BOJAN'S BLOG

Photographs, words and sounds
Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

What happens to women in journalism

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I was on vacation so I am late to this story, but I do want to write a few words because this is important stuff. About a week ago local reporter Tara Bradbury wrote an excellent opinion piece on what happened to her when she wrote a straight-up story previewing a feminist festival/art show/workshops event scheduled to take place in St. John’s later that week. The comments ranged from creepy to criminal misogyny.

This stuff has been happening for a long time and it needs to stop. The only good thing I can say about it is that we are finally talking about it more openly then ever before. Tara did a great job locally. Canadaland has been talking about the harassment and misogyny women have to put up with in media organizations for some time now. Whatever you think about Jesse Brown, this is the guy who broke Ghomeshi story and has been covering the situation at the Toronto Star together with other media. The world of photojournalism is no better. Colin Pantall’s blog has a couple of good posts about what happens to women in photojournalism and photography in general (here and here) and it should make you furious.

The fact that we have amazing women working in the media and in photojournalism despite the daily insults and misogyny they experience is a testament to just how committed and how good they are at what they do. So for this post, here is a bunch of links to some pioneering and contemporary female photojournalists doing stellar works. This list could go on and on, but this will do for now:

[LENS] has a story about pioneering women photographers in Mexico.

PetaPixel featured Japan’s first female photojournalist who is STILL PHOTOGRAPHING AT THE AGE OF 101!

Ruth Fremson, wrote a story about women in photojournalism for [LENS]

And for the end I want to send you to three exceptional female photographers who were among those whose work was featured in June 2015 issue of National Geographic. What was remarkable about that particular issue was that majority of the stories were photographed by women and the difference in tone, style and subject matter was noticeable. We need those voices because they tell us very different stories. Spend some time with the work of Lynn Johnson, Stephanie Sinclair (Stephanie seems to be rebuilding her website so follow her on Instagram), and Carolyn Drake – you’ll be glad you did.

New website!

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I am full of announcements this week and not even done yet. The next in line is the announcement of a new ‘professional’ website. Now, I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am not a professional artist so, you know, it is what it is.

There was an earlier version of the website that a lot of smart and helpful friends looked at and made some great suggestions. I accidentally deleted that site (very thoroughly, I might add) so this is a professional website for an unprofessional artist 2.0 and I have to say I am much happier with it. It is much better for all the comments, suggestions, and critique that the poor, disappeared 1.0 version was subjected to. There are still some suggestions that I would like to implement in the future, but I thought I’d launch what I have rather than wait until it’s “perfect.”

And for all the joking about being told that I am not a professional artist, that is certainly true. And so the tagline on the site is actually something I feel is much more appropriate and much closer to how I feel about the photography I do.

And of course, feel free to offer comments, critiques, or anything else you feel like dishing out.

A chemistry lesson for inept photo geeks like me…

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So apparently I’ve been an idiot for the past 20 years. Every time I develop film or make prints I also develop a rather nasty case of dermatitis. It’s not contagious, just uncomfortable and bad for me, and aesthetically – well, let’s just say I’d understand if you didn’t want to shake hands with me and were wondering why I am not in some sort of quarantine.

It turns out, broadly, that there are two kinds of photo developers. There are those developers that use metol as a developing agent and those developers that use phenidone as a developing agent. Well guess what… Most developers I use are metol-based and metol is a known cause of dermatitis. Phenidone-based developers, on the other hand, tend not to cause skin reaction. So all I have to do is switch to a phenidone-based developer and I am good to go. And it gets better: phenidone is a much more potent developer than metol so you can make more of a working solution with less chemicals. It’s significantly more environmentally friendly and some of phenidone-based developers, like Kodak Xtol, are practically hypoallergenic. Arghhh…

So why do I suddenly know all this? Because I was asked to work with a team of researchers here at Memorial University as their artist-in-residence-kind-of-person. I was researching developers to understand what could happen if we add certain unusual components to different developers and in the process learned something I wish I knew 20 years ago. I have no idea what is that this collaboration is going to look like or produce, but it should be fun.

The photo was made earlier this year when Little Miss F. and I went for a photo walk and yes, she is using film 😉

Graffiti NL style and some photo links

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“Since no genuine enemy exists, he has to be invented. And as universal experience demonstrates, the most terrible enemy is an invented one. I assure you, it will be an incredibly gruesome monster. The army will have to be doubled in size.”
The Doomed City by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The photograph above was made along a path following the Rennie’s River. That graffito with its careful punctuation marks and precise legibility is my new favourite thing.

And a few photography links just because:

A road trip…

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Streets of St. John’s are empty at the best of times. On a long-weekend Sunday so sunny and warm you’d be forgiven if you thought you are somewhere much more south than Newfoundland, the chance of running into anybody on the streets is virtually nil. And yet, I ran into this family taking photographs in front of their house. The nephew, driving an old Buick with a maple leaf and a 10 of stripes on its hood, is on a trip of a lifetime – right across Canada. He’s done the Maritimes, is about to finish Newfoundland and then he will be heading west. He stopped to say hi to his relatives.

