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Power of Photography?

Yesterday I heard Don McCullin in a interview at ICP, where he regrets his lifetime of war photography, since he believes it did not stop wars or change the world. Wars and social conflicts have roots in complicated historical, cultural, economic and political reasons. I dont know who started this myth that a bunch of photographs can change all this. As far as I know, it is not written in any camera manual. I think its extremely arrogant and naive on part of photographers to overestimate the impact of their work.
On the other hand, I dont think photography is lame so as to not bring any change. The very fact that censorship exists and pictures of body bags of dead American soldiers are not shown in the media(not necessarily out of respect), governments are also scared of its power.

by [a former member] at 2006-05-19 10:21:32 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Brooklyn, New York , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Robert Capa thought that but it was in 1937

by Stephane Lehr | 19 May 2006 10:05 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
Photography sometimes influences opinions of people, but sadly, not enough of them are in corridors of power to turn the tide against war and conflict. And even if, for example, a photograph of a naked and burned Vietnamese girl running away from her napalmed village did change a powerful man’s mind, he has been supplanted by a new generation of politicians to whom that photograph is next to meaningless. That picture might have helped to stop a war, but not wars in the future.

by Max Pasion | 19 May 2006 11:05 | NYC, United States | | Report spam→
Government fear of imagery is unnecessary. Did the Abu Ghraib torture photos change anything? The shot of the detainee with the pointed hood and the electrodes, in the crucifixion-like stance on the block, will be logged among the most famous photos of all time (with the naked Vietnamese gir). The public has to care for any journalism to make a difference.

by [former member] | 19 May 2006 11:05 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Though photography does not (not ever) change the rot inside our collective humanity, just as it does not elevate the the magisterial lift which is also our collective humanity, IT DOES TELL STORIES AND IT DOES CHANGE MINDS AND IT DOES IGNITE!…Photography will never stop war, nor re-arrange our sensless selves, but it can remind us, and it does remind us why it is necessary that we remember that we are sentient, we destroy and we build. Weariness is not the same as cynicism, and MCCullin (also a hero for me) has been wearied, but he’s not a cynic. Humans must tell stories to survive, to scare and to enrich. I agree that any photographer who self-aggrandizes is a witless twit (many of us are, absolutely) and any photographer who thinks that they and/or their work is “important” is a witless twit, but I think any person (photographer or not) who underestimates the power and the necessity for photography’s ability to speak and to witness, is equally a twit ;)))). PHotography is important not because of us (photographers), not because it stops/prevents anything (now, then, in the future) but because photography is is testamony and witness to our disappearing selves. when we stop witnessing, when we stop telling, when we stop LISTENING, we’re lost. It is photography’s strength (not that it prevents war/animosity/suffering/sorror or that it celebrates humanity/joy/story/lives) that IT like US survives to document and remember and feed us the woeful and extraordinary tale of living. Fortunately, in the end, each of us and each of our stories means more than those resistant to that fact….witnessing destruction is a terror, but if we desisted because of our “inconsequentiality” we’d never do anything again…raise high the roofbeam, seymour ;)))…cheers, bob

by [former member] | 19 May 2006 12:05 (ed. May 19 2006) | Toronto (home sweet), Canada | | Report spam→
Did the Abu Ghraib pictures change anything? I am sure they pissed a LOT of Iraqis off, and changed the view of the invasion in many peoples’ eyes; liberators or just plain old jailors?
Contemporary war photography, and all photography is contemporary within the context of the visual record of one of humanities everlasting passions, is only the continuation of the long-running documentation of war.
Is it powerful, or does it have any power? I would guess so. If there was no power in the imagery, images of body bags could be shown without fear on the part of the fearful. How can the public care about something they do not see? Respect…….? Hmmmm

by Simon Anstey | 19 May 2006 12:05 | Copenhagen, Denmark | | Report spam→
Just because documenting human conflict is ineffectual and I’m not saying that it is, isn’t it our job as journalists to try and document it and show the world. If the world doesn’t listen is that an excuse to give up? If I thought that was true I wouldn’t be working my butt off to join this profession.

by Adam Vogler | 19 May 2006 15:05 | Pittsburg, Kansas, United States | | Report spam→
Abu Ghraib pictures did show us that dropping Saddam didnt make it any better for Iraqis. Just that American soldiers took the job to humiliate them for a change. On a positive note, it did bring about prosecuting some soldiers, though the top guns were still left untouched. Hopefully the revised army manual to interrogate prisoners opened up discussion and changed the treatment of detainees.

by [former member] | 19 May 2006 16:05 (ed. May 19 2006) | Brooklyn, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Blood is red, bullets are shiny, and fire is quite hot. Welcome to the school of bleeding obvious photojournalism. At least you can say for paparazzi photography (which really is changing the world, no kidding, just visit your local anorexia clinic) that it pays OK, and people want to see your work.

What I like about the Abu Ghraib pictures is the lack of blood, the naive composition, and the exploitative nature of the pictures. None of this concerned photography lark. Photojournalism is dead, and about time too.

by John Perkins | 19 May 2006 18:05 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Photojournalism is a busted flush in many ways because the infrastructure which used to support it is virtually moribund. For the most part, newspapers and magazines no longer have any commitment (certainly little financial commitment) to photojournalism in the way that most of us would understand.

Unfortunately photojournalism’s response to this has in many ways made the crisis far worse and divorced us even further from our audience. The withering of mainstream printed photojournalism has lead to a plethora of online and printed specialist magazines, which serve an essentially hermetically sealed niche audience of visually literate peers.

In other words, it preaches to the choir.

Secondly, many photojournalists exhibit contempt for the very audiences they should be attempting to reach, by stereotyping them as celebrity obsessed lightweights, instead of realising that the audience owes us absolutely nothing. The requirement of photojournalism – like any journalism – is to present stories for that audience in a compelling manner which they can ‘get’. That’s supposed to be our job and WE should be the ones looking sheepish if it doesn’t happen.

There’s a reason why Robert Fisk doesn’t write like James Joyce…because his audience hasn’t got the time to mull over modernist sentence structure – but it doesn’t make Fisk a bad writer. It’s just good, intelligent journalism, and not wilfully obscure.

For example, whether we like it or not, most of the audience we should be trying to reach isn’t overly fascinated by black and white photography…which is logical, seeings how they live in a colour world, stopped shooting pictures for themselves in B&W decades ago and mainstream publications have been in colour for years. Like occasional modern B&W movies, photographic monochrome is nowadays often simply a stylistic choice which relies on our collective memory of the B&W ‘classics’ to provide an aura of ‘quality’ – but should be made with an understanding that it inevitably limits your audience.

This is ironic because since the move away from 5×4 and 6×6 to lighter 35mm cameras which caused an explosion in more intimate, more connected work, photojournalists have always seized on new technology to serve the needs of their audience.

New digital technologies have opened the door for photojournalists to reach large audiences again…just not in the way they used to. This is a fact which our audience has seemed to have implicitly grasped, yet as photographers, our digital understanding often extends no further than cameras and scanning, and often not even that far.

Its not ‘our job’ to document human conflict and misery (and why this concentration on misery all the time?) any more than we have an inherent duty to aid our fellow man (unfortunately). It’s a choice, and for some it’s a lifestyle choice rather than a serious strategic attempt to reach as large an audience as possible with the work.

To produce quality photojournalism nowadays requires a high level of professionalism, very astute planning and an even more canny understanding of which audience is open to which kind of work….that is, if you intend to pursue it as a career.

Many photographers are driven individuals and indeed for many, it’s seen as a vocation. But it’s no coincidence that those photographers also spend time making equal efforts to get their work used regularly. The work has absolutely no intrinsic value in itself, and certainly no potential for changing things, unless it is seen.

by [former member] | 19 May 2006 20:05 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Photojournalism as a profession is fast losing its monetary value to the wider audience. Opinionated journalism s no longer applicable, we don’t really care what you say or how it relates to Stalin’s ability to foretell the future by looking at gallstones.

