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Susan Bright

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In July 2012, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA) asked me to compile a playlist of videos directed by photographers for their new online series, MOCAtv. Launched last week, MOCAtv bills itself as the “Global Contemporary Art Channel,” providing a wide range of content related to the arts. Looking to see if photographers’ skills translated into music videos was one of the most enjoyable commissions I have ever had.

My personal interest in music videos is mainly autobiographical. I was a teenager in the 1980s—the heyday of the music video. Videos were crucial to bands’ identity; it was really the only way, apart from photography, that an image was disseminated to the world. MTV was the dominant force, but if you grew up in Britain, it was the quaintly titled BBC show Top of the Pops that was one of the only ways to see them.

Looking back at these videos has evoked amazing memories, but at times, I view some videos with a new perspective and appreciate them now because of who made them and how they look. For example, the mesmerizing Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer was always incredible – but now that I know it was directed by the great British fashion and portrait photographer Terence Donovan, all I can see are the similarities to his later photographs of the 1980s with their strong, almost aggressive, female glamour.  It’s interesting to note where the photographer’s hand is so apparent and successful, and elsewhere, when they lose something of their signature flair by having a moving camera instead of a still shot.

Like many, my introduction to music came via my older brother. Always one step ahead of me, he had very sophisticated taste. My first concert was Souxsie and the Banshees when I was 14. Somehow I managed to persuade him (and more miraculously my parents) that I should go along with him and a gang of heavily hair-sprayed goths. It was not the music that I particularly remember, but the amazing beauty of this particular strand of post punk music. From that moment I was addicted to live concerts and the performance of dressing up.

I knew about New Order due to my brothers liking of Joy Division. I saw them perform that summer and their shortened remix of Blue Monday (1988) is like a backing track to those heady months, which were incredibly hot and renamed by many of my contemporaries as ‘the summer of ale.’ I was 18.

When I was asked to put this playlist together I couldn’t believe that I had never seen the video. I was so delighted that it was done by William Wegman. It is full of lovely references for me. Wegman is an artist who manages to have conceptual credibility and respect in the art world and also make calendars with puppies. I can’t think of any one else who manages such success in both commercial and art worlds with such ease and lack of compromise on either side. His ABC video Alphabet Soup featuring Fay, Batty, Chundo and Crooky is my favorite gift to all new parents; my daughter’s go-to bedtime book is Wegmonolgy and my brother has Weineramas. It’s like all good things in my life are condensed into this one video.

A year after Blue Monday, New Order released Run and asked Robert Frank to direct it. This video combines many different kinds of video techniques into one film. It has both live footage and a narrative. It also uses still photographs many times. Nothing is really explained but it has that coldness, disconnect and mystery which is so crucial to a Frank photograph. The song is not the strongest, but you are held utterly by the video. The ending is pure Frank: it stops on a still photograph where everyone is looking in different directions and the scene is chaotic but happy. In two takes he goes closer in to the black-and-white photograph with a woman clutching a book titled listen to god. About two seconds of existential anxiety almost lost as the song fades out.

Staying in the 1980s is Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, directed by Herb Ritts. This song, which came out in 1989, was reinserted into popular culture when it was used in a scene of Wild at Heart by David Lynch. The video is trademark Ritts. The female body (Helena Christensen) is Amazonian—sexy, strong and very much associated with the 1980s before the AIDS crisis (although of course the AIDS crisis had very much gripped huge swaths of society by this time). It’s crisp, clean and erotic. He shoots from many angles so the body, although always sensuous, can also become abstracted. This photographic technique, which Ritts has become so famous for, was most eloquently played out in a photograph of five of the most famous supermodels gathered together naked (Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989) their limbs lending graphic strength and dynamism to the composition of the picture.

Die Antwoord, I Fink U Freeky directed by Roger Ballen (2012) practically went viral among photography circles recently. The video starts with “Die Antwoord in Association with Roger Ballen.” This is the first time I have seen musicians and the director on equal footing, especially when the band has a much bigger global presence than the photographer.

