Nick Hannes July 21, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in France.
Saint Tropez, France, 2013
Nick Hannes (b. 1974, Belgium) studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent. After ten years of working as a photojournalist, he decided to concentrate on self-initiated documentary projects on social and political issues. He published two books: Red Journey’, a documentary about the former Soviet Union, and Traditions, a book on party culture in Belgium. His third book The Continuity of Man, will be launched at the end of 2014 at the Museum of Photography in Antwerp. Nick teaches documentary photography at The School of Arts in Ghent. He has exhibited in Foto Museum (Antwerp), Bozar Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels), Flanders Center (Osaka), Breda Photo (Breda) amongst others. He is represented by Cosmos Paris.
About the Photograph:
“A Senegalese migrant is selling sun hats to two Italian twin sisters on the fancy beach of Pampelonne in Saint-Tropez, southern-France. Travelling the Mediterranean coasts I encountered these African street hawkers all over. They go where the tourists go. When it rains, they sell umbrellas and plastic ponchos, when it’s hot, they carry sunglasses and hats along. Its a matter of survival to them. This photograph is part of my series The Continuity of Man, a visual portrait of the Mediterranean region. From early 2010 untill now I have been travelling the Mediteranean coast in twenty countries in Europe, the Middle East and North-Africa. I focused on various contemporary issues such as migration, mass tourism, urbanization and its impact on the natural landscape. I found out that these topics are often linked to each other, as this picture proves.”
“The Mediterranean region regularly hits the headlines. The eurocrisis in Greece, the Arab spring, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the unverifiable influx of immigrants in Europe, are some other tendencies that determines the region’s zeitgeist. Although The Continuity of Man is not intended to be a journalistic body of work, traces of these evolutions emerge throughout the documentary. In the end this series aims to give a well balanced kaleidoscopic view upon this extremely diverse region, and to put things in perspective. Monaco and Gaza are both situated on the Mediterranean shore. The book‘ will be launched in November 2014, with an exhibition at the Museum of Photography in Antwerp, Belgium.”
Charles Mostoller July 17, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Venezuela.
Demonstration celebrating the Ninth anniversary of Chavez’s return to power. Caracas, 2011.
Charles Mostoller (b. 1986, USA) is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York, and attended the 25th Eddie Adams Workshop in 2012. His work has been published in National Geographic, The New York Times, The Miami Herald, Mother Jones, MSNBC and The Guardian, Charles is a contributor to Reuters, and has worked with ZUMA Press and SIPA Presss in the past. He is currently working on a book of his work from Venezuela.
About the Photograph:
“In the spring of 2011, I traveled to Venezuela for the first time to explore the political situation, not knowing at the time that I would be covering some of President Hugo Chavez’ last public appearances before undergoing treatment for cancer in Cuba. This photograph was taken on the ninth anniversary of the failed 2002 coup attempt against Chavez. Tens of thousands of people, including thousands of citizen militiamen and women, flocked to the capital Caracas to celebrate the Chavista movement, known as the Bolivarian Revolution. The framed portrait depicts Simon Bolivar, considered the Liberator for his role in South American independence movements in the early 1800’s and the intellectual cornerstone of Hugo Chavez’s socialist regime.”
Paolo Marchetti July 14, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Italy.
Skinhead gathering in the Lazio region of Italy. 2010.
Paolo Marchetti (b. 1974, Italy) began his photographic studies with particular attention to anthropology issues. His work has been published in magazines such as TIME, Newsweek, The Guardian, De Spiegel, Geo, 6Mois and others. Paolo’s photographs have been recognized from Photo District News, The National Press Photographer’s Association and Leica. In 2013 he won the ANI Pix-Palace Award in Perpignan. He is based in Rome.
About the Photograph:
“Young Italian skinheads during an Hawaiian party on the coast of Lazio. Each year, the Italian skins come together on the Italian coast (in the region of Lazio) and celebrate the beginning of summer, wearing Hawaiian style clothes. The rules are simple, there are three. No one can speak about the Hawaiian party before participating, everyone must wear Hawaiians and the last rule is that no one should talk about it after attending. The event lasted twenty-four hours from lunch on a Saturday until the following day with plenty of live music. There were skins from England, Spain and Hungary- a strong network exists between European skinheads, a bond of brotherhood but the Hawaian party theme is an Italian tradition.”