I had a blast making the photographs both for myself and some with the family’s cameras for them. I haven’t really done anything on the street in a while and I forgot how much I enjoy the encounters and stories street photography in a small town makes possible. This encounter was different only inasmuch as I was ever so slightly jealous of their road trip. It’s been a long while since I went anywhere with nothing better to do but wander. I would like a long road trip.

Here are a couple of road links courtesy of New York Times: “The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip,” and “A Comprehensive Look at California and the West.”

Photo links

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A neglected blog. Out of necessity, I might add, because in three weeks, through my work, I am going to launch an exciting new project that I think the readers of the blog will like as well. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the photo links on this snowy Thursday:

A fascinating story about an American photographer Louise Draper. Really excellent work and it is indeed interesting that he languishes in obscurity.

On lensculture, go see Javier Corso’s Fishshot. It’s an interesting project about issues of loneliness and violence plaguing Finland of all places. I am not sure what I think about the photographs and his approach, but he raises important questions.

Check out these charming Portuguese “lonely houses” work of photographer Manuel Pita who goes by the nom de plume (or is it nom de lumière for photographers) Sejkko. You can follow his work on instagram.

Photographer Viktor Egyed based in Slovakia has a lovely set of images from a village called Szödliget in Hungary.

Robert Götzfried, a Munich, Germany based photographer, has a set of images from his trip on the backroads of the southern United States.

Contemplative, serene seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto are a wonder. You’ll love it.

Geography links

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The photograph above was made on my way to work one day. I have no idea why these old suitcases were left outside by the fence – probably just for garbage pick up.

Time for some geography links. I haven’t done that in a while.

Let’s start with the worst news in a while as far as magazine industry, and to an extend geography goes. In Canada, geography is very poorly taught in primary, elementary, and secondary school system. To make things worse, even our national popular magazine about geography, Canadian Geographic, is so abysmal we actually did not renew our subscription. So the fact that National Geographic has been purchased by Fox is really tragic. National Geographic is not a perfect magazine, but it is the best magazine on the market that promotes geographic knowledge and encourages interest in the world we live in. It has a strong American bias and a share of other issues, but we had subscription for years. I read every issue and the girls are starting to read stories that are of interest to them. I would like to think that editorial independence and high standards, especially when it comes to visuals will remain as they are or get better, but Fox’s track record is not good. Not cancelling my subscription yet, but watching closely.

After you contemplate the terrifying concentration of the global media ownership, head over to the Economist and take a look at a story that claims that the EU will soon have more internal physical barriers to movement of people than it did during the Cold War.

The rest of the links should be a little bit less pessimistic.

Lucas Foglia has been photographing American West and is concerned about what rural America will look like: “What is going to allow people to continue to live in the rural American West and how are we going to preserve or use the wild land we have left?”

Cornell University Library and its Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections has made public an amazing collection of persuasive cartography. Watch out, it’s highly addictive and you may find yourself wasting ridiculous amount of time – although, in my books, that would not be time wasted.

Two somewhat connected and fascinating stories. The first one looks at just how powerful oral traditions are as repositories of community knowledge. University of Sunshine Coast geographer Patrick Dunn’s research demonstrated that some Australian Aboriginal stories preserve environmental and ecological memories and knowledge stretching as far back as 7,000 years. The second story comes from the world of art and focuses on incredible work by an Australian Aboriginal painter Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. The fascinating thing is that his intricate paintings are not just visually impressive, but also serve as a repository of community stories. The code is incomprehensible to us, but those who understand it have an access to a lot more than a visually arresting work.

Saying random things is not a good idea

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Poor Little Miss F had a rough night with a stomach bug. The worst and the messiest of it was over by 3:30 am and she fell asleep on the couch in the living room. By the time noon came about she was almost herself. M asked her if she wanted to go to school after lunch. Thinking about it for a moment, Little Miss F calmly explained that if she goes, she feels like she’ll be tired and if she is asked a question she won’t remember what it was and she’ll just say something random so it’s not a good idea. She stayed home for the day.

Photo links from New York to Yangtze River

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Photo links galore:

Apparently, Bruce Gilden has a new book out and it makes Sean O’Hagan uncomfortable. Bruce Gilden makes everybody uncomfortable, but I doubt he cares.

Robert Frank’s series From the Bus is interesting and totally new to me.

Fantastic photographs of East and West Germany from 1977 to 1987 by German photographer Rudi Meisel. Now a book, too: LANDSLEUTE 1977 – 1987. TWO GERMANYS.

Tatiana Plotnikova’s photographs of Russian pagans are beautiful. Really nice work and a fascinating story.

I am not sure what is more odd, the story of photogrpaher Mustafa Abdulaziz and his photographic work or the photographs he made along the Yangtze River in China.

The photograph above was made in Komiža on Vis Island in Croatia.

Public phones collection

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I once wrote that photographers tend to be collectors. I have that corner store collection and recently a friend pointed out that I should start a public phone photos collection as well. To be honest, I didn’t even realize I had one until I started going through some of my photographs. Apparently I do have one. Weird.

This is a public phone in Dublin, Ireland.

Photo links

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Some Dublin drunks demanding a few euros for making a spectacle of themselves.

The Photographic Journal has a really interesting interview with Alec Soth. The part about narratives and photo book in particular is interesting, but the whole thing is really worth your read.

