Surgically precise.

Earlier yesterday Ehud ­Olmert, Israel's prime minister, called the air campaign just "the first of several" phases of military operations. A proposal to call up 6,500 reservists has been approved and tanks have been ­massing near the Gaza border in case a land ­invasion is authorised.

Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, said there was no "quick fix" to end the crisis. Israel, he said, had enough international "understanding" to carry on as long as its attacks to stop Hamas rocket fire were "surgically precise" and it co-operated with attempts to deliver humanitarian relief. The absence of pressure from Washington is clearly an important factor, while Israel appears to rule out the EU playing a significant role.

"No senior envoy is on the way to Israel to stop the fighting," said Aluf Benn, the Haaretz diplomatic correspondent. "The Bush White House is very pleased with the blow struck against Hamas."

The above is lifted from an article in The Guardian newspaper.

A key phrase for me is "surgically precise". Consider that when you look at photographs such as this:

30 December: Palestinians bury the body of four-year-old Lama Hamdan at the Beit Hanoun cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip

Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters


So my congratulations to the military precision of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. It seems that with all that technology their firepower is about as precise as the rockets the Palestinians are firing into Israel.

The time for ending this conflict is long overdue.

For some excellent commentary on recent events check out the essays and articles over at znet (take a break and brew some coffee before perusing this site..) and also the writing by my favourite middle east correspondent Robert Fisk, whose conclusion to a recent article went like this:

If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza – and we all know who is paying for that – there will, at some stage, be an individual massacre; a school will be hit, a hospital or a pre-natal clinic or just an apartment packed with civilians. In other words, another Qana. At which point, a familiar story will be told; that Hamas destroyed the school/hospital/pre-natal clinic, that the journalists who report on the slaughter are anti-Semitic, that Israel is under threat, etc. We may even get the same disingenuous parallel with a disastrous RAF raid in the Second World War which both Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanayahu have used over the past quarter century to justify the killing of civilians.

And Hamas – which never had the courage to admit it killed two Palestinian girls with one of its own rockets last week – will cynically make profit from the grief with announcements of war crimes and "genocide".

At which point, the deeply despised and lame old UN donkey will be clip-clopped onto the scene to rescue the Israeli army and Hamas from this disgusting little war. Of course, saner minds may call all this off before the inevitable disaster. But I doubt it.



The Israeli military kills 200 Palestinians in one day


Palestinians gather at a bombed security compound of Hamas in Rafah, southern Gaza.
Photograph: Hatem Omar/AP

The photo above certainly has a post-apocalyptic feel.
Today, Israeli military responded in typically heavy handed fashion to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants, who are in turn responding to the occupation of their territory and continued oppression. With reports of around 200 Palestinians dead and another 700 wounded, this is surely an act of utter contempt by the Israeli military for the civilian population; a blatent disregard for life with not even a pretence to make any distinction between militants and civilians. It makes me sick. Now we will see more rockets fired into Israel by Palestinians, suicide attacks and a rise in the level of hatred. In fact, a Palestinian response to this attack resulted in the death of one Israeli woman. One more pointless murder to add to the death toll. If we are to see peace in the middle east, Israel must surely play it's part and set a good example to the rest of the region. This is not it.

DxOMark

Find out how well your digital camera sensor performs in a number of tests including colour depth and dynamic range over at DxO labs website. They also compare their tests to the manufacturer's published data.

http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/eng/DxOMark-Sensor


Very useful stuff.

Silent Night


Night sky viewed from Craignell, Galloway Forest Park



I live 14 miles from Manhattan, yet the glow of New York still turns the skys a hazy orange after the sun goes down. I always get a little starstruck (excuse the bad pun) when I find myself in a place where the light pollution is so low or non-existent that I can clearly see into the night sky.

Thankfully there are people working to preserve some parts of the planet specifically for this purpose. Read more here.



You've got something in your eye

Photo: Sebastian Willnow/AFP/Getty Images

If you have ever missed a photo you will have thought about how it would be possible to record what your eye sees without having to process the thought and raise your camera. Above is one solution.

I personally wonder how long it would be before you can get an implant that takes the electrical impulses from your eye and records them onto a hard drive so you can open them in photoshop as an image file.

It may not be too long. Film maker Rob Spence who lost his eye in an accident is currently working on having his prosthetic orb fitted with a wireless video camera. Even better is the team of scientists working on a flexible photo detector array.

Seeing as I don't fancy giving up one of my eyes (shortsighted and bespectacled though they are) to have a camera implanted I am still waiting for an optic nerve or visual cortex implant to be developed. I would work on it myself but I don't have a) the time b) the skills c) the cash. If anyone is willing to fund a switch of career to bio-engineering I may consider it.

