Archive for July 2007
I’ll admit it. I’ve always enjoyed junk mail (all those specials out there that you can spend money on in order to save money! What’s not to love!) I suppose in a way this cheap thrill extends itself to cybermail. I love all those obscure links that one can travel to just to take a peek. And I’m pleased to say that this plebeian habit has yielded some fantastic virtual finds. Such as this e-zine called Lunatic Magazine which is a publication by the independent agency Luna Photos. This is the first edition and what a find it is. I’m really quite impressed by the standard and concept. I know there are a number of such magazines floating around the web (other good reads/visual feasts include JPEG Magazine; DoubleTruck; The Digital Journalist; plus the infinite number of smaller international mags dedicated to promoting and showing emerging talent such as the Polish 5klatek , the Portuguese Cru-A , the French/English webphotomag, not to mention all the Flickr type dedicated e-mags that have sprung a la JPEG Magazine such as pict*re magazine. And so on and so forth….)
I’m astounded at the proliferation on the net of such publications but as many of the contributors and self-publishers point out, in an era of mass production , mass marketing and mass advertising – particularly int he West, it can be challenging and difficult at best, for up and coming photographers to find platforms where their work can be seen and in the context they were made. Interestingly as one cultural commentator points out about 5klatek‘s site, their publication was a result of the lack of publishers in Poland who were willing to showcase emerging artists’ works in Poland. Either way, it’s an interesting solution to a challenge that many photographers who wish to pursue their work, find themselves facing. Mmmm, maybe I should give it a go? Certainly in Australia we are faced with the same issues! Food for thought no?
Anyway, take a look at some of the zines and mags… well worth the tour. And as a parting gift goodnight, here are some bootylicious photographs for you (one by me and the other by the Chinese, NY based photographer Shen Wei whose work I think is great):
Latin Dancers, 2007
Jackie from the series Almost Naked by Shen Wei
After a rather hectic and frustrating morning driving around our stupid campus looking for non-existent carparks (no pics for you at the ANU, sorry Martin Parr!), I had wonderful meeting with my supervisor Helen. It was a constructive and immensely helpful one for several reasons:
- It helped me to articulate what my interests are in terms of writing about photography, in the process marrying this to my interests in looking at photography.
- I’m not as freaked out at the idea of unearthing written documents about the Australian documentary tradition (I rather thought of this as the proverbial can-o-worms always thinking “where to begin!”). My nerves related mostly to the thought that there would be as many documents/texts etc… out there on this subject as there are about documentary photography in other Western cultures, namely America and Europe. Thankfully – though ironically disappointingly as well – documentary photography in Australia does not seem as theorised or ‘documented’ as elsewhere. I suppose this can be a good thing, in that it provides me with an interesting thesis topic which (I’d like to think) could contribute to such a conversation, if not at the very least turn me into a well read student on the subject matter.
- I now have a reading list from which to chronologise, the emergence of documentary photographic theory in Australia (thus I begin here as opposed to there, everywhere and nowhere!)
- I no longer feel like I have attention deficit disorder in terms of who I am photographing. For now, I’m pretty much engaging with my take on Australians and their habits and traditions that I take a fancy to.
So, we shall meet weekly for at east a month to share and discuss themes, ideas, reactions etc… to set readings. At last, I feel like I have really begun my sub-thesis! Yay for me!
And lastly, here are two more ‘bed’ pictures….. which I have started to collect, just because (one is mine, the other is by Jen Davis, a really interesting American photographer whose work I came across in a recent edition of Aperture Magazine):
Untitled No. 11, 2005 (by Jen Davis)
Well, I actually forgot to post about my new website (www.leegrant.net) which I launched a few weeks back. There are still a few things I’d like to fix up and add (like groovy slideshows with thumbs but not too Flash, there’s nothing worse than a site that takes forever to load!) but given that “I made it myself” (as Kath and Kim both infamously declared!), I might have to wait till I’ve figured it all out!! I think the simplicity of it has it’s own appeal though, so all in all I’m quite pleased with it.
Anyway, enough yacking and ….. “come in if you’re good lookin’!”
The world can be a cruel and senseless place and there is nothing like a war to bring this idea home. One of the e-journals I subscribe to is The Digital Journalist, an American publication which mostly focuses on photojournalism and other visual media. I like this mag simply because it keeps me updated with current issues in photojournalism as well as the work of photographers around the world. One of the articles in this month’s issue discusses the work of one photojournalist , Michael Kamber, who has been working in Iraq as an embed for the NY Times. I like Kamber’s work because, for me, he has a sensibility not seen very much anymore. It’s like he is really seeing the war, beyond the visually obvious. In an age where there are plenty of cowboys to cover the plenty global conflicts, it is good to know that there are a few humanists out there. Kamber also writes eloquently about one of his experiences on patrol with an American military unit and also discusses some of the censorship challenges that most journalists in this war are facing (which I’ve quoted in part here):
“Back at the base that night, the editing and censoring process began. The embed regulations had recently been changed to say that no photos of identifiable wounded soldiers could be published without their written permission. Nor of identifiable soldiers killed in action. The explanation was that this rule was in place to protect the soldiers and their families. This seemed patently unworkable. The badly wounded soldier I had photographed earlier was temporarily blinded by the blast and on a plane to Germany. How could he be shown a photo and asked to sign off on it?
[Two of the slightly wounded soldiers returned to their unit the next day. I showed them their photos and they quickly signed releases.]
I asked John Burns, The New York Times’ Baghdad bureau chief, a rhetorical question I repeat here. What would our collective photographic history of World War II look like if Robert Capa was forced to chase stretchers down Omaha Beach on D-Day trying to get releases? What would our history of Vietnam be if Tim Page or Don McCullin carried a clipboard as they worked and presented it for signatures at Khe Sanh or Hué?”