A review of Eamonn Doyle’s book of Dublin street photographs in the Guardian (I love the fact that they have a section on art and design with a subsection dedicated to photography). Click on the links throughout the text to see the photos.

Head over to burn. and take a look at the work of Argentinian photographer Pablo Piovano documenting the human cost of agrotoxins.

Frederick Lerneryd has a set of photographs on LensCulture looking at a shelter for some 400 people in the heart of Johannesburg.

Stay on LensCulture and take a look at a set of rural portraits by Italian photographer Giancarlo Rado.

[LENS] has a feature story on Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert whose work Rivages I always liked for its atmosphere, the insignificance and loneliness of human figures, and its exquisite colour palette.

Photo links from Cuba to neighbourhood shops

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Photo links post today:

Three things you should take a look at on [LENS] (incidentally, see how good and smart a photo section in a newspaper on-line can be when you dedicate resources to it!):

Photography in Cuba: It’s Not Easy. An interesting take on the International Centre of Photography retrospective of Cuban photography by both Cuban and non-Cuban photographers.

Visualizing the Common Core Curriculum. How do you photograph a government policy? Here is one photographer’s take on a new education policy in the USA.

In China, the Photobook as Art and History. I would love to get my hands on this one.

After [LENS], head over to The New Yorker’s Photo Booth and take a look Zoe Leonard’s photos of old neighbourhood shops. As somebody who photographs corner stores, I suspect I find this more interesting than most.

In the photograph is a scene from Vis Island, Croatia.

Lawlessness at Sea: Journalism done right

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If you read anything today, make it this series of exceptional stories from New York Times on lawlessness on the high seas. Most of it actually occurs in connection with illegal fishery, which is an incredibly lucrative business.

You can access the whole package through the splash page here or individual pieces:

Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, but Killers Go Free

“Sea Slaves”: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock – on slave labour of the world’s fishing industry.

A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

All of this is followed by a piece on possible solutions, an interview with a photographer covering one of the stories, and an editorial.

This was so good that I wanted to read all of it and have actually paid digital subscription once I hit the monthly limit of free stories. I suspected all along that if you want people to pay for your digital subscriptions you have to provide unparalleled content and New York Times provided an amazing content. There is a lesson here for Canadian newspapers if there are any real ones left out there.

Middle Cove Beach last year. Perfectly legal caplin rolling.

Of capelin and drones

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The waves hitting Middle Cove beach were alive with writhing of small silvery fish spawning and washing ashore – capelin’s last act of defiance before the inevitable death. As people, whales, and birds flocked to the cove there was a frenzied sense of joy in the air – a feast from the sea freely given to all with a belly to fill.

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Newfoundland has been our home for six years, but somehow we always missed the rolling of capelin. Not this year. We were not prepared exactly – we had no nets or buckets or even plastic bags to catch the sea’s bounty in. We came for a stroll along the beach and I only hoped that the capelin might be there as well.

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The weather was right – capelin weather – a rainy, cloudy and foggy late June day. And there they were. All over the beach, there were trampled bodies of fish and excited men and women and children – many of them Newfoundlanders born and bred, but also newcomers from every corner of the world who came to watch this small annual miracle and partake in a tradition of their new home.

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It did not matter that we were woefully unprepared because this is Newfoundland, after all, so an older couple quickly filled a plastic bag for us and there was really no way to refuse the generosity of the people and the sea. And why would you – there was plenty for all of us.

Every face had a smile and the fires were lit on the beach. People gathered to watch the little silvery fish and the minke whales gorging themselves in the cove. It was truly a perfect moment.

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I made a few photographs. It wasn’t really difficult. People were happy to be photographed, to engage in conversation, and some even asked to look at the TLR’s ground glass.

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Unfortunately, even Newfoundland has its tactless ingrates. Standing on the beach, sporting a fluorescent vest you usually see on road workers, was a man with a drone. Until that moment, I felt pretty agnostic about camera drones and gave them little thought. Well, not any more. Whatever this is, it is not photography and it is certainly not documentary photography. It says volumes about that day that, despite the thing buzzing around our heads and swooping down on the crowds of people who were never asked, engaged or otherwise made aware of the man and his toy, nobody took a rock and knocked the bloody thing out of the air. It was invasive, rude, and if the reactions of those on that beach who came from less fortunate places in the world are anything to go by, it was also frightening. Everybody I photographed and engaged in conversation with that day frowned at the white drone and its annoying buzz. There was no escape from it and no way to say no. Once the man in the vest packed up and left, people visibly relaxed.

There is no sense in arguing against this technology. That ship has sailed and we are all going to have to learn to live with it. It is, however, disheartening that many of my former photojournalism colleagues are embracing the drones as if they are some sort of a technological breakthrough. This is not going to result in better journalism. Good photojournalism was always about storytelling. This has nothing to do with storytelling, compassion or genuine curiosity about people and places. This is pure gimmickry for talentless hacks – sort of like HDR photography, just worse.

So a fair warning: next time that thing buzzes around my head, I may or may not be as restrained as I was on that June day with the capelin miraculously rolling on Middle Cove beach.