Imagine being able to download print, share and distribute an image of anything you saw during the day. Never miss a moment - just point your head in the right direction and don't blink...

Actually sounds a little scary. Imagine the editing headache...

The auto industry



I took this photograph of cars sitting in a dealership covered by a blanket of snow. That day I was thinking about the multi billion dollar package given to the U.S. auto industry and the ruinous conditions attached that will ultimately harm the unions and the line workers much more than the executives. Later I pulled a book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from my shelf and opened it at random. This is what I read:




One fine day

a proud owner of a brand-new car

started up his infernal combustion engine

and with the first gasp of gas

the whole car gasped

and out the exhaust pipe emerged

a very small scream

as of a very small animal trapped

in the bowels of the motor

The owner heard it and

thought perhaps a cat or rat

was trapped under the car

He put it in gear

and slowly turned out

into the roadway

But the little scream

didn't stop

He looked back through his mirror

and saw nothing at all

He pulled over and got out and

looked under the machine

There was nothing caught or hanging down

The scream had stopped

when he stopped the car

but when he started up again

the scream arose again and it grew louder as he

stepped on the gas

He thought he might outrun it

He thought perhaps if he raced the motor

he could clear it

like a frog in the throat

So he took off down the boulevard

but the faster he went

the louder the scream became

Then he heard all the other cars screaming

and people were hanging out the windows

of all the houses on each side

and holding their ears

looking at all the cars screaming

And as the traffic increased at rush hour

a great roar of animal agony

as if all the animals in the world

were caught in all the machines

of the world

And the roaring grew and grew

And the drivers kept on driving

and driving and driving and...

The Genius Of Photography

I am just re-watching this excellent BBC series on the history of photography. Though more of a selective overview than a comprehensive survey it is well produced, with some great comments from photographers and historians and of course a ton of excellent photography. One of my favourite sections is this one with Tony Vaccaro, especially his story on processing negatives without a darkroom, and his assertion that Robert Capa was 'dead wrong' about the romance of war.



I would recommend you purchase the DVD of this six part series but there doesn't seem to be one. There is a book though and you can find all the episodes for download with a quick internet search...


Stephen Dupont

The other week a couple of friends were in town and wanted to check out the New York Public Library. Among the many delights of this place there was an exhibition of photographs by Australian photographer Stephen Dupont. There were two strands to the exhibit - portraits taken on a Kabul street one afternoon with a Polaroid Land camera and journalistic work from fifteen years of work in Afghanistan. I was impressed by both, but I was also impressed with the choice of images on display, some of which were very graphic. I commend curator Robert B. Menschel for not flinching away from showing these images in what is after all a public space and not a specialist publication, private gallery or artist's book. (CORRECTION: The curator is actually Stephen Pinson, who is the Robert B. Menschel Curator of the Photography Collection at the NYPL. - Thanks to the anonymous commentator for pointing that out!)

Take this one for example:



A young girl wounded in a rocket attack being operated on at Kabul's Jamuriat hospital, 1993 photograph by Stephen Dupont.

After looking at this particular series of images from over a decade in a war torn country I turned around to see this serene scene.




Quite a contrast.

See some more on Stephen Dupont here. The exhibit runs until January 25th 2009.

Halal


Rawalpindi, Pakistan: A butcher holds a knife after slaughtering a cow
Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP


After reading the caption to this image I couldn't help but think about the recent violence in Mumbai. The first I heard of the attacks was when I read a message from a friend letting me know he and his wife were at home and safe. Safe from what I wondered, and checked out the news to find out what was going on...

It seems as if the perpetrators were all of Pakistani nationality. This is not to say that this Pakistani butcher had anything to do with or condones these horrific events. On the contrary, I imagine he is more concerned with day to day living than senseless murder carried out in the name of some grand ideological struggle.

However, this is how my mind read this image:

This butcher probably killed a cow in line with the religious edicts of Islam (where the blood is drained from the body in a ritual slaughter involving the swift severing of the jugular) while in India cows are sacred animals not to be harmed. Considering the tensions between India and Pakistan are due in the main to the ethnic division along religious lines that was the basis for the creation of the two states - thanks to some post world war II political interferance by the British government - this image seems to allude to more than the everyday act of killing an animal for food. The focus on the butchers knife, the casual pose alluding to an act just performed, the cropping that excludes the face and transforms this butcher into an archetype and indeed the lack of anything in the image that identify this person as a butcher specifically all add to the ambiguity of this image. It is only the caption that grounds this photograph in the everyday. Without these words, it is a photograph that invites questions and gave me pause.




