Journal

WHAT HAS CHANGED

Have you seen the Time Magazine cover featuring the unrest in Baltimore?

It's amazing.

The May 11, 2015 cover of   TIME   Magazine. Photo by Devin Allen.

The May 11, 2015 cover of TIME Magazine. Photo by Devin Allen.

Amazing. And shot by an "amateur". A guy from West Baltimore who hasn't missed a march. Who protests while he shoots. Whose photography is a remarkable protest, all of it's own.

His name is Devin Allen & I'm blown away by his story.

For starters, his work was discovered on Instagram (after Rihanna posted one of his images) by Time's Director of Photography Paul Moakley

In digging through his Instagram feed, Paul said he saw "a singular vision throughout the work and we laid it all out. It runs through six pages in the magazine and it’s our cover now.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The head of photography for one of the biggest publications in the United States sourced work for the magazine on Instagram, a social media platform. You probably just thought it was for lunch & baby photos.

I would recommend checking out Devin's Instagram feed to fully comprehend why Moakley made the decision he made.

Anyone else having their mind blown?

This is the Revolution I wrote about last week. I'm telling you, the establishment walls are coming down. In Devin's words: 

 
Somebody tell the [Baltimore] Mayor that Time put a thugs artwork on the cover of with a full spread.
 

With our art we protest broken systems and inspire a better world. From Instagram to TIME, talk about a further definition of a medium. 

For those of us who desire to tell great stories, to use our work to make change in the world, we should read this story and take heart. Our time is coming, if it hasn't arrived. 

If you learn anything from Devin, learn this:

Be thoughtful, be thorough, hone your voice & be patient. You'll get your shot.

I know Baltimore is an explosive topic. This is a story about a story being told, yes. But it's also more than a story to many, it's life (and death). Should you feel led to leave a comment below, I simply ask that you keep it civil & respectful. 

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#MakePortraits: Monday Spotlight: Dorothea Lange

 
What is it in the end? It is a mounted piece of paper with a photographic silver image on it. But in it there is an element which you can’t call other than an act of love. That is the tremendous motivation behind it. And you give it. Not to a person, you give it to the world, to your world…an act of love – that’s the deepest thing behind it….The audience, the recipient of it, gives that back.
— Dorothea Lange
 

When I first undertook this weekly mission to learn about, study and consider the perspectives of the great portrait photographers, I had to keep myself from leading with Dorothea Lange. Her work has deeply influenced my own in countless ways.

Most notably, I referenced her portraits for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression while preparing for shooting Untouchable on my first trip to India.

Though I poured over her work, I didn't know much about the woman behind the photographs.

On a website dedicated to the 2011 book "Daring to Look", author Anne Whiston Spirn notes that Dorothea Lange was a storyteller above, possibly above all else.

 

Lange held up her mirror to American society that we might see who we were, how we came to be, and what we were in the process of becoming. Her words and photographs speak powerfully to the present, for the dynamics she saw and recorded are still shaping American lives and landscapes. 

 

Maybe that's why I'm so drawn to her portraits, because they're connected to a story. Or maybe it's because so much of her work lives at the intersection I feel my work lives in: that place where documentary, portraiture and exploration of self collide.

 
Every image [the photographer] sees, every photograph he takes, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy - an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with his subject but by the audience.
— Dorothea Lange
 

So, if this notion of portraiture as self portraiture is true (and, confession, this is a belief I've always held), then what does the work of Dorothea Lange reveal about the artist? Along the way to publishing this entry, I've learned a few things that seem to answer this question.

Lange suffered a bout with polio at age 7 that left her crippled. This was something she came to be quite thankful for as she reflected on her life & career:

 

“[It] was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,”

 

The early days of her career were spent apprenticing for the likes of Arnold Genthe. Then, she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco around 1919. From that studio she honed her craft as a portraitist, photographing the well-to-do of the city. 

It wasn't until the onset of the Great Depression that Lange came to public consciousness. Her work (above) for the Farm Securities Administration, is regarded as some of the most important by an American photographer in history. She has been the subject of countless books and exhibitions.

During an interview with NPR, author Linda Gordon who wrote the biography Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits noted how the disassociation between the story and the image really upset Lange. Because the images were owned by the Federal Government, the images were freely distributed and as the images became icons of an era, they suffered from anonymity.