 

Family photo albums are oral histories…

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A family photo in honour of Day 2 of single parenthood. We miss our fabulously smart researcher currently exploring rural Newfoundland.

Some time ago, during a very short conversation with Dr. Robert Finley, he made a remark I have been thinking about ever since. He said that every family photo album is, in fact, an oral history. I like that – a lot.

William Klein documentary

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The photo above is from last fall. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen somebody actually using those phones. And the fact that they are wearing shades is just icing on the cake.

Thanks to Brandon Manitoba based photographer Colin Corneau, I had the pleasure of watching this documentary on William Klein and you should watch it too. It’s fabulous.

[embed width=”500″ height=”400″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnN9LMvjM7Y#t=1691&aid=P7CJu421HAA[/embed]

 

Genesis review

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There are not many books of photographs that are truly important in a larger, social context, but I think that Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis is one such book. Aesthetically, philosophically, and even technically, this is not a perfect book, but, so far, it is this century’s most important collection of photographs.

Genesis is a monumental book in more ways than one. Even the mass-market edition is a large, heavy tome of 520 pages of the highest possible quality. Just touching and turning those 9.6 x 14 inch pages is a pleasure and, incidentally, the reason why  e-books have a long way to go before they come close to matching the experience. The weight, richness and texture of the paper and stunning reproduction of tones are unparalleled. The art editions Taschen has produced are massive two tomes of over 700 18.4 x 27.6 inch pages with a stand, a box, a captions booklet and a silver print all together priced at exclusive $10,000. The only thing that is more impressive than the price is the weight of the entire package – 59 kilograms or 130lb.

There is a reason for this lavish presentation. Salgado, in the introduction to the book, says Genesis body of work is “a visual ode to the majesty and fragility of Earth… [his] homage to the grandeur of nature.” He also, right from the start, declares that this is not a piece of journalism or anthropological research, but rather a romantic endeavour. Philosophically, therein lies a problem. It IS a very romantic view of our planet, but maybe romance is exactly what we need. The larger problem is an occasionally, well, for a lack of better word, colonial representation of some of the Salgado’s human subjects. This is especially evident in some of the photographs from the Patel and in the Sanctuaries chapter. There are a few photographs in those chapters that I find questionable. And while I am dealing with the objections to this book let me say a word about the aesthetics. The photographs are masterful and beautiful, but there are instances where the contrast is cranked up just too much – to the point of turning a photograph into kitsch. This, in some cases at least, maybe be the result of the switch between film and digital technology Salgado made sometime during the project. It is usually quite difficult to tell film and well processed black and white digital photographs apart, but at this size and presented side by side, there are obvious differences. The tonal range of the film is by far wider and more subtle. The opening photograph of the Planet South chapter of an iceberg moving on the Weddell Sea is butter smooth – it’s everything film can be. However, all of these aesthetic, representational and philosophical objections are really nitpicking. This is, after all, Salgado’s book so he gets to set the rules, and he is clearly in top form.

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Before I gush over the photographs, there is one more thing I want to address. Salgado has very publicly and openly acknowledged the support Genesis project has received from the Brazilian mining giant Vale. He has also been very publicly criticized for accepting the corporate sponsorship from a company with a horrendous impact on the environments throughout the world. All I can say about that is that Salgado did not go to Vale first. He went to those magazines and publishers who in the past supported long form documentary work and now, with some notable exceptions such as Rolling Stone magazine, spend majority of their funds buying agent-supplied celebrity photos. That is not Salgado’s fault. The media, public and private, have completely abdicated any responsibility they ever felt for informing the public about the issues of actual real importance and that is the real problem here.

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So – the photographs. They are epic. Truly biblical and if I would compare them to anything, it’s not to another photograph, but to Gustave Doré engravings. There is the same sense of awe and the magical light. These photographs are also unmistakably Salgado. The sheer multitude of individual animals is almost overwhelming. The mass of penguins in the Antarctica is in its magnitude, feel and even composition similar to some of the photographs from Salgado’s previous work. When Salgado focuses his lens on individual animals, the results are stunning, personalities emerge and there is a sense that what you’re looking at is actually portraiture and not wildlife photography. Oddly enough, with some notable exception such as the old San man leaning on his walking stick in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert on page 239 and a fascinating photograph of a mudman performer from Papua New Guinea on page 205, Salgado seemed to struggle with capturing his human subjects with the same clarity. In fact, it is when he photographs humans that the whole notion of ‘the romantic’ approach is pushed too far.

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What works, and works amazingly, are the sweeping vistas of some of the most remarkable landscapes on the planet. The photographs Salgado made in the Arctic and Antarctica are probably the most poetic and the most impressive. These are the landscapes and lifestyles disappearing rapidly under the pressures of climate change.

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If visual ode to the planet, a love letter of sorts, is what Salgado wanted to create, he has succeeded. That is why his book is beautiful, but it is not why it’s important. Its importance is that Salgado has presented us with a visual record of Earth that we don’t often see – a majestic place that is a home to all of us. And now that this book is in front of us, we have to ask ourselves: “Is all this worth rethinking the path we are on?” Now, because Salgado has made this book, we have to make a choice.

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Everybody Street

051325-street004Balloon caterpillar hat on Water Street made sometimes last summer.