Ballen has lived and worked in South Africa for most of his life. His work is a swirling mix of reality, fantasy, documentary and personal investigation. He photographs in the poorest white areas of South Africa, and his work is immediately recognizable for its disturbing almost nihilistic qualities, which are confusing in terms of ethics and morals of representation. This video is like a zooped up, hammy musical journey through his work and is so well suited to the band, who have a trickster element to them. They are the perfect artistic combination.

Another South African photographer, Pieter Hugo, has directed Spoek Mathambo, Control which was originally recorded by Joy Division and has again been introduced to a younger generation through the biopic of Ian Curtis in the film Control by Anton Corbijn (who has also done a large number of music videos). Again this has similar elements to the Ballen video in that reality has been pushed to appear fantastical. Of all the videos selected it is the most ‘photographic,’ and you can really see Hugo’s skill in using backdrops to create scenes. If you were to go through freeze framing it each scene could work beautifully as a photograph. It reminds me of his Nollywood series about the horror film industry in Nigeria. For this he took costumed actors and put them into the street causing a tension between reality, fantasy, horror, staging and theater. This video has all of those elements and similar references to the genre, but was filmed in a township in Cape Town. It’s the best cover of Control I have ever heard, making it absolutely belong here in South Africa and not the North of England.

Music videos act as lightening rods to memories. Headier than photographs they possess the most potent Proustain links to the past. When they are at their very best, like the ones I have mentioned here, they are like stills come to life. Photographers can offer a particular way of looking at the world. When that coincides with a similar musical vision the results can be spectacular.

Susan Bright is a New York-based writer and curator. You can see more of her work here

View more of MOCAtv’s programming on their YouTube channel.

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For more than a century, ironworkers descended from the Mohawk Indians of Quebec have helped create New York City’s iconic skyline, guiding ribbons of metal into the steel skeletons that form the backbone of the city. In the tradition of their fathers and grandfathers, a new generation of Mohawk iron workers now descend upon the World Trade Center site, helping shape the most distinct feature of Lower Manhattan—the same iconic structure their fathers and grandfathers helped erect 40 years ago and later dismantled after it was destroyed in 2001.

Driving some 360 miles south to New York from the Kahnawake reserve near Quebec, these men work—just as their fathers did—in the city during the week and spend time with their families on the weekends.

One year ago, around the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, photographer Melissa Cacciola began documenting some of these workers—not an easy task given that the roughly 200 Mohawks (of more than 2,000 iron workers on site) are working at a frantic pace, helping One World Trade Center to rise a floor a week.

Cacciola, a photographer with a background in chemistry and historic preservation, is one of few photographers who work exclusively with tintypes, images recorded by a large-format camera on sheets of tin coated with photosensitive chemicals. Having previously photographed members of the armed-forces for her War and Peace series, Cacciola looked to document those continuing to help the city move past the shadow of tragedy.

“It seemed like a real New York thing,” she told TIME. “And it made sense as the next chapter in the post-9/11 landscape. Rebuilding is part of that story.”

Just as towers like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center mark the height of America’s skyscraper architecture, tintype photographs are inherently American. Tintype developed in the 1850s as early American photographers looked for alternatives to the expensive and finicky glass-plate processes popular in Europe. Recycled tin was a readily available resource in the new nation—less than 100 years old—and so the tintype grew in popularity, earning its place in American photographic identity. Even Abraham Lincoln’s campaign pins contained an inlaid tintype portrait of the candidate.

“You don’t find tintypes on other continents,” Cacciola said.

Slightly blurry and sepia-toned, Cacciola’s portraits feel timeless, save for the occasional modern stickers on her subjects’ hardhats. Each portrait focuses tightly on the men’s strong facial features.

The 30 tintypes in the series are each made from bulk sheets of tin, although Cacciola has also used recycled biscuit jars in prior tintype projects. Coated first with a black lacquer and then a layer of collodion emulsion to make them light sensitive, the plates are dipped in a silver bath immediately before exposure to form silver iodide—a step that bonds actual particles of silver to the emulsion. Nothing could be more fitting for men working with steel to be photographed on metal.

In the tradition of 19th-century photography, Cacciola’s process is slower than today’s digital systems. But the finished plates are more than simple portraits; rather, they hold their own weight as tangible objects. Just as histories often reflect the blemishes of times past, Cacciola’s tintypes are fragile, containing marks and slight imperfect artifacts that reflect the medium’s limitations. Working by hand rather than machine, each portrait records the artist’s intentions as much as her subject’s.

