BOJAN'S BLOG

Photographs, words and sounds
Posts Tagged ‘photography and design’

Media coverage of your favourite issue

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This post might upset a whole bunch of you. I am okay with that.

My social media feed on an almost weekly basis fills up with outraged posts about mainstream media not covering issue X. Stop doing that because most of the time it’s not true. It hasn’t been true with the Muskrat Falls development in Labrador, it hasn’t been true with the refugee crisis, and it’s not true with the Dakota Access Pipeline. So please stop saying that kind of stuff because you become the problem every time you say it. There is lots of coverage of any given issue. For the sake of the argument, I am going to post stuff that is in my news feed TODAY on Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests surrounding it (I could do the same with climate change, refugees, you name it):

So please stop it. You are all smarter than that. Please stop saying that mainstream media is not covering your favourite issue of the day. They are. They are also covering a whole bunch of other stuff that is just as important (like deforestation in Borneo, or migrant and refugee crisis, or the latest developments in Kurdistan). If you think the coverage of whatever issue you care about is biased or incomplete, than engage with those stories and journalists. Provide facts in your comments, suggest sources that would make the story better, offer your own expertise if you have it. Vast majority of today’s journalists can be reached through comments or social media. It’s really, really easy to help them correct a mistake or make their stories better.

There are a lot of problems with today’s media industry. They need to figure out a whole bunch of things. You telling them they are not doing their jobs when THEY CLEARLY ARE is not helping. Once independent, professional journalism is gone, you are not going to get it back. Your favourite site that posts unedited and out of context phone videos on social media, or an individual who thinks it’s cool to post a 47 years old photo and claim that the media is not properly covering an event,  are not going to be an adequate replacement for thoughtful coverage of complex issues. Whether you like it or not, thoughtful, in-depth coverage requires significant resources, multitude of skills, structures, and editorial oversight. There are some interesting funding models that make that possible outside of a typical corporate structure – crowdfunding, voluntary subscriptions, paywalls, collaborations with public agencies or not-for profits, co-ops, social enterprise models and so on. Not a single one of these or all of them taken together can, at this point, replace the resources, the reach, the depth, and the skill that the New York Times, the Star, CBC, or the Guardian can bring to covering an issue. So let’s help journalists and reporters do their jobs better while they are trying to do a heck of a lot more with a heck of a lot less then ever before.

Also, if you want independent, long-form journalism in Atlantic Canada you can support The Deep and their crowdfunding campaign right here.

/rant

The photograph is from a recent protest against Muskrat Falls hydro development project in front of the Colonial Building in St. John’s, NL.

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.

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:

Canadian media, unions, and a flashback

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Today, there is more news about layoffs in Canadian media industry. This time it’s not the CBC that is getting decimated, but Postmedia. They are laying off 90 reporters and merging newsrooms in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa. In the meantime, the people responsible for the chaos are collecting seven and six figure salaries. I guess it takes enormous effort to be consistently that greedy and incompetent. The situation is no better in Halifax where the unionized employees of the Chronicle Herald have voted in favour of a strike action after the management presented a truly reprehensible list of demands.

All of it is a bit of a deja vu, to be honest. In 1999 and 2000, Ms. M and I worked for a small news agency covering southern Alberta for major metro dailies. Those were contract positions filled mostly by students like us and they required that you have your own equipment and a car and that you work from home. We lived in a small bachelor apartment in Inglewood and, honestly, those were sweet times. We were newlyweds and we thought we were making inroads in the media industry. Then the Calgary Herald strike happened. It lasted a year if I remember correctly. At one point, about half way through the strike, we were all hauled into a meeting with our editor and this guy they brought from Ontario (St. Catherine’s, I think) as the new publisher whose job was to bust the union. He intermittently yelled at us and tried to sweet-talk us into crossing the picket line. When it became obvious, with the exception of one person, that none of us had any intention of doing so, he told us he will make sure none of us ever worked in the media industry in western Canada. He was true to his word. As far as I know, none of us did – except the guy who crossed the picket line. That asshole who threatened us? He has recently published a book about leadership.

It became quickly obvious to me and Ms. M. that if we wanted media jobs, the best we could do was to move and so we did. A couple of months after we left, the Calgary Herald strike ended. One of the conditions was that the union had to be dissolved.