 
One of the reasons that she was such a good portrait photographer is that she had an extraordinary power to connect with all sorts of people, to draw them out.
— Linda Gordon
 

Lange, knowing that people stiffened in front of the camera, actually emphasized her disability at times, slowing the whole process down, in an effort to make the subjects of her photos more comfortable.

The style of her work has been characterized as 'detached documentary'. But, these little details seem to betray this notion in profound ways. By diving deeper into her own brokenness, Lange was able to connect with the people of a broken nation & produce works so powerful that they stand as the definitive works of an era. 

If you're interested in learning more about Dorothea Lange, you can watch the Jim Leher News Hour segment featuring Linda Gordon or peruse Lange's work on the Library of Congress website.

 


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Weekend Links // May 9

It's no secret that I'm a sharer. My wife would say, at times, I'm an over sharer. So, each Friday, I plan on sharing 7 things — a week's worth — I found around the internet that you may have missed. I'm hoping this is a decently regular thing around here. No promises, though.

Trust me, these are all worth your time.

1. The Mystery of the Caterpillar Chrysalis

Radiolab did a beautiful piece called "Black Box" recently — a collection of three stories about mysteries to which we can't know fully know the answer. And, I'm usually pretty freaking geeked up about Radiolab... but, with this episode, they've outdone themselves.

I highly recommend you listen to the whole thing... but on the off chance an hour long listen isn't in the cards for you today, skip to the 50 minute mark & listen to the final 10 incredibly beautiful & mysterious minutes on the caterpillar chrysalis.

I'm consistently amazed when the spiritual & the scientific collide. This statement about the full weight of the mystery of the chrysalis, in particular, floored me:

 
It’s kind of erie, it’s not just what of me carries forward into the future. It’s like, what of my future self is in me right now?
— Molly Webster, Radiolab Producer
 

Seriously, don't delay. Listen.

 
 

2. TIME Magazine Atop America

While out in the main workspace at WELD, my friend Esther Havens showed me this amazing image her friend Jonathan Woods, Senior Editor at TIME, Photo & Interactive:

Photograph by Jonathan D. Woods and Michael Franz for TIME;   Stitching: Gavin D. Farrell; Compositing: Meghan P. Farrell; Color: Claudio Palmisano/10b       

Photograph by Jonathan D. Woods and Michael Franz for TIME; Stitching: Gavin D. Farrell; Compositing: Meghan P. Farrell; Color: Claudio Palmisano/10b

 

 

Stunning, right? To call this the image of one man, though, is a bit misleading. This is an epic & TIME was smart to include this "Making Of" video. In many ways, I find this to be the most compelling piece of the whole interactive experience:

 
 

 

Note: TIME only offered a flash-based player for encoding, which is a giant bummer considering it's limitations on mobile devices. I'm sorry.

3. Fiddleoak

Fiddleoak is a 15 year old photographer named Zev. Best I can tell, Zev has more talent & ability at 15 than most people acquire in a lifetime of honing a craft. He makes stunning images like this one:

photo by Fiddleoak

photo by Fiddleoak

Which, maybe you look at this and think, "that's a great image, but, so what?" Here's what. Look at what went in to crafting this image. He details the whole process, step by step. So, not only is he incredibly talented, he's also part of the open source generation.

The sum? Very, very cool.

4. Reframe Your Failure

 
We must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.
— Ed Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar
 

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, has a wonderfully concise synopsis of a single chapter from Creativity, Inc. (which has been added to my list of want to read books) on not hiding your failures.

It's good stuff. Read it here.

5. Phillip Bloom's Slow Motion on Instagram

If this doesn't make you smile, then... man, I just don't know.

 
 

6. Day of Night / Nights of Day

photo by Elena Chernyshova

photo by Elena Chernyshova

I found this incredibly poignant, beautifully photographed and masterfully reported photo essay over on Lens Culture. Of the project, photographer Elena Chernyshova writes:

 
This documentary project aims to investigate human adaptation to extreme climate, environmental disaster and isolation. The living conditions of the people of Norilsk are unique, making them an incomparable subject for such a study.
 