We just watched Everybody Street, a documentary about street photography in New York featuring some of the most prominent photographers working in that particular broad genre. The trailer is bellow. Best $5 I’ve spent lately.

[embed width=”500″ height=”400″]https://vimeo.com/ondemand/everybodystreet[/embed]

Perfect combination

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Apologies in advance for analog photographer geek post. I am in love with HP5+ exposed at 1600 ISO and developed in Rodinal at 1:50 concentration at 20ºC for 24 minutes. I love everything about it, which is really funny because I dislike HP5+. I really tried to like it at its stated 400 speed, but it just did not work for me. This – this is a whole other story. Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Blazinal developer, a Canadian version of famous Rodinal, one of the oldest photographic chemicals still in use. It was originally patented in 1891. It’s the stuff of legends. I tried so far Rodinal with HP5+, Pan F, Efke KB50, Delta 100, HP5+ at 100 ISO. I tried 1:25 dilution and 1:50 dilution and until I saw HP5+ at 1600 I was really not all that impressed to be honest. But this – wow.

On top are The Rooms. Bellow is Duckworth Street, Carter’s Hill, and lonely public phones at the University Centre.

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On The Go

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I am a bit surprised, in a good way, about the attention my presentation to to the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association has been getting. There are even some interesting projects that might come out of it. Somehow, CBC has learned about my talk and I had a chance to speak with On The Go host Ted Blades (also a photographer and a former rangefinder user.) Here is a link to that conversation.

The photo was made on Fogo Island.

Photographers, researchers, and librarians: A love story

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On Monday, I delivered the following presentation to the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association at their annual conference. This is a rough script – not 100% accurate.

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I am going to make one of those terrible presenter mistakes and start my talk with a disclaimer. In your programs, it says that I am manager of knowledge mobilization with The Harris Centre and that is true. Except, what I am going to say today has nothing to do with my work work and I am most certainly not speaking on behalf of the Harris Centre… Phew… What I am going to do is share quite a few photographs and a lot of personal opinion.

Librarians.003With that out of the way, let me thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today. It is actually quite rare for photographers to have a chance to speak to non-photographers… or anyone for that matter. To have a chance to speak to an audience of librarians, archivists and curators is indeed a special treat and I am grateful to Amanda for approaching me in the first place.

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I have only about 20 minutes, so there are going to be a lot of generalizations in the things I say today. I am sorry about that, but feel free to ask questions, email me or simply ask me to go out for a cup of coffee or a beer and I’ll be happy to talk your ear off with nuances of everything I am about to say.

Librarians.005I want to talk about three things that are, or at least should be, interlinked. I’d like to talk about photography as a research tool; photography as a communications tool; and the importance of photography collections and why I think that archivists, curators and librarians who understand photographs are incredibly important to us photographers, but also to researchers and society at large.

Librarians.006Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My original degree is in journalism. My photojournalism education left a lot to be desired. It was focused on news photography and sports and I would have never become a photographer if not for one assignment in my first year that, as clichéd as that sounds, changed my life. We were asked to write an essay about a photographer whose work we liked. I did not have a favourite photographer at that time so I did the only sensible thing – I went to a library. Calgary Public Library had, and for all I know still has, a decent collection of photography books on its ground floor.

Librarians.007There, I discovered a book of photographs by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof. Those photographs were a revelation. Nobody ever told me that as a photographer you can build a substantial, even exhaustive, body of work that goes well beyond a single news photograph. I did not think about it in those terms then, but what appealed to me was the fact that Werner Bischof was a photographer who was doing research – systematically investigating matters of interest.

Librarians.008Journalism and photojournalism as industries are in trouble these days although, I think, they suffer largely from self-inflicted wounds. Like many, I left the industry and had other jobs, but slowly started developing my own photo-research projects. I photographed my neighbourhood in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Librarians.009I photographed a crew of a tug boat,  city’s chefs, and city streets. I had this idea about working on a project about small islands. Eventually, I decided to give photojournalism another try so I worked full time as a freelancer for about a year.

Librarians.010This is my most published photograph from that year. This woman, whose maiden name was Weed, was not allowed to use her maiden name on the license plate of her new Mustang because New Brunswick government thought that it could be seen as promoting marijuana or something like that. The photograph was made for CanWest News and it was published in newspapers right across the country. For a year afterwards, when you googled my name, you would get a page of variations on this photo. I hated this photograph. To me, it was everything that was wrong with photojournalism – shallow, pointless and with no impact. But I still loved photography. And I still wanted to photograph small islands.

Librarians.011It so happened that five years ago, I had a chance to move to Newfoundland. Which was, obviously, great if you wanted to photograph islands. I turned portion of that idea about small islands into an MA project. My ethics approval did not allow for photographs of people so I reinvented myself as a landscape photographer.

Librarians.012As I was doing my research, photography was just a tiny part of it. Given the nature of my investigation, that was fine. However, as I built a collection of photographs from Croatia and Newfoundland, I started asking questions. Why do Newfoundlanders build with wood and Croatians with stone?

Librarians.013Why do houses in a Croatian fishing village stubbornly stick together, while houses in a Newfoundland fishing village spread themselves along the shore? Is it really just matter of climate or can we see here political, economic and social layers that create island identities?