On this week’s episode of Canadaland, Jesse Brown has a conversation with Nora Loreto about the role of unions in Canadian media. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that I do support the show financially with a subscription. In this episode Jesse Brown, the host of Canadaland, is his usual somewhat pompous and somewhat unaware-of-the-world-outside-of-his-bubble self and Nora Loreto doesn’t appear to understand anybody younger than 35, but I think it was very important to have that conversation publicly. We need unions more than ever, but something needs to change and it needs to change quickly. The unions have to figure out how to make themselves relevant to a new generation of workers – journalists included.

In 2000, we did not cross the picket line because we had respect for the Herald journalists. We were never approached by the union, never offered their side of the story, nobody explained to us what was at stake. In the end, they were just lucky we felt solidarity with the people we saw as our colleagues. Or maybe we were just not yet aware that it would take another 15 years before we paid off our student loans. They can’t expect to be that lucky all of the time.

In the photo is a decidedly non-unionized shoeshiner on the Water Street in St. John’s

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.

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.

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.

For your Sunday amusement

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The photo above was made on the streets of Dublin, right next to Trinity College. Funny place, Dublin.

When I see work of people such as Bulgarian Penko Gelev, I wish I had a fraction of their talent. If I did, I think I would do nothing but draw. Here is a lovely and occasionally humorous set of illustrations called “Village.”

The final versions of Nathan Walsh’s urban landscapes are a bit over the top for my taste, but you got to admire the technique and the skill.

Calvin Seibert’s amazing sandcastles are not exactly your typical royal abodes.

Stefan Kuhnigk’s coffee stain monsters are adorable.

There are only 12 Master Penmen (what about women?) in the world. Meet the youngest of them: Jake Weidmann.

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.

Photography related links

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Vis on Vis island, Croatia.

Some photo links today:

Guardian has a story and interview with Stephen Shore on his exhibit in Arles.

An interesting story on women photojournalists in [LENS]. Incidentally, I believe June issue of National Geographic had all the stories but one photographed by women and you could see the difference in approach, subjects, and themes they covered.

Fantastic photographs and a very important story in New York Times Magazine on Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker’s efforts to dismantle organized labour in America.

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.

 

On CBC…

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Sometime today, the CBC president will hold a “town hall” meeting with CBC employees and tell them that as many as 600 jobs may be lost in near future. There will be platitudes about hard times and budget cuts and budget overruns and lost revenue and changing media landscape and it’s all going to be utter bullshit.

My heart goes out to friends and acquaintances who work for our public broadcaster and many, many voices that over the years became a part of my Canadian experience. No matter how many times this happens, it never gets easier. And every time it happens, this country is a little bit poorer and a little bit less Canadian.

I don’t have it in me to write a long post. It just makes me too sad and too angry to even think about it so below is something I wrote in 2009:

On CBC

I don’t remember the first time I listened to CBC radio. It must have been sometime in 1994 or 1995. I was a lanky teenager who just landed in Calgary armed with nine years of French classes and barely a word of English. In my mind, Canada was a bilingual country so the fact that my English was nonexistent didn’t bother me too much.

You can imagine how useful my French was in Calgary. That first year, I was taking English as a second language classes and struggling to understand news stories in the Calgary Sun, the only paper that ever made it into my uncle’s house. The first book I ever read in English was Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I feel like I should apologize for it, but a 19 year old from Croatia who just crossed half a world on his own thought that was pretty deep stuff.

I believe it was my English language teacher who suggested that I should listen to CBC. And I never stopped listening. And secretly, deep down, I harboured the idea that one day, maybe, despite my accent and background, I’ll be a good enough journalist to work for CBC.

As a journalism student, I worked with my broadcasting professor on minimizing my heavy accent. I was reading out loud and taping passages from Winston Churchill’s memoirs. The aim was to soften my rolling rs, round my ws, form the th sound properly and clean up my guttural hs. It was hard work, much harder than I expected.

I have two CBC memories from those J-school days. I remember sitting in the auditorium with my fellow communications students from public relations and technical writing streams. It was funny, because we were separated even then. Tech writers and us, journalists, sprawled in the seats on the right hand side of the room and slickly dressed, sophisticated public relations students on the left. Our guest speaker was the host of Calgary Eyeopener – CBC’s morning show. He regaled us with stories from the front lines of journalism and then opened the floor to questions. A public relations student got up and asked him how does he prefer to receive press releases. His answer was something along these lines:

“Well, I have a routine in the morning. I get in. I make myself a cup of coffee. Then, I walk over to the fax machine and I gather the reams of paper that sit there. There is a garbage bin next to the machine and I just dump it all in.”

