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Fred Ritchin

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 Citizenwas published by Aperture in 2013.

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

Nathan Pearce

Midwest Dirt

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When I was 18 years old I packed my bags and left rural Illinois. It had been my home my entire life, but I thought in leaving I would find the perfect place for myself elsewhere. In the city everything and everyone I knew was very different from what I knew back home and yet at the same time familiar. The wild and restless days of my youth were in full swing. But when I awoke those mornings I still expected to see my old midwestern life.

Where I was living wasn’t exactly the wrong place for me, and at its core my life wasn’t drastically different, but it wasn’t home.
I came back home to live almost a decade later. I still have no idea if this time I will stay for good, I don’t know if that will ever happen.
The wild restless days and nights haven’t ceased.

Some nights when I lay down in my bed and close my eyes I fantasize that I didn’t ever return. I dream that I could get right back up and go over to my corner bar in the city and have a drink looking out on the crowded street.

But I’m not there. I’m here. In the country.

Now it’s just after harvest time, my favorite time of year. The fields are almost cleared and I’m barefoot on my porch with a beer in my hands. I can see for miles.

This project is about a time in my mid twenties when I can feel the tension between home and away.

 

Bio

Nathan Pearce (born 1986) is a photographer based in Southern Illinois.
He also works in an auto body repair shop.

 

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Nathan Pearce

 

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Luke AbbottModern Driveway
I’m always really inspired by minimal music of any sort, and this song is the perfect example of what a good, simple song should accomplish. It takes you on an emotional trip, from the its small beginnings, to it’s lush, layered ending. It builds into something, there’s movement.

How To Dress WellOcean Floor For Everything
The day this single dropped, I was driving across Western Canada, the love of my life beside me, and we listened to this as we entered the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The combination of the insanely beautiful sounds, and the insanely beautiful visuals in front of us, it was hard not be affected. Now, the impressive thing is that upon repeat listenings, it continues that possess that moment-creating vibe. Every time I hear it, I’m taken to a different place. It’s a truly beautiful song, and the new LP is one of my most anticipated of this year.

Kuhrye-ooGive In (For The Fame)
When I first started working on what would become Teen Daze material, I took a lot of inspiration and encouragement from my friends from Edmonton, who had a project called “Gobble Gobble”. It’s been an incredible experience seeing all of the individuals in that project gain so much exposure and love (Cecil is now known as Born Gold, and Corin and Megan are known as Purity Ring). This is a track from Calvin’s solo project, Kuhrye-oo, and this track is just so good. That vocal sample completely steals the show. As soon as it hits the “I knowwww”, my heart melts.

Unknown002
I love anonymity in music, just because it brings something new to the table. No goofy promo pics of the band standing on a beach all looking into the camera with vacant stares. It’s like when you were a kid, and a wrestler was from “Parts Unknown”, it made him all the more scarier. Unknown is a mystery-producer making the rounds on a few of my friends’ blogs, and I think this track is especially good.

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WATCH THAT SAND
WATCH THAT SAND: People napped in the sand dunes on the German North Sea Island of Borkum Friday. (Reinhold Grigoleit/European Pressphoto Agency)

PAST AND FUTURE
PAST AND FUTURE: Men of the Lebanese Druze religious sect mourned the death of Sheikh Abou Mohammad Jawad Walieddine, the head of the spiritual Druze council at his house in the village of Baakline, Lebanon, Friday. The body of the 96-year-old was displayed in a glass coffin. (Mohamad Azakir/Reuters)

STANDOFF IN LONDON
STANDOFF IN LONDON: A man threw a computer monitor out of a window on London’s Tottenham Court Road Friday. After an hours-long standoff, police arrested the 49-year-old man, who had entered the office of a drivers’ training company claiming to be armed with gas canisters. (Getty Images)

HARD FALL
HARD FALL: A bear fell from a tree at the University of Colorado in Boulder Thursday after being tranquilized by wildlife officials. The bear, which weighs 150-200 pounds, had wandered into a campus dormitory complex. It was later tagged and released in the Rocky Mountains. (Andy Duann/CU Independent/Associated Press)

FRIGHTENED
FRIGHTENED: Bystanders tried to help a woman hurt in one of four explosions that rattled Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, Friday. At least 27 people were injured. (Evgeniy Kudrya/AFP/Getty Images)

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According to projections by the United Nations, the world population has reached 7 billion and continues to grow rapidly.  While more people are living longer and healthier lives, gaps are widening between the rich and the poor in some nations and tens of millions of people are vulnerable to food and water shortages.  There is, of course, the issue of the impact of that sheer number on the environment, including pollution, waste disposal, use of natural resources and food production.  This post focuses on wheat and the effect of our numbers on the environment.  Wheat is the most important cereal in the world and along with rice and corn accounts for about 73 percent of all cereal production.  It isn't surprising that 7 billion people have a lasting impact on our world's natural resources and the environment in which we live. -- Paula Nelson (36 photos total)
One of the world's breadbaskets lies in the prairies of Canada. This stalk, near Lethbridge, Alberta, helps form the foundation for the most important food product in the world: cereal grains. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

EPF 2011 Finalist

Dominic Bracco II

Life and Death in the Nothern Pass

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“There are two ways of thinking about living here; either you go on every day and when it’s your turn to die you die, or you live every day in fear.”
- Daniel Gonzalez, 26, a resident of Ciudad Juarez who later moved to El Paso, Texas.

Sprawled across the tail end of the Rocky Mountains where the starved Rio Bravo pushes mud through a barren desert valley sits Ciudad Juarez, arguably the most violent city in the world — historically known as ‘El Paso del Norte’ or ‘The Northern Pass.’ The last three years the city of 1.5 million has seen over 8,000 murders.

As the drug war rages on violence has become more sporadic and faceless. Random crime has increased. Car jacking, robberies, and assaults are a daily occurrence.In the past five years, over 10,000 businesses have closed in Ciudad Juarez and up to 230,000 people have fled their homes. The economic downturn has exacerbated destabilization.

Drug bosses often offer the equivalent of a factory worker’s weekly wages to perform an execution. The most vulnerable social group is ‘Los Ninis’, young men and women who earned their name from the phrase ‘ni estudian, ni trabajan’ (those who neither work nor study).

According to a recent study by the Colegio de La Frontera Norte, up to 45 percent of all Juarez residents between 14 and 24 fall into this category and make up a quarter of the city’s total homicide victims. Massacres of Juarez’s youth are common – they have been gunned down at parties and targeted at rehab centers. They are killed indiscriminately.

The first mass killing of youths took place in January 2010 when 15 teenagers were gunned down at a party. Another massacre of 14 teenagers took place in October.

Without work or real incentive to work, young people are increasingly turning to the cartels. According to Miguel Parea, a local Juarez journalist, the mentality of many youth is fatalistic: “they say it’s better to die young as a rich man, than to die poor as an old one,” Parea said.

An earlier edit of the project was published on BURN Magazine, sections of the project have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Bio

Dominic Bracco II specializes in documenting the effects of Mexican and North American policies on the border region where he was raised. He has degrees in journalism and Spanish literature from The University of Texas at Arlington. Past clients include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Dominic is also a founding member of the collective Prime. He is based in Mexico City. His project “Life and Death in The Northern Pass” was a 2011 Alexia Foundation Professional Grant Finalist, won 2nd place in spot news in the 2011 POYi competition, and was a finalist for the 2011 Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography.

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www.dominicbracco.com

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