Librarians.014With all those questions in my head I wanted to find out if I could make photography a bigger, or even the most important part of some future research project. This is where things got a bit strange.

Librarians.015Over the past 30 years, a rift seems to have opened between the academic research and those like me actually making photographs. On the academic side, we developed some pretty impressive ways to analyse photographs.

Librarians.016Dr. Gillian Rose has an excellent overview in a book called “Visual Methodologies.” She identified eight different kinds of analysis. They are: compositional interpretation, content analysis, semiology, discourse analysis I, discourse analysis II, audience studies, anthropological approach to photographs…

Librarians.017Each of these is useful in its own way as an analytical tool. If you wanted to analyse portraits of St. John’s residents in 1902, some of these would be very useful indeed. What they are not terribly useful for is actually creating a photographic body of work as a part of a research process. In fact, outside of how-to-books these days more concerned with digital editing techniques than actual photography, you will find very little about photography as a research practice. For that, you have to step across the divide and talk to photojournalists and documentary photographers. They, unfortunately, may not have time to talk.

Librarians.018They are caught between a horrendous mismanagement of the outlets they work for and unprecedented technological changes in their craft. They are trying to demonstrate the relevance of deliberate and thoughtful photography in today’s image saturated world and develop new forms of storytelling that will keep the viewers, and the advertisers, glued to real and virtual pages.

Librarians.019One thing both groups, the academics and the practitioners, have in common is their concern with ethics in photography. But even here we have a rift. Academic rules of institutional ethics are largely driven by universities’ desire to protect themselves from liability, while photographers’ concerns are much more nuanced they get completely lost in the current fight between the photographers and their employers over who actually owns photographers’ work.

Librarians.020The result of focus on liability among academic administrators is a virtual ban on creation of new photographic work within academic context. In fact, the “ethics creep” is now spilling over even into more mundane methods of academic research such as interview. Here at Memorial, you are advised by the ethics board not to ask questions that might upset the person you are having a conversation with. I am afraid that road leads directly to boring research that nobody cares about enough to even get upset by it. But I digress.

Librarians.021To summarize so far: We live surrounded by photographic material, more so than ever before. Yet, we have a situation where academic researchers are almost solely preoccupied with analysing other peoples’ work. There is no concern with the actual creation of new photographic documentary material and we do not teach the actual craft of photography at all as part of our methodology classes – not even in visual methodologies. In fact, in this country, through the ethics process, we made it nearly impossible to engage in photographic practice as a valid research method.

Librarians.022Depriving ourselves of a research tool is only a part of the problem. We are also denying ourselves an excellent communications tool and, to use a phrase tossed so lightly these days, an engagement tool. Let me explain what I mean with a historical reference and a personal story.

Librarians.023The most extensive, deliberately created collection of documentary photographs anywhere in the world is about 80 years old. To this day, the work of Farm Security Administration photographers such as Dorothea Lang, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, under the directorship of Roy Stryker remains unchallenged. Their work still inspires debate about the Great Depression and still serves as a bar many a documentary photographer aims for. We are incredibly lucky here in Newfoundland and Labrador to have, in the Fogo Process films, another example of a deliberate creation of a visual record of a particular place and point in time. We also have great work from Candace Cochrane, Greg Lock, Jamie Lewis and Sheilagh O’Leary made in subsequent years. It is fragmented, but it is there.

Librarians.024In both cases, the intent was not to just record and witness, but to open channels of communications and influence public opinion and public policy. I am perfectly willing to admit that both of those collections are, for all intents and purposes, propaganda as much as they are a documentary material. In the case of FSA, the administration explicitly set as the goal of the photographic program “to introduce America to Americans” and influence public policy. In the case of Fogo Island, with huge support from the university and the National Film Board, the Fogo Process aimed to start dialogue between Fogo islanders and the government, again with the explicit goal of influencing public policy. Above all, those photographic and film collections were a superb communications tools that still, decades after the creation of that material, engage citizens in a dialogue about the way we live our everyday lives.

Librarians.025Most of the time, that ability of photographs to create dialogue is something researchers and art galleries, and sometimes photographers forget. When we as researchers, and I am very much guilty of it myself, use photographs, we merely treat them as illustrations and a sort of a marker that says “I, Bojan Fürst, have been conducting research on Change Islands and this photograph is a proof of it.” We could use photographs to do so much more than that.

Librarians.026Let me tell you a quick story. About two years ago, my supervisor invited me to visit Fair Island in Indian Bay. Fair Island is a resettled community that used to be a home to her husband and now is a cottage island for the families that used to live there. While there, I took some photographs because that’s what I do.

Librarians.027I thought this was the most important photograph I took that day. What you see here are two men making fish. There is nothing remarkable about this photograph except that neither of these two men is a fisherman. One is a pipe fitter and the other one is a marketing executive with a video gaming company. They are engaged in an activity they both see as an important part of their identity, but an activity that is economically meaningless. All of that in a community that officially does not even exist. The geographer in me thought this may be in many ways a quintessential photograph of 21st century rural Newfoundland. I made other photographs that day and I posted one of them on my blog. That’s how Dr. Beverly Diamond and Dr. Katie Szego found it and asked me if they can use it in a film they were making as a part of a class project about Stan Pickett, an accordion player originally from Fair Island. I was invited to attend a screening and had a chance to meet Mr. Pickett.