Voices Of Harlem - NYC Bridge Project

If you were a photographer in New York on election day, chances are you were in Harlem. Not me though, I was fast asleep in front of the TV. Anyway, among the photographers who actually worked on that day were Danny Peralta and Bashira Webb, who I had the pleasure of working with on a project earlier this year through the ICP community programs.

They recently sent me this video piece entitled 'Voices of Harlem' in which they worked with student photographers to record the thoughts of Harlem residents on election day.











This video is part of a broader enterprise called the NYC Bridge Project which is a 'collaborative of photographers working to instill the spirit of storytelling to a new generation of photographers who normally would never have access to photography. As these young storytellers grow as conscious journalists they become mentors to a newer generation of storytellers.'


Check out the video on youtube here.

And Kudos to Danny and Bashira for passing on the knowledge.

Remembering Cheney...

I don't think we've seen the last of this man, but here is a moment from his past. I would caption this photo "These are the boots I will stomp all over you with. Lick 'em."





Photograph: Matt Campbell/EPA



Please add any humourous/disturbing captions as you see fit.



Smoke 'em if you got 'em.




Both these images were taken by Hector Acebes in Benin in 1953. If you're in London you can see some of his prints among others in Tribal Portraits: Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent at Bernard J Shapero Rare Books, 32 St George Street, London W1S 2EA.

This exhibition contains around 200 rare images dating from 1865 to the present day, some of which are for sale. The exhibition runs from 2 to 23 December.

To be honest - leaving the problems of the colonial exoticism of tribal photography aside - I wonder if the collection shows the relaxed, leisurely side of life in this vast continent. It would perhaps remind us that it was not and is not always a war torn poverty stricken place, but contains some of the most amazing and beautiful people and places in our world. Unfortunately I won't get a chance to check it out myself. I will be in London in January, just a week too late to catch this exhibit. Nevermind...

Unexploded Ordinance


Boats fashioned from US fighter-bomber drop tanks

Photograph: Sean Sutton/MAG



See more of Sean Sutton's work here and also on the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) website here which, obviously, also contains lots of information on the important and excellent work done by the organisation.



Immigration and Healthcare

In August I saved a copy of the New York Times with the intention of writing about an article that appeared in it's pages. I never got round to it. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a companion article on the same subject; connecting the two political issues of healthcare and immigration.

I think both these pieces are fascinating and excellent. I was glad to see the New York Times devoting the column inches and also reproducing the photographs large. Some good work by writer Deborah Sontag and photographer Josh Haner.

Read the articles - with links to the slideshows - one from August here and one from November here.


Here's a couple of Josh Haner's images.








The Financial Circus

I saw this photo on several sites, unaccredited. It shows clowns ringing the opening bell on Wall Street. In the current financial climate that is perhaps uncomfortably appropriate.

Clowns look like fools but they know exactly what they are doing. The same could be said for those in charge of the world's money. Don't let the current meltdown fool you, it was no accident I am sure....

Tichy

Miroslav Tichy's Camera No.1 © Roman Buxbaum


Don't let anyone tell you you need the Canon 5D MkII to take pictures. You can cobble one together from kitchen rubbish and in fifty years you'll have your work exhibited in some of the world's most prestigious galleries. Seriously though, Tichy proves you don't need the latest gadgets to make photographic art. In fact, sometimes it helps to ignore conventions and technical aspects altogether.

If you like Tichy's photographs, you might also want to check out Sigmar Polke, though you might have to visit an art gallery or library to properly view and appreciate his work.

Red Custom Cameras

If you have several tens of thousands of dollars, here's an interesting camera system that you'll be able to get your hands on over the next couple of years.

Check out the range of sensor sizes available (for starters)



And you can also swap around the lens mounts. And pretty much everything else as well. I imagine if you are a commercial shooter with a studio this system might be causing you to drool.

Oh, and the do full HD digital video and 3D components as well.

Thanks to Richard for letting us know about this one.

In The Times

A bit of shameless (self) promotion:

Here are two stories from today's New York Times, one of which I had the joy of shooting. The other was photographed by my friend and colleague Liz Rubincam.




Slideshows for both stories can be seen here and here.

The President is not black



My dad sent me this photograph today. My only hope is that Obama will actually be the mirror opposite of Bush as this picture might suggest.

I also got sent this article on the fact that Obama is not black, but of mixed descent, which I believe is an important distinction and have mentioned before. In fact, I think that it does a disservice to Obama's heritage to label him as something he is not. Surely his parent's inter-racial relationship is something to be admired considering the social climate of the time when it began.

