I wrote this (for drool) last year. It was about this image, which won "Photo Of The Year". . .
©John Stanmeyer. WPP picture of the year 2013
The World Press Photo thing is a big deal. They pick a bunch of winners in a bunch of categories. Press fotografy (and reportage and the document) are their raison d'etre, so it goes without saying that that focuses the scope of what they consider.
This year, as always, many fantastic images have been chosen. The World Press
Photo website is always a place to go to see what's what, what certain factions
of the powers-that-be believe is important. Congratulations to all those picked.
This year they chose, as Photo Of The Year, a shot by John Stanmeyer of some African migrants trying to get cellphone reception. Beautiful and evocative, no doubt about it.
The following comments are about the selection of this particular image . . .
The thing that rankles me about this Photo of the Year is the melodrama and
idealization of how the subject is rendered. It kind of reminds me of fotos that
get a lot of likes on Facebook and Flickr . You know: it's so easy to be seduced
and/or distracted by its surface. And this melodrama seems to tilt the idea of
how we are supposed to see the world.
I'm not saying that dramatic situations should be shunned. Not at all. What I'm
saying is that dramatic situations don't need to be idealized to pack a punch.
I understand that press fotografers, and other media types, need to reach out
and grab an audience. But one of the things that bugs me about how the media
represents things in general is that they, the media, usually go out of their way
to show us idealized versions of what the world, both the good and the bad, is
about. And any idealization is, by definition, a kind of fiction.
Here's this year's "Photo Of The Year". . .
Change my comments from "African migrants trying to get cellphone reception" to "a gay couple, during an intimate moment in St Petersburg, Russia" and everything else I said a year ago still stands.
© Mads Nissen WPP picture of the year 2013
I followed Christina Riley's trip as it was happening; her trip to that land you go to when you don't take your meds. I saw the pictures.
The photos blew me away, they seemed so authentic, they seemed to come from her nervous system. I knew they should be a book.
We talked about it, Christina and I, and after a time she said, "Yes, it's right to do it now". So we set about the edit, the look and the feel.
You have to understand we had no idea who might buy the thing, Christina being much more known as a musician than as a photographer (though the strength of these images will dispel any doubt about her talent as an image-maker). So we printed 100 copies and wondered who might be interested.
Well, the book struck a nerve and touched people who know what it feels like to feel like Christina did. Or know someone who knows what it feels like to feel what Christina did. (In the book there's a photo of a bridge, the bridge where Christina was going to jump to end it all. Christina received an email from a woman who's brother did end it all, and he ended it all by jumping off the bridge that is pictured in Back to me. In her email the woman thanks Christina, tells her she now has a better idea of how her brother must have felt and why he jumped.)
Long story short, after selling some copies to the usual suspects (friends, family, those who buy every title STRAYLIGHT produces), Back to me received a number of reviews, all pointing out the merits of the work, pointing out how unique it was and, yes, how important. (You can read them if you follow the link below.) And, thus, the book sold out.
And we decided to print a second edition. You can buy it here: XXXX.
PORTRAITURE august 8, 2010
I’m (mostly) a portrait photographer. The images from USER are portraits. That’s what I’m shooting down on the corner. Portraits. But I know that they also fall into some weird space between portraiture and sociology, anthropology and document. Maybe a bit of art.
The photos are so quiet, so contained. What you don’t see in them is the chaos, all the drama that goes down on the corner. I’ll be setting up a shot and my subject is doing a hit while s/he’s waiting. A fight will break out, punches thrown. The other day Star threw her bicycle at someone.
Of course, it’s not always like that. There are also long stretches of the calm and boredom that are typical of both photographing and addiction. How can I show all that in portraits? What do portraits do? How do they work?
When I’m down there shooting, blocking shots, working with the subjects, I try to think a little bit about what’s going into my head. I try to be open to the juju, the vibe, the feeling of the people and the place and how that’s affecting me. I also try to trust my instincts and to not think too, too much. I shoot first and ask questions later.
It’s later, when I’m editing, choosing frames, that the hard choices are made. That’s when my biases move forward. I’ll only choose an image if it suits that bias, if it fits with how I feel about that place, those people. It’s not objective.
For me, that’s what portraiture is all about. That’s how portraits can begin to describe how I feel.
Excerpt from ATTACK AND CONFUSION. Buy it here.
Okay folks, there's a photo symposium coming up in Kapital City.
Titled: "The Shrinking World of Photography", it's taking place Saturday, January 24th. There are a few peripheral events taking place around this as well.
Here's the poster, you can get the gist of it from that:
And, if you want more info, here's a link: XXXX
One of the feature exhibitions of the symposium is a group show by the members of the Boreal Collective, which I had the honour to curate.