Librarians.028I was introduced to Stan and we got chatting. I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of other photos from Fair Island. His eyes glanced over the fish-making photo, but the little pond, the pillars of the old church and the photo of stages and stores at the end of a wharf caught his attention. It turns out that the little pond known as ‘the rink’ sitting in ‘the meesh’ or marsh was not just a place to play a game of hockey, but also a major social space. There were bonfires on the neighbouring hills and games and midnight runs with torches between the hills. Stan could just spin one story after another and I kept wishing I had a recorder rolling.

Librarians.029This photo brought the memories of what he called “old-year-out-new-year-in-day” and downhill races in an old wooden punt that would end at the bottom of the gulch and, sometimes, in the ocean. And the church pillars? Well it was his dad who started the church and… It was magical. It was as if those photographs opened a dam holding back years of memories.

Librarians.030Photographs can do that because, as Dr. Rob Finley once told me, our photo albums are really oral histories. So we as researchers and photographers have to start using our photographs to start some of those conversations. For some time now photojournalists and documentary photographers have been trying to do that. Larry Towell’s exhibits are sometimes accompanied by sounds and artifacts he collects in the field while photographing. Jim Goldberg takes his photographs back to those who appear in them and asks them to write their responses on the actual prints creating unique pieces of collaborative art.

Librarians.031There are always going to be issues of who has the right to photograph whom. We are never going to be rid of those questions. I think we have to be aware of those issue, but at the same time we cannot let fear prevent us from exploring and using photography in our research and as a communications and a collaboration tool. In academia, we don’t teach the actual practice of photography and we limit its use through an onerous ethics process designed to minimize liability rather than actually address ethical concerns – especially in social research. Photographers and photojournalists are consummate craftspeople, but given the current state of the media they have little support and even less recognition for the work they do. They have even less time and no support to take on long term documentary projects. Right there is an opportunity for collaboration.

Librarians.032But researchers and photographers and those like me who do combine both skills cannot do it alone. We need support and that’s where you as curators, archivists and librarians come in. We don’t need money from you, although feel free to send some our way. We need the second pair of eyes, we need guidance and passion. We need you to build collections, we need you to guide us as we build our own collections, we need you to help us find innovative ways to show and display photographs and allow others to engage with them. In some ideal world, you would have power to commission photographers to fill in the gaps in existing collections and create brand new ones. Wouldn’t be great if the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Provincial Archives, the provincial art bank, the Department of Geography and CNA’s photojournalism students from Stephenville found a way to work together to answer some questions that we need answered. What does it mean to live in rural Newfoundland today? What is working in off shore industry like? Are we going to have systematic visual record of the construction of the Lower Churchill hydro project – the largest infrastructure projects in the province’s history?

Librarians.033It is ironic that in the age when photography is so readily available we are going to have perfect record of our cappuccino foam designs, but may not know what an iron mine in western Labrador looks like. I know that these are not terribly progressive times. We as cultural workers, if you will, are going through hard times in an age of unprecedented prosperity. We have provincial and federal governments perfectly willing to reduce public libraries and archives into mere warehouses.

Librarians.034But governments and government policies are not forever. Because these are the hard times – this is also the time to dream. Remember, Dorothea Lang and the FSA worked in the hardest of times to make iconic photographs. My dream is that all of us together will soon start working on introducing Newfoundland and Labrador to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Librarians.035Thank you.

 

Photographers, researchers, and librarians: A love story

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Change Islands, The Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back

Today, I am giving a presentation on the links between research, photography and librarians/curators/archivists at the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association conference.

This post is sort of a resource post to back up some of the things I say in that talk. So if you are a regular reader, I hope you find it useful. If you are coming here for the first time as a result of the talk, welcome…

Werner Bischof photographs on Magnum Photos website

Rose, Gillian. Visual Methodologies: an Introduction to Interpretation of Visual Material.

Haggerty, Kevin. “Ethics Creep: Governing Social Science Research in the Name of Ethics.” in Qualitative Sociology.

Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist

Farm Security Administration wikipedia page

Farm Security Administration collection at the Library of Congress (Really??? In 2013 you have a website that looks like that???)

The Fogo Process webpage at the University of Guelph that is now a home for the Snowden Collection

Some of Candace Cochrane’s photos in Newfoundland Quarterly

Greg Lock’s Journey into a Lost Nation

Sheilagh O’Leary’s Island Maid and Twinning Lines

Jamie Lewis’s They Let Down Baskets

CNA journalism program blog

Testing new rig…

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First shots from with ZI and a 35mm C-Biogon 2.8. Sorry for run of the mill shots, needed to test the lens and not much chance yesterday beside boardroom desk and kids… As you can see, Miss F. was not quite a willing subject 😉

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Photography rant… and photos from Fair Island

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Recently, a full-time photojournalism position opened at a local daily. I considered applying. For years, that was the kind of job I really wanted. It was the only job I wanted. And then it struck me that I don’t want that job any more. Or at least, I don’t want the job that I would be asked to do. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about where, when and why my own view of what photojournalism should be diverged from what photojournalism is. Some of it has to do with technology, but there are other and more important things, too.

