The Digest – June 3rd, 2012

©Matthew Brandt‘Lakes, Trees and Honeybees’- [Time LightBox]

I was back in Minnesota last weekend visiting and relaxing so I didn’t get around to putting out The Digest. I’m always fairly active on Twitter and Tumblr (sometimes Facebook) if you want to keep up with what I’m up to during the week. I wrote a short post about wrapping up Issue 4 and ‘what’s next’ for LPV, so please do take a look at that if you’re interested. It was a busy two weeks with one fairly large controversy that I’m sure many of you read about in some form or another. Let’s jump into the fray.

The Ron Haviv Controversy

There’s been so much written about this already that a summation would take far too long, so I’ll be brief. The guys at duckrabbit wrote an article about how photographs from VII photographer Ron Haviv were being used by the arms industry. The photographs are listed on Haviv’s site under ‘commercial campaigns.’ Here’s his response. VII has issued a statement as well, but my impression is that most people didn’t find either to be all that satisfactory. Jorg wrote an excellent piece, saying “if you’re taking money from arms manufacturers you’re in bed with the wrong people.”

The cynic in me doesn’t find this at all surprising and given the complexity of the world, I think it’s difficult for any of us to get overly self-righteous about the compromises we sometimes need to make in order to survive. However, if you’re a photojournalist covering conflict with the sort of conviction that Haviv demonstrates, I don’t think it would be all that difficult to simply say ‘no thanks’ when the arms industry comes calling. I mean, I’m sure it was a nice payday for Haviv, but not the type of deal that he would absolutely need in order to survive.

I’m not a photojournalist out there hustling to make a living and tell stories, so I don’t know the reality these guys face, but this type of controversy seems like something that could easily be avoided. Reading between the lines of the VII statement, I kind of get the impression that there might be rather intense discussions happening behind closed doors. My hunch is that eventually they’ll come out and in some way acknowledge that VII photographers shouldn’t be taking money from the arms industry. In my mind, they really have no other choice if they want to continue claim integrity as one of their core values.

Know Your Photography History

Brooks Jensen of Lens Work wrote a couple of pieces this week admonishing people for not knowing their photography history.

I had a conversation with a young photographer last week — a recent MFA photography graduate who shall remain nameless. Hopefully forever. I suggested that his work would be seen, compared, and judged in the context of those who had done similar work before him, for example Edward Weston. To which he responded, “Who?” I was nonplussed. How is it possible to have earned an MFA in photography and never heard of Edward Weston? Are they not teaching photographic history anymore? Curious, I asked him. He explained, “It was an elective, but I didn’t take it.

Naturally, a certain segment of photoland will be outrage but for me it’s not that big of a deal. I know some people are hung up on the photography canon, and while it’s certainly important, these days I think at the MFA level photography is probably fully integrated with the visual arts. Or at least I’m guessing the range of visual influences for MFA students extends far beyond the photography canon.

Mr. Jensen’s follow up article about why he believes photography history is so important is a good read as well.

©Irina Rozovsky‘Photographing Prospect Park’ [The New Yorker]

Links of Note

‘Photography and Memory:’ A nice piece from Jorg on a topic I think about frequently.

With negative film, this relationship becomes once removed – the negatives were in the same place, the print was in all likelihood made somewhere else. Digital photography has completely erased it – there is no negative, and the raw image exists in a way that is far removed from anything visual. The print… well, if there is a print, it was made somewhere else. Usually, there is no print. The digital image exists like a chimera – showing up on one’s computer or smart-phone screen, maybe for an instant, and then gone again. Digital photographs thus are closest to our memories – they are fleeting, they can be manipulated easily, and by their very nature, there are a lot of them, existing in some badly organized state.

But still… Even digital photographs give us something to hold on to. They exist outside or our minds. All photographs, when used as memories, give us something to hold on to.

‘Interview: Blake Andrews, Part III:’ The final installment of a great interview.

I’m generally looser as a shooter and tighter as an editor. I’m less formal with a camera than I used to be. I used to spend a lot of time lining up shapes and worrying about precision in photos. Now I’m more open to chance and natural flow. I don’t want to dominate the moment so much. I want my photos to look more like snapshots than formal landscapes. I want to tap into that thing that can’t be tapped into, but you know it when it’s been tapped. And that’s where the editing comes in. What’s been tapped? I’m pickier now about images. I won’t print some now that I might have printed before, especially street stuff. It has to have some twist or spark which is fairly rare.

I have more experience looking at other work now. I keep up with what’s out there and I think it’s made me more skeptical. I’m more open to other photographic approaches but also more picky, more sure of myself. I used to look through the books at Powell’s and marvel at all the great photo books that were out there. I wanted so many. Now when I browse the stacks I wonder, “How did this shit get published?” Most of it strikes me as pretentious crap. So I guess I’m more of an arrogant asshole now. At the same time I’m more receptive to a wider range of approaches. I have an appreciation for portraits, for a example, in a way that I didn’t just five years ago. So it’s a paradox. Go figure.

‘Henri Cartier-Bresson:’ Adam Marelli deconstructs HCB’s compositions. I found this to be interesting and I think we need more of it, but not necessarily just focusing on the legends. Deconstructing why a photography works for you aesthetically can be tough but it’s incredibly important.

The famous Robert Capa mantra “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough” does not always apply.  Cartier-Bresson shows us that photography is a finesse game.  It requires careful observation, patience, and a trained eye that recognizes when something is missing.  Without the final character the photograph is dead.  The photograph is a pointless landscape, devoid of significance.  Once the distant figure comes into place, the light switch flicks on for a second and the whole moment is permanently alive within the frame.

‘Photography Projects:’ A bit brash but Frank Petronio makes a few interesting points about about projects. In general though I don’t think it’s really ever a good idea to admonish the way others work in a such a way. Every approach has its flaws and can be easily dismissed and criticized.

It all looks like people are calculating what they shoot, forget the emotion or intuition. Photographing in such careful accordance of the expectations of academic art lacks integrity to me. The elements of chance and rebellion are essential to photography, yet it is difficult to find portfolios of inspirational photographers willing to take chances or counter the prevailing aesthetic.

‘My Relationship with the Monograph:’ A nice article from Evan Baden on Foam.

In the end it is all about what I can learn from the book. If I just want to see images these days I can find most of them in the vastness of the Internet; and if an artist really cares about people seeing their work, they will have a website where I can look through all of the work. But with a book I don’t just want to look, I want to look inside. I want to learn something more about the work than I can get from just seeing images. I want that book to further my understanding of the work so that the next time I see it on the wall my experience with it will change. I want to be taught. After all, isn’t that what books are for?

‘GUT/GOD REACTION:’ A good conversation between Eric Stephanian and Marc Feustel.

Nowadays everything is accessible immediately. I can look at everything. I can look at everything which is being made right now and I can look at everything that has ever been made. The reason why critical writing and thinking is important is because otherwise all of this stuff will just float around, in the air. There is no more context. Things just become superficial and disconnected. People loose that connection between which is being made right now and which has ever been made. And they can’t realize that it totally comes from there! And that’s what I call floating around in the air. It has to become more than eating a candy.

©Myra Greene‘Some of her best friends are white’ [LENS Blog]


  • duckrabbit

    Great set of links, as ever.

    I think its worth pointing out that Haviv is the top earner at VII. So the suggestion (that he has never propagated but has been suggested) that in some ways he needs to take the dollars from the arms industry to survive, is absurd. Things are not in any way tight for Haviv.