Maria Plotnikova July 10, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Brazil.
Christmas in Sao Paulo, Brazil 2013
Maria Plotnikova (b. 1984, Russia) studied Philology at the Moscow State Pedagogical University. In 2006 until 2010 she worked as a sports photographer in Moscow for Izvestia, Novaya Gazeta and TASS. In 2010 she moved to Buenos Aires and later to Sao Paulo. In Latin America, she became interested in street photography. Since 2012 she has been a member of the international collective Street Photographers. Maria’s work has been exhibited in Argentina (Festival of Light, 2012), United States (The Fence Festival, 2013), Georgia (Tbilisi Photo Festival, 2013), Lithuania (Vilnius Photo Circle Festival, 2013) and Russia (Photovisa Festival, 2013-14).
About the Photograph:
“I love the Christmas season. Beings from Russia, for me winter is as integral a part as the ocean and the heat are for Brazilians. The last few years my husband and I have lived in South America and the one thing to which I can´t get accustomed to is the opposite order of the seasons. Christmas and New Year’s are linked with snow and cold for me. When Christmas holidays are approaching in South America, I’m waiting with nostalgia. I like how people prepare for Christmas in Brazil. Despite the fact that snow doesn’t exist here, every shopping mall is decorated with Santa Claus and all the trappings of a winter holiday: boots, hats, reindeers and Christmas trees. Once in Sao Paulo I passed a shopping mall and a huge Santa Claus drew my attention. People were dressed in summer clothes and Santa, this solitary guest from the defunct Brazilian winter looked very absurd. I think this situation alludes to an eternal contradiction of human existence, expressed in a proverb that the glass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
Laura Morton July 7, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: United States
Debutante Ball in San Francisco, 2009
Laura Morton (b. 1984, USA) grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and began to pursue a career in photojournalism during her undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated in 2006 with a degree in Political Science and Journalism. Her personal work currently focuses on wealth and the way it affects those who have it. She has received a 2014 Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund grant and is a winner of the 2013 Magenta Flash Forward Emerging Photographers exchange. Her series The Social Stage was awarded in the 2012 PDN Photo Annual and was a winner of the 2013 Hearst 8X10 Photography Biennial. She is based in San Francisco where she is contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal and Getty Global Assignment.
About the Photograph:
“This photo was taken at a debutante ball in San Francisco. I wanted to explore coming-of-age rituals for women and was particularly drawn to debutante balls because of the deep-rooted history of these events. Historically their purpose was to introduce young women to society so that they could find suitable husbands. Today most of the events are focused on giving girls the confidence, connections and social skills to help them succeed in college and later on in their careers. It’s surprising to think about how the opportunities available to women in this country have changed in the last decades. I wanted to explore who these girls were and why they chose to participate in what is often described as an antiquated ritual. This photograph was taken just before the ball. You can see the debutantes and their escorts relaxing after long hours spent preparing for the festivities. I loved this scene because everyone seemed to be engrossed in their own thoughts. As a photographer, I’m particularly drawn to different layers and my favorite photos are often ones you have to study and linger on for a moment. When the employee from the hotel started setting up the chairs in the background, unnoticed by the debutantes and their escorts, I knew I’d gotten the shot I wanted.”
Bryan Schutmaat June 19, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: United States
Ellie, Wyoming 2010
Editor’s Note: I will be taking off for a two week summer break and leave you with Bryan’s photograph and backstory to reflect on. Happy solstice. New postings will continue on July 7th. ~ Geoffrey Hiller
Bryan Schutmaat (b. 1983) is an American photographer whose work has been widely exhibited and published in the United States and overseas. He has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Aperture Portfolio Prize, Center’s 2013 Galllerist’s Choice Awards, the 2013 Daylight Photo Awards, and the 2011 Carl Crow Memorial Fellowship, among many others. In 2014 Bryan was selected for PDN’s 30 new photographers to watch; in 2013, Dazed Magazine named Bryan one of Paris Photo’s “breakout stars,” and he was chosen as a Flash Forward Emerging Photographer by the Magenta Foundation. His first monograph, Grays the Mountain Sends, was published by the Silas Finch Foundation in 2013 to international critical acclaim. His photos can be found in the permanent collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and numerous private collections. He lives in Austin, Texas and is represented by Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York City.