In short it is no longer a profession,but something that the audience is participating in and creating as they have access to all the tools and space.

by Imants | 19 May 2006 20:05 (ed. May 19 2006) | 7 Hills, Australia | | Report spam→
I was really surprised that this thread did not provoke more reaction. Here is a man whose work, so inspirational to so many, is basically saying that it is all nul and void, pointless.
That must affect many peoples conception of the purpose to their work, must it not? Or what?

by Simon Anstey | 20 May 2006 18:05 | Copenhagen, Denmark | | Report spam→
Sion, once again you’ve said what most of us find so hard to express. Thanks.

by John Perkins | 20 May 2006 20:05 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I suppose the only reason to regret that photography didn’t solve anything, is if you assume it has the power to solve anything in the first place. That assumption is inceasingly being seen as a chimera, and in many ways, contemporary photojournalistic practice bears some responsibility for that.

As Hari says, there’s always been a huge overestimation of our importance in the media landscape. It’s a hangover from the days when a relative handful of photographers worked with mass circulation magazines which were bought by millions. It’s just not like that anymore. The main mode of mass communication is now television, with segmented programmes according to subject matter. So the magazines have fractured into niche markets as well, with only a few like Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel and Paris Match still offering general interest subject matter. The bottom line is that magazines have always existed as vehicles for advertising, so its no surprise that most of the niches they now occupy concentrate on consumerist concerns.

One of the ironies today is there does seem to exist a public thirst for popular documentary journalism, reflected in the box office success of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. You can argue for ages about their motives and argument, but the reality is that both made damn sure their argument was accessable and entertaining. The closest photographic equivalent I can think of is Martin Parr, and it’s interesting that apparently there were big arguments when he joined Magnum as to whether he was’suitable’…presumably because he was seen as too ‘populist’, bizarrely enough.

Similarly interesting to note that he was one of several British photographers who documented massive social changes in Britain in the 1980’s, but chose to examine the beneficiaries of Thatcherism rather than its victims, concentrating on the consumerist habits and foibles of the newly aspirant British middle class, as opposed to the ‘usual’ photojournalistic concentration on the concerns of the working class and urban poor. This ironically could him more of a radical documentary photographer than his peers, as he chose to analyse a subject – in colour I might add – which although hugely historically and socially important in Britain, was virtually ignored by other photographers.

As photojournalists we should be asking ourselves how come we aren’t presenting work in a similar vein to a receptive mass audience, rather than complaining that the audience ’doesn’t understand us’ while simultaneously producing work which strives to appeal to a small niche of appreciative photo-connoiseurs…and almost universally concentrating on pictorial emotionalism as opposed to any analysis…with the almost universal fixation on poverty and misery of course.

How come hardly any photographers have done any coverage of say, the middle class in Africa? They do exist. Are they not as obvious a symptom of that continents massive problems as some bloke wielding an AK? One of the reasons why they’re in a postion of privilege (like us smug First Worlders – Blood diamonds anyone?) in the first place is probably BECAUSE somewhere, some blokes are swinging AK’s around. But there’s seldom any attempt by photojournalists to examine these power relationships.

I recently looked at Philip Jones Griffiths’s ‘Vietnam Inc.’ again. It’s a great book, and he’s a superior photojournalist to Don McCullin IMO, not because the images are more powerful (though many are), but because it’s an analytical pictorial portrait of the forces which motivated America’s prosecution of the war – cultural ignorance, economic imperialism, a dumb faith in technology and a failure to tackle idealogically motivated, low-tech guerilla fighters who ran rings around them.

Hmm…that sounds familiar.

So wheres ‘Iraq Inc.’? After seeing hundreds of images of soldiers running around, taken by dozens of photographers, I have to say I’m no more wiser about the war then I was when it started…or at least I would be, if I relied on the pictures alone.

So what does that say about the power of photojournalism?

by [former member] | 21 May 2006 09:05 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
A good point about the phojo’s universal fixation on the poor and miserable,
perhaps it is because so many of us come from comfortable middle class
backgrounds and it is easier to focus on the have-nots than to do a bit of real self-examination.

by lisa hogben | 21 May 2006 10:05 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
sorry, but I have to cast the dissenting vote here: the emphasis on misery is nothing compared with the emphasis on consumerism, and while I agree that many photographers handle the depiction of poverty in a hackneyed manner and thus fail to communicate adequately, thereby reinforcing stereotypes and nothing more, there is still great need to explore this theme and do what we can to document it. Poverty in my view is the greatest crime on earth, greater than war, because it is institutionalized, systemic, and routinely denied. It is a dirty secret. Moreover, it affects many more millions of people than catastrophes like war or Tsunamis or the other media events that provide us with our daily frisson along with coffee and rolls for breakfast. The overwhelming pressure of millions of displaced people living in dreadful slums in most third world cities is as great a threat as global warming, and just as easily and readily negated by the powers that be. The usual media answer to this is to show us Oprah Winfrey style stories with good endings: poor person overcomes obstacles to become a success. This feel good response to the problem is not only irrelevant, it is irresponsible and repugnant. No, the answer is to humanize your subject and give a full portrait. Get closer. Be part of the milieu, dont just tour it. Also, as Sion suggests, it might help to provide a more summary, analytic view of things that takes into account power relations between the haves and have-nots, but I do not believe that this is a sine qua non. the theme of poverty can be approached from other perspectives. The books I am contemplating publishing one day examine this theme in the context of landlessness and the migration of rural people to the cities, the resulting transformation of their culture, and the values that define these people.


As I believe that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet, I happen to believe as well that self-examination includes examination of others, because we are not isolated individuals but social beings: there is no way to get at the former without going through the latter. The connection between the poor and the middle and upper classes is exigent and avoided only at our peril (dont believe me? read Dickens’ Bleak House). Those who wish to examine members of their own class, by all means do so, though I should hope the images that result are as probing and thoughtful as those that have traditionally formed the meat and potatoes of photojournalistic work. I have seen very little that meets that standard (with notable exceptions of course). But I for one wish to continue working among the poor and I believe that bearing witness to their plight is an extremely important job. I simply cannot turn my eyes away.


I also do not believe that the esthetic choice of black and white or color has much bearing on whether or not we are reaching our audience. On the contrary, my experience has taught me that both work just fine in themselves, and I have also found that while many often ask me why I choose black and white, they ask not out of frustration or dissatisfaction, but out of curiosity and heightened interest, because in fact they almost invariably agree that the impact is greater in black and white. Because it is rarer, they are intrigued. But I do agree that we are behindhand in figuring out how to reach our potentially much larger audience, and the creation of webzines that do not pay and are consulted by only the visually literate community of photographers is a ghettoization of the media that poses grave consequences. I saw this happen to academic critical discourse, which back in the 50s was a democratic medium available to all and consumed by many outside the universities, but now is nothing more than a circle jerk for a very small group of rhetorically bloated intellectuals whose discourse has become increasingly esoteric and masonic. I do not believe that compositionally sophisticated photographs pose the same threat that Academic jargon does to the general communication of ideas; I feel that the means of distribution are much more pertinent to solving the problem of maintaining our ability to reach an audience; but there is no doubt that Sion is right in pointing to the threat of hermetically sealing ourselves off as a result of formalist or stylistic excesses (visually jazzy but contentless images), and distributional deficiencies. Myself, I have never been interested in preaching to the choir, and I have never cared much for what the photographic community thinks of my work. For that reason I never solicit opinions here on this forum. I am only interested in communicating with the people outside our community, because that is where we must focus our efforts and that is where the real test as to our effectiveness as communicators rests.


Sion you know I share your opinion of Vietnam Inc. I wouldnt go so far as to say that Griffiths is better than McCullin or vice versa, but I heartily concur that the book is an extremely important statement about war because as you point out it is not emotional pictorialism but an analysis in very specific terms of a particular war and it gives an overview of the phenomenon which is almost never done (has it ever been done? maybe Larry Towell’s El Salvador merits attention on these grounds, though its thrust is very different). I think when it comes to war, few if any photographers ever bother to give us a summary analytic view of it. Very hard to do of course, but I am waiting just as anxiously as you to see Iraq Inc. And the title couldnt be more apt, given the motives for this ludicrous war.

by Jon Anderson | 21 May 2006 12:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Sion,its interesting that you point out an important issue “How come hardly any photographers have done any coverage of say, the middle class in Africa? They do exist.” This is one of the issues I have with showing poverty, desperation or excotism in countries like India. Though poverty is a serious issue and needs to be documented for the powers to see, in a way they are also easy pictures and most of the time devoid of any analysis. Many photographers take a vaguely nuetral stance that they are there just to document. This really does not address the issue in any depth. All it does is make “pretty pictures” or reinforce stereotypes. Indian photographer Dayanita Singh mentions this dilemma after shooting for the western media when all they wanted to see was pictures of people with AIDS, prostitution or poverty.

