Search This Blog

Monday, December 19, 2011

Great article on effects of photography in war as well as its dimensioning effectiveness

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baghdad, Iraq

A handful of photographers showed up at the Baghdad airport last Thursday for a forlorn ceremony marking the end of the Iraq war. It seemed a fitting end — both for the military and the photojournalists — to a war that began eight years ago with “shock and awe,” and an enormous attendant gallery of picture-takers.
I made the first of my many trips in 2003. What have I accomplished in the years I have spent here, sweating, waiting, wondering? Yes, I have a stock of images: of patrols and morgues, late night raids, of frightened Iraqi children, women screaming in pain, an occasional celebration, bored Americans lying in their bunks. My files are filled with the faces of Iraqis and Americans, laughing, shouting, furious, bloody and tearful. My photos show the range of human experience here in Iraq, from smiling children to smoldering bodies and most of what falls in between.

I’m left, too, with the interwoven narratives of my subjects, whose lives crossed my camera’s viewfinder briefly, and will now never be the same. Looking back at eight years of images, I wonder: Where are these people and how are they getting by after being ravaged by this conflict? Where is the American soldier — a former college basketball star — whom I photographed the day her arm was blown off? Or the Iraqi mother who wailed beside the wall where her son had been killed earlier that morning?
Some had questions for me.

A soldier tracked me down recently. He wanted to apologize for threatening to kill me on a hot and bloody Baghdad day seven years ago. I was photographing on the outskirts of Sadr City as he pulled the body of an American soldier from a bomb-destroyed vehicle. The corpse was falling apart as he and other soldiers tried to lift their comrade. He turned and swore he’d shoot me if I took another photo. He didn’t look like he was kidding. Still, it was more shame than fear that made me stop.

Now, all these years later, the soldier wanted to see my photos — they might help him understand, he said. They might help banish his nightmares.

I heard, too, from the sister of a soldier killed alongside me a few years later, in the soft fields of the Sunni “Triangle of Death.” She wanted to know if I had details of her brother’s death, or photos taken before he died. I had no photos — at least none she would want to see. The details would do little to ease her pain, and I could only lie so much.

Maybe now I can track down others, both Iraqi and American, whose brief encounters with me have lingered in my mind. Maybe I can take photos that will change something in a way I fear my photos of those long-ago days did not.

For years, I’ve sat around with my buddies and asked why photography didn’t do more — as in Vietnam — to change the course of the Iraq war. Not necessarily to mobilize people against it, just to get people more involved, to make them feel closer to the soldiers and civilians.

March 31, 2008. Abu Ghraib District, Iraq. During a night mission, American soldiers search and question men found digging along the side of the road and suspected of planting bombs.
Michael Kamber for The New York Times March 31, 2008. Abu Ghraib District, Iraq. During a night mission, American soldiers search and question men found digging along the side of the road and suspected of planting bombs.
When the war started, photojournalism did show its power to sway public opinion. But it was in those early years as well — in some of the same images — that we saw photojournalism’s failures.

In the days after the 2003 invasion, thousands of journalists combed the landscape looking for stories and pictures. In the first two years of the war, iconic images sent strong signals to the American people, signals that were crucial in shaping the public’s attitude towards the conflict.

Many of the images were of staged events. Saddam’s statue coming down at Firdus Square and President George W. Bush on the aircraft carrier had as much to do with stagecraft as statecraft. American soldiers’ humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, was a staging of sorts — photographed for the soldiers’ titillation. Even the hanging of the contractors from a bridge at Fallujah — while not staged — had an element of manipulation, since members of the violent mob told photographers they believed the United States would flee Iraq after seeing such scenes of carnage, as it fled Somalia after Blackhawk Down.

These images, all taken in 2003 and 2004, created an visual arc for the American public — of a war going well, then less well, and finally descending into full-scale anarchy. For the Iraqis, the Abu Ghraib images in particular were a bombshell. Years later, the front pages of Iraqi tabloids are still occasionally covered with these pictures.

