Photographic Anthropology

In the Amazon, there are still tribes that have had no contact with the modern world - at least no face to face contact. A group of such tribes in Brazil, near the border with Peru, have just been photographed from the air by the Brazilian government in order to 'prove their existence'. Apparently their habitat is under threat from loggers. Which is not a surprise. Brazil also has a policy of 'non-contact' in order to allow these tribes to continue their way of life undisturbed. Undisturbed that is except for the aeroplane circling above them. To get an idea of what they thought of this, take a look at the photograph below.

Members of the tribe are seen covered in paint brandishing their weapons at the aircraft
Photograph: Survival International /Reuters

It seems that the plane made several passes. After the first one, the members of the tribe painted themselves red and armed themselves. I wonder if non-contact of this sort is at all beneficial. I also wonder if the loggers actually care whether these people exist or not, though I like the idea that these photographs are proof of their existence, especially as the veracity of the photographic image is a favourite conversation topic amongst critics and theorists.

For more on this story and news on similar tribes around the globe take a look at the Survival International organisation.


Today I received a postcard from my close friend, photographer Annabelle Dalby. Alongside the personal message she was also letting me know about a project she is working on called dearImage.

Much of her work deals with memory, the found image and photographs of the vernacular. She is adept at revealing the many layers of a photographic image and at re-contextualising found photography so that it becomes more than a simple re-presentation of the image. She often treats her own photography in the same manner as her found photographs and I have sometimes had to ask her whether she took the photograph or found it! I have great respect for her as a friend and an artist. You can check out her work here.

For dearImage She is inviting people to send her personal photographs 'to either share the important moment or to free yourself from a burdened memory.' The will be initially displayed on the web and I'm sure she has other plans for them too! I will be digging in the shoebox and sending along some prints and I hope you do the same.

For more on the project, check out

Violence In South Africa

Joao Silva's photographs from South Africa are very evocative of the trouble that has been going on recently there.

These three are particularly stunning to me. In the top one a man is demolishing a shack to stop the spread of fire, which is a desperate measure. In the second, a woman takes a backward glance at a corpse. There is a casual calm in this image - punctured by the dead man's hand rising from the shroud - which I find disturbing. In the third a severely beaten man awaits assistance, guarded by a policeman. The protection offered him has come too late.

Perhaps this could have been avoided if South African President Thabo Mbeki had been willing to put more pressure on Mugabe after this year's election farce. Maybe then there wouldn't be so many refugees from Zimbabwe in his country. Maybe then xenophobia against immigrants wouldn't be so high. Maybe then some people would still be alive. Maybe.


One person I bumped into at the New York Photo Festival was Ports Bishop, who has recently co-curated a show at the Mountain Fold Gallery titled 'Anti Hero'. I went down to the gallery to check out the work on display. There are ten photographers represented, here is a selection.

Mark Borthwick

Ports Bishop

Tobin Yelland

Yu Ukai

The reason for the title of the show is perhaps best explained in this paragraph from the press release:

The photographers’ varying roles within their work raise the question of how they cast themselves in their own lives: if these photographs portray their stories, is the artist the hero—that traditional actor, who seeks to overcome obstacles to claim the life that he desires? Or the anti-hero, who understands himself as susceptible to and shaped by his observations as well as his ideals?

I thought the photographs definitely represented the idea of the photographer as someone who is 'susceptible to and shaped by' the world around them. One of the beautiful aspects of photography is that it allows a moment, an image of a certain time and place to be recorded and contemplated later. The photographer is compelled to click the shutter at a precise moment, without always knowing why. Even if the reason is known, is it always possible to communicate this to another viewer? Will they see what the photographer sees, or something different?

All these things I thought while I was looking at this show, as the images here were deceptively simple. They offered up moments without explanation, they seemed casual yet deliberate. Photography can turn an apparently ordinary scene into something extraordinary, and I felt this is what I was looking at here. It was if the photographers were saying 'look at this, isn't it wonderful?' and in many cases I would have to answer 'yes'. Why? Because life is wonderous, and we should always take a moment to contemplate that.

'Anti Hero' runs until June 28th 2008.

The Concerned Photographer.

Robert Kennedy campaigning in Buffalo for the United States Senate, in 1964.
Photo: Cornell Capa/Magnum Photos, courtesy of the International Center of Photography

Cornell Capa, Photojournalist, founder of the International Centre of Photography, keeper of his brother's legacy. A man genuinely concerned. R.I.P.

An obituary in the NY Times here and at the ICP website here.

NYPH08 - Curating 2.0?

Firstly, I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean. Curating is simply curating. To add some strange lingo from the world of technology in an attempt to distinguish some sort of new way of curating is just, well, it's just bullshit.