What has this got to do with photography? Well, photography deals with appearance, and it often very easy for people and situations to be mis-represented because of how they appear. Just as it is the responsibility of people to accuratly observe Obama's heritage, so it is the responsibility of photographers to do their best to accuratley portray the people and the places they photograph. I do not subscribe to the notion of the infallible veracity of photographs, but they are a form of truth and their power to persuade should not be underestimated.



1914-1918


90 years ago today marked the end of the First World War 1914-1918.

It was known as 'the war to end all wars'.

It is still sometimes called 'The great war'.

Two of my favourite artists - poet Wilfred Owen and painter Otto Dix produced work influenced by their experiences of this war that is as powerful today as it was back then.

It was one of the first periods in history that I seriously studied.

The saddest thing about this war is that it was not the last.

See more photographs from the time here. Some pictures from today can be found here.

Why do we do this?

This is an excerpt from a blog post over at Politics Theory & Photography. In my opinion, this particular passage concisely and accurately sums up one of the major challenges facing anyone engaged in activity to progress a cause (which includes photographers); that of what good their work is actually for.

...any plausible remedy to a major (or even not-so-major) public problem requires not just individual "awareness," but concerted, coordinated action. And that action must aim to remedy general patterns. Even if one were to insist that public awareness is a first step, it would be important to establish how - by what mechanisms - that public awareness could be coordinated into action or even support for action. All this is a political problem - one of constituting a 'we' out of the vast distribution of individual awareness. As political theorists as diverse as John Dewey and Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt remind us, we should not be naive about the obstacles and difficulties that stand in the way here....

Read the whole post here.

I would say that one important part of my job as a photographer is to make images that represent something other people might not know about. If what the images represent is perceived as a problem (social or otherwise) then the task is to make people who can do something to remedy the problem aware.

More and more though I am beginning to think that it is not enough just to make people aware of something. You have to actually do something about it yourself as well. If you can't do it yourself, make sure your work is seen and/or you are partnered with someone who can.

Many photographers work this way, and I am certain that it is the way forward for photojournalism.

Indeed, it is the way forward for all of us.

Pirates



Earlier this year I was discussing some ideas for projects with a few friends and colleagues. One of the topics that came up was Pirates. We all agreed that a story on Pirates off the African coast would be one we would all be interested in. The problem is, none of us are Pirates. A story like that would take days, weeks and even months of research and work. Gaining the trust of those engaged in illegal activities is always a tricky task. This would probably be especially dangerous and difficult. These people are unlikely to allow a journalist to tag along for the ride as they jump aboard a tanker and demand a ransom. Besides, none of us had the time or funds to make the trip to Africa. So we dropped the subject.

However, there are always several angles to a story, and an article on Pirates was recently published in the New York Times. Granted these Pirates were all ones who had been captured and imprisoned but it just goes to show, there is more than one way to tell a tale. And some of the pictures are great.


Photo: Jehad Nga for The New York Times

"Pirates, pirates, pirates," said Gure Ahmed, a Canadian-Somali inmate of the jail. "This jail is full of pirates. This whole city is pirates."

By the way. I love the word 'Pirate'. Read the above quote out loud and see how great it sounds!

Mixed Blood

Photograph by Bradley Lincoln

It has been stated, quite rightly, that the new President Elect of the United States is not in fact an African American, but is of mixed race. Only part of him is African American.

This is not to belittle his heritage - far from it - but I know those with a mixed ancestry can sometimes find the distinction to be one that is important, with the ramifications being either positive or negative. For example, one of my good friends grew up in West Africa with a white mother and black father. In Africa, he was labeled the 'white kid'. When he moved to the UK, he was labeled as 'black'. Confusing, no?

My children are of mixed blood, as are many of my friends, and I also know many people in interracial relationships. The question of identity and how your genetic heritage defines you is a very interesting one and as the world's populations integrate it will become more and more so.

Today I saw this series of photographs by Bradley Lincoln, relating to this project.

I think this subject has great potential for a photographic project and I only wish these particular portraits were better photographs...

2008 U.S. Presidential Election - The Final Day.

I wonder if the following images tell you who I think you should vote for? As a British Citizen living in the U.S. I have no vote, but I still have a vested interest in what happens today - so I hope the Americans chooses wisely.



Richard Avedon


Ozier Muhammad/New York Times




Rex Features

By the way, In case you were wondering, I think you should vote for Obama, but not because he will save us all (intelligent and charismatic though he is); no, it is simply because a vote for McCain/Palin would be an absolute disaster. At best, an Obama administration will probably undo some of the damage done over the past 8 years. A McCain administration would continue on the same path and things would get steadily worse.