Here is a summary from her book Privacy.
“What can a photographer in India capture on film other than disasters or the exotic? After many years spent documenting the poverty in her homeland, Dayanita Singh was preoccupied by this question. Her answer here is a return to the world from which she came, to India’s extended, well-to-do families and their fine homes. Both on commission and on her own, she photographed friends and friends of friends, creating a portrait of another society, complete with its traditional and post-colonial symbols of prosperity. The self-confident elite of India is nearly unrivalled in the West. Privacy provides great insight into a closed world characterized by tight family solidarity. Singh shows the people as they would like to see themselves, in the middle of splendidly decorated rooms and surrounded by possessions that represent their self-image. At a certain point in her work, Singh realized that even without their residents, the rooms were occupied by the invisible generations that had lived there before. The book closes with photographs of interiors, empty but still filled with spirits.”

by [former member] | 21 May 2006 16:05 (ed. May 21 2006) | Brooklyn, New York, United States | | Report spam→
I agree with both Sion and Jon most points. Widening the audience that photojournalists need to reach is probably the most important thing that needs to be done. New technologies are part of that. But most of the time I feel PJ are preaching to the converted. Photo books etc. are only reaching a very small middle class audience the costs of buying such books is prohibative to most non middle class people. The press in my opinion is catering mostly to the wants and needs of the middle class. The issues most important to the majority of the people are very rarely covered. If PJ is to reach out and change things it must reach out to the majority not just the powerful middle class decsion makers. Reaching out to this audience needs plain, intelligent journalism being poor doesn’t mean being dumb. Taking the media to the grass roots as it were in countries in the developing world is a start. Give the people the news they need and they will react. For example starting a newspaper with a copier in a poor suburb of what ever country could be a good start. Not everyone has or can afford a PC in many countries in the first world as well as the developing world. I also think discussions with the real news consumers is a first start. Many of my friends outside the press in my own country NZ dislike the press and don’t find it relavent to their own concerns and when they have had first hand experince with the press they walk away feeling that the press has given them a black eye by not understanding the context of the situation or worse that the press is not interested in the truth. I hope photography can still touch people but, I don’t think it can change things. It can only inform, once it has informed then people can choose to ignore or take action about what they see. If people do not act that is their choice.

by Bruce Meyer | 21 May 2006 20:05 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
documenting by the disenchanted……
Who better to document the plight of the poor and dislocated than themselves, but that may require relinquishing power?

by Imants | 21 May 2006 21:05 (ed. May 22 2006) | 7 Hills, Australia | | Report spam→
Actually Imants I dont buy that argument, but there are plenty of good projects out there (wendy ewald, et al) that put cameras in the hands of the people and let them document themselves,a nd have done so with good results. But the fundamental assumption behind this, that there is a more authentic perspective achieved by people in the midst of the community, from people formed by that community, is flawed on many points. Self-knowledge is a chimera, and often an outsider has a special perspective or insight afforded by his or her odd status. Both perspectives are flawed of course, so I wouldnt privilege one over the other.


Bruce I like what you say. I also really believe that in fact people all over, your average-Joe consumers, do in fact want to see good journalism. While a magazine cover with starving babies on it might not out sell Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, there is no reason that a magazine cannot manage to do both. People will buy the thing to see Brad and Ang cavorting, but they will study the phtojournalism as well. I see this all the time. I would add that we need not think solely in terms of magazine publication: taking the “news” to the people can be done in a variety of ways, and targetting specific audiences can be part of that. Anyway, that is what the Open society’s Documentary Distribution grant has taught me. That you can target specific groups, groups likely to work for change in a particular area, or a particular social group whose attitudes are in need of change, and communicate in ways more sustained and effective than that offered by magazine publication — this is at once so obvious and yet so utterly ignored by the photoj community.


Hari, everytime discussion of these matters comes up, Singh’s work is invariably mentioned. I may be in the minority, and with no offense meant toward Singh, whose work and thought I like, but I found that her depiction of India’s middle class was a dud. It provided very little content: portraying the middle class as they like to see themselves presented is an exercise in muted irony that leaves me extremely dissatisfied. where is the emotional and thematic range that is required of the best documentary photography? That is my criteria. Give me something that really shows me how a people live, something with the visceral intimacy of Tulsa or the poetic range of The Mennonites and I will applaud along with the rest. But page after page of boring posed shots is too much. The point is made with a handful of images and that point is pretty slight. As for the West’s hunger for the exotic, pace Ed Said, there is still good reason to shoot the things that make India unique, ghat burnings, Sadhus, hijras, and so on. I dont say that one need approach the subject with the same hackneyed vision that one often finds in Western media, but there is no way one should deliberately avoid it either for fear of feeding the desire for the exotic. If that were the case, Michael Ackerman’s superb End Time City should never have been published. And yet when I leaf through that book, with all its monkeys, burning bodies and sadhus, I never feel that there is an exoticizing mentality at work there. Quite the contrary, there is a mind entirely enthralled and in tune with the place. Exoticization does not result from the choice of subject matter alone; it is in the attitude; it is a form of esthetic tourism. But deep connection with a place, even if not be your own, almost invariably produces documents of such power that titular exoticism is entirely irrelevant.

by Jon Anderson | 22 May 2006 20:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Jon I have a box at home of 120 years of self documentation by an extended family extending over a few continents, world wars,refugee diplacement, etc. Looking at it I can see possible flaws but there is a nagging authenticity.

by Imants | 22 May 2006 22:05 | 7 Hills, Australia | | Report spam→
Of course, Imants, but as I argued either perspective has its merits and neither perspective has a monopoly on truth. That is all I meant. It is just that experience is not the only criterion for self knowledge, which can elude those who are in the middle of it and trying to understand their situation. Think of Freud’s case study of Dora: it is clear that Dora has no clue what is really happening to her, though unconsciously she is in fact clearly signalling the problem and its solution; her doctor, in yet another irony, is too obtuse to grasp the simple solution (get her the hell away from Herr K,who is abusing her), because he is fixated on elaborating a radical new theory, and cannot see the simple truth that is speaking so plaintively to him in the body of his tortured patient. In the final irony, the theory Freud is elaborating (and I am not talking about Oedipal complexes and such), does indeed hold the clue to the whole puzzle and would prove to be a major hermeneutic key of 20th century thinking, but Freud had not yet come to understand it. So in this example both the insider and the outsider were blind and with tragic consequences for both.


There are no guarantees to knowledge, and there is no privileged position. Moreover, very often it is a matter of means and resources, which is the other element behind the work of people like Wendy Ewald or Gigi Cohen.

by Jon Anderson | 22 May 2006 23:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I agree with what you say Jon and the work and approach of Ewald or Cohen shouts this is the real thing, but what will the audience accept and understand. It’s a mighty strange audience out there who see soap opreras as reality and governments as myths, to nobody died in this conflict because I saw it on TV mentality.

by Imants | 23 May 2006 00:05 | 7 Hills, Australia | | Report spam→
Umm… the virtual war issue. Here’s were photography comes into its own. Most people have a camera and understand the representation of a moment in a photograph as something real. TV loses its impact after the commerical. Imants/John How do you reckon PJ can deal with that it ain’t real thing that comes from reality TV, Doco-drama and so forth? Passing a law that any politicos who wants to lead his/her country to war must have their kids serve (Sorry just dreaming for a moment there. Mind you it would sure as hell reduce wars.);)

John you have a good point about having an outsider seeing more. But, outsiders also miss a lot more as well and sometimes walk away with the wrong idea. Of course a fixer with a lot of knowledge usually fixes that. I think anyone who picks up a camera from inside the situation is sensitive enough to record it as well as an outsider and can get the nuance of the issue in a new way because it is real to them.

by Bruce Meyer | 23 May 2006 09:05 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
this one Jon?

by [former member] | 27 May 2006 09:05 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks erica, no I found the one I was looking for and bruno decock also seemed to find it quite quickly. I am still a digital dunce. but this thread is a good one too-

by Jon Anderson | 27 May 2006 09:05 | Back Home, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
A serious edit – to cut to the chase:

Of course photography has the power to change the world. Let’s do it: More peace please editors!

ps Great to see World Press Photos makes it to Dar es Salaam! J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 11 Aug 2006 10:08 (ed. Aug 13 2006) | The Land of the Living, Tanzania | | Report spam→
And once again: More peace please editors!