About the Photograph:
“The process for this photo was entirely different than all the other portraits in Grays the Mountain Sends, and, in a way, I don’t consider it part of the project. In the book, it comes after the colophon – a sort of coda that comes just before the book is closed. ‘Ellie’ is photo I very much had in my mind before I made it – an homage to both Eggleston and the poet Richard Hugo. I’ve talked a lot about Richard Hugo as an influence, especially his poem, Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg. It’s a somewhat bitter, hopeless poem, but the final few lines are uplifting: The car that brought you here still runs. / The money you buy lunch with, / no matter where it’s mined, is silver / and the girl who serves you food is slender and her red hair lights the wall. So my photo of the red haired girl is borrowed entirely from that last line, and she’s a ray of hope at the end of an otherwise pretty sad series. Like I said, I definitely had this photo in mind. I searched all over the American West for my red-haired waitress, or any waitress who had an illuminative presence.”
“There was a young waitress I found in Wyoming who was wonderful– the way she talked to the guys who came in, laughing and teasing with them. She made their days better. She was beautiful too. I made her portrait, but the picture I took didn’t evoke the right feeling. It was too direct, and she became a protagonist alongside the men, rather than the embodiment of this fleeting enchantment I felt when I imagined Hugo’s redhead. It would be better to have my photo distilled to the symbolic red hair, and I wanted her anonymous – not a portrait of her but what she resembled. I didn’t want her fulfilling happiness, but rather just giving a small taste of it so that the men’s struggle within the narrative would still remain when the book has ended.”
“At any rate, the picture I ended up making that worked was not a real waitress (a fact I try not to broadcast), though she was a stranger to me. I her met her in a bar in the early evening. It was a weekday, and she was alone in the outdoor portion of the bar, reading a book. Of course I was drawn immediately to her hair. We had a short, awkward conversation, and I explained to her that I would love to take her picture. We exchanged numbers and met up some days later at a nearby diner I had scouted out beforehand. The owner let us come in after hours and we borrowed his apron and notepad. This setup was strange to me at the time, because all the other portraits in the series were taken in a relatively rigid documentary vein. In no other instance did I photograph people in places other than where I encounter them (unless if I was invited into their homes, which are always excellent places to make portraits). This photo, however, was so refreshing to make, because I freed myself and imposed my will entirely, and I think it was an instrumental experience to my process moving forward.”
Ismail Ferdous June 16, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Bangladesh.
Rana Plaza garment factory aftermath, Dhaka, Bangladesh 2013
Ismail Ferdous (b.1989, Bangladesh) graduated with a degree in business from East West University in Dhaka. He was selected for the Award of Excellence with the Alexia Foundation/ student category in 2012 and attended the Eddie Adams Photojournalism Workshop in 2013. His photographs have been published in: The New Yorker Magazine, National Geographic- Germany, The Washington Post, TIME Magazine Lightbox, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today among others. Recent group exhibitions of his work include: 25 CPW Gallery in New York, The World Bank, Washington DC, and UNICEF in Rio de Janerio. Ismail is currently freelancing for the Associated Press based in Dhaka.
About the Photograph:
“I took this picture 20 days after the Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka. I had been covering the event and aftermath for nearly three weeks, but it was a very unusual moment for me when I saw tears rolling down the cheeks of a Bangladeshi army soldier while praying for the 1,134 people who died in the garment building collapse. I had seen thousands of people crying around me over the past weeks but in that moment nobody could hold in their emotion and pain, for this was the last day (14 May 2013) of the painstaking search for bodies among the rubble in the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment industry.”
“Photographing the Rana Plaza collapse was the most traumatic event I have ever experienced. Smelling dead bodies every morning felt like being in a war zone. It haunts me to this day. I covered the rescue mission for 15 hours a day. A few months after the collapse when I went through my images it gave me an emotional breakdown. It took me awhile to process but eventually I channeled my trauma to the strength of this issue and I wanted to make the public aware of this global issue with my Cost of Fashion project.”