The right hand side of the auditorium exploded in howls of laughter, while the folks on the left sat in stunned silence. Of course, his point was that a journalist shouldn’t let PR people spoon-feed him the stories.

My second memory of CBC has to do with a paper I was supposed to write for one of my classes. I decided that I will interview Brenda Finley who, at the time, worked as an anchor for CBC Alberta. I don’t remember anything about it except that I felt intimidated and embarrassed because it was so painfully obvious that there was only one journalist in that room and it wasn’t me.

Eventually, I ended up working as a photographer and writer. I never stopped listening to CBC. As I crossed this massive land from west to east, I appreciated ever more the vastness of landscape and the work it takes to keep this country together. In all my years in Canada, CBC was there to teach me about places I left, places I arrived in and places so far away and so far out of my realm of experience that they appeared exotic. CBC introduced me to the stories of the far north, it told me about the shenanigans of my municipal government, it made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me think about things I would otherwise never be exposed to, but above all, it made me realize that this country and this world speak in a multitude of voices and that without CBC I would never hear any of them.

A few years back a friend of mine who works at CBC convinced me that I should give CBC a try as a freelancer. I was skeptical. I never got over the embarrassment of my accent and I am still not over it. Radio was a new medium to me and I felt unsure of my ability to do it right. My friend is a kind and persistent soul and only thanks to him my first CBC piece made it on air.

Later that year, I developed two short documentaries from Croatia for CBC’s Dispatches. That was my most rewarding experience as a journalist. For the first time, I felt that I did what a journalist is supposed to do, add another set of voices to our collective experience, voices that otherwise might not have been heard.

This week, my friend and hundreds of his colleagues at CBC might find themselves without jobs. If that happens, if they walk out of their newsrooms and studios in Iqaluit, in Sydney, in Medicine Hat, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in Toronto and Prince Rupert and dozens of other communities across this land, if they walk out and don’t come back the next day, and the day after, and the day after that one, there will be thousands of voices and thousands of stories we will never hear. Some will argue that in the grand scheme of things, those voices and those stories don’t matter anyway, but somehow, I doubt that’s true. I think those voices and those stories are the only things that really matter.

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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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.

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.

CBC Dispatches

In 2007, I did two documentaries for CBC’s Dispatches. One was on Croatian elections at the time and the other on the aftermath of the conflict in the Croatian city of Vukovar, which was completely destroyed in the war during the early 1990s. That documentary, with a selection of photographs that were never really meant to be published, is below.

Today, due to recent government cuts, CBC has cancelled Dispatches. This was, without exaggeration, one of the top current international affairs programs in English language anywhere. What made it great was the team that put it together. I learned more about journalism and radio from Alan Guettel, Alison Masemann and Naheed Mustafa during our brief conversations while putting those documentaries together than in four years of university. And that is the real loss to Canadians. CBC and its flagship programs, like Dispatches, don’t just provide news and entertainment programming, but also provide mentoring and teaching opportunities for journalists, especially freelancers. I will miss the voice of Rick MacInnes-Rae and I will always be grateful to Alan, Alison and Naheed.

The last show will air in June. After that, in this increasingly interconnected world, we are going to be slightly poorer, slightly more parochial, slightly more ignorant, and slightly less Canadian- not by much in the grand scheme of things, but I am afraid that it is starting to add up.

In the photo is a door on a stage in a resettled community of Fair Island.

Eve Arnold 1912–2012

Eve Arnold passed away at the age of 99. Here is a selection of her photos and an interview on Magnum website and an obituary in the Guardian. Also at the Guardian, Beeban Kidron wrote a lovely story about her time as Arnold’s apprentice.

Street photography and merry-go-round

I am slowly making my way through fabulous Street Photography Now. Hands down one of the best books on street photography out there. Here are some photographers I really like:

Jens Olof Lashein is a Swede doing pretty darn interesting work all over eastern and southeastern Europe. Check his Moments in Between series as well as White Sea Black Sea.

Arif Asci is a Turkish photographer working on the streets of Istanbul and all over the world.

Cristóbal Hara is a Spanish photographer working in rural Spain and presenting his work almost exclusively in books.

Also check out Steidl’s website and awfully tempting collection of photography books.