Thanks for this fascinating thread everybody. J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 11 Aug 2006 18:08 (ed. Aug 13 2006) | The Land of the Living, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Lynn,You should NEVER feel bad about what you think and say!

Just a short historical blurb. The interview I took the quote from is from the early nineties. McCullin had already jacked in the “bearing witness”biz in the eighties(after Beirut). He didn’t work for a while but then did photojournalism style advertising(LandRover etc) and movie specials,Aids in Africa for Christian Aid , the recent Ethiopian work. Etcetera.

From the replies to the post many seem to have got their knickers in a twist (as I expected) about this. Not everybody seems to have read what I actually wrote. Some even seem to think that McCullin posted it himself! He didn’t say you shouldn’t go, and neither did I.

It wasn’t about NOT reporting from disaster areas: This must be done. I was glued to the BBC like everyone else when this (Beirut) all started .We must know.( the truth would be nice too).

“I feel like just jumping on a plane and starting shooting pictures. How do I go about selling my pictures while I’m there? ” Natasha… It just seemed a bit too naïve, so that is why I started that thread.
“Any picture from any sort of war will hold people’s eyes more than ANYTHING, bloody and not”. Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Max, so does that mean it’s easy? Easy to shoot the cliché yes .I just think it’s bloody difficult to do it properly, but some think it’s just a matter of being there and f8 !
To clear this up a little. I have all my respect for those who do this work. Just think that the dreamers should watch it before they dive off the cliff .It’s a long way down.

I totally agree with you Mike, no news is bad news. For those of us who can read.

by Tony Stringer | 11 Aug 2006 19:08 | vicenza, Italy | | Report spam→
a pic or two or a thousand – will not stop a war, that’s for sure. but they will help educate people. it’s a long and painful process. i just look around my own home-country and notice how slow and painful the whole process can be. but without this slow and sometimes apparently useless process, comparing to other people’s fast moving pace – nothing would really change. Don McCullin was so wrong when sayin’that. the world needs education, spreading the ‘good word’. ok, i realise this is a huge subject, tons of books have been writtwen on this subject. my point is:a picture can bring knowledge.

by G. Muj | 11 Aug 2006 21:08 (ed. Aug 11 2006) | Transylvania, Romania | | Report spam→
Hi Tony, personally I think we should ALWAYS think carefully about what we do and say and the impact it will have on others – to respect others views as well. I was not apologising for the opinion I shared, simply clarifying. I strongly disagree with most people on this thread. The focus in the world of photojournalism much, much too negative in my opinion. And I feel the entire world would benefit if instead of focusing on the trouble spots so much – which clearly have their place – that more people focus on the positive. I’ve said it before: more peace please editors! J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 12 Aug 2006 11:08 | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Btw It doesn’t matter so much WHEN something was said as the CONTENT of the message and if it is still relevant. J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 12 Aug 2006 11:08 (ed. Aug 19 2006) | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
I was thinking about this thread over the past few days and came to the conclusion that some of you guys could really do with taking it all a bit slower.

Hari wrote: ‘Wars and social conflicts have roots in complicated historical, cultural, economic and political reasons.’ at the start of this thread. But Hari, to end a war, at least one of the parties involved (and that includes the press nowadays) has to step back and stop behaving so ‘reactively’.

Tony wrote: ‘… just think that the dreamers should watch it before they dive off the cliff. It’s a long way down." True. But there are millions in the world that are glad Martin Luther King didn’t think like that.

Sorry to interrupt all the rushing about… J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 19 Aug 2006 06:08 (ed. Aug 19 2006) | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Sorry i didn’t reply quicker. I was rushing about on the edge of a cliff in the Alps photographing Reinholdt Messner!

I don’t quite catch the camparison between Martin Luther King ,one of the greatest peace advocates of the twentieth century, and somebody wanting to snap pix in the excitement of a war zone.Sadly due to the hate of a madman who didn’t agree with him we are not able to know his opinion on the subject.King’s dream was an important one.Gandhi’s were too.Everyone has dreams and some of them come true.Some dream of making the world a better place to live in and thankfully suceed.I just think it depends how egotistical the dream is. That is what makes the difference.I know a few “war ’tog’s” and don’t think they would be happy if conflict in the world came to an end. They would be unemployed.I would the happiest man in the world if they were!Unfortunately I’m a dreamer.

The “WHEN” point I was making on McCullin was that, even after twenty-five years his opinion has not changed. Not that it was dated!

As far as the “thinking carefully” about what we do, say and write is concerned, you have completely changed the post I replied to, so what I wrote no longer makes sense! (if it ever did!!!) .I believe you wrote about feeling bad putting the community here down,or something to that effect.

So badly that you removed it!

Anyway, I hope all your wishes come true.

by Tony Stringer | 19 Aug 2006 10:08 | vicenza, Italy | | Report spam→
The problem is not about photojournalism per se but where and how photojournalism can be published and thus seen/read by a wide audience…as someone said in the beginning of this thread, 50 years ago a relatively small group of photographers were published in what was then, before TV swallowed the rest, the main medium to describe the world: The News Magazine. So, when a great piece was published (there were many!) it became instant history…think Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor in Life or Cartier Bresson’s Gandhi Funeral…these sets of pictures BECAME the way the world remembered the events they were depicting…Salgado’s Ethiopia, Mc Cullin’s Vietnam, Peress’ Ireland and Iran are icons…Today, these mags have virtually disappeared (Life) or become full of celebs shit and advertising…to the extent that many people working for them are telling the photojournalist in a war zone WHAT and HOW to photograph it to please the mag’s publisher sitting in an office in London, NY, Hamburg or Paris…don’t think I am inventing this, it happened to me just days ago while in Beirut on assigment for one of the world’s reputedly best magazine…thanks god (or whoever), I was on assignment and guarrantees for various other mags at the time and could in the end produce what I believe is a satifactory body of work on this conflict…but I know I am privileged, not many phojo’s have a choice of which mag they are going to work for…

by [former member] | 19 Aug 2006 12:08 | home in Brussels, Belgium | | Report spam→
Not everyone has a degree in Political Science and most people I know spend their time trying to avoid misery (even their own by doing drugs to escape it), so why go out of your way to ram it down their throats?

Most people have a bit of a conscience, but not that much, or else all the beggars on main street would be the richest guys in town.

by Mikethehack | 19 Aug 2006 12:08 | Cloud Cuckoo Land, Holy See | | Report spam→
It is a point worth reiterating: the problem is not photojournalism per se but where and how it can be published. But herein lies the crux: first of all magazines simply dont have the influence they used to have. Regardless of whether or not editors at various magazines are micromanaging their photographers in accordance with values and concepts dictated by lifestyle reporting that has supplanted genuine photojournalism, the fact remains that even those magazines that resist doing so and make an honest effort to field good work simply do not exercise the influence that magazines once did. Life, Look and others were as Bruno points out the main medium to describe the world and as such they made people sit up and take notice. One’s conceptual world was defined by stories such as Country Doctor, Spanish Village, and so on because the magazines enjoyed, if not exactly a monopoly, then something very near it, in the dissemination of information. They no longer do. Stern, for example, is not anything like those magazines. The advent of television (more than radio because it, like the mags, was visual) and the migration of magazine content to lifestyle reporting effectively produced changes not only in the industry but in the consciousness of consumers, who simply ended up losing the cultural assumptions and expectations that supported magazine reportage as a primary organ of serious information gathering. I dont think you can ever recapture that moment. And while the internet’s even more extensive reach, virtually though not effectively global, would seem to promise a new horizon or opportunity for photojournalism (so much so that we are all of us online practically all the time in one form or another, “publishing” our images in order to reach this new audience), it seems to me its promise is illusory for the simple reason that, while the internet is probably today the “main medium to describe the world,” it doesnt seem to have the same impact at all. Instead of journalism, we get more and more blogging; instead of a well laid out and narratively compelling layout like we see in Country Doctor, we get thumbnails and flash presentations whose loading interrupts the visual flow and inhibits narrative development; instead of readers dwelling on a doubletruck, we get viewers clicking more rapidly through undersized images on small desktop screens; and instead of a vertically organized hierarchical and professional structure that vets the imagery and ideas and competitively selects out the best photographers, we get a “democratic” structure that enables anyone to be a communicator but fails to separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course, the digital revolution is still in its infancy, and as these communication media become refined who knows what will result? When the technology catches up to our imaginations, we may well eventually have a new and vital medium that compels one’s attention in the same manner as once the magazines did.

