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El Mundo es Recto! Newspaper Esthetic Conventions

I just got back from a rather grueling but interesting four day shoot covering the senatorial elections in San Francisco de Macoris, a politically “hot” town that saw a bit of violence during an otherwise legit electoral process. At one point I went almost 4o hours without sleep. The writer I was paired with was a seasoned reporter and knew his stuff, even if he had no clue about how to work with a photographer or create a kind of team spirit (and for Domincans this is unusual,as they are generally very companionable). We tracked down quite a lot of leads and I got something like 8 or 9 separate publications out of it (which added nothing to my wallet, but at least our work was esteemed above the rest). Plus I got to see political life here from the inside, and palled around with the ex-vice president and a bunch of VIPs in both major parties. It will give me superb material to write about later. Just the window on class relations here that the experience opened for me was worth the price of admission.


However, one thing struck me. Aside from the fact that it has been a very long time since I did any newspaper work and had completely forgotten the principles that rule this kind of shooting, and the fact that my command of the language was stretched to the limit (particularly due to sleep deprivation), I was particularly struck by the kind of conservative compositional ideas that rule the editors’ thinking at these kind of places. I imagine that in fact it is not so different outside my little island here, that news editors have the same requirements everywhere, but acquaintance with cutting edge photography from the major agencies certainly must have loosened up their thinking in those places where the editors are aware of what is going on in the photo world, what marks the best photography these days, etc. Here, unfortunately, though all the editors at the newspaper are Spaniards (no dumb mongrel niggers or mere photographers are allowed to exercise intellectual authority at this place—the colonialist attitude is still alive and well here), and supposedly aware of the outside world, there is in fact very little consciousness of photo trends or the fact that photography has become quite an exciting thing lately with all kinds of new forms and esthetic ideas. Now this is no cheap little paper; on the contrary, it is a very modern and hip outfit, which puts out a weekly paper as well as a 24/7 digital version, well in advance of its competitors here with pretty intelligent coverage. Plus they have bought for their photographers the most expensive nikons and kit. But I was dumbfounded and very frustrated by the views of the writers and editors. They had no idea of what makes a good photo, and as a consequence the photography is generally pretty boring. These are people who have never heard of Magnum, and sadly though there is photographic talent here, it cannot develop without sustained contact with outside ideas.


The thing that really got to the main editor here was my penchant for diagonally oriented compositions and the fact that bits and pieces of people exist at the margins of some of my photographs. I happen to like this because I like to break the rigidity of the frame and suggest that the world continues outside the frame. And if you think this is a mannerism or silly eccentricity, let me remind you that it is a very old compositional principle and in fact is a constituent element of Oriental rugs of all types (I have learned alot from analyzing oriental rugs!). And diagonal lines should pose no problem, even if the overall plan of a tabloid is vertically and horizontally oriented. We do this all the time and there are photographers who have made a habit of shooting in this manner (kratochvil among them), though I dont. I change it up all the time. Anyway, the editor kept fussing, “el mundo es recto, es la norma, vertical y horizontal, y el periódico también es recto.” the world is made of verticals and horizontals and this is how we see things. Well, needless to say, I dont! And I admit this has frustrated other editors as well. But the moment of truth came when the editor pointed at one of my “normal” compositions and admitted that it was “boring” by its very rectilinear nature. Well, if there was ever a moment in which one’s habitual thinking prevented one from seeing the real truth, this was it. Because we were under a tight deadline and I didnt want to argue, I let it slide, but I felt like pointing out that if the rectilinear composition is boring, then why are we insisting on it for our readers? Are we out to bore them or grab their attention? And if a radically different composition manages to do the latter, then why buck the trend? How can you be so blind to your own best interests and higher purpose? Interestingly, in the weekly issue that summed up the election coverage, this editor gave himself four full pages of photographs, all of them rectilinear and all of them very boring indeed.


Btw, I shot everything with my little Olympus C7070, and the shots were superb. I wouldnt recommend this kind of camera for such jobs, but I am pleased with its performance (all JPG, no RAW, of course). Because of the low ISO, many of my night shots, all without flash, were taken at extremely slow exposures, and while I am used to doing this, I would have killed for the ability to shoot at 800 ISO and get clean files. On the other hand, the camera performed superbly and because of its unimposing appearance I was able to get shots of situations that would otherwise have gotten me arrested or beaten up.

by Jon Anderson at 2006-05-19 23:02:47 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Back Home , Dominican Republic | Bookmark | | Report spam→

_ I was able to get shots of situations that would otherwise have gotten me arrested or beaten up._