The imaging technology has changed dramatically and I am bored to death with it. I am bored with new digital cameras. I am bored with megapixels and neverending upgrade cycles. I am bored with HD video. I am particularly bored with videos that start out out of focus and then slowly bring into focus some mundane and usually irrelevant object or a generic street scene. I am bored by partially desaturated images. Entire newspapers filled with portraits bore me to tears. I am not bored, but offended by HDR – it’s just kitsch of the worst kind. I am also offended by selective colouring. I know, it was done in the 1920s as well as today. It was bad then and it’s bad now. Please let it die and please, please don’t publish it in daily newspapers. I am bored with journalists who are trying to be cool on twitter and I am bored with the publications that are forcing their writers and photographers to become celebrities. I am embarrassed to read tweets by local, national and international reporters passing themselves off as some sort of experts on one thing or another.

It’s never a good thing when a journalist becomes a story. The details are usually either sordid or horrifying and almost always a result of an unchecked ego better suited to some other professions. It’s cool to see your name in print, but a byline or a photo credit is where it should end. Just look at the two latest controversies in the world of photojournalism: the Paolo Pellegrin photo from an ill-conceived Magnum Rochester project (here, here, here) and the debate over this year’s World Press Photo winner Paul Hansen’s post-processing of the winning photograph (here and here). None of this did any good to anybody. It’s important to discuss and draw attention to, but it does no good. Somehow photojournalism stopped being about stories.

Local daily is a great example of that. At least once a week, the front page features a photo of some poor bastard dragged into or out of a courtroom. For the rest of the week we have people staring at us from the front page. I can’t figure out what that contributes to the readers’ understanding of the news the journalists and the editors obviously thought important enough to cover and print that day. It’s easy to criticize daily photojournalists. The pressures to produce something out of thin air is huge and the job is becoming more stressful than ever.  Deep down, I never was a daily photographer anyway. My heart had always been, even before I knew that, in long-form story telling both visual and narrative.

 

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Over the last few weeks, my wife dug out a set of 6×4 prints I gave her years ago. We always thought we should work on some sort of a collaborative project, but between kids, grad studies, moves and jobs there was no time for that. She pulled them out now and it is fascinating to watch these photographs come alive as poetry, essays, mini-plays and short stories. Then last Friday, I had one of those moments that reminded me what is that I love so much about photography. That story started almost two years ago.

My MA thesis supervisor invited me and the family to come with her and her husband to a small reunion held on Fair Island, a resettled island community off the east coast of the main island of Newfoundland. Her husband’s family were Fair Islanders. It was August, but the weather was miserable. Nonetheless, we went and we had great time. I made some photographs and posted one of them here. The photograph I liked the most was the one at the top of this post. Context is important here. The photograph (in my mind anyway) is called “A pipefitter and a gaming executive make fish in a resettled community.” What you see here are not two fishermen, although I suspect both of them would be happier if they were fishermen. What you see is two people with roots deep in a community that does not exist any more engaged in an activity that is crucial to their identity, but it is meaningless economically. For me, this is in many ways a quintessential Newfoundland small island photograph. Except, this past Friday I found out that this is not the most interesting or the most important photograph I made that day.

Sometime last year, I got a call from the Research Centre for Music, Media and Place at the university I work at asking if I would allow them to use the Fair Island photo they found on my blog. A few folks working at the centre were taking a beginners documentary film making class and they were producing a short doc on Stan Pickett, an accordion player originally from Fair Island. You can hear and see Stan play in the video bellow.


I said sure and told them that I had a few more photos and that they are free to chose any of them. They picked three. Last Friday, the class got together and screened the three shorts they made to a very small audience of their classmates and a few other people who in some way helped with their projects. I was invited as a courtesy and came out of curiosity. Stan Picket was in the audience, too.

The films were quite good. In fact, given that they were made in 14 weeks by people who never made a film before, they were great. After the screening, I was introduced to Stan and we got chatting. I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of other photos from Fair Island. His eyes glanced over the fish-making photo, but the little pond, the pillars of the old church and the photo of stages and stores at the end of a wharf caught his attention. He became animated and happy, in fact so happy that his excitement was contagious.

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It turns out that the little pond known as ‘the rink’ sitting in ‘the meesh’ (marsh) was not just a place to play a game of hockey, but also a major social space. There were bonfires on the neighbouring hills and games and midnight runs with torches between the hills. Stan could just spin one story after another and I kept wishing I had a recorder rolling. The photo below brought the memories of “old-year-out-new-year-in-day” and downhill races in an old wooden punt that would end at the bottom of the gulch and, sometimes, in the ocean. And the church pillars? Well it was his dad who started the church and… It was magical.

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FairIsland17And that’s what photographs should do. They should tell stories, make us tell stories, and make us imagine stories. Today’s newspaper photography fails at all of it most of the time and I am not naïve enough to think that I could somehow change that even if I could get that job in what is bound to be an insanely intense competition. So, I’ll keep doing it my way and, thanks to Stan, I have a great idea for a project.

EDITED FOR TYPOS AND CLARITY.