So for once, I agree with a politician's campaign slogan and it is definitely time for a change, though many people still disagree...



Todd Heisler/New York Times

Cause and Effect

The photographs below are from two different countries, and the events they depict are directly unrelated to each other. Having said that, seeing one makes me think of the other, so here they are; juxtaposed. I think there are some connections to be made...


Kunar, Afghanistan: Members of Charlie Battery, 3rd Battalion of the 321 Field artillery, fire at a Taliban position in Kunar, eastern Afghanistan. Theirs is the busiest artillery unit in the US army
Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Villagers in Syria gathered Monday near the coffins of people who died during an American Special Operations raid aimed at Iraqi militants on 26th October 2008.
Photograph: Hussein Malla/Associated Press

100 years of Guardian photography

The Guardian newspaper in the UK often makes great use of photography. These days it's main office is in London but it originally started in Manchester. The paper appointed it's first staff photographer, Walter Doughty, in 1908 and to commemorate the occassion Guardian photographer Denis Thorpe has curated an exhibition of the paper's Manchester photographers entitled 'A Long Exposure: 100 Years of Guardian Photography'.

There is a slideshow of some of the images here, with a couple of my favourites from the sequence below. (The Hebden Bridge shot makes me feel particularly homesick - It's not too far from where I grew up.)

I hope I get a chance to return to the UK and stop by the city, see a couple of friends and take in the show. It runs until March 1 2009 at The Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester



Denis Thorpe - Terraced Houses in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, after snowfall 1978.


Graham Finlayson, Scene in a Pub in Bantry Bay, south-west Ireland, 1959

Walter Doughty, Free State soldier in Dublin during the outbreak of Irish civil war, 1922.

The Grant Experience

I recently had the chance to facilitate a jury of a prestigious grant (basically get them tea and coffee and watch). It was eye opening or at least re-affirming experience for a young (if I may say so) photographer who has applied for a few awards in the past year. I want to share this knowledge with you in the hope you (all who reads this blog) will share with us (all who reads this blog) other inspiring and helpful experiences (i.e. the Eddie Adams workshop or learnings and experiences while shooting abroad) so we can continue to support one another, our community, especially when we’re all so spread out of late.

It began for me at the 2nd meeting of the 3 jurors. They had already narrowed down the applicants to a final 11 people. These final 11 knew they had made it to the next stage as the jurors had asked them to send in further pics (15 8x10 to be exact), a second proposal and were given 3 weeks to do so.

The process for a gallery owner, a chair of a New York art school and a commercial photographic agent to decide the winner was very interesting. The prize was $30,000 and taken very seriously.

Reason the 11 finalists were selected for this award were:
Content.
Bearing in mind this is a concerned photography award; first and foremost it’s all about content. Does the World care about your subject? The finalist’s subjects ranged between African refugees, the photographer making a journey from there to the country bound. Women marrying under age and the consequences. Crime in South Africa. Pollution in China, need I go on?

Pictures. Were they hard to get? The subjects mentioned above require access, (the A word which if I hear it again I’ll…..) requires trust by the subjects involved and requires dedication, sacrifice and money by the photographer.

Proposal: A very well written (I stress well written – get some-one else to do it for you if you must) proposal. Outlining why they should give you the money (i.e. subject, how important it is) and how you would spend it, being realistic. They are giving $30,000 not a hundred thousand. If you’re too ambitious with the money that can count against you.

They way the jurors narrowed down the 11 to the final 1 was like this:

First they looked at the new work. They are looking for some one who pulled out all the stops and respected the request made and the chance given by working hard at making new pictures. Did that person send in the required amount? If some one sent in more they requested, they disregarded the extra and actually it went against the photographer for being unfair and perhaps egotistical.

They debated the differences, strengths and weaknesses of shooting in b/w and color (color being more modern…?) Work perhaps being too poetic and they leaned more towards work that was artistic in the framing and shot and not so much in the feeling evoked.
Then they read the 2nd round of proposals and acknowledged a well written, clear in purpose, specific in subject, not generalizing or over ambitious proposal. They looked at whether they had heard or knew of the photographer. Unfortunately this much money was not about to given to an unknown and therefore all of us who are starting out need to apply for up and coming awards, emerging photographer magazine comps and grants (just in case you didn’t know!). Even if they were an unknown and had made it that far, their referee better be known the jurors – so must be part of that niche / community. However if the photographer was receiving a lot of other awards, a lot of attention from other bodies that did go against them as the jurors really want to give the money to some one who needs it. And unfortunately age was a factor. It was discussed that a younger photographer would grow and develop more than an older photographer, when winning this grant. Being over 40 was a big disadvantage.