As has been well documented, within a few years of the war’s start, newspapers all over America were in dire financial straits. Simultaneously in Iraq, foreigners became targets of kidnappings and beheadings. Across the United States and Europe, editors and photographers decided that photographing the war was too dangerous, too expensive and, perhaps most important, a terrible return on investment.

By the middle of 2004, the American press had largely stopped photographing the war — only the New York Times and Time Magazine continued to keep full-time photographers in Iraq.

Because of the danger, the handful of remaining Western photographers increasingly took embeds with the American military, which slowly choked off access to detainees, hospitals, bombing sites, memorials and photos of dead or wounded soldiers. Back home, the Bush administration forbade photographers at funerals in Arlington National Cemetery — even when the families invited the photographer.

May 11, 2007. Khadimiya, Baghdad, Iraq. Members of the 82nd Airborne searching the home of a Shia militia member suspected of murdering and kidnapping of Sunnis.
Michael Kamber for The New York Times May 11, 2007. Khadimiya, Baghdad, Iraq. Members of the 82nd Airborne searching the home of a Shia militia member suspected of murdering and kidnapping of Sunnis.
Certainly a single day photographing this year’s Libyan revolution offered more freedom of movement than years of shooting in Iraq. Yet in embed after embed, photographers who stuck it out were rewarded with real opportunities to record the war. Controversial photos, like the late Chris Hondros’s iconic image of the blood-spattered girl moments after American troops killed her parents, or Stefan Zaklin’s haunting image from Fallujah of an American soldier laying dead on a kitchen floor, frequently led to the photographers’ expulsion. Yet the images were captured nonetheless; they form a crucial part of the war’s visual lexicon.

And a handful of Western photographers doggedly returned. Franco Pagetti, Yuri Kozyrev, John Moore, Andrea Bruce, Christoph Bangert and Joao Silva were among those who created invaluable photographic records. Mr. Silva, in particular, continued to work the streets of Iraq long after it was deemed impossible by others.

Even as the Western press faded from the scene, The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse trained highly capable Iraqis who braved the streets, occasionally being beaten, wounded or jailed. They exceeded all expectations — when The A.P. won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, Iraqi photographers had taken the lion’s share of the photos.

Yet after 2004, the daily photos of car bombs and wailing Iraqis — provided most often by these Iraqi photographers — dulled the senses of viewers back home. As the American people tired of two grinding wars, photography’s power ran up against a wall of fatigue.

A picture of a mother wailing over her dead child has enormous power. A photo of another mother wailing over another dead child the following day has less power — if an editor can be persuaded to publish it again. Multiply this by hundreds of car bombings and hundreds of grieving mothers — though each is certainly suffering unspeakable pain — and one quickly sees the limitations at the nexus of photojournalism, editorial realities and what the American public wants to see.

For me and my colleagues, we nonetheless felt the duty to bear witness for those back home. Michael Herr wrote that Vietnam was what many journalists of his era had in place of happy childhoods. Iraq was like that for me. Photographing this war was probably the single definitive event of my life.

Day after day, year after year, I went out on patrols, chased down car bombs, snuck into hospitals and morgues.

If it sounds like an adventure, it wasn’t. You can’t have an adventure when you’re as terrified as I was — as many of us were. Soldiers, civilians and our colleagues were killed around us as we worked. Death became normal; a lost limb was a lucky break. On days off, I huddled in my room at the bureau, listening to Katyusha rockets scream overhead, praying they would not fall short as they crashed into the Green Zone just across the river.

June 18, 2008. Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. A morgue worker gestures to a photographer to stop as he stands in front of a victim of a truck bombing which killed 65 Iraqis.Michael Kamber for The New York Times June 18, 2008. Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. A morgue worker gestures to a photographer to stop as he stands in front of a victim of a truck bombing which killed 65 Iraqis.
I don’t if you can ever know sheer terror until having ridden down a heavily-mined road, knuckles white, trying to gauge where the hot steel will rip through the floor. My colleague Ben Lowy returned shaken from one such patrol in which four Humvees had been blown to pieces, littering the ground with the body parts of men he had been joking and laughing with minutes earlier. His photo of a human spine, laying amongst the debris, has never left me.