Next time wear a shirt that reads “Prensa Gringa” and nothing will ever happen to you… :-) Now for the serious stuff (like I can, anyway…), I found your account very interesting. I’m not totally familiar with the situation in DR but I know enough to recognize the polarization that exist and the involvement many people put in their political activism. None of the general apathy for politics that prevails in the U.S., for example. On top of that, in many places in S.America, voting is compulsory and therefore people is forced to think about their political choices. Sigh…, call me whatever you want, but I wish it was compulsory in the U.S. also. I doubt any of the B.S. that is going on in the name of the American People would be happening if more people voted (and since 1998, the year I received my citizenship, I have voted for every single election there has been, Senate and Presidential…)

I loved your comments on the editors of the papers, those “Spaniards” and their narrow minded attitudes towards photography… Let me guess, would they hail from Galicia? My opinion about Spanish editors, and for Spanish I’m talking about the big umbrella of Spanish speaking editors, in Europe and in South America, is that they can be, not only narrow-minded but right down cruel in their assessment of your work. Whereas in the Anglo editing world you can find some straight-forward opinions and yes/no answers, their Spanish counterparts can, and will, go several steps further and tear your work apart to bits and pieces. And so are us as well, the readers. We are quite cruel and vocal about what we like and what we don’t and literary debates can reach boiling points as hot as political ones. I hop on both sides of the literary fence and can tell the difference. It is the main reason why, in a comparison based on population and education, there are far fewer published Spanish writers than there are Anglo speaking writers. It is not because there are fewer Spanish writers, it because the “filter”, at the editor’s level, is much finer. And the same goes for other “edited” disciplines, like photography. On the positive side of things, we are saving a lot more trees… :-)

Welcome back! L

by Luis E. Andrade | 20 May 2006 13:05 | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
Yeah what the hell is with all these Gallegos and how did you know? I know that many poor Gallegos came here in the past and were in fact often employed to cut cane, but this breed today is rather uppity. To be fair to Pedro, the editor in question, he was not hard on me at all, he was in fact pleased with the coverage and I got the lion’s share of publications (also got paid more than the regular staff — because of course i am a gringo, and down here the people are all “agringada” as my wife likes to say. Meanwhile I am “aplatanado”.) He also was under heavy pressure to get the weekly edition out and there was a shitload of editing to do. My basic problem with the editors and the writers is their lack of understanding of what makes for good photography, and while the Spaniards here assume a cultural and intellectual superiority over the mongrel “nigger” dominicans, the fact is their knowledge is also very slim. They know almost nothing of the world outside Santo Domingo, and that is not good.


Another very interesting aspect of this shoot was the classism and racism it revealed. Very subtle stuff: for example, the writer Pancracio (Panky) Corcino is a Dominican mulatto of the middle class. Intelligent, excellent reporter, open to ideas and culture. But he is bedeviled by attitudes that derive from the obsession in Dominican society with social climbing, status and skin color. At one point, he chewed our driver out because the guy was being really slipshod in his work. He deserved the rebuke, but the form it took was interesting: The man’s name is, aptly, Primitivo! he is a black guy, a moreno, from Villa Mella, sort of the Harlem of St Domingo. The Paleros of the Cofradía de Villa Mella won a UNESCO world Patrimony prize for their drumming. Now Primitivo lives up to his name: he constantly insulted women with his crude piropos and lewd gestures (though they were meant as compliments, and of course the lower class girls ate it up), he could not stomach any food that wasnt typical of his barrio (fritos, Chicharrón, and of course “la bandera” Chicken Rice and Beans), and while he was not at all lazy he was to an extent somewhat unthinking and careless: he had not yet learned forethought and planning etc. I am convinced that these qualities are the virtues par excellence of the bourgeoisie and all depend on having sizeable bank accounts; the poor live hand to mouth, day to day, so planning for the future and developing habits like punctuality, responsibility, and so on are just not as valuable to them or even pertinent.


Anyway, Primitivo spent the night watching soft porn while I tried to get some shuteye because I knew that the days would long and arduous. Of course, Primitivo woke up late, sleepy and unprepared. he left the doors to the truck open, he forgot to have the motor running for an instantaneous departure, etc. As we got into the vehicle, Panky upbraided him with these words: “Primitivo, esta condición de negro me tiene muy muy enojado.” Priceless! “Esta condición de negro”!!!! words like that would get you killed in Harlem, but Primitivo was instantly put in his place and proceeded to do everything he could to please Panky. Meanwhile, I was friendlier with Primitivo, but as a result he wouldnt take my direction so compliantly, I usually had to fight with him a bit when I was working with him alone. The whole thing was quite instructive and while I cannot photograph this kind of stuff you can bet your bottom dollar it will appear in my essays.