Lastly, it was really hard for the jurors to decide. When it came down to the last two, they pulled out the work initially sent in. The overall winner was finally chosen as the jurors unanimously agreed the photographer would grow from the help of this award to become an inspirator, a leader, a photographer who already makes images we are all responding to, as they are unique in eye and powerful in composition and subject. Therefore young enough to become a great.

It was a reminder of what matters if you want to win this type of award and become this type of photographer.

Your turn!

Lucy Helton

Inspirational Essay

No introduction necessary. If you have a heart and a brain you'll feel this.

Is The Quality Good Enough

Pubs

Thomas Connolly's, Sligo, Co Sligo, photograph by James Fennell

I don't have nearly as many good photographs of the inside of pubs as I should have, given the amount of time I've spent in them. Gues I was too busy drinking, smoking, talking nonsense and making a fool out of myself to bother. Anyway, a country I have yet to visit is Ireland - even though I had an Irish girlfriend for a while and have several friends that hail from the Emerald Isle. When I do I will be visiting at least one of these pubs in a quest for the perfect pint. I may even take some photographs along the way.


Magnum Korea

Alex Majoli

The Hankyoreh, a newspaper and media company in Korea, commissioned Magnum to produce a series of photographs to commemorate South Korea's 60th anniversary and the company's own 20th anniversary. The Resulting project is apparantly the largest single undertaking by the Magnum agency, who sent 20 of it's photographers to South Korea between the end of 2006 and the start of 2008 with each spending between 10 and 60 days in the country. (Though I think Eugene Smith's Pittsburg photographs might be a contender for the costliest Magnum project..)

The Magnum Korea Exhibition opened in Seoul in the summer of 2008 and was a roaring success, with record breaking attendance. It has just opened in Deajeon, where I am staying, so I went to check it out.

I have to say it is a bit of a mixed bag. I was actually pretty underwhelmed by a lot of the work. More than a few times I though to myself, 'I don't care who you are, that is a crap photo.' I got the impression that a few of the photograpers were either just going through the motions, or just didn't bother to try. About half way through looking at the photos my wife screwed up her face and said, 'It doesn't really say anything about Korea, really.'

She's Korean, so I take it she should know.

She also pointed out a Martin Parr photograph that showed a bunch of brightly coloured products - in typical Parr fashion - that were in fact Japanese. Oops.

I guess this is the problem. If a photographer is sent to a country to photograph without a specific agenda then the result can sometimes be little better than what any visitor with a camera might discover. I started to think that there was not much to Korea except the streets of Seoul and some fairly recognisable tourist spots.

That said, It wasn't all bad. In fact, there were a lot of amazing photographs, ones that you would think deserving of photographers who were part of the notoriously elite 'world's most famous' photography agency. However, these images got a little diluted in this exhibition. Perhaps it is a matter of expectation. You would expect every photograph to come from Magnum to be exceptional. Why would it be otherwise? This agency is the 'old boy's club' of photo agencies. You have to be something special to be a member. In reality though, a Magnum photographer can take a bad picture just like anybody else.

Maybe I'm just being a bit hypercritical though. As I say, there were a ton of good and great photographs in this collection, enough to keep me happy. Every photographer had more than one excellent image in the show, and in particular I enjoyed the work by Alex Majoli, David Alan Harvey, Steve McCurry and Jean Gaumy, whose series on the fishing industry stood head and shoulders above much of the rest for me. He seemed to be the only photographer who had really focused on something, followed it and produced some great photographs as a result. He is well known for his work on this subject so perhaps it wasn't too hard for him but still, an excellent series nonetheless.

There's no doubt that this was a huge project, and despite some glaring ommissions, some mediocre photography and even a few dodgy prints I think this is a fantastic introduction to Korean culture, and one which is well worth a look. There is talk of the exhibit travelling outside of the country and I hope this actually happens. The best photographs in this exhibit are amazing and even if with my limited experience of Korea I consider the country to be woefully under-represented here I would still recommend checking it out.


Steve McCurry

The Korean version of the publication that accompanies the exhibit is well produced and contains a slightly different selection. An english language version will be published before the end of the year, and I will probably succumb to my book fetish and buy a copy. There are photographs here I will want to look at more than a few times.

As an aside, you can check out some of the photographs from my first visit to the country here.

A slideshow of some of the Magnum photographs can be found here.


강운구 - (Kang Woon Gu)





While dropping off some film to get developed at a lab in Seoul called photopia (thanks to Chang for the info!) I saw a poster advertising an exhibition at The Museum of Photography, which I didn't know existed until that moment. So I went to check it out.