Those same soldiers had displayed a total dedication to “winning the war,” even if none of them seemed sure what victory would look like. When they lost friends in combat, they took a day to recover, then went back down the same roads to do their job, to do their duty.

As for victory, let’s leave that for the historians. I can say that in Fallujah in 2007 and 2008, 25-year-old lieutenants were handing out tens of thousands in cash to pacify fighters. Local sheiks were given multi-million dollar contracts to clean canals, fix roads — and not attack US troops.

Last week I returned to Fallujah, a short distance from where they hung the contractors from the bridge in 2004. The streets today are lined with new million-dollar mansions, paid for with American taxpayer money. Yet Iraqi government officials and clerics held a ceremony celebrating the withdrawal — in front of banners festooned with photos of burning American Humvees.

If the Americans are looking for thanks from the Iraqis, it will be a long time coming.
At Thursday’s ceremony to mark the end of the war, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other top Iraqi officials didn’t bother to attend, and the American military thought it unnecessary to invite the Iraqi press.

A hundred or so American soldiers shuffled onto the once-bustling parade grounds, and it felt odd — and a bit melancholy — to realize this would be the last time I’d photograph American troops in Iraq — after all the years of slogging through fields, the long hours in the dusty weight rooms reminiscing about home and women, the forced laughter as we bounced along Iraq’s roads in the back of Humvees and MRAPs.
After the ceremony, we trickled out through the formerly pristine base, where thousands of Americans had only recently hurried about on matters of transient urgency. Already, the base looked shoddy, abandoned. Signs leaned drunkenly and Hesco barriers slowly collapsed along the perimeter, their sand-filled guts leaking back into the desert.

It looked as if they’d been waiting all along for this chance to return to their natural state, seizing it only now that the Americans were no longer there to care for them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

 Here is a "Lens" article from the New York Times that I just wanted to share with my limited fan base


Jack Delano’s American Sonata

Jack Delano’s touchstone as a documentary photographer was Paul Strand’s imperative that one had to have “a real respect for the thing in front of him.” Through his long career – photographing everything from coal miners, sharecroppers, railroad men and Puerto Rican canecutters – he conveyed a deep respect for not just the travails of Everyman, but a true appreciation of the dignity that lay within.
“To do justice to the subject has always been my main concern,” he wrote in his autobiography “Photographic Memories,” which was published by the Smithsonian shortly before his death in 1997. “Light, color, texture and so on are, to me, important only as they contribute to the honest portrayal of what is in front of the camera, not as ends in themselves.”

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Delano’s ascension to the storied ranks of the Farm Security Administration photographers in 1940 actually came about after Strand caught his first major exhibit – mural-sized prints of bootleg coal miners in Pennsylvania – and recommended him to Roy Stryker, the administration’s director.

Through coincidence or fate, that work would eventually lead him to Puerto Rico, which not only became his adopted homeland after World War II but also the subject of a vast and impressive archive that chronicled the island’s transformation from agriculture to industry. His work is a secret history that has been in plain sight – its unfamiliarity to the larger world more a testament to mainland provincialism than aesthetic shortcoming.

If he is the lesser-known Farm Security Administration photographer, it is not for lack of a compelling personal story or list of accomplishments. His work for the administration was mere prelude for a career worthy of a tropical Renaissance man: documentary filmmaker, educational television executive, illustrator and classical composer. (His wife Irene, would be his confidante, editor and collaborator in many of these endeavors, too.)

He was born Jacob Ovcharov in 1914 in Voroshilovka, Ukraine, where his mother was a dentist and his father a Russian and mathematics teacher. The family fled to the United States in 1923 and settled in Philadelphia. Music was his first love – he studied it for years, while his brother Solomon eventually became a professional violinist.