Secondly, the curating of the New York Photo Festival seems to have been under some discussion this past few days. I personally thought that the festival was supposed to be about the photographs, so I treated it as such. Some photographs I liked, some I didn't. I have since thought about the actual curating though. One trigger was an email I received pointing me in the direction of a couple of blog posts and the other was seeing a video clip where Martin Parr was asked why the four main curator's names were so prominent. His answer was something along the lines that it was simpler to list four names than that of the hundreds of photographers in the festival. A fair point, but there is another option - how about no names. How about giving the curator's credit but not top billing.

Maybe it is this that has encouraged the discussion about curating. I decided to read the statements in the festival catalogue - something I had not done before seeing the shows.

Martin Parr does little but list the contributors. Which is about as interesting as seeing the same photograph over and over again, something I have a problem with in regard to the idea of 'typologies'. I agree that photography can be used to classify but that is no reason to make the photographs as cold and clinical as possible. I see a lot of photographic series which are mind numbing after the first three. I thought Jan Banning's photographs were excellent examples of how this can be done well, with each photograph holding it's own yet playing a part in a larger series. Jeffrey Milstein also does this well and looking at his series I was reminded of insect specimens, truly a well presented typology. Martin Parr seems to have chosen a narrow theme and as such the show had a coherency. Curating 2.0 seems pretty easy so far!

Kathy Ryan writes about how the photographers in her show are 'conversing with painters and sculptors'. This I did not see in most of the work. Well, that's not quite true - of course photography has plenty in common with painting and sculpture but I don't think the link needs to be stressed and if it does it needs to be a lot less tenuous than a lot of what I saw in this show, which seemed to just present photographers as artists without any other thematic consideration. Fine, and some great work selected - Kathy Ryan deserves her praise as a great photo editor but where's the curatorial direction? The work is quite disparate. I also think that to compare the photographers to giants of 20th century art does them a dis-service. If the festival byline is the future then why all the looking back? Why all the insistence that Photography is art? It is. I get it. Let's move on.

Lesley A. Martin's Ubiquitous Image and Tim Barber's Various Photographs both seem to address the same issue from different angles. Lesley A. Martin chooses to present work by photographers who use 'found' images. I think this is great. I love found images. As a concept for a show it has fantastic potential and Martin is very astute in her observations. However, when she writes that we live 'awash with images' and about 'the multiplicity of readings' I began to think that some of the selection doesn't quite hold up - the 'Various Photographs' exhibit deals with this idea much better. I find that the appropriation is done best when it is ambiguous and mysterious, not obvious and simple. There are examples of both here. Lesley A. Martin also talks of the 'intervention of the artist as a means of calling into question the real information value of images' and I have to confess this sounds to me like the kind of pretentious talk I used to hear at art school and read in books on art theory and which, ultimately is a clever way of saying not very much really.

It is Tim Barber who comes across as the most honest here. His 'absurdist rant' actually contained a large number of excellent photographs. He has been criticised for the very thing that I thought was the exhibit's strength. Here are the ubiquitous images, the photographs as art and even the typologies. By refraining from telling me what the photography here was about, I was allowed to invent my own theories and narratives. In the spirit of the event I thought this perfectly captured the festival vibe. While the other curators seemed to be looking backward at art, at photography and at history, Tim Barber has simply offered up a set of photographs. His explanation that 'This show is a series of questions...none of which have specific answers' is perhaps why I like this so much. In trying to define, to explain, curators often leave me with the feeling that they know no more than me, yet pretend they do and that worse still that they can tell me what things are about. I prefer to make up my own mind and this is what I was allowed to do here. Yes it was overwhelming, but so is standing in front of a Rothko painting (or a Roger Ballen photograph). I don't need to be told this. If the work is good enough it will speak to me.

So I actually really enjoyed the shows at the festival. I thought all the curators picked some excellent work and there was a lot of good photography on display. Having now paid attention to their intentions, I wish they had just sat on the sidelines and let the work speak for itself. I think personally that is what they tried to do, but in drawing attention to the curating by so prominently advertising the names of those involved, they have invited scrutiny of their efforts. Maybe without this prominence, the photographs would have outshined the curating. Which is - after all - the point of a show.

The New York Photo Festival

I finally made it down to the NY Photo Festival this afternoon (the last day). I didn't get a chance to see everything and I didn't attend a single event or talk but I did get a whole afternoon full of photography, which is certainly more than enough images for one day. The exhibit I spent the least time in was 'Various Photographs' curated by Tim Barber and it was actually my favourite of the festival. Unfortunately I came to it last and was suffering from photo fatigue - while my poor wife was so exhausted she didn't even step inside this one! Though I unashamedly skimmed though this room it held many interesting and fantastic photographs, one each from dozens of photographers. Now that's thinking like a festival.