The exhibition was of recent photographs by Kang Woon Gu. There were many images from rural Korea, which seems to be a recurring theme in his work. Many of the images were simple scenes or details. He had placed some images in short sequences of 4, with each photograph enlarging a detail from the previous, as if he had taken a shot, walked a few paces and taken another and so on. Some of these worked better than others.



The photographs on one wall caught my attention more than the others due to the fact that they had a more documentary feel to them. They seemed to be slightly out of place amongst the abstract depictions of shadows and footprints in the mud. I felt like I wanted to see more in this style. Then, as if by magic, my wish was granted when I spotted a big black curtain behind which was a room where a DVD projection was showing images from a previous exhibition by Kang Woon Gu with work from a series entitled 'Images of Three Villages'.



This project was carried out in the 70's while he was a journalist and during a period of much change in Korean society. It was of great interest for me because it depicted a society I could see vestiges of in my travels around the country and was related to some aspects of the photography I am currently doing here in Korea. There was no commentary except for the occasional introductory text (in Korean of course) which my wife helpfully gave me a summary of. One phrase she translated stuck in my mind - it was a quote about how 'after awakening from the beauty of the mountain I could see there was much misery in their lives'.





There is hardly any information in english I could find about this photographer in my brief searches but I did find links to some of his books, so hopefully I will be able to post some more about his work.


I did find an english translation of some text related to the 'Images of Three Villages' project, the first portion of which reads as follows


Since the time when these photographs were taken, some thirty years have passed. In that period Korea has changed tremendously. What country in man’s history has changed lock, stock and barrel in such a short time? Clearly all the dissent, disorder and discord arising in this country today are due more to the speed of change than to change itself.

Even if not a dictatorship, it’s been going the way of an industrial society. In shifting from agriculture to industry, many things have to assume different aspects. During this country’s vaunted 5,000 years, almost all morals, culture, and customs sprang from agriculture. But many problems inevitably arose in the course of changes during the period of dictatorship, when we were deprived of liberty and justice,

The phrase “Tilling is the great root of all in the land” was nothing but a patronizing sop from the ruling classes. Since farming was a matter of fate and not choice for small tillers, who were little more than serfs, those words were small comfort. From their point of view, it was “Root of all, my ass.” When the industrial society came on, the farmers mistakenly thought they had another destiny. Forsaking the “great root”, they flocked to the city outskirts.

A city may have been a vortex, but it was the remote mountain villages and their people that bore the brunt of destitution and disintegration. Just as they were at the end of their tether, in swept the mindless whirlwind of the militant Saemaeul Movement, ordering all the houses stripped of their thatched roofs. The houses and villages visible from the roads were the first to go, one after another. Of course the honchos were there, watching and orchestrating it all from the road. Houses that had stood the test of millennia got tin roofs all shlocked up with red and blue paint, and presto that was a Saemaul. That was the Saemaul uniform, just like the army’s. The decisive break with those “customs” and “traditions” that we so like to flaunt occurred then, all at once and by force.

That’s when I as a press photographer sensed how realism and documentary are part and parcel of photography, and managed to find the direction someone who would be a decent art photographer in an art-loving country has to go. So, seeing the dire state of affairs, whether as artist or reporter, I was in a hurry and rather stupidly began to feel my way around the mountain villages. But little did I expect how fast the whole country would be turned inside out. Thinking about it now, everything around should have been a photo, but if something didn’t look like much I would hesitate and just take one or two. If the spirit didn’t move me, I would find it hard to move my finger. Whenever I took a picture I would hope to capture something beyond my ability and beyond what I could see.

In the course of human history or in the history of the Korean people, thirty years do not amount to much. But for an individual it is a long period of time. Looking back, it’s embarrassing to say, I really knew all too little of life and the times. And I had no skill, barely a clue. At that time, while I couldn’t even have guessed about some things, I took other things very seriously. So I wandered wide-eyed from village to village like a skittish vagabond.

Thinking of it now, I’m not ashamed of the poor photos I took then. But it’s too bad so much was missed altogether, whether out of ignorance or failure to realize its importance. If there’s something I took a bad photograph of, at least there’s that. But if there’s something I missed, I have nothing.

The settlements in Images of Three Villages are no more. Had some semblance of them survived, little would be lost even if the photographs were discarded. But since nary a trace is left, there is all the more reason for keepsakes such as these. In effect, fossil remains is what they are.

Quite a large part of the photos have appeared in books, magazines or exhibitions. But because of space or other considerations many that I originally thought should be published have not been. In setting down the luggage carried for so long, I can now feel somewhat at ease. And with fewer obligations than long ago, I may be freer to go a bit farther.