Jack Delano/Library of Congress

He veered off into art after some drawings he had done in a high school club helped him land a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A chance encounter with Irene Esser, a raven-haired pianist who was playing Beethoven’s “Apassionata” Sonta tuned into lifelong romance and partnership. During a beer-soaked party, his classmates urged him to adopt an American surname, and one offered up her own – Delano. The Jack had come earlier – in honor of the boxer Jack Dempsey.
A more radical change awaited him when he won a four-month traveling fellowship to Europe, where he not only was influenced by the works of Van Gogh, Breguels and Goya, but by his purchase of a tourist-friendly camera. Upon his return, he felt his original goal of becoming a magazine illustrator seemed “cheap and tawdry, and he aspired to do something greater through photography.

“I thought the camera could be a means of communicating how I felt about the problems facing the country and that therefore I could perhaps influence the course of events,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I thought I could portray ordinary working people in photographs with the same compassion and understanding that Van Gogh had shown for the peasants of Holland with pencil and paintbrush.”
That impulse led him to do his photographs of miners whose rough and short lives were spent working veins of coal as exhausted as they themselves were. He spent a month living among them, finding himself doing the kind of documentary work that could – he thought and hoped – might bring him into the Farm Security Administration, a group whose work had had “a profound impact” on him as art that had social impact. He wrote Stryker in search of a job, and despite an initial setback – no openings were available – was hired in 1940.
Library of Congress Jack Delano, 1943

His early work had him following the trail of migrant workers from Florida to Maryland, a continuing project on Greene County, Ga., tobacco farmers in Connecticut, and industry and agriculture in New England. Many of the images are memorable, but one in particular was seared into his mind – that of a prisoner in a striped uniform dancing while his fellow inmates play accompaniment. It came about when the white warden ordered the men to “dance for the photographer.”

“I was so nervous and excited by the opportunity to get these pictures that I blocked out all my personal feelings,” he wrote. “It was only afterward, relaxing back in my hotel room, that the realization of what I had witnessed came upon me. The butter irony of striped prison attire combined with song and dance seemed almost surrealistic. How humiliating it must have been for these men to be obliged to perform for me, as if they were trained animals! The idea that they had been ordered to put on a show for the photographer was abhorrent.”

Stryker had often sent detailed notes – shooting scripts – about what he wanted documented and how. That would take a drastic turn in 1941, when the talents of the Farm Security Administration photographers were redirected into the war effort.

“You will keep this ever in mind,” Stryker advised them. “Lots of food, strong husky Americans, machinery, show it as big and powerful, good highways, spaciousness. Also watch for such things as good schools, freedom of education, church services, meetings of all kinds. … Watch out for particularly important nationality groups, particularly in the rural areas. Scandinavians, Swiss, Portuguese, Spanish showing community life, close-ups of people and activities. These will be most useful.”

Not that he was averse to giving direction himself: given authority to order the engineer to stop if he thought of a particularly striking scene or composition, he did just that while riding a mile long freight train in Nevada. When he hopped off and saw the train wasn’t in the exact position he had hoped for.
“So I shouted to the engineer, ‘Move her up just a little bit,’” he wrote. “Again heard the clackety-clack of each car of the mile-long train begin to inch forward. Never had I had such a sense of power! I felt like Hercules.”

Despite that power, he also realized there would be moments and moods the camera would not capture. A diary entry that he titled “Things I cannot photograph” ended thusly:

A train is approaching us!

The glare of the headlight
With a WHOOSH of thunder as it flies by us.
The brakeman gets down from the cupola and watches it go by
Two red lights and a white one pass us
The white one waves up and down.
We answer
Then back again to the drone
I throw a cigarette out of the window
It whirls off in the backwash scattering sparks wildly like fireworks
The blackness again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Great Photo Journalism

Too much of a basic human need

Water is essential to life but in such places as India, Pakistan, China, and Thailand deluges have once again caused misery. Typhoon Nesat hit the Philippines earlier this week on its way to south China. In Pakistan, more than 5 million people have been affected by recent flooding, according to the aid agency Oxfam. Pakistan is still struggling to recover from the devastating monsoon rains in 2010. -- Lloyd Young(36 photos total)

A village boy sits on the banks of the swelling Daya River, near Pipli village, about 25 kilometers from the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneshwar Sept. 9. The flood situation in Orissa state worsened with the release of more water downstream from Hirakud dam, according to a news agency. A high alert has been sounded in 11 districts of the state. (Biswaranjan Rout/Associated Press)