Latafiya, Iraq, May 19, 2007 – A pregnant Iraqi woman and her children look at their husband/father who has been detained while an Iraqi soldier enters their home to search it. The man was arrested for questioning after a land mine or IED nearby killed a U.S. soldier and wounded four others. He was later released. The soldiers were searching for three missing American comrades.
Latafiya, Iraq, May 19, 2007 – Following an explosion that killed a U.S. soldier and injured four coalition troops, the patrol for three missing American soldiers continues with these Iraqi troops searching a home. One man was detained for questioning, but later released (both images courtesy Michael Kamber for the NY Times)
What indeed? It is depressing to realise that readers of even the liberal press (what little there is left) are being spoon fed so-called appropriate yet sanitised stories and images for the sake of military and political repute. On the other hand, do we as readers – compassionate though we might be – weigh in as a guilty party too when we turn away from such stories and images? It’s a difficult issue but one I think where consumers of the press have a right to view the ‘truths’ of these journalists and in turn the awful reality of what war means for so many people.
I suppose what I find truly bizarre is the extent to which we in the apparently free West are living litigious existences. Where a photographer must go to the lengths that they do in order to do their jobs – or even pursue their hobbies – to assuage the general populace (and regulators, more like). In my experience, chasing after people to sign off on releases – though understood by most – is nevertheless received as a bizarre request. One that is perceived as less appealing even than actually being photographed! Then again the thought of being sued or libeled in some way – even here in Australia – is never too far from one’s mind. Such a hassle might not, in the end, be worth the photograph?
Despite the ridiculousness that life seems to chuck out, it does go on…. And my thoughts are that we might as well photograph it….. if not for posterity and the historical record, then at least, just because. The good, the bad and the ugly……….
Courtesy of Reuters
What I find particularly interesting about this image are the cameramen in the background. I wonder what the ‘militant’ was thinking being surrounded by such a circus? Did the photographer himself get annoyed by the fact that other photographers and journalists were in his frame, ‘ruining’ the aesthetic and potential power of his shot? (The kind of thing I might get irritated by!) This image certainly got me thinking about a range of issues, not least of which is one I’m especially interested in: the transaction between photographers and the photographed. But more on that later…
Looking (and really seeing) this picture, one can deduce that the world is indeed a bizarre place. One in which the media wields considerable power; where militants might ‘perform’ for a bunch of journos who in the process unwittingly – or not? – affect the behaviour and thus actions of protagonists who are effectively determining their own histories! (Who then has ownership on these stories??)
I’m aware that this isn’t unusual. When I watched the documentary War Photographer about James Nachtwey, I was disconcerted by the crowds of journalists that accompanied certain events (such as the depicted discovery of a mass grave in the Balkans). Was this really how historical and political events were being covered? Every dog for him/herself? A regular circus? My impressions of excellent journalism were challenged. Whilst I understand that they all have a job to do, the process – from my perspective at least – seemed quite…. farcical. And herein lies the irony since the situation being covered – genocide – was indeed a grave one. I wondered how those affected felt about the contingents of media hanging around? Getting the story out to the world is all well and good for those that can leave the hellholes of such war zones. Discomforting consumers of print or TV press, over their morning breakfasts may also be righteous, but does it really make any difference?
(I am not trying to detract from the incredible work that so many people in the press do. I do however believe that there are many complex issues that should be discussed more readily, particularly in the context of the media as a beacon of ‘truth’ and that as ‘thinking’ citizens we should monitor our own consumption of the media and think further about how our interpretations of recorded events frame our worldviews.)
Following on from my last point of whether or not any real tangible difference can be made, I read somewhere that after decades of covering conflict the highly esteemed British war photographer, Don McCullin doesn’t think so. His point being that despite 30 years of photographing humanity as it’s worst, things haven’t changed much.
Don McCullin – Dead North Vietnamese Soldier, 1968 (Courtesy Goss Gallery)
I remember when I first saw this photograph. I was about 20 years old and it shocked me – it was so rudely an anti-war statement. That the so-called ‘enemy’ was portrayed as a human with his own loves and life was illuminating and at the same time the waste of such a life, devastating. The emotional and gut response that defines his work – and compels the viewer to really look – is surely what makes him such a brilliant photographer?
There are some interesting interviews on the web with Mr McCullin. I was piqued by BBC radio presenter John Tusa‘s question:
Did you ever see yourself as a propagandist? Did you think, what I show people…
... will change things?
Yeah, I mean… absolutely. I think, what would be the purpose of me not being a propagandist if I went and leaned over some poor devil who was dying and starving, and what have you, and not making a statement for him. It’s like going back to the soldier. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted people to see. And you know, from a point of view as me as a person, who was not a sophisticated, educated, Oxbridge person who came away with all kinds of degrees; I was totally raw, from Finsbury Park . So, you know, I had to be careful not to be seen as a pretentious, kind of whippersnapper that was trying to make a big name for himself and yet couldn’t put two words together. It didn’t matter really. My eyes were my voice, and my eyes were the journeys that we, myself and my eyes and my feelings, travel through and we brought back these images. We put the images down, and that was my job done really. I didn’t have to make a statement about it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Mr McCullin answers the question as directly as he might have. To be fair, the questions were rather banal and choppy and more about McCullin himself rather than the point of his images. It is probably best to read the interview whole if you feel so inclined.
Also after following various threads about McCullin, I found mention of a contemporary female war photographer, Christine Spengler. I’m always excited to discover these women as there seem to be so few (who are as esteemed as other mostly male war photographers). Interestingly, like the late Catherine Leroy, Spengler is also French. Listen to some interviews with this remarkable (yet little feted photographer) on Lens Culture.
Christine Spengler – The Western Sahara. Nursery of the Polisario Front. 1976.