The photograph above is from Split, Croatia, during the Saint Domnius celebrations this past spring. I love that old-fashioned merry-go-round. Made me think of Cliffhanger, Susan’s fabulous photo blog about carnies.

Croatian word of the day: vrtuljak merry-go-round

Garage sale and photo links

Today’s post is just like the photo up there – a little bit of everything.

First of all, the exhibit and my presentation at the North Atlantic Forum went reasonably well. My sincere thanks to all of you who donated, offered help or provided much needed workspace. You all rock and without you I wouldn’t have been able to make it  happen. I still owe some prints and few other things. Will get to it ASAP.

Between reading the stuff I have to read and work, which these days is busy and in some ways made needlessly stressful because, as nimble as my office is, we are still a part of a large bureaucracy, I am managing to read, in fits and starts, Street Photography Now. It’s a really fabulous collection of contemporary photography and it makes me itch to get out and shoot despite miserable weather. One of the photographers in there whose work I find very interesting is Georgie Georgiou – especially his work in rapidly urbanizing Turkey.

Also, speaking of street photography, check out a local St. John’s site A City Like Ours.

And two more links. The first one will take you to the work of Ed Smith, a Scottish photographer exploring his countries islands, among other things. The second one is a whimsical collection of Jim Dow’s diners… which reminds me, I have some corner stores to shot and a roll to develop.

Got to go now, there is a trip to Labrador to plan.

Muckety-mucks and Leica M9-P

Today, Leica Camera announced Leica M9-P, their cosmetically improved digital flagship M9. It’s beautiful. Just not $8,000 beautiful… However, at least they are getting them into the hands of real photographers. Here is Alex Majoli working with the new Leica in Venice.

In the photo is Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Just as I was taking this photo, a whole bunch of security officers who like to look like movie versions of American secret agents swarmed around the building in preparation for the arrival of, as my boss would say, muckety-muck with an inflated sense of importance.

Croatian word of the day: kazalište theatre [ka za li shte]

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A post for news junkies

A post for news junkies today.

Check out the newspaper map (h/t Coolhunting) – fascinating stuff combining two things I love: maps and newspapers. Some links are a bit out of date, but still cool.

If you’ve ever felt there is not enough good stuff to read on-line, that’s because you never gave a try to two excellent sources of long form journalism. The first one is longform.org, which constantly updates its offerings with some of the best and, sometimes, weirdest stuff out there. The second one is a bit less dynamic, but not less rich in content: The Best Magazine Articles Ever is a wonderful compilation of some ground breaking magazine writing. Check it out.

And for all of you Canadians who happen to be political junkies as well, poliTwitter.ca brings you all of Canada’s political tweets in one place, constantly updated and helpfully colour coded. Pure political crack.

Tilting on Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

Croatian word of the day: narkić junkie [nar ki ch]

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Islanders

Today on the menu are a couple of completely unrelated links about two things I care about: small islands and photography.

While doing some research for my thesis, I stumbled upon this story on Fogo Island and its changing fortunes in Investment Executive. The story is positive and talks about significant investment and some innovative development practices on the island, which are largely driven by Zita Cobb, a local multimillionaire and entrepreneur. However, the opening two paragraphs below hit on just about every stereotype that most none-islanders have about small islands – especially those without resident multimillionaires:

According to the laws of nature — or the uncompromising realities of business (because those are the same, right?)— Fogo Island should be an uninhabited, wind-swept footnote in Canadian history, an example of rurality retreating in an era of relentless urban centralization.

The island is, after all, reachable only by ferry (Umm… yeah — it’s an ISLAND)— a 50-minute voyage from the village of Farewell on the “mainland” of Newfoundland. The ferry ride is just the final stage in a lengthy journey to this isolated corner of Newfoundland’s northeast coast; only the truly dedicated would voluntarily travel the moose-infested highway (really, moose-infested, really?) to reach Fogo’s granite shores.

What bothers me about stories like this is that they play up those stereotypes of small island communities and islanders without actually seeing enormous potential that these relatively closed systems offer in terms of developing alternative approaches to food security, energy, education and training and cultural and heritage industries. They never acknowledge complex skill sets that islanders posses.

On a happier note, here is an interesting video featuring Matt Stuart (h/t to Peter Power), a contemporary British street photographer with a great visual sense of humour.

In the photograph are Newfoundland ponies on Change Islands.

Croatian word of the day: otočani islanders [oto cha ni]

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