But there is a paucity of theme in today’s media: what mainstream magazine today would publish A Country Doctor? Spanish Village? Or publish essays that detail the process whereby bread is produced (such essays were a mainstay of the mainstream press in the past. For example, to understand in a concrete fashion the problem of Haiti’s deforestation, a magazine might have published an essay that took you through the process whereby the poor produce charcoal for cooking, but who would do so today?) There are plenty of webzines that would do so, but their status within the industry is not the same, and they do not commission essays; they simply “publish” without compensation what a photographer has already shot. They form a niche market where there is in fact no buying and selling going on. While I wouldnt eschew working for the media, and I agree with Bruno that the right combo of assignment and responsible editorial policy make for a very special privilege well worth cultivating, I am increasingly in sympathy with those who, like Luc delaHaye, have figured out that the mainstream media is not their only support system, that other means of distribution, however faulty, do indeed exist, and that reaching an audience today may require a complete overhaul in our thinking if we wish our work to have an effect on people. This doesnt mean that we simply work online or concentrate entirely on the net; on the contrary, we have at our disposal an array of distributional forms that enable us to reach specific audiences in specific ways; what we lack as yet, it seems to me, is an adequate system to pay for and produce material outside the one system that is already in place and ailing, magazine publishing. So it seems to me that we are forced to pursue a somewhat eclectic procedure in which we mix up various methods, a little magazine work, a grant here or there, a bit of extra money coming in from commercial work, NGO sponsored shoots, and so on. It is a feasible means of producing work, but it does rather tend to disperse instead of focus one’s energies.

by Jon Anderson | 19 Aug 2006 14:08 | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hi Tony, thanks for your response. You’ve identified two of my worst habits, sorry about that. What you say makes sense, but I believe that all the inspirational peace ‘activists’ you have mentioned went through periods of egotism early on in their lives, Nelson Mandela did too. But how wierd of any of us to expect our heroes, whoever they are, to be ‘perfect’ all round. The point I was making about Martin Luther King was only that we should not put limits on others that might dissuade them from following their dreams, though some form of guidance is important.

Hi Bruno, it’s high time a magazine of the type you describe was re-born. Magnum took the bull by the horns by setting up an agency that took greater control of the distribution side of the equation 50 years ago or more, perhaps its time for todays PJ’s to go a step further and put together monthly publications that they are in control of. Maybe it’s already been done?

Hi Jon, I totally agree with what you say about the shift in focus in today’s magazines – perhaps there’s a huge audience out there that thinks like we do.

Productive rushing around everyone!

Peace J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 19 Aug 2006 16:08 | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
as photographers it is up to us to raise the bar.the way we tell our stories has not radically changed for a long long time.i was talking to an editor the other day and she told me she is just bored by most of the portfolios submitted to her.in her own words,“they are all the same,a lunatic asylum,some trannies or prostitutes,a.n.other group of poor but ethnically dressed people and some holiday snaps in a 3rd world country”.the number of pages in magazines has increased over the years,its about time we reclaimed our share.we need to reassess the way we work,our subject matter,our visual language,our whole approach.it is no coincidence that the success stories of the the last decade or so have all been photographers that marry very good narrative skills to a very creative use of their cameras and post production techniques.

by Michael Bowring | 19 Aug 2006 18:08 | Belgrade, Serbia | | Report spam→

To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more—and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize. An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs—think of the Vietnam War. (For counter-example, think of the Gulag Archipelago, of which we have no photographs.) But after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real.

The same law holds for evil as for pornography. The shock of photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings, just as the surprise and bemusement felt the first time one sees a pornographic movie wear off after one sees a few more. The sense of taboo which makes us indignant and sorrowful is not much sturdier than the sense of taboo that regulates the definition of what is obscene. And both have been sorely tried in recent years. The vast photographic catalogue of misery and injustice throughout the world has given everyone a certain familiarity with atrocity, making the horrible seem more ordinary—-making it appear familiar, remote (“it’s only a photograph”), inevitable. At the time of the first photographs of the Nazi camps, there was nothing banal about these images. After thirty years, a saturation point may have been reached. In these las decades, “concerned” photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it.


Susan Sontag, On Photography 1977



by Luis E. Andrade | 19 Aug 2006 19:08 (ed. Aug 19 2006) | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
And thirty years after Sontag wrote that, her words and their meaning are as fresh as ever…

by Luis E. Andrade | 19 Aug 2006 19:08 | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
ironically, dont have much to write about this at the moment (since im kneed-deep into my essay on portugal), but will share this pic instead of words…while in Lisboa, a group of street artists regularly performed as “photographers”…shooting around that haunted city which Odysseus left his bones, in the end, upon….sometimes they were “tourists”, sometimes they were “journalists”…sometimes they were “digitgensia” (their word)…much to say, much to say, but instead, i’ll share a simple pic, from the day they performed about all of us, photographers….b



by [former member] | 19 Aug 2006 22:08 | Toronto (home sweet), Canada | | Report spam→
Hi Michael, what you say is completely true, but which publications can you think of that would be flexible enough to accommodate radical new ways of story-telling, or even positive stories? Negative stories still sell well, it seems. I’m just throwing this out (I’m not focused on editorial work at the moment).

Mikethehack and Susan Sontag speak aspects of the truth it seems to me, so: a big thumbs up for Ami Vitale with her more positive image of the world.

Nice pic Bob… and the perfect venue for a sales pitch!

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 20 Aug 2006 08:08 (ed. Aug 20 2006) | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Luis, I beg to differ about Sontag’s words being as fresh as ever. I think they were already stale when she wrote them and are even crustier today. I dont buy the argument. I think you might make such an argument for a particular audience in particular countries,but not globally, and I really dont think that even those jaded viewers in developed countries who are saturated with imagery of all sorts are necessarily immune to the effect of a photograph if viewed in the proper context. I know by experience from exhibiting my photos both in the States and here in St Domingo and Porte au Prince, that people invariably respond with strikingly immediate emotion and thought, they are compelled to ask questions, they really do make the imaginative effort to grasp the humanity in the subject that is depicted. I think that today if a mainstream magazine were to publish a photo essay with the kind of layout that, say, Gene Smith’s midwife essay had, people would respond with the same old human interest, to borrow a clichéd phrase. Simply because we no longer see that kind of layout anymore. It would be fresh. I think the viewing context has a lot to do with the kind of reaction you elicit. Images may anesthetize, but it depends, it is not an inherent quality of the image itself. This is one reason I very much like dislike Sontag’s work: she tried to achieve the same kind of hieratic pronouncement that Walter Benjamin achieved in his terse and elliptic essays, but instead she almost always ended up presenting false generalizations that sound good on first hearing but dont hold up well to analysis.

Michael, I can certainly sympathize with the editor you cite, but I would say that such themes, though they may be clichéd staples of the PJ scene these days, are not necessarily in themselves what bores one; after all, Majoli, Richards, Chien-Chi Chang and Claudio Ettinger have each produced remarkable work on asylums, not at all boring. It depends more on how you treat the subject. I would hate to not be able to shoot essays on poor people in ethnic dress simply because it had become clichéd. And in a sense that is what I do: I shoot poor Dominicans and Haitians who, while they dont wear ethnic dress, have ethnic customs that draw me to them. I think it depends on your themes and how you put the images together. A scholar at FLACSO here mentioned something to me at a conference in Haiti: he said to me, I like how you photograph the “bateyeros” (cane cutters who live in plantation housing called "bateys) because you dont depict them as abject, passive victims; you depict them as lively and complete human beings going about their daily lives. Well that bowled me over because he hit the nail right on the head (excuse the mixed metaphors). So maybe I will bore some editors who dont take the time to look past the basic setup (poor black people who are oppressed), but I know that my treatment of the story causes it to rise above cliché and provide something different. I agree, we need to reassess what we do, our subject matter and our treatment of it, but not necessarily throw out tried and true stories. As Barthes once said, we have a choice: “to subject its spectacle to the civilised code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality.” For the record, I have shot trannies and prostitutes and mad people (not in the asylum though).

by Jon Anderson | 20 Aug 2006 22:08 | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→

This is one reason I very much like dislike Sontag’s work: she tried to achieve the same kind of hieratic pronouncement that Walter Benjamin achieved in his terse and elliptic essays, but instead she almost always ended up presenting false generalizations that sound good on first hearing but dont hold up well to analysis.


