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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why Does Lynsey Addario Have to Justify Her Work?

When Lynsey Addario and three others (Tyler Hicks, Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell) were released by the Libyan government, we all breathed a sigh of relief. An accomplished photographer who was honored with a MacArthur Genius Grant, Lynsey Addario is among the premier photojournalists working today. Yet after The New York Times ran an account of the release, several people commented by asking what a woman was doing in a war zone to begin with. I went back to look at the comments from their account, but most of the negative comments have been removed--why is that?.

There was this comment, however: "After the Lara Logan assault in Egypt, I consider it an act of utmost stupidity for any woman journalist to go into any war, combat zone. fighting strips people of much humanity and you should know that. And in an already sexually abusive towards woman region what was Lynsey doing there?? why didn't the 3 male reporters object for her own safety!
And why did NYT allow her to go on this mission!
The men, I dont care about ... thats what they do. The woman, in this region, with this much abuse potential.. someone should be sued !!!"

Coupled with esteemed photograher Harry Benson's recent screed about Lara Logan (who was molested by a crowd during her coverage of the uprising in Egypt): "The last place for a young, attractive woman to be is in the middle of an extremely dangerous situation surrounded by an angry mob. Not only does it put her in harm’s way, but it compromises her co-workers as well, since they have to try to protect her as best they can – sometimes an impossible task."

He continues, "I am all for women doing whatever job that men do. Honestly, many times I find the women I work with to be smarter than the men. But shame on the editors at CBS who assigned a beautiful woman to cover a very dangerous situation. Their lack of judgment should have been tempered with a little common sense. Their decision about whom to send to cover the uprising and political unrest should not have been made for fear of being politically incorrect."

Suddenly I feel like I'm back in the 1950's. Why the constant mention of "beautiful," and what the fuck is he talking about?

As Lynsey herself said: "To me, that’s grossly offensive. This is my life, and I make my own decisions. If a woman wants to be a war photographer, she should. It’s important. Women offer a different perspective. We have access to women on a different level than men have, just as male photographers have a different relationship with the men they’re covering.In the Muslim world, most of my male colleagues can’t enter private homes. They can’t hang out with very conservative Muslim families. I have always been able to. It’s not easy to get the right to photograph in a house, but at least I have one foot in the door. I’ve always found it a great advantage, being a woman."

It is insulting to Lynsey and all the other amazing photojournalists (including Caroline Cole, Carol Guzy, Stephanie Sinclair, Susan Meiselas, Nina Berman, Sara Terry, Mary F. Calvert and many others) who risk their lives, who make great sacrifices and who face danger to say they should not do what they believe in because they are women.

I do not need to recount the amazing bravery and accomplishments of women throughout history--or do I?. This is 2011: take your patriarchal, condescending, asshole ideas and throw them away. Women make choices and they live with them--same as men. We should thank those who are braver than ourselves for the incredible risks they sometimes have to take to show the world to us. Where would we be without them?

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

AIPAD Came and I Went

I went through AIPAD this year with Walter Mason of the Haggerty Museum, and he gave me a real lesson in prints and prices. It was fascinating since that is not my forte. And since we felt the same way about a lot of the work, I had a great time at AIPAD this year.

Let me just say that I was much more interested in the vintage prints than most of the contemporary work I saw. The luscious silver gelatin and platinum prints were so glossy and delicious I would have loved to buy them all. There were small gems everywhere you looked. I loved the cinematic quality of Yutaka Takanashi work from the mid-60's, and the multitude of anonymous historic images.

There were a number of Civil Rights-era photos capturing historic moments seen by Charles Moore, Steve Schaprio, Bill Eppridge, Grey Villet and others. I was really moved by them and felt reconnected with American history in a way that seems almost lost these days.
Charles Moore: Demonstrators Blasted Against a Doorway, Seventeenth Street, May 3, 1963.
As James Chaney's family awaited the drive to his burial, 12-year-old Ben gazed outward by Bill Eppridge (Monroe Gallery of Photography)
Grey Villet: The Little Rock Nine (Monroe Gallery of Photography)

There was a wonderful print of Eddie Adams' famed Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the point-blank execution of a Vietcong suspect, complete with red grease pencil crop line.