A displaced Pakistani man gestures to Pakistani army officers as they deliver rice and sugar to flood victims, in Badin District, in Pakistan's Sindh province Sept. 24. In Pakistan's Sindh province alone, the floods have killed over 220 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people, according to the United Nations. Neighboring Baluchistan province has also been affected. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press) #

Residents carry a pig down a flooded street during typhoon Nesat in San Mateo, Rizal, east of Manila on Sept. 27. Typhoon Nesat brought the Philippine capital to a near standstill with its vast rain band also flooding remote farms and vicious winds tearing roofs off buildings in coastal towns. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images) #

Floods cover a major highway heading north from Bangkok in Sept. 12 in Saraburi, Thailand. Floods continue to ravage areas further south, with 5 people dying after a two-story apartment building sunk when a foundation collapsed due to rain and hillside runoff. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images) #

Surging waves hit against the breakwater in Udono in a port town of Kiho, Mie Prefecture, central Japan, Sept. 21. A powerful typhoon was bearing down on Japan's tsunami-ravaged northeastern coast approaching a nuclear power plant crippled in that disaster and prompting calls for the evacuation of more than a million people. ( #

A resident carries his son while crossing on waist deep floodwaters brought by Typhoon Nesat, locally known as Pedring, that hit the Tanza town of Malabon city, north of Manila Sept. 27. Typhoon Nesat crossed the Philippines main island leaving behind at least 7 dead after it lashed crop-growing provinces and brought the capital to a near standstill as it flooded roads and villages and cut power supplies. (Reuters) #

People clean up mud after flood waters receded on Sept. 20 in Quxian County, Sichuan Province of China. At least 13 people were killed, 18 others were missing and 1,320,000 people were deeply affected in rain-triggered floods from last Friday in Sichuan province. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images) #

Family members, displaced by floods, use a tarp to escape a monsoon downpour while taking shelter at a make-shift camp for flood victims in the Badin district in Pakistan's Sindh province Sept. 14. Floods this year have destroyed or damaged 1.2 million houses and flooded 4.5 million acres since late last month, according to officials and Western aid groups. More than 300,000 people have been made homeless and about 200 have been killed. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters) #

Rescuers and volunteers search for the body of the fourth fatality in Baguio, northern Philippines on Aug. 29 after an avalanche of rubbish at the city dump at the height of Typhoon Nanmadol. Super-typhoon Nanmadol left at least 16 people dead after hitting the Philippines, and the toll is expected to rise as hopes of finding those missing fade, the civil defense chief said. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images) #

Vehicles are piled on top of one another on muddy ground after Typhoon Talas caused flash flooding in the town of Nachikatsuura, Wakayama prefecture, in western Japan on Sept. 5. Typhoon Talas cut across western Japan late on September 3, leaving at least 31 people dead and 50 missing after heavy rains and fierce winds. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images) #

A food vendor gives change to a customer along a flooded street in the town of Sena, Ayutthaya province Sept 13. Weeks of heavy monsoon rains and a tropical storm in Thailand have caused widespread floods and mudslides, killing at least 84 people since late July. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters) #

Pakistani villagers evacuate household items in a flooded area of Umerkot on Sept. 16. The United Nations said that it was stepping up aid to Pakistan, where monsoon floods have killed 270 people, affected over 5.5 million others and destroyed 1.1 million homes. (AFP/Getty Images) #

A boy looks from the balcony of his home Sept. 19 after flood waters swamped Guangan, southwest China's Sichuan province, as unprecedented rains over the past week have swamped parts of northern, central and southwest China. Heavy rains and floods across China have left 57 people dead, dozens of others missing and hundreds injured, while more than a million residents have been evacuated from their homes, the government said. (AFP/Getty Images) #

Rescue workers transport evacuees in a boat through floodwaters in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, in central Japan on Sept. 20. Hundreds of thousands of people in Japan were warned to leave their homes as an approaching typhoon brought heavy rain and fears of landslides and flash flooding. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images) #