Jon, we are a minority. People with a social consciousness, people who create images like yours, for example, are the same people that is for the most part moved by their subjects and can empathize with them. People who is moved enough to assist to a photography exhibition is already a captive audience. Sontag and Benjamin may have spewed generalizations because reality, on a global scale, is based in statistical numbers and those stats say that most people doesn’t give a shit about anything unless it is raining on their parade. Take the U.S. and the natural disasters that affect the land, year in and year out: Hurricanes in the South and Gulf; tornadoes in the Mid-West; forest fires in the West; you name it. Most people outside the affected area reacts with horror and compassion. For a week… Enough time to donate $20 to the Red Cross, watch the news for five minutes and flip the channel, happy as hell the tornado passed a hundred miles away from home. You can see that in facts. The generalization is that apathy reigns and is a fact that can’t be denied.

Just name Sebastiao Salgado some place in the heartland and I can almost guarantee that you would get lots of blank stares and some would ask you if you are talking about one of the Mexicans that manicure their lawns… People is fat, in the most empirical meaning of the word: complacent, comfortable, don’t want to be bothered until their next feeding of whatever they long…

Mind you, I’m talking about rich societies, the ones that by sheer monetary power, if willing, can make a positive change in the world. And yes, the same type of images that may have made a difference at the time of the Vietnam War, don’t appear to affect anybody on the same scale anymore. The rest of the world, well…, they are living in hell already and don’t need reminders. There are horrific images navigating the pipes, things that makes you wonder what make us any different from pack animals—-other than theirs being the noble cause of nourishing the pack—- and nothing appears to move this present global society out of the cesspool of carnage.
Regarding society as it stands, I’m unabashedly cynic. Perhaps Sontag was a cynic too. Vonnegut is a another one. Hunter Thompson was one. When Sontag wrote those essays in the 70’s I’m sure she wasn’t referring to Mrs. Smith down the hall from her apartment or even the inhabitants of the borough of Manhattan…

If you don’t mind me to say so, and I say it with respect, you may be preaching to the choir. I am part of the captive audience of photography already. I feel as moved by images produced by photographers like you as you do yourself. This isn’t about how you and I feel about the images but how they affect the global statistical scale. So far, fat appears to be winning, in more ways than one.

L

by Luis E. Andrade | 21 Aug 2006 00:08 (ed. Aug 21 2006) | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
Luis. Mentioning Salgado or any other famous photographer would be a waste of time in nearly every city. The memory of his and other famous photgraphers will be remembered for the images in themselves. The cult of the famed photographer exists only among the photog community and a small set of intelli who follow the work. The big issue is how to reach an audience. People do want to know but PJ seems to me to be self-catering. As I said about photo books etc. above. Perhaps the main goal that PJ should be aiming at is the ‘dissemination of knowledge’ inside & outside the mainstream. PJism is the messenger only the person who gets the message is the one with the ulimate choice. Present the knowledge or what was seen and the people have a choice to react to it or not. If they don’t react then it is their own choice. Photography or any form of Journalism is only an aid to informed desicion making not the end of the process. It is a place for people to start. People have the wisdom to decide what is on and what is off, what really concerns them and what doesn’t. Have a read of Susan Sontag’s book ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ it is a more interesting read and balances out ‘On Photography’

by Bruce Meyer | 21 Aug 2006 01:08 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Luis, thanks for showing me how to introduce breaks again into these posts.

Well, I half agree with you, but since I am a skeptic and not a cynic, I would add two things: fat may be winning, but I’ve thrown my lot in with the starving (I am pretty skinny myself) and while I admit that human nature is weak, I still have some faith in the basic moral sense of humanity. Btw, when I mentioned exhibitions, I was not at all talking about the kind of audience you mention. On the contrary, for this series of exhibitions that was underwritten by OSI’s documentary distribution grant, the whole point was to focus on new types of audiences, to bring the images to the people who dont normally go to exhibitions and art openings and such. To target students, for example, police, policy makers, etc. I admit, the initiative wasnt perfect, but it came close enough to achieving its goals as to convince me that one can indeed target different audiences: they may not drink, but you can bring ’em the water. This is one thing that PJ shooters ought to think about more; too often they are satisfied with a magazine publication.

Also, I think that human apathy is a natural reaction, probably defensive, and I take it as a given that part of my job is to make photographs good enough to compel attention and overcome apathy. I dont happen to believe that “image fatigue” or whatever they are calling it is responsible for this apathy; the apathy is there long before it is further aggravated by a glut of images. Mr and Mrs Couch Potato are just as bored by riveting essays as they are by riveting photos. If anything, I would blame not the glut of imagery of any certain type, but the consumerist lifestyle of developed nations and the basic trap that state capitalism has created: the culture incites you to buy, buy, buy, and in order to do so most people find themselves trapped in dead end boring office jobs and the like so that in fact their only pleasure in life is to spend that check when Thank God Friday comes round and they can toss back a few before heading home to the suburbs, where they can sedate themselves further with their heavily mortgaged material comforts. Once you have had a few beers and chips, sunk down in that extra padded recliner while you stare at the HDTV, it is hard not to be apathetic, hell it is hard just to get out of that recliner and hit the can when the beer wants out again.

Well I got the paragraph breaks right, but now the boldface is out of control. Just ignore it.

by Jon Anderson | 21 Aug 2006 02:08 (ed. Aug 21 2006) | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hari, if you want to read a discussion of photography and its potential for creating change, have a look at this thread. It covers the ideas pretty well.

I have to take you to task though for writing the following: “Don McCullin now comes out as a bitter old man who in his youth couldnt care less about his wife or anybody except to photograph the next war. Every time I read his interview, it infuriates me to no end. He photographed not out of compassion, but because it was a job, because it got him his pay check etc.” The same kind of shallow thinking that led you to expect that a published picture would change the world is getting you into trouble again here. McCullin is not a bitter old man, and characterizing his personal relations and his work ethic as you have done in such superficial terms is doing him a great disservice. Read his bio carefully; McCullin is a deeply reflective and complex man, and if you are going to criticize him, then do so properly with a full knowledge of his experience and accomplishments as well as his shortcomings. You argue that “I read somewhere that great photography is not really about photography, but something else. I see that something else missing from Don’s work. There is no heart.” Besides the fact that anyone looking at his photographs can tell in a moment that heart is exactly what one finds there, let me remind you of something he himself once said: “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling.” It is too easy to dismiss the “Robert Capas of the world” with a rhetorical flourish. When you look at them as individuals you realize that it is pointless to try and do so. Capa was certainly no “trigger happy lost soul.” As for activism and its relation to photography, dont be so quick to align the two. They are not easily merged, as even Donna Ferrato will tell you. Her book had nothing at all to do with a putative “activists approach.” Her activism came later, the decision to devote herself to activism grew with the book’s progress. You will see some of these ideas discussed in the link I provided above, but let me say that a photographer’s job is not the same as an activist or an advocate (which is one reason why Ferrato stopped taking pictures in order to devote herself to her activism) though lately there has been some discussion of this matter urging a more activist approach. Listen, advocates and activists have a job to do; they work in organizations, they have meetings, they raise money, they create programs and implement them, they often though not always live in the communities they serve etc. Photographers also have a job to do, and their images may serve to help such organizations, but their job is something rather different in its essence and its MO. We are storytellers and to do that well and convincingly and provide knowledge responsibly to our audience, we have to concentrate on the skills and the media that allow us to carry on that work. And if you think that photography is the lesser for being only indirectly tied to activism, then I can only say that providing moral knowledge through storytelling is a damned important task, one that i take very very seriously, so much so that I have sacrificed my own health and well being and yes even made life rather difficult for my family as a result. If I thought my only purpose was to work toward change, I would become an aid worker or go back to teaching. And despite McCullin’s rueful appraisal of his career, I suspect that in fact his view is rather more complex and if anything he can be accused of being disingenuous, but not of being heartless, reckless ignorant and blind.

by Jon Anderson | 21 Aug 2006 05:08 (ed. Aug 22 2006) | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Jon, I am not sure what you are referring to here " The same kind of shallow thinking that led you to expect that a published picture would change the world is getting you into trouble again here. " Havent too many of us started with the myth that we can change the world through photography? You just have to read the statement of purpose for college applications in photography.