Course, Panky had to kow tow a bit to the Spaniards on the paper, and he clearly didnt like it. And of course my being a gringo didnt help matters: everytime we showed up at some event or incident, the people assumed I was the leader and spoke to me. Even when Panky was interviewing all the top politicians, they would listen to his questions and direct their answers to me! What did they think, that all the while I was snapping their fotos I was actually recording their words?!! ha! Both my wife and my best friend down here are constantly telling me that I can take advantage of the fact that people here are agringada, and sure enough they are right. It looks like I am going to be one of Nikon’s “reps” down here, not involved in the commercial end at all, but sort of a front man for a series of promotional conferences, interviews, TV appearances and so on that dont directly promote Nikon products but discuss issues of photography. I am scheduled ot give a talk on International Photojournalism and its Risks (yeah, like I have been to Chechnya, ha!). What a complete farce. But I can use the platform as a means of raising photographic consciousness here. I hope.


Btw, I never thought of a Prensa Gringa shirt, that might work!. Usually in a tight spot I just play the dumb gringo, and that works quite well. I told Panky on at least two occasions when he interfered to “save” me, for fear that I didnt understand the situation, that he needed to leave me be if he wanted good pix, as I knew how to get them and how to avoid a beating. There is always a moment of hesitation before a crowd goes berserk, and if you know how to insert and extract yourself in a timely manner, you are usually safe. And with the military, playing the dumb gringo pretty much guarantees your safety, as they have been instructed toleave us alone. Course the day will come, but till then – - -

by Jon Anderson | 20 May 2006 14:05 (ed. May 20 2006) | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Primitivo, esta condición de negro me tiene muy muy enojado


LOL!! Priceless indeed! BTW, it is like that everywhere in S.America. Even people that would otherwise be considered “black” in the U.S., feel empowered to put other people “in their places” if they are a shade darker than they are… As for really white people in that environment (not talking about Anglos, as you know), geeze, they may as well wear their boots and “látigos”: if they could pull their noses any higher, they would be wearing them in their forehead… It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so prevalent. Although not the same at all, it somehow reminds me of India and their Cast System. The funny thing is that, as a disciplinary tool, it works and keeps things in check!! (Now for the disclaimer: I’m not condoning the attitude, just reporting on it…)

_I am scheduled ot give a talk on International Photojournalism and its Risks (yeah, like I have been to Chechnya, ha!). What a complete farce. _

The Spanish adage, “En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey…”, has deep cultural roots… :-) Don’t sell yourself short though and don’t be modest. You are well qualified for the task and will do more than well there. Just go with the flow and don’t try to emulate Tina Modotti in her off-camera life… Speaking of Modotti, those editors should take a look at what she did as a photojournalist in her reporting of the Mexican revolution (if they even know who she was…). They would have to eat their words about your “angles”…
L

by Luis E. Andrade | 20 May 2006 15:05 (ed. May 20 2006) | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
Yes it does work as a disciplinary tool, and if you dont pull out the látigo from time to time, the people think you are a pendejo and will take advantage of you. I have seen this time and time again. Gringo good intentions just confuse the issue and create problems. Panky knew full well what he was doing and when to apply the screws, and I dont blame him, but what a marvelous scenario it presented me. Actually there are many instances of this in the world: the Caste system for all its rigidity and oppression does in fact guarantee that everyone have a place in society and find some kind of useful task. It was a time honored, ancient system born in a society where egalitarianism had no place and hierarchy was crucial. Corruption is another practice that offends Protestant-Ethic Westerners, but it has its uses and I find it a workable system in many ways. When it gets out of control at times then the consequences are disastrous. The Western egalitarian framework is perplexed before these stubborn cultural practices, but I have learned that while, as you say, one may not condone these practices, I recognize that confronting them head on or even trying to do an end run round them rarely brings in desirable results. Still, I really cannot stand the class attitudes of the people here. Drives me nuts.


Well I am certainly el tuerto aquí, but if I cannot have a bit of fun on the side a la Modotti, then I am not sure the game is worth the candle!!!

by Jon Anderson | 20 May 2006 16:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
but if I cannot have a bit of fun on the side a la Modotti, then I am not sure the game is worth the candle!!!