A paramedic gives treatment to a Pakistani flood affected child at a hospital in Tando Allahyar in flood-hit Sindh province on Sept. 26. Some 2 million Pakistanis have fallen ill from diseases since monsoon rains left the southern region under several feet of water, the country's disaster authority said. More than 350 people have been killed and over eight million people have been affected this year by floods that officials say are worse in parts of Sindh province than last year, when the country saw its worst ever disaster. (Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images) #

A villager wades through flooded water carrying his bicycle near Megha village, 34 miles from the eastern Indian city Bhubaneswar, India on Sept. 11. Around 700,000 people have been affected by floods in 14 districts of Orissa. (Biswaranjan Rout/Associated Press) #

Displaced Pakistanis wash their belongings in a flooded field in Mirpur Khas in Pakistan's Sindh province, after fleeing their flood-hit homes Sept. 23. In Pakistan's Sindh province alone, the floods have killed over 220 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people, according to the United Nations. Neighboring Baluchistan province has also been affected. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press) #

Residents are evacuated from a flood zone Sept. 19 in Guang'an, China's Sichuan province. Heavy rains that have unleashed flooding across southwest China and left at least 14 people dead will continue to pound the region in the coming days, the country's meteorological agency said. (Associated Press) #

Policemen and residents run as waves from a tidal bore surge past a barrier on the banks of Qiantang River in Haining, Zhejiang province Aug. 31. As Typhoon Nanmadol approaches eastern China, the tides and waves in Qiantang River recorded its highest level in 10 years, local media reported. (China Daily/Reuters) #

Indian villagers with their cattle cross flood waters on a boat at Kasimpurchak near Danapur Diara in Patna, India, Sept. 27. Monsoon rains destroyed mud huts and flooded wide swaths of northern and eastern India in recent days, leaving hundreds of thousands marooned by raging waters, officials said. (Aftab Alam Siddiqui/Associated Press) #

Flood water covers the roadway Sept. 9 in Bloomsburg, Pa., after remnants from tropical Storm Lee continued to produce heavy rain overnight. (Mel Evans/Associated Press) #

Unidentified teens walk through the high water and waves at the Mandeville, La. lakefront of Lake Pontchartrain from Tropical Storm Lee, on Sept. 4. The vast, soggy storm system spent hours during the weekend hovering in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico. Its slow crawl to the north gave more time for its drenching rain bands to pelt a wide swath of vulnerable coastline, raising the flood threat. (Ted Jackson/Associated Press/The Times-Picayune) #

Tom Harris hugs James Aaron after Aaron tears up when he saw the flood damage to his home in the Flats area of Plains, Pa. Sept. 10. The water lines went a few feet up his roof, tearing down parts of his ceiling, and both his front and rear porch have separated from the home. Tens of thousands of evacuated residents are being allowed to return home Saturday as rivers swollen by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee recede. (Aimee Dilger/Associated Press) #

Lumber at the Your Building Center on East Ninth Street in Bloomsburg, Pa., floats on flood water from the Susquehanna River inside of the fenced in area on the property Sept. 9 as the river crest at a record level of 32.75 feet. (Jimmy May/Assocaited Press) #

Cecil Flemming tries to maneuver his wheelchair through the waters on the Mandeville, La. lakefront of Lake Pontchartrain after waters crashed over the seawall from Tropical Storm Lee Sept. 4. The vast, soggy storm system spent hours during the weekend hovering in the northernmost Gulf of Mexico. Its slow crawl to the north gave more time for its drenching rain bands to pelt a wide swath of vulnerable coastline, raising the flood threat. (Ted Jackson/Associated Press/The Times-Picayune) #

Pakistani men sit on the rubble of a house, surrounded by floods water in Badin district near Hyderabad, Pakistan Sept. 18. The floods caused by heavy rains have killed more than 200 people, made about 200,000 people homeless and left 4.2 million acres of agriculture land inundated with water, authorities said. (Shakil Adil/Associated Press) #