“Her activism came later, the decision to devote herself to activism grew with the book’s progress.”
Thats the whole point I am talking about. Merely taking pictures doesnt change the world. Photographs could be used to educate. If Donna Ferrato just made her books and left it that, how much impact would her work have had? How many men would buy her books look at her photo essays and stop beating their wives?

“We are storytellers and to do that well and convincingly and provide knowledge responsibly to our audience, we have to concentrate on the skills and the media that allow us to carry on that work. And if you think that photography is the lesser for being only indirectly tied to activism, then I can only say that providing moral knowledge through storytelling is a damned important task, one that i take very very seriously, so much so that I have sacrificed my own health and well being and yes even made life rather difficult for my family as a result. "

Despite your good intentions, I feel change cannot happen unless the distribution mechanism is changed, or supplemented and tied in with other modes of struggle and dissemination. This is true in economically poor countries where people people do not have access to life magazines or flash based interactive web presentations. On the other hand, we continue to have wars inspite of so many books and photo essays, especially in the media saturated developed countries where decisions are made about things like who is a soldier and who is a terrorist.

by [former member] | 21 Aug 2006 05:08 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
oops. this was post just before Jon’s last post….

I see photography as a part of a big process, as just one of the link to create social change. But using big words like changing the world is just a ridiculous notion. Part of the problem is also a lack of congruency between our lives and our profession. Many war photographers or photojournalists look at this profession as a macho, Adrenelin rush or simply as a job, rather than like an activist, as if merely clicking the shutter will shake the world. I am not sure they really care about their own family or community and how willing are they sacrifice their profession in times of crisis. Don McCullin now comes out as a bitter old man who in his youth couldnt care less about his wife or anybody except to photograph the next war. Every time I read his interview, it infuriates me to no end. He photographed not out of compassion, but because it was a job, because it got him his pay check etc. If he thought his work was bullshit, why did he not give up risking his life everytime he took an assignment, and instead become a janitor in wallmart? Hell, you could flip burgers in McDonalds and earn minimum wage to just make it to the poverty line. I wish he was little more educated enough to get a decent non-war-photography job, to understand different cultures, history, anthrolpology than simply know his apertures, shutters speeds and what flight to take to the war zone. He worked too much from a blind instinct than from wisdom about life. I read somewhere that great photography is not really about photography, but something else. I see that something else missing from Don’s work. There is no heart. There is no wisdom. There is recklessness, boldness and there is a blind passion. That certainly doesnt change the world in a positive way, in the long run. People who made real change through photographs are photographers like Donna Ferrato who brought in the consciousness about domestic violence by documenting truthfully and passionately with an actvists approach. Thats what I mean by congruency between their life and work. They are real people, not trigger happy lost souls floating in and out of war zones. I have great respect for such people. I dont have the same feelings about Robert Capa’s of the world.

by [former member] | 21 Aug 2006 06:08 (ed. Aug 21 2006) | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
Hari,
I am absolutely staggered by your assessment of Don McCullin.it is too absurd to really comment upon.To suggest that a man who spent his teenage years living in a city that was bombed daily for 3 or 4 years,who undoubtedly had many friends,family members,neighbours on active service,who was in the army himself during the suez crisis,did not have a clue about what he was doing is close to slander.You should re-read what you have written here,reassess some of your ridiculous conclusions and chop’t logic then return and apologize to Mr McCullin and Mr Capa and all their peers that you so airily tar with the same brush.Some of those people died doing a job you so blithely dismiss.

As for Mr McCullins character,which you seem to be so knowledgable of,it is really irrelevant to any discussion of the efficacy of photography.if we were to reassess the history of art and communication and remove all of those who not angels,well,there would not be much left.huge swathes of our cultures would be swept away.carravagio,a mrderer,well he’s out of the door then?michelangelo,leonardo,worked for despots,out you go,large amounts of jazz,blues and rock and roll musicians,drug addicts,so,elvis,john,jimi,marc,miles,bird,bob,and milllions like you,sod off,there is no room for you in hari’s world.most impressionists,surrealists,abstract expressionists,all on the bottle,their work must be worthless?I won’t go on,i am sure we all have our examples.The point i am trying to make,hari,is character assassination as pert of a critical analysis of someones work is truly pointless.If you feel the need to critique McCullin,look at the photographs,they contain the answers.

by Michael Bowring | 21 Aug 2006 14:08 | Belgrade, Serbia | | Report spam→
Hari,

There IS a difference between the various approaches to this work but is it fruitful to keep reading the Don McCullin interview over when it annoys you so much or to feel offended by those who use the term ‘change the world’ in relation to the use of photography as a tool for change?
I don’t agree with your assessment or conclusions on the Don McCullin interview although I only read it once. I was completely satisfied that what I was hearing was from the heart first time around. Most people find it difficult to balance family with work and it was extremely brave of him to express his regrets at his decisions so openly – that bravery, and that dignity, can be seen in his every photograph. When each of us comes to look back on our lives, or take serious stock, we will then see whether the choices we made along the way were the ‘right ones’. Everyone is contributing in their own way to ‘change the world’ or ‘to use photography to facilitate social and envionmental change?’ if you prefer. There are over 10,000 on LS I hear, and this fact alone is incredible, although a few more positive visions would go down well.

J

PS “We can only do small things with great love” said Mother Teresa, and my thanks go to everyone who is working for what they believe in, in whatever way they know how.

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 21 Aug 2006 15:08 | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Hari, I am having trouble following your logic, and repeating the statements as you have done isnt helping. You seem to be chastising McCullin for having been so naive as to believe that his photography might change the world, and then you yourself turn round, attack him for having been heartless, ignorant and blind, while having failed to photograph in a manner that is somehow capable of creating change “by documenting truthfully and passionately with an actvists approach.” I guess you are arguing that a “congruency between their life and work” is what distinguishes the “real people” from the lost souls. What tripe. Congruency? What you seem to be saying is that the photographer at some point has to lay down the camera and become an activist. Ferrato is a better photographer, a real person, because she stopped photographing and started a foundation. Huh? “Merely taking pictures doesnt change the world. Photographs could be used to educate. If Donna Ferrato just made her books and left it that, how much impact would her work have had? How many men would buy her books look at her photo essays and stop beating their wives?” Merely taking photographs is not what we are all merely doing. Yes, photographs are used to educate and inform. That is one step, a valuable step, in the process. There are no guarantees and the fact that a photograph doesnt stop a man from beating his wife is basically meaningless: Donna Ferrato’s foundation didnt do that either. It gave aid to battered women. It didnt intervene and educate abusive men. It didnt stop family abuse. Your arguments are full of airy generalizations and devoid of any concrete grasp of the situation so the statements are meaningless. Moreover the crap about people’s character is mere ad hominem and irrelevant. Btw, aid workers often share the same lament, and can be found wondering whether their good work does in fact bring about change. One tour through Haiti is enough to make anyone wonder whether the myriad forms of aid accomplish their goals.

It seems what you are really on about is that while photography itself is no guarantee of change, a revision in the means of distribution would somehow redeem photography and achieve the beneficial changes that on its own it cannot: “I feel change cannot happen unless the distribution mechanism is changed, or supplemented and tied in with other modes of struggle and dissemination.” OK, if that is your real argument, then it is simply enough stated without all the other baffling statements, but this particular assertion is equally without content unless you can describe further what you mean by changes in distribution and links to other modes of struggle.

by Jon Anderson | 21 Aug 2006 15:08 (ed. Aug 21 2006) | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hari,

There IS a difference between the various approaches to this work but is it fruitful to keep reading the Don McCullin interview over when it annoys you so much or to feel offended by those who use the term ‘change the world’ in relation to the use of photography as a tool for change?
I don’t agree with your assessment or conclusions on the Don McCullin interview although I only read it once. I was completely satisfied that what I was hearing was from the heart first time around. Most people find it difficult to balance family with work and it was extremely brave of him to express his regrets at his decisions so openly – that bravery, and that dignity, can be seen in his every photograph. When each of us comes to look back on our lives, or take serious stock, we will then see whether the choices we made along the way were the ‘right ones’. Everyone is contributing in their own way to ‘change the world’ or ‘to use photography to facilitate social and envionmental change?’ if you prefer. There are over 10,000 on LS I hear, and this fact alone is incredible, although a few more positive visions would go down well.