Two of the big exhibits I found to be a little obvious - Kathy Ryan and Martin Parr can choose some quality photographs but I wasn't really surprised or challenged by the choices, good though many of them were.

Most of all I was looking forward to seeing the work at the invitational pavilion but have to admit I think this was a wasted opportunity and I left feeling a little disappointed. There was some great photography but the presentation was more than a little haphazard and it seemed very much cobbled together as if it was an afterthought. These 'satellite shows' should have been given more space and with a bit more effort could have been given the attention they deserve.

My wife really liked the Portraiture on show from the Getty archives and I also thought the selection here was excellent and varied.

There was also some work I thought was terrible or at least fairly dull, but seeing as though I mostly enjoyed the day I won't focus on the negative. I have just realised that is a very bad pun. Sorry.

As an enjoyable bonus to the day I bumped into many many people I know and also met a couple of new people in the world of photography, which added to the festival vibe. Also a special thankyou to Emile and Toby for sorting me out with tickets to the event for myself and the family. Thankyou gentlemen for a generous gift.

As New York purports to be the center of the photographic industry it is strange that it has not had a dedicated festival until now. Perhaps with the many galleries, agencies, courses, events and fairs strewn throughout the calendar there hasn't been a need for one. There is the potential for this to become an outstanding festival. Based on what I saw today this was at the very least a good start.

Anyway, here's some photos.

Nick Zinner (left) Sayo Nagase (centre) from 'Various Photographs'

My boy checks out some 'New Typologies'

A photograph of a woman photographing some photographers who are photographing a wedding couple during the New York Photo Festival.

My wife and I liked this mini issue of 'Foam'. Very cute.

NYPH08 Jewelry.

NYPH08 - Tiana Markova-Gold

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Tiana Markova-Gold, who was an award winner in the recent New York Photo Awards. I studied with Tiana at the ICP and was fortunate enough to see the process and evolution of her documentary series on sex workers in New York, for which she was awarded the Student Book Award. Check it out on her website here.

A full list of winners and nominees can be found here.

Business & Government

Photo: James Hill for The New York Times
A worker exposed to the elements prepared and welded pipes forming a pipeline intended to bring gas from wells across the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas field into its central complex for drying before distribution into the main Gazprom network.

Pool photograph by Dmitry Astakhov
Gazprom’s chairman, Dmitri Medvedev (center), now Russia’s president, celebrated the company’s anniversary this year with the C.E.O. Alexei Miller, at his left, and the band Deep Purple.

An interesting article on Russian Politics and big business - specifically Gazprom - in the New York Times last week. It just goes to show that corporations and profiteering is what government is really all about these days. I'm thinking not only of Medvedev & Putin but also Bush, Cheney, & Rumsfeld. I don't remember where I heard it first but there is a notion that while communism's aim was to make everyone the same, capitalism can achieve that aim much better. No wonder the Russians have embraced it.

I also thought James Hill's photographs accompanied the article well, which was also illustrated with the photograph of Medvedev looking stupidly pleased with himself posing with Deep Purple. Rock and Roll.

Wu Qi

These photographs are by Chinese photographer Wu Qi. I would be interested to know more about him - if anyone has any information please let me know. Some of the shots appear as if they could be staged and I would like to know if they are or not. I hope it's the latter.

Incidentally, Wu Qi translates more or less as 'without energy' and is an important part of Taoist philosophy representing the state of equanimity that exists beyond enlightenment from which anything is possible. Not bad to have that for a name!

So Much Trouble In the World


Prakash Singh/AFP


Robert Nickelsburg/Getty


Joe Burbank/AP


Kittinun Roduspan/Reuters


Lefteris Pitarakis/AP


Mark Ralston/AFP Getty

The Wedding Picture

I love weddings. I love being at them and I love photographing them. It's a great opportunity to for everyone to look their smartest and happiest. I also love witnessing and participating in rituals and ceremonies with all their symbolism and tradition.

Now, I don't know about you but aside from the smiling faces this seems more like the setting for a funeral to me. The symbolism that can be read into this photograph is in my opinion at odds with the occasion. There is the looming tombstone cross which dominates the picture, the slab reminiscent of a sacrificial alter, the white flowers and the twilight of the setting sun behind. And that's without the contextual knowledge of the dynastic and political aspects of the bride's family. I'm sure this was meant to represent the romance of the newlyweds and the faith in their religion but I don't quite get that impression. Still, I wish Jenna & Henry many years of wedded bliss.