A displaced Pakistani boy, lies on a bed under a mosquito net, while he and others take refuge on a roadside after fleeing their homes in Tando Allah Yar Sept. 20. Flood victims camped out near inundated fields and crowded hospitals on Monday as authorities and international aid groups struggled to respond to Pakistan's second major bout of flooding in just over a year. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press) #

A flood effected farmer dry chilies crop to earn his living in Hyderabad, Pakistan on Sept. 23. In Pakistan's Sindh province alone, the floods have killed over 200 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people, according to the United Nations. Neighboring Baluchistan province has also been affected. (Pervez Masih/Associated Press) #

A displaced Pakistani boy stands on a narrow path surrounded by flood water in Badin District, in Pakistan's Sindh province Sept. 24. In Pakistan's Sindh province alone, the floods have killed over 220 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people, according to the United Nations. Neighboring Baluchistan province has also been affected. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press) #

A resident carries a gas tank as he evacuates his house amid rising flood waters in San Mateo, Rizal, east of Manila Sept. 27. Typhoon Nesat, locally known as Pedring, pounded the Philippines' main island lashing crop-growing provinces and bringing the capital to a near standstill as it disrupted power supplies and closed financial markets, government offices, transport and schools. (Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters) #

A girl, displaced by floods, carries pots as she walks on the trunk of a tree floating in the water near her home in the Badin district of Pakistan's Sindh province Sept. 23. The latest floods, triggered by monsoon rains, have killed more than 230 people, destroyed or damaged 1.2 million houses and flooded 4.5 million acres since late last month, officials and Western aid groups say. More than 300,000 people have been moved to shelters. Some 800,000 families hit by last year's floods are still homeless. Aid groups have warned of a growing risk of fatal diseases. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters) #

Residents living beside a swollen river walk through floods in Navotas, north of Manila, Philippines Sept. 27 as Typhoon Nesat hits the country. Massive flooding hit the Philippine capital as typhoon winds and rains isolated the historic old city where residents waded in waist-deep waters, dodging tree branches and debris. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press) #

A resident carries a potted plant through floodwaters in Ang Thong province, 100 km (62 miles) north of Bangkok, Sept. 16. Floods caused by heavy rains during the monsoon in northern regions have killed up to 92 people in Thailand since July. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters) #

A man washes himself with floodwater in Ayutthaya province Sept. 20. Monsoon rains, floods and mudslides in Thailand have killed at least 112 people since July. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters) #

Fishermen stand at the scene of a cargo ship washed ashore at the sea port in Navotas city, north of Manila Sept. 27 after Typhoon Nesat, locally known as Pedring, hit the capital, Manila. Typhoon Nesat pounded the Philippines' main island lashing crop-growing provinces and bringing the capital to a near standstill as it disrupted power supplies and closed financial markets, government offices, transport and schools. At least one person, a 22 month-old boy, died in the storm, and four people were reported missing. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters) #

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Appreciating What You Don't Like

I have this big photo book that I can’t remember how I came to own, but whenever I look through it, I see very little that I like or appreciate. The reason I keep it around is 1) photos that don’t appeal to me challenge me to figuring out why, and 2) the comments of the photographer say about photography what I have stumbled around trying to say for decades.

The book is “Pictures I had to Take” The photographer is Joel Grey. Name sound familiar? Joel Grey (born April 11, 1932) is an American stage and screen actor, singer, and dancer, best known for his role as the Master of Ceremonies in both the stage and film adaptation of the Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret. He has won the Academy Award, Tony Award and Golden Globe Award.

Here is what he says about photography that has eluded me for all these years. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved taking photographs. It was always a complete and spontaneous pleasure for me. I never considered a tripod, zoom lens, or light meter. It was never work, only satisfaction. Looking . . . observing . . . recording . . .reflecting. Acts unspoiled by ambition, expectation, or competition. Being an actor, and in the public eye, this then, was a private act. Much of this book is about wonder . . . What is that . . .? How did that . . . ? Is that real . . .? Is that . . . ? Thus, picture taking for me often answers the question; it often solves the puzzle.”