There was a decent amount of contemporary photography this year, and so much of it were large prints, frequently for no apparent reason that I can see except it has greater impact. I saw Alec Soth's new work, Broken Manual and wasn't especially impressed. I feel the same way about Alex Prager (below Film Still #1-Yancey Richardson Gallery). I can see the reasoning behind the work, but it just seems that it's an idea made for maximum sales. That's the same way I feel about Cindy Sherman's work. I can see why people would buy it, I just don't see the deeper meaning.

I saw some work that leaves me scratching my head and worried about the future of the medium. Lynn Bianchi's Dinner Conversation (below top), and Meghan Boody (bottom) are photographers whose work I really don't understand. It has no resonance with me, and seeing it at AIPAD makes me wonder who decides what is valuable. I know that art is subjective, but in a place filled with truly important and wonderful work, how did these pieces find galleries?

I did like the following work: Mark Seliger's nude from the Steven Kasher Gallery. I was sorry I missed this show, as I know Mark to be a photographer with real depth that you might not be aware of if you judge him simply from his Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair work.

How could you not love Robert Mapplethorpe's portrait of Patti Smith?

And Richard Renaldi's Smashed Water Tower (Robert Morat Galerie) is a delight, looking like a deflated balloon in the landscape.

Martine Fougeron was there with her wonderful work of teenagers in all their glory, a class contrast with Chris Killip's early 80's portraits of British kids. And then there were these wonderful photograph--Frida Kahlo in New York, and an amazing Norman Parkinson. So fresh and exciting; why I don't see more exciting work like this?

I see so much derivative work around. I guess that's to be expected in general, but to see things at AIPAD that are photographs of subjects others have done more successfully is a shame. Christian Patterson was an assistant to William Eggleston, and you can just tell by looking at the work. Couldn't he have chosen different subject matter to base his career on? Or is he represented by a gallery because he was Eggleston's assistant?

Michael Wolf's Google Street View series was represented by a giant print, and it still makes me furious. Talk about doing nothing to create something. Taking a photo of a screen does not make a body of work. And the weird thing was I really liked another body of his work, showing faces seen through the windows of Japanese commuter trains. I believe the series is called Tokyo Compression. Those were wonderful, giving me a glimpse into the people caught staring blankly out of train windows. I loved the way faces were smushed into the glass, with condensation covering the windows.

I also loved the vintage prints of Herbert Ponting, taken during Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to the Ross Sea and South Pole . The portraits were so beautiful, the men so attractive, it was almost like a Ralph Lauren ad. You would think they were fashion models if not for the frost-bitten lips and skin. (Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery)

I have seen so many animal portraits--dogs seem to be of special mention. Charlotte Dumas' (top) portraits didn't impress me as much as Ponting's portrait of the heroic Sled Dog. (bottom)

Steven Kasher Gallery

But perhaps the most confounding work I saw was Ayano Sudo's "They are not me, but me" series of portraits. Done with candy colors, and glitter! (yes, you heard me right), they sprang from the world of Japanese child-like culture, full of surface youth and beauty, with nothing deep to ground them in reality. I can see why people would buy them and think they were very cool for owning something like this, but to be honest, these images depress me. They are like candy cotton (and even reflect those colors), and it's as if you could eat them without having realized it. All style with no substance.

I thought art was meant to challenge or illuminate the world for us. At best they express emotions that pull us into their world and upset our way of looking at things. Or at least that is what I'd like to think. Too much of what I saw at AIPAD was mediocre. The work didn't stay with me, didn't make me think about it days after the show. If I wasn't writing this it would already be gone from my mind. I understand that galleries need to make money too, but is that a substitute for showing unexceptional work, often at sizes that you cannot ignore? Size alone doesn't add to my understanding of the work.

That really struck me. If you're a photographer without a gallery behind you, what do you do? Do you print giant photographs for attention, do you find a sellable idea and exploit it? What if you just want to make great photographs? Or follow an idea as far as it will go? Will you ever get your work before a larger audience?