Please make time this weekend to pour over this story. It's stunning & the amount of rich, anecdotal detail Elena includes via captions is truly inspiring.

7. DEDPXL DISPATCH :: CUBA

 
From the struggle beauty arises. That beauty is fought for.
— Zack Arias
 

I've been a Zack Arias fan for a long time. In fact, his blog is directly responsible for helping me learn the in's & out's of shooting on white seamless, which I was able to directly apply to the I Am Second campaign. He's a man with a keen eye and a passion for helping others grow.

In that spirit, he wrote a piece on his recent trip to Cuba that you should definitely take time to mull over.

photo by Zack Arias

photo by Zack Arias

I'm often asked how difficult it is to vacillate between the vastly different cultures I visit and my own. Is it hard, people wonder, to go from a leper colony to Disney World? My answer, unlike Zack's, is no, it is not because I've come to learn that the less you have, materially, the more you are have, spiritually.

I guess, we kind of get to the same place, though. Many think of the gear as the great catalyst to creativity, when, in fact, it's usually the thing that makes us fat and lazy, creatively.

The question Zack ultimately lands on is one that I wrestle with greatly. And seems a great place to land this plane.

What's keeping you from growing? 


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When Facts Fail

Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow…
— T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

In recent weeks, the conversation surrounding the age old question of image manipulation in photojournalism has hit fever pitch - again.

First, there was this story by Dallas Morning News photographer Louis DeLuca about a Sports Illustrated image that ran in their "Leading Off" section back in November. DeLuca broke the story on SI's choice to change the color of Baylor's jerseys from black to green.

The photo by Matthew Emmons/US Presswire as it appeared in Sports Illustrated

The photo by Matthew Emmons/US Presswire as it appeared in Sports Illustrated

Matthew Emmons original photo as submitted through the wire service

Matthew Emmons original photo as submitted through the wire service

Then, last week, PhotoShelter Co-founder, Allen Murabayashi railed on several of the recent winners in the World Press Photo of the Year 2012 competition. In both of his articles on the subject, Murabayashi took issue with how much digital color toning took place & argued against using such techniques, saying:

I know what the world looks like when I step out the door [emphasis his], and it doesn’t look like some of the news images I’m seeing nowadays. And I am arguing that this is having an insidious effect on how we perceive reality.

He goes on to ask:

If photojournalists, their organizations, and their industry care about veracity, what is there to argue about when calling for the RAW when the truth is in question?

Ah, that great & confusing T word - truth.

Paul Hansen's winning World Press Photo of the Year

Paul Hansen's winning World Press Photo of the Year

As a storyteller, this is a word I've reflected on quite a bit and before we get too far into my rebuttal, I want to make one thing explicitly clear - I am not a photojournalist, so my perspective isn't bent in the direction of The Preeminent Fact, neither do I believe this invalidates my position. Where most of the conversation around this topic takes place in either the blacks or the whites, I want to assert there is in fact a shadowy gray we, as image makers and storytellers, should consider. In my professional life, I have come to understand that the facts are always subject to the Truth and, truth be told, I believe the facts can often be incredibly misleading to anyone pursuing the Truth. Admittedly, I'm far more Hunter S. Thompson than Joseph Pulitzer. And I'm okay with that.

So, when Sports Illustrated makes a choice to change the color of the jersey, I nod in agreement because I believe, while the original image is factually correct, it is at the same time completely misleading. The black jerseys against the dark background, while factual, obscure the story. The SI edit alters the facts, yes, but it allows the audience full, unencumbered access to the emotional truth of the story - a team triumphant.

Maybe, just maybe, war photography pioneer Roger Fenton understood this basic idea when he chose to move the cannonballs in his iconic image Valley of the Shadow of Death. Errol Morris hints at this very idea in the first article of his tremendous 2007 series on the two versions of this historic image:

In this version of Fenton's 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' the canon balls have been removed from the road.

In this version of Fenton's 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' the canon balls have been removed from the road.

And in this version, the canon balls either remain in the road, or have been arranged there.

And in this version, the canon balls either remain in the road, or have been arranged there.

Morris ponders, "Maybe [Fenton] saw the balls on the road and felt they looked fake, and removed them in the interest of creating a more honest picture." Or, maybe it was the opposite. Whichever came first, maybe, Fenton was simply after a more honest picture.