Andy Freeberg June 12, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: United States
Spinello, Pulse New York Art Fair, 2010
Andy Freeberg (b.1958 New York, NY) graduated from the University of Michigan. He began his photography career in New York taking portraits for such publications as Rolling Stone, Time, and Fortune, photographing the likes of Michael Jackson, Bill Gates, and Neil Young. Andy has recently emerged on the contemporary art scene as a wry commentator on the art industry itself. His series Guardians, won the Critical Mass book award and was published in 2010. He is represented by the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles and the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York. His work is in many collections including SFMOMA, MFA Boston, and the George Eastman House. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
About the Photograph:
This photograph was taken at the Pulse New York art fair in 2010. It’s from a project on the big art fairs and the pictures focus on the dealers and gallery workers in their booths. The guy on the left is the Miami gallery owner Anthony Spinello and he’s sitting with the artist Zachari Logan. I was walking through the fair and went into Spinello’s booth and noticed the larger than life size nude paintings. When I came back 20 minutes later, there they were sitting and talking at the desk. Their positioning was quite a gift. I took a few frames and moved on, they didn’t notice me. The pictures were taken between 2009-2011 at the big contemporary art fairs in Miami and Basel, Switzerland and also in New York during the Armory Show. Most of the photographs in the series are completely candid. I was trying to document the scene, the styles the market, the current technology of this crazy art world. The series was recently released as a book titled, Art Fare by Sojourn Books.”
Peter de Krom June 9, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Netherlands.
Prince Jocus Carnival in Venlo, The Netherlands 2014
Peter de Krom (b. 1981, The Netherlands) graduated from the St. Joost art school in 2010. He moved back to Hoek van Holland, a small town trapped between the North Sea, the Westland greenhouse area and the channel to the Rotterdam harbors. Here Peter decided not to find happiness, but subjects and inspiration that cannot be found where most photographers look. His work has been published in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, NRC Handelsblad, Volkskrant Magazine, de Standaard. Peter’s photographs have been shown at Summerexpo, GEM, The Hague, 2013, ICN Gallery, London (ISPA Awards), 2013 and Gallery LHGWR, The Hague, 2012.
About the Photograph:
“I took this photo on assignment for the newspaper NRC Next. I was invited to join the Prince Jocus Carnival for one day during his tour through the city of Venlo. Every year we celebrate Carnival in the lower provinces of the Netherlands. In the province of Limburg they call it Vastelaovend. Every city has it’s own prince that is in charge of the celebrations. In this case it was a young fellow who was accompanied by his council of eleven and protected by his own guardsman. They started the festivities of the day here going from stage to stage through the city where around 30,000 people were assembled to party the entire week. Everyone was dressed up in their most colorful and crazy outfits. The Prince will also set a example and got pretty drunk at the end of each day. His guardsman will led him all the way. “
Jenny Riffle June 5, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: United States
Washington State 2011
Jenny Riffle (b. 1979, United States) received her MFA in Photo, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2011 and her BA in photography from Bard College in 2001. Jenny received the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship grant in 2013 and the juror’s award at Newspace Center for Photography’s 2012 juried show for her project Scavenger: Adventures in Treasure Hunting. Her work was has been shown at Newspace and will travel to RayKo Photo Center, San Francisco and The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins in 2014. She is currently living in Seattle where she teaches at the Photo Center Northwest .
About the Photograph:
“This photo is part of a series called The Sound of Wind, a re-appreciation of the northwest through my memories of it and my present experiences. It was shot on Thanksgiving day 2011 when my boyfriend and I were driving from Seattle to his mother’s house on the Olympic Peninsula with our friend in the backseat. Right before we got to Tacoma the car broke down. It was cold and wet outside, so we sat inside the car waiting for the tow truck to come get us.”
“I spent a lot of time in cars when I was a child because my parents split up and lived in different towns that were three hours apart. Time in the car was always a time to switch from one life to another, from mom’s house to dad’s, a time to think, to stare out the window and watch the world go by. After growing up and leaving the Northwest to live elsewhere, I found that once I moved back I appreciated the Northwest with new eyes. All these memories of childhood surfaced and I wanted to drive through the Cascade Mountain Range and run around in the forests of my youth.”
“Photography has the ability to play with memory, and in this case, this photo is of the experience that I went through with my friends waiting for the tow truck, but it also captures the experience of my childhood self riding around in the back seat of the car. In all of my portraits, I like to create a narrative. Not necessarily a specific narrative relevant to the moment captured, instead I like to capture an introspective moment or feeling that invites the viewer into the image, bringing their own memories and experiences to it.”
Nancy Borowick June 2, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Ghana.
A water well at the Triumph International School. Mowire Ghana, 2010.