I wonder what photographers felt after attending AIPAD. Was it just a chance to see some wonderful work? Did you leave feeing energized or demoralized? I'd really like to know.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life-Support Japan Raises $20,000 (so far)

It seems, these days, that we are being reminded all the time how small and insignificant we are when facing powers bigger and stronger than us, whether they are politicians or elemental forces of the Earth. It can be hard to find something positive to hold on to, and I think we all search for a way to connect to each other when things seem grim.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan was stunning in its devastation and is still unfolding in ways that approach apocalyptic. The images coming from this disaster have been stunning and almost otherworldly. Yet at some point I think the desire to help overcomes any other emotion and galvanizes us to action.

In that vein, the Life-Support Japan print sale is amazing for the speed it was set up and the incredible outpouring of both sales and contributions. To date more than $20,000 has been raised, and there is a backlog of hundreds of photographs to be offered. Aline Smithson and Christa Dix have done an extraordinary job of mobilizing and organizing this relief effort, and I am so glad to be a part of a community that takes action like this.

I urge all of you to find it in your heart to buy a print (or several). The money raised will go to Habitat for Humanity and Direct Relief International, for help with medical supplies.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Call for Photos

I happened to be up when the earthquake hit Japan this morning, and watched the first of the tsunami waves hit the shoreline. I've been riveted since, as I'm sure most of you have. We all offer our solidarity with the people of Japan and hope for the best possible outcome.

I'm writing this because as per usual, the news outlets are asking for free photos and videos from witnesses, a practice that has unfortunately become commonplace. DON"T GIVE YOUR WORK FOR FREE! I don't know how many times I can say this. You will lose all rights to your work if you give it over to the newspapers or cable TV outlets. Remember, they have money, make them pay you and retain your rights.

If they no longer have bureaus and staff to cover these events, don't be so willing to be their unpaid staff. You can put your work out in ways for yourself, or you can approach the news outlets and ask for payment with retention of rights to your images.

It's important that these multi-million dollar news companies start to be told NO. Their staff is paid, make them pay you.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's RETV Party Time!

The big RETV launch party is happening on Thursday from 6-11pm, and it should be a blast! So get yourselves to The Invisible Dog Art Center at 51 Bergen St in Brooklyn and join the celebration.

Billing itself as "The Greatest Party in The World: RETV Launch Party!" I'm expecting an exciting time. RETV is calling itself, "the new standard in photo industry news, RETV features content from every major photography market around the world to bring an international industry to a single place of exchange for photographers, videographers, suppliers and manufacturers."

You need to RSVP, and there's only a day to do that, so go here

And if you haven't yet checked them out, make sure you listen to the interview with the late great LIFE photographer Philippe Halsman's daughter and grandson. Halsman was responsible for 101 LIFE Magazine covers and shared one of the most unique creative partnerships with Salvador Dali that anyone has ever seen. Perhaps best known for his "jump" photos, Halsman was a master photographer, and I bet there are images you know that you didn't realize were his.

RETV wants to be a one-stop destination for photography information and education, so this is a great opportunity to get a close-up look at just what RETV is all about. The party if being sponsored by SONY, ARC and Resource Magazine. I hope you'll join me there.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

FPS FEST 2011 is the Place to Be This Weekend

FPSFest is back bigger and better then before, with a 2-day festival of shorts, panels, refreshments and fun for the family. Don’t miss it! I’ll be there looking to see work by Danny Clinch, Erwin Olaf, Ryan Hughes and many others. There will even be popcorn and music for all.

Running at Root Studio (131 No. 14th) in Williamsburg on Friday, March 4 from 6 – 10pm and Saturday, March 5 from 11am – 10pm. Friday will feature films while on Saturday there will be two panels as well as films, and the night will end with live music.

This is a very ambitious undertaking by RETV Resource, Vimeo and Root (Capture), admission is required for each day. Friday is $7 and Saturday $10. Quite the bargain, so sign up here and skip the lines.

Check out this piece on Vimeo

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