Somehow, I knew you’d go for it. Photographers cannot always be spectators… :-)
L

by Luis E. Andrade | 20 May 2006 16:05 | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
I here you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidentials campaign tral for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I hear you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidentials campaign tral for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I hear you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidential campaign trail for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I hear you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidential campaign trail for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I hear you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidential campaign trail for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I hear you man, I just got back today from a very similar assignment (covering a presidential campaign trail for the New York Times) and a similar experience with many of the same thoughts, I did a tighter edit for my website than what I handed in to the NYTimes www.adamphotogallery.com . Saludos hermano… animo!!

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 19:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
My computer is going crazy, please excuse the multiple posts. BTW when I wrote “similar experience and same thoughts” I was refering to your experience and thoughts in the field and the need to compose your pictures in your own way as opposed to the classical conservative way. I was not refering to your experience with editors , although if this had been an assignment for a national paper who knows?

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
My computer is going crazy, please excuse the multiple posts. BTW when I wrote “similar experience and same thoughts” I was refering to your experience and thoughts in the field and the need to compose your pictures in your own way as opposed to the classical conservative way. I was not refering to your experience with editors , although if this had been an assignment for a national paper who knows?

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
Adam, so did you have trouble with the NY Times editors or were they cool with your perspective. I certainly liked it and it seems to me they would too. Here it is just a matter of bringing people up to date, because in general they are willing to be swayed by an outsider with putative greater experience. (By the way, loved the site, and the porno story is hilarious. Do they yell, “tenemos madera aquí” after the actor succeeds in getting a hardon?)


Luis, you still havent answered my initial question: what is up with all these Gallegos here? is this a Latin American phenomenon? Why?

by Jon Anderson | 20 May 2006 20:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Most of my problems are here not elsewhere, I am not sure which picture has been chosen yet. With regards to the porno thing, they didnt cry out what you said, howevere they would have to take breaks every now and again to re-erect, of course Viagra helped the production move relatively smoothly.

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
Most of my problems are here not elsewhere, I am not sure which picture has been chosen yet. With regards to the porno thing, they didnt cry out what you said, howevere they would have to take breaks every now and again to re-erect, of course Viagra helped the production move relatively smoothly.

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
I like your thinking vis a vis subject matter, all interesting topics. Just thought I should mention that. reason I asked about the madera is that that phrase in English is what they use on American sets, according to an article I once read.

by Jon Anderson | 20 May 2006 20:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Cheers mate, I enjoy reading your posts and have great respect for the effort you invest into informing, strengthening, and protecting this international photography community, hats off to you… now enough of this back-patting, back to the issues.

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
Cheers mate, I enjoy reading your posts and have great respect for the effort you invest into informing, strengthening, and protecting this international photography community, hats off to you… now enough of this back-patting, back to the issues.

by adam wiseman | 20 May 2006 20:05 | mexico city, Mexico | | Report spam→
Luis, you still havent answered my initial question: what is up with all these Gallegos here? is this a Latin American phenomenon? Why?

Geeze, Jon, you really want to get me in trouble and completely out of the PCorrect world… LOL!! I don’t know how prevalent is the stereotype in the Caribbean, but in the rest of South America, the “Gallegos” are akin to the Polish for the Anglos… :-) Like “Cuantos gallegos se necesita para cambiar un bombillo…? Cinco: uno para sostener el bombillo y cuatro para girar la escalera…” :-) They have a fame for being obtuse and stubborn. Next time you feel like laughing hard, listen to an entry in my blog: Accidente Gallego And that is a real account of real accident… :-) (sorry about the rest of you guys, it is in Spanish AND hilarious…) I was laughing when you said “El mundo es recto”!!! We call the gallegos “cuadrados” (squared): all right angles and straight lines… :-) Then again, it goes to show that some legends have deep cultural roots… As it is their fame for hard work and entrepreneurship. Something that many other people, from other backgrounds, have resented in South America. Can’t be perfect…

And I’m not gratuitously making fun of them: my grandparents are from Vigo… So, in making fun of them I’m looking in the mirror… :-)

L

by Luis E. Andrade | 20 May 2006 21:05 (ed. May 20 2006) | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
“Primitivo, esta condición de negro me tiene muy muy enojado”

Jon please give my regards to Panky . I am stealing this one for my “primitivos” here in Ecuador.

by Alex Reshuan | 20 May 2006 23:05 | Guayaquil ( Sea level at last), Ecuador | | Report spam→

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Participants

Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States
Luis E. Andrade, I shoot and I write Luis E. Andrade
I shoot and I write
Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side , United States
adam wiseman, photographer adam wiseman
photographer
Mexico Df , Mexico
Alex Reshuan, Photographer Alex Reshuan
Photographer
Guayaquil , Ecuador


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