“These tintypes are so much a part of me,” she says. “Like the fact that you get partial fingerprints or artifacts from the way I’m pouring collodion on the plate—it’s all human. The way silver and light interact in this chemical reaction is a testament to the Mohawk iron workers and this early [photographic] process—it’s unparalleled in terms of portraiture.”

Melissa Cacciola is a New York-based tintype photographer.

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In an effort to record the year of his life leading up to the millennium, Jeff Harris began a project in which he used his trusty Olympic Stylus 35mm film camera (he’s since gone through six) to take a self-portrait each day and then posted the results on his website. The project, which began long before the widespread popularity of blogging, Facebook and Flickr, allowed viewers to follow one photographer along on his adventures. “I didn’t want 365 images of me sitting on the couch each day,” says Harris. “There could have been that tendency, especially during the cold dark winter months to stay inside all the time, but this project inspired me to get out there and seek out interesting things.” This year, Harris embarks on year fourteen of what has turned out to be an epic, inspired and ever-evolving art project that documents a life well lived.

The images range from completely solitary, auto-timed self-portraits to photographs inspired by a collaborative spirit with whomever Harris encounters on a given day. Regardless of the mood, location or activity at the center of any given image in the series, they all show a marvelously open and generous approach to both diaristically recording and sharing everything from intimate moments to athletic adventures with a wider audience. In fact, Harris evokes the full range of physical experiences a body can encounter: from mundane inactivity to joyful dives to his body being open on the operating table.

“I see no reason to not make a self-portrait each day,” the photographer says. “I’m always around and always free. It’s kind of like going to the gym—it flexes your muscles and keeps you in shape.”

Jeff Harris’s work was recently included in  Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography by Susan Bright published by Thames and Hudson.

Visit jeffharris.org to see the project in its entirety. Harris also has an interactive Journal  that allows readers to submit writing about a day from their life. Their stories are juxtaposed with his self portrait from that same day.

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July’s first instalment of Photojournalism Links….Getting a bit sloppy..It’s Monday already again… Oh well…

First off… BJP reports that Iranian press photographer Maryam Majd is still being detained in the Evin prison for her work on women’s rights… ‘Photojournalists appeal for Iranian photographer’s release’ 

Some good news too…NYT: 2 French Journalists Freed by Afghan Militants 

Features and Essays 

One of my favourite photojournalists Shaul Schwarz had two, obviously, very strong pieces on TIME Lightbox last week…a series of stills and a short video, both related to this Narco Culture project…

Stills…

Shaul Schwarz: Mexico’s Ongoing Drug Violence (TIME LB: July 2011)

Video…

Shaul Schwarz: Aerial Drug Bust at the Mexican Border (TIME LB: July 2011)

Schwarz is releasing both a Narco Culture documentary and a book next year… Eagerly waiting for both of those… You can see the trailer on the project website here.

Sudan division nearing…

Tyler Hicks: Sudanese Seek Refuge from Bombing (NYT: July 2011)

Sarah Elliott: When Home is New (Sudan) (Newsweek: June 2011) Young Exiles Return to South Sudan

Happy birthday America…

I was following Magnum’s first Postcards from America road trip daily in May… There’s a selection of 100 photos on the agency’s website…

Photo: Alec Soth

Magnum Photos (various photographers):  Postcards From America (Magnum: June 2011)

Phil Bergerson:  Shards of America (TIME: July 2011)

Bruce Gilden: Fresno (Magnum in Motion: June 2011)

Antonin Kratochvil: In America (VII Magazine: July 2011)

Stuart Freedman: Delhi’s Army of Homeless (Panos: July 2011)

Mishka Henner: In a Foreign Land (Panos: July 2011)

Kadir van Lohuizen: The Mapuche Indians (NOOR: June 2011) You can follow his ViaPanam blog here.