Nancy Borowick (b. 1985, United States) is a humanitarian photographer based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program at the International Center of Photography and holds a degree in Anthropology from Union College. Nancy is a regular contributor to Newsday, amNY, and Corbis and her work has also been featured in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Lens Blog, CNN, Time.com, Photo District News and the Washington Post. She was recently named one of the 2013 Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Emerging Photographers.
About the Photograph:
“I took this photograph in the village of Mowire, about 230 miles north of Ghana’s capital, Accra. I had been living in this village and teaching at the local school during the spring of 2008 and before leaving, I asked the headmasters if there was something I could give back to the school and its students, as my experience there was truly life changing. A water well was their answer. I spent many mornings waking up before dawn and trekking to the nearby well alongside my students to collect water for the school and I watched as these kids took this journey over and over again, straining their young bodies before a very long day of class and chores.”
“I was determined to give them this gift, this luxury of clean water, and after returning home to New York City I spent the next two years raising funds for the project. After two failed drilling attempts, break downs in communication and many broken hearts, the third time was the charm. We finally hit water. It was clear, clean and safe to drink and many children could be seen filling up empty water bottles to bring home to their families. I shot this image after the official ceremonial unveiling of the well and as I snapped the image of the flowing water, the children flew into the frame, drinking as much of this delicious, safe water as they could during this sweltering afternoon. Access to safe drinking water is a gift that many take for granted and being able to share this with my students and the surrounding community was a truly humbling and rewarding experience.”
Michal Solarski May 29, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Poland.
Getting ready for Christmas Eve Dinner. Cieszyn, Poland 2010
Michal Solarski (b. 1977, Poland) is a London based photographer. His interest in documentary photography stems from his background in political studies, where he developed the passion to adapt his thoughts and observations of the world in a visual manner. Photography enabled him to capture situations and environments in a thought provoking way. After graduating in Poland with a Masters in Politics, Michal moved to London and studied at The London College of Communication where he earned an additional masters in Documentary Photography. He divides his professional career between advertising, documentary photography, traveling extensively between the UK and Eastern Europe where he produces the majority of his work. Most of his photography is strongly based on his own background and experiences, with a strong concentration on migration and memories.
About the Photograph:
“Ever since I visited my dying grandmother at the care home, I wanted to go back there with my camera. She spent the last days of her life in Cieszyn, it’s a beautiful town in southern Poland, just on the border with Czech Republic. The care home is called Boromeuszki – it took its name from the monastery that runs it. I was taking pictures there in the winter 2010/2011. This particular picture was taken on the 24th Dec 2010. After more then a year since she had a stroke, my parents were too tired to cope with the constant care she required. I remember that I felt great sadness looking at her as she lay in this massive gloomy room among other patients. It took me several years to came back. I found that life there is really slow and filled up with routines. Day after day passes in the same way. There is a time to sleep, a time to eat, a time to clean, and very little in between. Most of people who live there feel unwanted and neglected by their relatives. I spent two weeks there just walking around, talking to the residents, playing games, and watching television with them. For two weeks I shared their life. Those were two very emotional weeks of my life. For me, my time spent there was a tribute to my beloved grandmother.”
Curran Hatleberg May 26, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: United States
West Virginia 2011
Curran Hatleberg (b.1982, United States) is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Yale University. His work has been exhibited most recently at Know More Games Gallery and The Camera Club of New York. Curran’s photographs have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Slate and 0_100 Editions. His photographs have been shown at the International Center of Photography in New York City and are included in the Williams College Museum of Art and the Davidson Art Center at Wesleyan University. Curran is the recipient of the Richard Benson Prize for excellence in photography. He currently teaches photography at Yale University.
About the Photograph:
“I met Zach in the summer on the Guyandotte River. He didn’t say much, but was polite and eager to laugh. One humid afternoon, we drove up the steep, lush ridges above town to his house and family. We ate fresh blackberry pie and smoked cigarettes in the kitchen. We ate so long it got dark and watched TV while dogs and children flashed in and out of the rooms. Later, they showed me an old family graveyard down the road. I could hear cicadas screaming in the trees. Someone’s flashlight caught a goose, waddling alone under the moonless night. Everybody laughed. As I was leaving to go back to town, they made me take the remaining pie and a two-gallon bag of berries.”
