rays of light are slightly more pronounced in his photo due to the darker exposure.

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Photo © Javier Manzano / AFP

Aleppo, Syria. 18 October 2012. – Two Syrian rebels take sniper positions at the heavily contested neighborhood of Karmal Jabl in central Aleppo.

Out of all the photographs done done during hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, there’s no question in my mind that Iwan Baan’s aerial photograph of the Manhattan powercut, which ran on the cover of the New York Magazine, was the most remarkable and memorable. You can read about the shoot here.

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Photo © Iwan Baan

New York City, United States. 1 November 2012. – Superstorm Sandy aerial shot of Manhattan powercut.

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A little shy of a year ago—with the world’s attention focused on a change of power in North Korea—a photo of Kim Jung Il’s funeral, released by KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency), sparked controversy.  The image had been manipulated—less for overt political ends, more for visual harmony. The photo’s offending elements, photoshopped from the image, were not political adversaries or top secret information, but a group of photographers who had disturbed the aesthetic order of the highly orchestrated and meticulously planned occasion.

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Dec. 28, 2011. A limousine carrying a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leads his funeral procession in Pyongyang.

In an age where seemingly every occasion is documented through photography from every conceivable angle—an estimated 380 billion photographs will be taken this year alone—it’s not only North Korean bureaucrats who are wrestling to keep hoards of other photographers out of their pictures.

Photographers frequently appear in news photographs made by others. Banks of cameras greet celebrities and public figures at every event; cell phones held high by admirers become a tribute in lights, but a distraction to the viewer. Amateurs and professionals, alike, appear in backgrounds and in foregrounds of images made at both orchestrated events and in more candid moments. The once-invisible professional photographer’s process has been laid bare.

On occasion, photographers even purposefully make their fellow photographers the subject of their pictures.  The most difficult picture to take, it seems, is one without the presence of another photographer either explicitly or implicitly in the frame.

Everyone wants to record their own version of reality—ironically, it turns out, because by distracting oneself with a camera, it’s easy to miss the true experience of a moment. At a recent Jack White concert, the guitarist requested that audience members stop trying to take their own photos. “The bigger idea,” his label noted in a statement, “is for people to experience the event with their own eyes and not watch an entire show through a tiny screen in their hand. We have every show photographed professionally and the pictures are available from Jack White’s website shortly after to download for free.”

The abundance of camera phones and inexpensive digital cameras has changed the photographic landscape in countless and still-incompletely understood ways, and it’s not just the North Korean government trying to find ways around the hoards of photographers making their way into everyone else’s shots. Here, TIME looks back on the past year to highlight an increasingly common phenomenon: the photographer in the picture.

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Ten percent of all of the photographs made in the entire history of photography were made last year — an astounding figure. More than ever before, thanks in part to cell phone technology, the world is engaged with photography and communicating through pictures.

Nonetheless, a great photograph will rise above all the others. The ten photographs we present here are the pictures that moved us most in 2012. They all deliver a strong emotional impact — whether they show a child mourning his father who was killed by a sniper in Syria (slide #3); a heartbreaking scene in a Gaza City morgue (slide #1); a haunting landscape of New Jersey coastline after Hurricane Sandy, a rollercoaster submerged under the tide (slide #2); or a rare glimpse of President Obama moments before he goes out on stage during a campaign rally (slide #9). We spoke to each of the photographers about their images, and their words provide the captions here.

Over the past several days, we’ve unveiled TIME’s Best Photojournalism and Best Portraits of the Year galleries on LightBox. And in the next three weeks, we will be rolling out even more end-of-year features: the Most Surprising Pictures of the Year; the Best Photo Books of the Year; the Top 10 Photographic Magazine Covers of the Year and other compelling galleries. We will also recognize TIME’s choice for the Best Wire Photographer of the Year. Senior photo editor Phil Bicker is curating many of these galleries with help from the photo team at TIME. His discerning eye has been responsible for the curation of TIME’s Pictures of the Week throughout the year, galleries that regularly present the best of the week’s images, with surprising and sometimes offbeat takes on the news.  We will round off the year on December 31 with our second-annual “365: Year in Pictures,” a comprehensive look at the strongest picture of every day of 2012.

Kira Pollack, Director of Photography

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If 2011 was a year of simple, powerful narratives — of revolution and sweeping change — 2012 was when things got a lot more complicated.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring’s upheavals saw uneasy transitions toward democracy. The exhilaration of freedom dissolved in the face of new struggles and contests for power: in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, the streets are once again filled with protesters angry over the advent of religious radicalism, the return of authoritarianism and the unemployment and tough economic conditions that remain. In Syria, peaceful demonstrations in 2011 morphed into a bitter, bloody civil war that has claimed over 40,000 lives and rages on. Hostilities between Israel and its adversaries in the occupied territories were once more renewed as the peace process collapsed and the road map to a two-state solution looked to have been crumpled up and tossed away. And in the U.S., a seemingly endless, costly election cycle served only to restore the status quo: the re-elected President Obama faces many of the same challenges and obstacles he did before Nov. 6.

Throughout 2012, TIME’s unparalleled photojournalists were there. We stood within the tumult of Tahrir Square and shared moments of quiet with the world’s most powerful President. We documented both the ravages of war on Syria’s blasted cities and the devastation nature wrought on our own backyard in the Northeast. At a time when so much hangs in the balance, bearing witness can be the most essential act — and that’s what we do.

Ishaan Tharoor

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Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.

The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.

It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.

The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.

The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.

Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.

—Rania Abouzeid

This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.

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