Afghanistan…

Gratiane de Moustier: Afghanistan in Transition (Reportage by Getty Images: June 2011)

Was reading Newsweek last week.. It had an article on President’ Obama’s dilemma relating to the economics of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan…Article was accompanied with two Rita Leister - Basetrack photos…see below…

Basetrack’s Photostream on Flickr

Gary Knight: Living with HIV (Burma) (VII: July 2011)

Really couldn’t enjoy viewing the below Dominic Nahr’s slideshow on the Magnum Emergency Fund website, but to no fault of the photographer…Either it’s my connection or bad website design..Every photo ‘loads’ separately and half of the time I was staring ‘a loading wheel’ going from 1% to 100% before seeing each of the images… Annoying..Hope it works better for you..

Dominic Nahr: The Unhealed Rift (Kenya) (Magnum Emergency Fund: June 2011)

Tomas van Houtryve: Laos: Open Secret (VII Network: July 2011)

Abbey Trayler-Smith: KO’d in Kabul (Panos: July 2011)

Stefano de Luigi: Ivory Coast (VII Network: July 2011)

Peter Marlow: Point of Interest (Magnum: July 2011)

Chris de Bode: When the Guns Fall Silent (Panos: June 2011)

Pierfrancesco Celada: Japan, I Wish I Knew Your Name (TIME LB: June 2011)

Jeremy Suyker: Jaffna: In the Aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War (Foto8: June 2011)

Muhammed Muheisen: Quiet, but Telling, Scenes in Pakistan (NYT Lens: June 2011)

Chloe Dewe Mathews: Banger Boys (Panos: July 2011)

Eivind Natvig: You Are Here (TIME LB: June 2011)

Articles

This week’s must read…. John Stanmeyer on pitching and planning a National Geographic photo essay…below a photo of Stanmeyer working..

Photo: Anil Chandra Roy

John Stanmeyer: The Amazing Yellow-Bordered Magazine (Photographer’s blog: June 2011)

I’d also like to recommend DuckRabbit’s post on war photographers… Make sure to read the comments…

DuckRabbit: The war photographer’s biggest story: themselves (Duckrabbit: June 2011)

David Campbell: Thinking Images v.19: Do local photographers have a distinctive eye? (DC Blog: June 2011)

I’d also recommend going back to David Campbell’s earlier post ‘Who’s Afraid of Home?’ to read some of the comments

PDN: 4 Questions to Ask Before Donating to a Charity Photo Auction (PDN: June 2011)

Jeremy Nicholl: The Photographer, The Entrepreneur, The Stockbroker And Their Rent-A-Mob (Photographer’s blog: June 2011)

NYT Lens: JR | Eyes on, and of, a South Bronx Community (NYT Lens: June 2011)

Guardian: Vanessa Winship’s Poetic Portraits (Guardian: June 2011)

Guardian: Featured Photojournalist: Urial Sinai (Guardian: June 2011)

Guardian: Steve McCurry : The Eyes Have It (Guardian: June 2011)

BJP: Stockpiling trouble: How the stock industry ate itself? (BJP: June 2011)

BJP: ICP graduate wins Humanitarian Visa d’Or award (BJP: June 2011)

Black Star Rising: The Photographer’s Life Should Start with Family (BSR: 2011)

Napa Valley Register: Windows XP desktop screen is a Napa image (Napa Valley Register: June 2011)

Interviews 

“I’m doing exactly what I want, and there are people paying me well to do it. It’s a fantastic life.” – Martin Parr

Martin Parr (Urban Outfitters: June 2011)

Lynsey Addario (Youtube: 2011)

Peter van Agtmael (e-photoreview: 2011)

Recommended….

University College Falmouth Press and Editorial Photography students have made an excellent Professional Profiles interview series…

Professional Profiles interviews pt 1 | pt 2 | pt 3 | pt 4

Elin Hoyland (e-photoreview: June 2011)

Seba Kurtis (C U Photography: June 2011)

Pierfrancesco Celada (Ameteur Photographer: June 2011)

Awards, Grants, and Competitions

The Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award offers €50,000 grant to develop a project in Zimbabwe | Article on BJP

Aftermath $20,000 grant for conflict photographers and a $5,000 grant for fixers & translators. | direct link to PDF

Jobs – Senior Photo Editor Daily Beast : NYC

Photographers – Stacy Kranitz

FacebookDuckRabbit

TwitterAndre Liohn

TwitterIvor Prickett

WebsitesSusan Bright

multiMedia - Love Issue

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