Object Lessons from Nina Berman May 24, 2014Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
Tags: Nina Berman
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Editor’s Note: This article caught my attention because of Nina’s unique perspective and the disturbing subject matter combined with her observations about the ways photojournalists are adapting to the disruption in the media landscape today. While I admire what agencies like NOOR (the non-profit collective that she is a member of) are doing in terms of partnering with NGOs, I’m doubtful that it’s a sustainable model. I applaud Nina and her colleagues for being so proactive and at the same time doing such strong work. This article originally appeared in Columbia Magazine.
A J-school professor discusses the evolving state of photojournalism — and shares evidence from her latest project.
Rogues’ Gallery / In a new work, Nina Berman photographs trial evidence from cases of slavery and human trafficking, in hopes of indirectly revealing the mindset of the perpetrator. A billy club used by the brutal Chicago-area pimp Alex Campbell. In 2012, Campbell was sentenced to life. / Photographs by Nina Berman ’85JRN
How should one teach journalism today, and especially photojournalism, when everyone with a cell phone is a potential witness to history? What does the new generation of students need to learn about the modern media landscape?
There is a perception that photojournalists are misery chasers who jump from story to story looking for the next big thing — war, famine, tsunami — and when the action is over, they fly home and wait for the next disaster. That’s last century’s photojournalist.
Today, some of the best photojournalists work more like anthropologists or artists. The most serious ones are taking the long view and spending years on a story, publishing pieces along the way. Sometimes their work is funded by publications, but increasingly it is underwritten by NGOs and foundations, blurring the lines between journalism and advocacy. The model of the globetrotting photojournalist dispatched by New York photo editors to the far corners of the world to witness great moments in history applies only to a handful of working photographers today. Technology has democratized and globalized the industry, which means that breaking- news images are increasingly sourced from Twitter and Instagram, where pictures are shot by amateurs, writers, and local photojournalists already on the scene.
A mallet used by Donnell Baines to beat his victims in an Upper East Side sex-trafficking operation. In 2013, Baines was sentenced to sixty-two years in prison.
In class, I teach ethics, which is simple, and not. The number-one rule is that photojournalists cannot construct scenes and then pass off the pictures as found moments. Photojournalists observe and frame; the final image cannot contain people or objects that didn’t originally exist in that frame, nor can people or objects be removed from that frame. Everything else — color, saturation, contrast — is largely up for grabs. This is where things get murky.
Image effects are allowed today that weren’t considered appropriate in journalism just a few years ago. Influential photographers, sometimes in collaboration with a photography lab or digital retoucher, champion a style or create an app that is embraced by editors, and before you know it, we’re seeing a million pictures in the press looking the same, regardless of where they were shot or what they capture. A few years back, increasing the clarity and desaturating the color was popular. Now we’re in love with high dynamic range and blazing perfection. Soon it will be something else. I challenge my students to consider how these aesthetic decisions fit into a broader conversation about stereotypes and points of view.
People still cling to the idea of photography as an objective or neutral medium that captures a shared truth. There is nothing remotely objective about photography.
There are stylistic trends in art and in literature, and everyone acknowledges them. But rarely are they cited in photojournalism, perhaps because people still cling to the idea of photography as an objective or neutral medium that captures a shared truth. There is nothing remotely objective about photography. Where I stand, how I got to that spot, where I direct my lens, what I frame, how I expose the image, what personal and cultural factors influence these decisions — all are intensely subjective.There are stylistic trends in art and in literature, and everyone acknowledges them. But rarely are they cited in photojournalism, perhaps because people still cling to the idea of photography as an objective or neutral medium that captures a shared truth. There is nothing remotely objective about photography. Where I stand, how I got to that spot, where I direct my lens, what I frame, how I expose the image, what personal and cultural factors influence these decisions — all are intensely subjective.
This souvenir notebook with the Statue of Liberty on its cover was used by enslaved women working in New Jersey hair-braiding salons to record their tips, which were then confiscated. The trafficker, Akouavi Kpade Afolabi, was sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison.
With digital photography, there are so many processing options but little discussion of what those choices tell us about the storyteller and the story. In class we ask, does the aesthetic draw you in to the subject in a revealing and interesting way, or does it overpower the subject? This was a conversation when an almost too perfectly processed image from a funeral in Gaza won World Press Photo of the Year in 2013. What does it mean when an ordinary scene showing a village in Haiti is amped up with a torrent of color and contrast, giving the scene a drama that appears forced? When we see US politicians turned into a cross between Dr. Strangelove madmen and Ringling Brothers clowns, as they were in a recent photograph on MSNBC.com, are we looking at a crude use of black-and-white post-processing or a brilliant commentary on the moral emptiness and vulgar salesmanship that characterizes American political campaigns?