The introduction to this book is by Duane Michals, an American photographer who s is largely self-taught. His work makes innovative use of photo-sequences, often incorporating text to examine emotion and philosophy.

He writes in the intro, “Actors are shamans. With sleight of hand they magically metamorphose into someone else. They shrink or appear larger the life. Their eyes squint; the voice rasps or bellows. Age descends upon their shoulders. Every gesture is studied and an atmosphere of another presence is brought into focus by their intense observation. They vanish as a trompe l’oeil.

Photographers are shamans. With sleight of hand, their camera obscuras stop time. For one-sixtieth of a second a sliver of a fleeting moment is extracted from the cavalcade of time as a specimen on film. In the constant bombardment of sensory assault we experience, the photographer observes a gesture, a dance of light on the fa├žade of appearance, a faded color. He absorbs what he sees into a moment of recognition. And with the alchemy of silver and other chemicals, the photograph becomes a trompe l’oeil. . .”

He goes one to say Joel, ”had to take these photographs because he is a visual voluptuary addicted to the subtle pleasures of light, color and form. “

That is reflective in the selections of photographs that appear in this book.

The two photographers really do identify how I feel about photography. While I may not find many of Joel’s images in this book appealing, they are a pleasure to him and they are private thoughts that speak to and (I assume) for him. That photographic approach appeals to me. Like not agreeing but seeing the point and finding it helpful in gaining an understanding of something I had not thought much about. That is why this book will have a place in my home for as long as I have a life.

Examples shamelessly extracted from “Pictures I had to Take”. If you like them then the linked title will take you to where you can buy the book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

There can be an exciting life style as a photographer and you may find your legacy taking center stage over your years of hard work after you departed this life. Case in point, Ernest Withers Civil Rights Photographer.

Ernest Withers was a photographer who’s black-and-white images illustrates a history of life in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s. He recorded the civil rights movement from the front lines and from the Beale Street music scene. He is also remembered for his capturing on film the last years of Negro League baseball. His work appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek and The New York Times and has been collected in four books: “Let Us March On,” “Pictures Tell the Story,” “The Memphis Blues Again” and “Negro League Baseball.”

He was born August 7, 1922, in Memphis, Tennessee. He worked as a photographer in the Army in World War II and started a studio when he returned. He also worked for about three years as one of the first nine African-American police officers in Memphis. I think this history of service to country and community is important when you look at accusations he was an FBI informant.

In a yellow journalistic style, Marc Perrusquia writes, "As a foot soldier in J. Edgar Hoover's domestic intelligence program, Withers helped the FBI gain a front-row seat to the civil rights and anti-war movements in Memphis. In Withers, who ran a popular Beale Street photography studio frequented by the powerful and ordinary alike, the FBI found a super-informant, one who, according to an FBI report, proved "most conversant with all key activities in the Negro community.''
Marc Perrusquia filed his FOIA request in 2007, after Withers died. So Withers cannot offer any response in his defense. During my meager research, I’ve read similar descriptions but have also run across a claim he was force into that role. Nothing definitive. At least not to my satisfaction.

Not give too much credit to Mr. Perrusquia’s claim, all I’ve read is that there are references to a confidential informant number, ME 338-R, which the FBI didn't redact. However it isn’t directly linked to Mr. Withers in the accounts given by Mr. Perrusquia. Mr. Perrusquia notes that, "the one record that would pinpoint the breadth and detail of his undercover work — his informant file — remains sealed."

Withers played a key roll in the Civil Rights Movement as a result of his photographic document of the Emmett Till trial. He was witness to key Civil Rights moments including: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Medgar Evers Funeral, the Integration of Little Rock High School, the March Against Fear, the Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike and the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination and funeral.

I reserve judgment on the discrediting claim and look to what his talent behind the lens produced. To help support that position, I add in Mr. Withers service to country, support and service to the law as a police officer, and both the era and the nature of J Edgar Hoover and his FBI. Any claims his being a sneaky little tattle tale falls short when compared to the danger of being a black photo journalist in the throes of desegregation of the 50’s and 60’s.