If only we could all conduct ourselves "in the interest of creating a more honest picture". I believe this is the central question that Mr. Murabayashi is getting to in his argument against the World Press Photo winners. He just wants something honest and believes the facts will get us there. This position fails as a theory, however, because it fails to extend the photographers in question the benefit of the doubt. Since they were present at the foot of the funeral procession and the lip of the pool, can't we agree they understand the complexity of the Truth they witnessed? They, alone, have the full weight of the context in which the images were created ringing in their ears. Should we not extend them the professional courtesy of using their best judgement when it comes to processing technique?

photo by Damon Winter/New York Times

photo by Damon Winter/New York Times

photo by Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

photo by Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

Every photographic decision is fraught with constraint and therefore requires a large dose of subjectivity. Was Damon Winter (easily one of my modern photographic heroes) wrong to "omit" the media horde from some of his 2010 images in Haiti? Or was Rodrigo Abd of the Associated Press wrong to include them? Could the answer not lie somewhere in the middle. Interpretation of fact is subjective, no? I don't want to sound too post-modern, because I don't subscribe to the "there is no truth" philosophy. However, I do recognize that while there is certainly a knowable Truth, no one man or woman can ever discern it fully; we are limited by the facts available to our singular perspective. We must simply do our best to understand what we see, press the camera to our eye and make a choice as to what stays in the frame and what falls away for all eternity.

Complicating this already slippery slope is the fact that technology has evolved to the point where we can make a judgement call on the details that express the emotional truth of a scene. No longer are we limited by the facts as they were recorded by the chemical make up of a roll of film. We can dial in color temperature, add or subtract saturation and luminosity in individual color channels and manipulate contrast, black levels, sharpness, and on and on. Shooting RAW gives you infinite control over not just the basic facts, but also over the emotional truth.

Mr. Murabayashi believes that the truth is in danger; I would argue we're finally at a point where photographers can finally hone in on it with great accuracy.

Most of the choices photographers have to make are subjective interpretations of the less than honest facts available in the moment. They always have been. The question becomes, is the manipulation trustworthy. This morning, David Hobby wrote on the days of the darkroom in a post titled Analog Photoshop:

Many news photographers were publicly sacrificed to the Ethics Gods. Meanwhile, National Geographic Magazine happily moved entire pyramids on their cover photos. Sigh.

I'm not sure if his sigh is directed at the the injustice of The Ethics Gods or at the audacity of Nat Geo pursuing a more honest picture. Again, I believe Nat Geo has earned our trust, just as Sports Illustrated has earned the trust of its audience, over time. On track record alone, we should be praising them for being brave enough to make bold choices knowing there are times when facts fail to render an honest depiction of the Truth.

I, for one, am thankful for where we are in the history of photography. Like Mr. Murabayashi, I know what the world feels like when I step outside my door, but unlike him, I am loathe to consider what it would be like if Marcin Ryczek had left his house with only color film in his bag the day he created this image:

Marcin Ryczek - Swans

Lens

My RSS feeds are many & varied... but one of my favorites is a new visual journalism blog that the New York Times runs called LENS. It's special for many reasons, like big images in a simple, unobtrusive design, a straightforward navigational structure that doesn't feel tired or boring and quality, original content like images from the Archives, they publish timely and striking photojournalism every day, showcase photographers, talk shop and on and on.

But, more than anything else, I think LENS is special because of the access it gives a viewer into the story behind the story. Take, for example, the story that came up Tuesday - Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen, which digs into the iconic image from the 1989 protest on Tiananmen Square in China. It happend on June 5th, 1989 - I was eleven years old, but the image was seared into my brain.

It may be the single most memorable image of my generation - and there are four versions. Who knew, right?

photo by Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

photo by Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

LENS takes you behind the scenes of one of recent histories most famous photographs and relates the story in the voice of the four men who shot the image - four photographers, four perspectives, four separate creative choices and four striking images. That's why it's one of my first stops every morning.

EDIT** Apparently the feature that ran Tuesday on LENS brought out a new, never before seen image of Tank Man shot by Terril Jones at street level. Jones' story shows that timing is everything in journalism and is a great example of how a single image can define a story and the result that has on other images.