In the old days, a photojournalist might pitch a story to a publication and be sent off for a week, maybe with a writer, and the piece would be published, and it would end there.
Now, publishing might be the last part of a much larger scheme. Stories are projects with foundation and NGO partners; they incorporate social media and data and are seen by the public in the physical world as installations or exhibitions as well as printed pieces.
A diamond ring and cufflinks worn by the pimp Alex Campbell, who called himself “the Cowboy.” Campbell also tattooed the horseshoe logo on the women he enslaved, some of whom came from Belarus and Ukraine.
I’m working this way on something called the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project — six photographers documenting the impact of fracking in states linked by the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. Funds came from the Sprout Fund, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and others. The product is a series of traveling photography exhibitions and artist talks in museums, university galleries, and community spaces in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. We still publish the work — in Wired, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and others — but truly, the publishing is seen as amplification. So, is it photojournalism? Most definitely.
I’m in the final stages of a project at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (opened in 2012 to house Syrian refugees), where I photographed refugee life along with photographers Andrea Bruce, Alixandra Fazzina, and Stanley Greene, all of us from the Noor photography and film collective. We’re printing the images large and then pasting them on two hundred meters of security wall that surround the camp’s entrance. I’ll document the installation, Instagram some pictures, do blog posts, and at some point publish the project. In this case, photojournalism is being used as a conversation within the refugee and NGO community. The project, and the creative process behind it, becomes a way to talk about the larger story of Syrian refugees and their lives in Jordan, and, we hope, makes the refugee camp itself feel less like a penitentiary.
Finally, this May, I’m working with another Noor photographer, Jon Lowenstein, to launch a public-art and media-awareness campaign looking at human trafficking and forced labor in Chicago. One goal is to raise funds to treat trafficking victims. We’re hosting a workshop with other artists, advertising creatives, nonprofit service providers, and law-enforcement officers to make a blueprint for the campaign.
Sometimes photojournalists’ work is funded by publications, but increasingly it is underwritten by NGOs and foundations, blurring the lines between journalism and advocacy.
Ten years ago, I never would have thought to work like this. Now, it’s increasingly common, and more and more grant makers are demanding it.
One of the questions we’re asking is, how do you depict modern-day forms of slavery, human trafficking, and forced labor? Should the visuals be only of the victims, which is the norm? I looked at slavery in the United States from the criminal-justice angle, investigating successfully prosecuted cases of human trafficking and forced labor, sexual and otherwise. I photographed trial evidence: a wooden box in which a trafficker kept the tips she confiscated from girls brought from Togo, who were forced to work at Newark hair-braiding salons. (All their earnings, even their tip money, were given over to the trafficker.) I photographed a hatchet in Memphis used to terrorize girls in the commercial sex industry. I photographed texts that perpetrators would force victims to write, submitting themselves to their captors — the rules of labor, so to speak. I also photographed crime-scene locations and survivors. My hope was that by showing the evidence in these cases, I could indirectly reveal the mindset of the perpetrator, which is a new way to approach the subject.
A wooden box in which the trafficker Akouavi Kpade Afolabi kept the tips of the women she enslaved. She recruited girls from Ghana and Togo with promises of education and then forced them to work without pay in hair-braiding salons.
While I was looking into a case in Chicago involving Alex Campbell, a particularly brutal character who was sentenced to life in prison for sex trafficking, overseeing forced labor, and other crimes, Gary Hartwig, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Chicago, challenged me to do more with my pictures. He had worked so many really disturbing cases, and the idea that I was coming along with a photo project that promised no tangible change frustrated him.
He voiced an attitude that is running through the photojournalism and documentary- film community worldwide: maybe words and pictures aren’t enough. Yes, do the work, make the images, find new visual approaches, subvert stereotypes, but use the material to make an impact in the world. And do it without succumbing to the predictable narratives of rescue and redemption that make the language of advocacy so limiting. This is the future of storytelling, and this is where it gets interesting.
Nina Berman ’85JRN is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her documentary photography has appeared in two monographs, many of the world’s leading magazines, and major museum exhibitions. More of her work can be found at ninaberman.com.