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush and Mr. and Mrs. John Hager pose with the newly married couple, Jenna and Henry Hager, in front of the altar Saturday, May 10, 2008, after their wedding ceremony at Prairie Chapel Ranch near Crawford, Texas. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Afghanistan - John D. McHugh.

Journalist John D. McHugh is one of those reporters who has put himself in harms way to record events and been injured for his troubles. Like that of the soldiers he is reporting on his is a dangerous position. Check out his photographs and articles on the war in Afghanistan - 'America's other war' as it is described here - on the Guardian website.

May 10 2006, northern Kandahar: A suspected Taliban prisoner is searched, handcuffed, and processed.

John D McHugh grimices in pain as a medic examines and dresses his gunshot wound at Kamu outpost in Nuristan, Afghanistan, May 2007.

Photographs by John D. McHugh.

Trajectories - Simon Norfolk

There was a brief article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine on NASA, satellites and missiles. The piece doesn't really go into too much depth and is more like an extended caption for a series of Photographs by Simon Norfolk. I enjoy a lot of Norfolk's work, even if he sometimes falls into the artist's trap of having more ideas than his images reveal, but I think he straddles that dangerous line between art and documentary remarkably well.

This particular series of images includes long exposure photographs of rocket launches. I have to admit I am a little jealous, as at the last shuttle launch earlier this year I briefly wondered what a long exposure shot of the launch would look like and thought it would be a good thing to shoot. I can't be the first person to think that but these are the only ones I've seen, just so happens they are pretty good and it's not me who took them! Oh well. Another idea to cross off the list. It's difficult to see in this jpeg but I especially like the two figures on the beach. A nice touch that conjures up idyllic walks along the shore - while Air Force rockets blast off in the background.

A million little pictures - some fun photography

Here are some photos of mine taken on the run one day with a disposable camera for the Art House 'Million Little Pictures' Project, which was a short exhibit in February at San Francisco's Minna Gallery. I just saw them for the first time the other day.

Sacred Rites - Mushrooms

These are, I believe, the first known photographs of a sacred rite involving hallucinogenic mushrooms. They were taken by Allan Richardson for Life Magazine in 1957. The man receiving a mushroom in the top image is Robert Gordon Wasson, then vice president of J.P. Morgan & Co.

To read the full article click here.

World Press Today

Here is sometime I was sent about World Press. Wonder what you think. I was not too wild about the winners. I feel like if you want to make documents that are more "moody" or vague, then you need a photo essay, not a single. But i could be wrong. I also feel there are years when there is not a single iconic image and they shouldn't give a single prize. Actually, I don't even like the prize for a single images - unless it is an icon like Eddie Adams or Nick Ut, I don't see the reason to give it an award. What do yot think? ps - I think since Gilles Peress photographers have had more of a "clear Authorship" and perhaps the World Press is just behind the times? - Robert Stevens

This year's World Press Photo Awards are somewhat of a departure from previous competitions, as there were less pure news pictures chosen, typically coming from one of the wire services, but more well composed, moody, and photographically sophisticated stories and images that showed a clear authorship by a single photographer. It seems that slowly the walls between what is still known as photojournalism, documentary photography, art photography and commercial photography are crumbling and I think that this is a good thing. Many of the prize winners this year are very young photographers, young both in age and also in their approach. I feel very proud to be part of this new generation of people who are not so much thinking in categories any longer.


- Christoph Bangert re. World Press May 2008

Adam Jeppesen, Wake

Steidl makes some of the most beautiful photography books I have ever seen. A lot of it also has to do with the amazing work that goes inside it. This is one of the instances. Danish photographer, Adam Jeppesen's new book "Wake" is so surreal and beautiful, it makes me wish I were Danish. I hope you enjoy it like I do, I am going out to buy it soon.


Monks in Exile

A exiled Tibetan monk watched a sunset from a balcony during a storm, at the Kopan Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal. An international human rights group urged Nepal's government to cancel orders for security forces on Mount Everest to shoot if necessary to stop protests during China's planned Olympic torch relay.

Photo: Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Front Page News

Many newspapers would shy away from publishing such images on their front page.

Photograph: John Hrusa/EPA

The caption reads: An exiled Zimbabwean living in South Africa holds a copy of the Zimbabwean newspaper, in which these pictures were first published.

Click here to see the photographs in full.

Hannah & Annie

Another Liebovitz portrait, another controversy. I don't normally like Germaine Greer's brand of feminism but her article on the subject here makes some excellent points. On a lighter note, but equally spot on is this clip from Steven Colbert's TV show.