J

PS “We can only do small things with great love” said Mother Teresa, and my thanks go to everyone who is working for what they believe in, in whatever way they know how.

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 21 Aug 2006 15:08 | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Hari,
I had the pleasure to meet Don McCullin last year and to spend some more time with him recently… he is a sensible, clever, honest and incredibly intelligent person, kind and generous; yet Don has a strong personality and he could come across as cynical if you only took a couple of sentences out of context…
At 71, he still shoots incredible images (just take a look at his recent African work or his Somerset landscapes) and works on marvelously moody prints on average for 5 hours a day in his country home darkroom; he is very, very conscious of the limitations of photojournalism as well as the way it is delivered to audiences at large, yet he remains incredibly passionate and dedicated about his work and the work of others…knowing him makes you understand immediately why his work is so incredibly powerful! He is and will remain one of the great PJ of all times, and a wonderful, wonderful man.

by [former member] | 21 Aug 2006 15:08 | home in Brussels, Belgium | | Report spam→
One final thought on the theme of ‘congruency’, congruency between one’s life and work. It comes from an interview with Dame Anita Roddick, the extraordinarily successful entrepreneur AND social/environmental activist who identifies congruency as the key to her own success: When enthusiam comes from the heart, it’s unstoppable… when its the template for who you are, it’s unstoppable. I believe that Don McCullin would never have got where he did with his work without a high level of congruency of this kind and there are many members on LS who also fit this idea and whose enthusiasm, and success, is uplifting, though some of them don’t seem to realise it! J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 21 Aug 2006 16:08 (ed. Aug 21 2006) | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
o, my goodness…what a thread….much of the above deadens inside me…alot of intellectual grandstanding and alot of pompous jousting: the accutrements of
insecurity and narrowmindness: the condemnation, intellectually, of opposing ideas on the demerits of their legitimacy…i find alot of the language above really
solipsistic and personally aggressive: questioning each other’s intellectual acument through verbal debate….really, guys, re-read the post in the desert-dry vapor
of the morning and i think you’ll be stunned…debate is healthy, in fact, is nutrient and oxygen-rich, but there is a lot of pathetic ridicule above masquerading
as intellectual acrobatics. I, at least, sense, alot of dismissive and patronizing attitudes, and it is not becoming at all, even through descent….

I wish that members would relinquish their cloaks of superiority, for it is an empty and vainglorious deceit to believe in both the efficacy and righteousness of one’s superior notions…
ideas and life are much more ambivalent than all that folks….

as an aside: i find McCullin (both his work and his ideas, in writing and interviews) extraordinarily generous and aware: he is a witness of the highest order, no matter
how disillusion is words maybe, im with Bruno completely….

by [former member] | 22 Aug 2006 12:08 | Toronto (home sweet), Canada | | Report spam→
Bob, for heaven’s sake, lighten up. A little verbal jousting and even a bit of pompous grandstanding is not such an egregious offense. Besides I just read this over, and it doesnt seem so bad; Hari is a big boy, he can handle his own, and he stuck to his guns; i respect him for that. LS is so benign compared to other sites. Besides what do you expect when you collect together a bunch of highly independent-minded individuals in a forum like this? It cant all be lovey-dovey, there’s bound to be some head butting. Anyway, I stand by everything I said. I meant it.

by Jon Anderson | 22 Aug 2006 12:08 | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Bob, you need a siesta. Take a couple of hours and dream of Tepoxtlan in the spring. :-) Besides, my german shepherd thinks I’m both a dog and a superior being, so there!

Iporá

by Luis E. Andrade | 22 Aug 2006 15:08 | Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side, United States | | Report spam→
jon/luis: :)))…i wasnt pointing fingers at anyone specifically, and im coming to this “debate” late, after contributing to the post long, long ago…i just was
referring to the feeling (the music of the language, if you will) of the arguments above…maybe its the problem with “debating” in such an “inhuman” forum: internet, without
the breath of human contact (yea, whiskey breath and bad breath both)…i meant my comment as a general (i hope friendly) reminders to all the combantants above:

we’re colleagues and we should respect each other and quarrel is not served by using language which diminishes others…unless its against Mr. White ;)))…

jon is right, we’re all grown up, but, we all must remember even grown ups, in the heat of contest, behave like school children (i know, I’ve acted badly myself
here before, as you know ;))))) )…

and luis:" there’s reason why your magnificent creature believes that, ’cause its true! i can see the love in his/her eyes;)))))))))))…

cheers,
b

by [former member] | 22 Aug 2006 15:08 | Toronto (home sweet), Canada | | Report spam→
Or dream of a caribbean beach and a few piña coladas or Presidentes vestidas de novia! They are waiting for you here whenever you feel like escaping the grey winter light up there. Does JetBlue service Toronto?

Nice Pooch, Luis.

by Jon Anderson | 22 Aug 2006 15:08 | Bonao, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Jon wrote: It can’t all be lovey-dovey (referring to the jousting on LS). Why not? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx J

Joking aside, I agree. But perhaps love is about doing and saying what you believe will help? Perhaps I am too direct? On this thread, I just felt motivated to defend a person who wasn’t present to defend themselves (Don McCullin), thought it would benefit Hari if he found a way not to let his feelings on this be continually stirred up in order to point out that perhaps his frustration at the speed of progress that change can be made through photography may be holding him back. Words can be so easily misinterpreted. J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 31 Aug 2006 11:08 | Utopia Gondwana, Tanzania | | Report spam→
jenny,
not too harsh at all.hari let his idealogical view cloud the reality,which is a mistake. as for don mccullin,he is not only one of the finest war photographers ever,he is also a brilliant,compassionate portraitist and
one of the best ,most poetic,moody landscape photographers as well.in fact,a real photographer,far more than just a war photographer

by Michael Bowring | 31 Aug 2006 15:08 | Belgrade, Serbia | | Report spam→
. . . . and let’s not forget his large-format India work, his mystery laden still-lifes, and his ongoing documentary work – - -

by Jon Anderson | 31 Aug 2006 22:08 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
…and his PR job for Ahmed Chalabi during the 2003 Iraq invasion,
so lets not get too awed of the chap, eh? We’re all human.

by [former member] | 01 Sep 2006 11:09 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Who is that masked man Don McCullin said the factory worker and why can’t he take nice photos?

by Imants | 02 Sep 2006 11:09 | Ritehereinmeownbakyard, Australia | | Report spam→

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Participants

Stephane Lehr, Photojournalist Stephane Lehr
Photojournalist
Paris , France
Max Pasion, Street Photographer Max Pasion
Street Photographer
Bayonne, Nj , United States ( EWR )
Simon Anstey, Photographer Simon Anstey
Photographer
Malmö , Sweden ( X )
Adam Vogler, Photojournalist Adam Vogler
Photojournalist
Kansas City , United States
John Perkins, Photographer John Perkins
Photographer
Cairo , Egypt ( CAI )
Imants, gecko hunter Imants
gecko hunter
" The Boneyard" , Australia
lisa hogben, Visualjournalist! lisa hogben
Visualjournalist!
Sydney , Australia
Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States
Bruce Meyer, Photog/teacher Bruce Meyer
Photog/teacher
Tokyo , Japan
Jenny Lynn Walker, Homo Sapien Jenny Lynn Walker
Homo Sapien
London , United Kingdom
Tony Stringer, Photographer Tony Stringer
Photographer
Turin , Italy
G. Muj, designer / ex photog / G. Muj
designer / ex photog /
Doha , Qatar
Mikethehack, Freelance thril performer Mikethehack
Freelance thril performer
Way Up My Own Ass , United Kingdom
Michael Bowring, photographer Michael Bowring
photographer
Belgrade , Serbia
Luis E. Andrade, I shoot and I write Luis E. Andrade
I shoot and I write
Philly Metro Area, Jersey Side , United States


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