This month I bought an obscene number of books, watched many docs and wrote for the latest issue of Modern Times. Below are just a few of the things I find interesting:
All posts in Context
After thinking long and hard about the changes I want to make to Passepartout, I finally reached some conclusions. Starting June 2016 you can expect some new sections on the blog: a monthly interview, stories behind photos you might or might not know, more in-depth look into photo themes and also a monthly ‘Best of’ with everything good I spot around the web each month.
Meanwhile, May will be a month of rest, and Passepartout takes some time off because I will be on a trip to Thailand and Myanmar to recharge and explore.
But let’s not lose touch. Please subscribe Passepartout’s feed & newsletter.
See you all in June,
It’s all happening! Spotlight : Romania is a showcase for the real photo stories that make contemporary Romania interesting
Here is my big excuse for neglecting you and Passepartout for so long. It’s all happening now, not even a hurricane can stay in its way. The Spotlight:Romania exhibition I curated will be on from the 3rd of October until the 8th of November in Gemak, in The Hague. It is the biggest exhibition of Romanian photography The Netherlands has ever seen, and a selection of 8 photographers and 8 photo series that tell Romanian stories. They all have a bit of everything I know, love and miss from the country, and that I think the world should see. And yes, important: the exhibition is part of Spotlight:Romania. A Film and Photography Festival me and Corina Burlacu have been baking for a while now.
Doing Art and Being a Mom: a Photographer That Does Both and the Story of Travelling Around the US with Her Son
“I took Casper on his first road trip when he was three-months old and by the time he was one we managed to stay out most of each year for the next five years of his life” begins the written story that comes with these photos. By the time I finish this first phrase, I’m already hooked. Justine Kurland is the photographer, Casper’s mom and the writer of this essay published in a book called How We Do Both: Art and Motherhood. And not only I love her photos and the stories around them, but I’m also genuinely interested in how exactly can we do both art and motherhood.
The World Press Photo winner last year made me wonder whether the competition is moving towards a new phase, less political, less charged and beautifying drama a bit less. This year’s winning photo confuses me completely. Not because it’s not so political and not so filled with connotations as the previous winners, but because the photo doesn’t speak for itself at all. Without reading a caption and without reading about why it was chosen, it is just an artistic portrayal of two people doing something, not really clear what. The photo is part of a larger project called Homophobia in Russia and I bet that when seen in context it does makes sense. But by itself, it doesn’t say much. Besides this, for the first time in the history of the competition, I look at the winner and don’t even see the ‘press’ in World Press Photo.
Before they pass away: Jimmy Nelson’s glamorous photos of tribes tell the kind of PR stories we want to hear
What initially might seem to be the very best of anthropology meets photography, Before They Pass Away eventually turns out to be a (talented) photographer’s imagination at work. Jimmy Nelson tells the kind of stories we want to hear and takes the kind of photos we want to see, but in the end they create a imaginary that does not reflect the reality of the people photographed. Plus, most of these tribes are not really about to disappear.
The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an environmental disaster. Photographer Daniel Beltra took these amazing photos of the spill and I find it fascinating how such a drama can look so beautiful. I cannot stop looking at these photos and I wonder, does the beauty blind the eye for what really happened?
I look at photos all the time. I search for them, I analyze them and I try to understand what they say. And there are some types of photos I am really tired of. And huh…they are everywhere. Aesthetically, they are fine or good or very good. It’s not this what bothers me. Many of the photos that strike me as unnecessary and bore me to death are well composed and good quality. Yet, there’s more than that to a photo. I’m usually looking for concept, connotations, the feeling they give, the story they tell. I expect photos to give something to my eyes, my heart or my mind, and preferably to a combination of at least two of these. And below you can see some kinds of photos that I’m really tired of seeing.
There are three issues I am critical about when I look at photojournalism. One is making suffering look aesthetically pleasing and pretty. Even if contextualized well, such photos contribute to a visual imaginary that’s distorted. And I have an ethical problem with that.
I’m a big fan of smart infographics and data visualizations. We best assimilate information when we can picture it in our minds, empathize with it and when it incites our imagination. And infographics can do these tricks in the best ways possible.
But is visualizing which dictator killed most people something we should do?
Some weeks ago, the picture below went viral. In it, a 4 year old Syrian boy named Marwan being greeted by U.N. officials after supposedly crossing the desert all by himself. Andrew Harper, the U.N. Relief Agency’s representative in Jordan, posted the image saying the boy had been ‘temporarily separated’ from his family. He later clarified that ‘separated’ didn’t mean he was alone. He was simply walking at the end of the refugee group. Before he clarified this, the image had already gone viral.
Some time ago, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was giving what is probably my favorite TEDx talk ever. In it, she was talking about the dangers of a single story and she was showing how many stereotypes and misunderstandings lay behind looking at the world through a single lens.
Every now and then, someone (re)discovers photos of the traditional yearly whale fishing in the Danish Faroe Islands. He or she posts the link or the photo(s) on a social media channel, and then, the reactions begin. They are always the same, always emotional and always predictable. The truth is that the photos are quite intense, super bloody to be more specific. The truth is also that a discussion about this practice seems necessary. But never in the years since I came to learn about this practice myself have I seen one decent discussion based on arguments.
There are certain mental images associated with the Roma. There is the romantic view, the dreaming and eternally free gypsy traveling the world with his horse and caravan. Then there’s the victim view, the Roma always mistreated and abused. And last there is an image of aggressiveness, the dirty Roma, the Roma criminals. (Something worth mentioning is that if one portrays them romantically, it seems acceptable to call them gypsies – while if they’re portrayed as victims or criminals there’s the politically correct name – Roma. Adding to this, I find it quite interesting that if I google ‘gypsy’, the images I see are of that romantic view, while if you google Roma/Romani I get all the misery in photos. Try.).
Last weekend I went to the World Press Photo Awards Days. The Sem Presser lecture this year was held by ‘veteran’ wildlife photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols. And for the first time, the beautiful-too-beautiful-to-be-true wildlife photography I usually see in National Geographic, got a new human dimension. Got a context. And a face.
I always wanted to know how communism and its altered reality impacts a human life. One human life. One person. Then another one. In the end, you’ll have a full image of a country.
This interest has to do with me being Romanian. I couldn’t understand my family’s past and stories without knowing the context of these past and stories. For example, I couldn’t understand why years after communism fell, my grandma still stuffed the fridge with food even through we had supermarkets around. And besides these kind of many more other examples, I also wanted to put my few childhood memories in context.
I saw this picture in National Geographic some years ago. It stood in my mind and I recalled it at different times. Its caption read that this little boy was inconsolable after a taxi killed his flock. I remembered his face, his clothes and a strong feeling of how important these sheep must have been for him and his family. He must have spent so much of his time with them.
I didn’t remember anything else about, nor did I know how to find it again. But I ran into it accidentally and discovered that this little boy and his story stood in the mind of many others like me. I saw people writing and describing it, mentioning where they first saw it and asking how they can find it again.
This year’s World Press Photo winner is Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda and his picture of a Yemeni mother holding her son, wounded during protests against president Saleh. After winning the award, the photo was subject to a lot of debate and criticism, mainly because its composition has been likened to Michelangelo’s Pieta and also because of its Renaissance style of lighting.