This is a schematic of that exhibition and I'll attach my statement here as well.
Nothing in this world is ever the result of just one other thing. Everything is an amalgam; every instant is a coincidence. But the stress of our lives since birth creates filters we use to process, and react to, the world we move through. Our thinking is not evenly weighted; we always give preference to this over that. And so we make some so-called sense.
Photographers who go out into the world, make contact and bring back evidence are stuck on the horns of this dilemma. How to sort things out while they’re there on the ground, what to record and how to record it and, then, how to process, pick and choose, after the fact, from that pile of data. Why this? Why not that?
The camera always transforms the subject of the photograph into something else: a frozen shard of time and space. In the hands of a practiced practitioner, though, it can close the gap between the external (the normative subject) and the internal (the photographer’s subjectivity) in miraculous ways. It can turn reality into resonance.
When I was asked to curate a show for Boreal, I asked each member to send me ten or fifteen images that, to them, went well past any objective look at what they had actually photographed. I wanted to see images they considered more than mere document, images that were, in fact, representations of how they feel.
What you see here is a further mutation of reality. I chose and arranged these particular images not because they are photographs of a hearth or fireworks or a baby, but in spite of that. This, to me, is life.
Tony Fouhse January, 2015
Timothy Archibald photographed by Jen Siska.
Q: So, you have a new book out?
A: Yes! HOME, published by Straylight Press up in Ottawa, Canada. $24 bucks for a book and a print!
Q: What’s this book about? Pictures of your home?
A: Well yes and no. There was a chunk of time a few years back where I was living in this home, sleeping in the garage, seeing a psychologist and witnessing the dissolution of my marriage. I was in that relationship for most of my adult life, we had two children and all of this created this tidal shift. I would look at my life, my kids, my home through this new filter- not positive or negative, but clearly changed.
Q: How does that relate to the images?
A: I think it fueled them. There was a feeling of time passing, of children being pulled by gravity and then coming back up again. Seasons changing, holes being dug, things breaking and the world just keeps on turning. None of these things are literally in the photographs, but these are the themes that were on my mind at the time and seem to inform the work.
Q: Straylight is in Ottawa, you are in San Francisco. How did that go?
A: Every book for me is this kind of emotional gut wrenching experience. Usually I don’t really know what these projects are about until I put them all together in book form…and even then they still allude me. Tony Fouhse works at a pace I could rarely keep up with: he cranked out book dummies and edited the book into multiple permutations, he edits with a jackhammer, no waste, no fat, every image needed to have a reason to be there to build and contribute to the feeling and tone of this little story. Half the images got cut from the project right from the start. It’s tight. And much better for it.
Q: Did you guys harmonize?
A: Honestly, I just couldn’t keep up. The thinking that I needed to do to address the book could easily derail a day. Tony would be up early, sending me comments and edits and issues to address and I would save them for the evening to try to slow down the process…I just couldn’t think that fast.
Q: Lots of energy there huh?
A: Yah. He seemed to have a vision for HOME, seemed to know how to make a story of sorts out of it. He created this inner fabric that would hold together….fall apart….and then hold together again. Reminded me of jazz, or like of The Stooges 1970 album “Fun House” : some tight pairs suck you in, then it becomes a bit more abstract, then you have these pairs again, the catchy hooks, sucking you in. In the end I loved what the book became, and the title HOME has all the mixed emotions that the work has.
Q: Why Straylight for this project?
A: Well Straylight has had these kind of harsh books- very anchored in the real : Live Through This, Christina Riley’s book Back To Me, and they have a big Scot Sothern book coming out. I mean badass artists and topics. I’m like this suburban soccer-dad type of guy, so I thought it would be ironic to have them put out this book: it’s called HOME, it’s got two kids hugging in it, it even came out during the holidays.
Q: So what is the payoff for you with these books?
A: Well really at some point you let these things go out into the world and you try to see what comes from it. My first book “Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews” was clearly an attempt by me to get attention: a rich subject matter that had the shock of the new to it, and then the words to try to humanize it all. But it was this kind of anthropological project, and in the end the world seemed to simply find it either repulsive or humorous. “ECHOLILIA” came after that, and that had the hot topic of autism behind it, so it almost ended up being like…some big U2 anthem song or something for a while. Then this book, HOME, in the way it began and then in the look and feel of the final book, is like an underground indy music album ---some people will understand it, some will be confused by it, some will get the secrets that may be in there, and others may project their own story into it. And now, after a month of it being out, that seems to be exactly what is happening. And really I couldn’t be happier.