---


A couple of passages really struck a cord with me.


This one:


...seeing the dire state of affairs, whether as artist or reporter, I was in a hurry and rather stupidly began to feel my way around the mountain villages. But little did I expect how fast the whole country would be turned inside out. Thinking about it now, everything around should have been a photo, but if something didn’t look like much I would hesitate and just take one or two. If the spirit didn’t move me, I would find it hard to move my finger. Whenever I took a picture I would hope to capture something beyond my ability and beyond what I could see.


And this one:


...Thinking of it now, I’m not ashamed of the poor photos I took then. But it’s too bad so much was missed altogether, whether out of ignorance or failure to realize its importance. If there’s something I took a bad photograph of, at least there’s that. But if there’s something I missed, I have nothing.


Both of these address a couple of my favourite issues; the ethics and motives behind what you photograph and the dialogue between aesthetics and content. These are things I think every documentary photographer struggles with.


Kang Woon Gu is definitely someone whose work I will be checking out in a bit more depth...


In any case, The Museum of Photography in Seoul is worth a visit if you are in the city. Aside from the photography there is an excellent view (the gallery is in a high rise) and the Olympic park is just opposite so you can take a stroll before or after if you have the time.



It's the outtakes stupid

Steve Bell's cartoon on British Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Steve Bell always seems to hit the nail on the head. This cartoon not only makes a great political point but says something about photography, editing, PR and even Britishness as well. Very clever.
Let's not forget that PR and advertising as we know it were born out of propaganda, and these days politicians public personas are as much fabrications as the happy families using soap on a TV ad.
Also, it seems like the U.S. Financial collapse is doing almost as much harm around the world as the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld & Co foreign policy. And if one more person says that nobody could have forseen this I think I am gonna snap.

Business and Pleasure

One of the reasons I wanted to become a photographer was to travel round the world without being just a tourist. So any opportunity to combine business with pleasure is very welcome!
To this end, killing several birds with one stone, I am in Korea visiting my wife's family while shooting for a project on some small scale agriculture and farming relating to Korean cuisine. Luckily I'm getting a chance to see some sights as well.
I have been in Korea for little over a week, travelling about with sparodic internet connections and one edition of The Korea Times (One of Korea's english language newspapers) so I have only a vague idea of what is going on in the world. Apparantly I missed James Nachtwey's grand unveiling of his project on XDR-TB. If you haven't already you can check it out here.
I did manage to catch the latter half of the U.S. presidential candidate's debate though I think the Palin/Biden one may have been more entertaining. For the record, I am not a big fan of a lot of Obama's policies, though how anyone could think that a McCain/Palin administration could be at all competent given the outright nonsense I have heard from them over the past few weeks is beyond me. They both seem to struggle to construct a coherent sentence, let alone a national policy.
Anyway. As an antidote to all this I thoroughly recommend taking a trip to Jeju Island in South Korea and hiking up Hallasan Mountain, an extinct volcano and Korea's highest mountain.
I don't, however, recommend doing it with a 4x5 camera. Or at least, if you do make sure you take a backpack. I looked at the mountain from a distance and it didn't look too steep. The climb up was only 10 km as well, so I just slung everything in my Domke. It turns out it is actually quite steep.
If I ever do some photography up a really high mountain (one that requires packing an ice pick for example) I will be investing heavily in new equipment...
So, here I am at a waystation around 3km from the summit on the Seongpanak trail. Just past 9 am and still smiling (sort of). The Korean guy next to me is my wife's uncle, my companion on this trek who had sensibly packed a point and shoot.
I have to say that the scenery was spectacular and I am hoping the large format negative will do it some justice. This was about 500m from the summit.
Finally, this was taken on the on the Gwaneumsa trail going down the other side. You wouldn't know it from the expression on my face but I was actually enjoying myself, though my shoulders were starting to feel the strain at this point. That's the mountain's peak behind me. Thinking back, jeans were probably a bad idea as well. The Koreans on the trail were mostly decked out in proper climbing gear. Some of them were as old as my grandparents. They probably do this climb every week.


Later this day I rewarded my weary body with some delicious green tea from Sulloc (Jeju Island produces the majority of Korea's tea) ate some fresh abalone on a rock by the sea on the Yongmeori coast and climbed several hundred steps to a buddhist shrine at Sanbangsan, where I partook of some allegedly magically restorative water, which after a full day like this was much needed.

The day after this mountain trek my legs hurt and I went to see an underground lava tube. It was dark and wet. And spectacular.

I took the D200 this time - check out some photos here.

Anyway. That's enough of my holidays. Back to work....