CYL: Change Your Life

This is a project run as part of the International Center of Photography's community programs in partnership with the Friends of Island Academy in Manhattan. Drop me a line if you would like to attend the final presentation of the student's work this Wednesday, July 1st..

Jack Delano

Someone should take the (copyright free) photographs of Jack Delano from the Library of Congress and publish a book. At present the best way to see his work is on Flickr. His full digitised archive at the LoC is here. I first came across his work a couple of years ago, and ever since have wished I could have a book to take down off the shelf and browse; by far my preffered means of referencing photography.

Anyone who stands on top of a freight train with a 4x5 deserves a bit of attention.

In my opinion an underrated photographer with a great eye, as well as one showing us the 1940's in colour.

Are you listening Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans?

... and all those who think colour photography began with Eggleston.

In fact, colour photography (of a sort) has been around since the 1860's...

Summer Reading

I vow to not buy any more books until I have finished going through these. I can't afford any at the moment anyway. Nor do I have the time to read, except on the train, hence the fact that I've managed to get through half of the Gonzo book since I bought it last November. The photo books are a little less portable. Anyway, from the pictures in them they look great, just hope the text is worth the weight.

Besides, when I have had time to read these past couple of weeks, it's been all about the Iranian Election. Plenty enough words (and pictures) on that subject to engage the brain without delving into this lot on my desk.

The difference between good and great

Currently answering readers questions in the New York Times' 'Talk to the Newsroom' series is Assistant Managing Editor Michele McNally, who oversees photography. Get your question in quick!

A brief sample:

Q. What makes a photojournalist grow from making very good images to making brilliant ones?

— Sasha Turk

A. I think the best photojournalists have a philosophical, psychological, and emotional clarity in what they are trying to say with their pictures. They have done their existential homework and have achieved the ability to reach real emotional truthfulness in their images using narrative, gesture, light and composition. They also recognize that what they get to see and do is very special and important — to viewers and their subjects. I'd also say, hard work.

So there you have it - to be great is not so difficult, all it requires is a zen like mastery of the medium - oh yeah, and hard work.

I cannot argue with that. Especially the hard work bit...

Cassini Images

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I would look at the photos from the voyager probes and wonder what it would be like to really be there and see those sights, and more. One of my favourite photo books is the collection of photographs taken on the Apollo moon missions entitled Full Moon (and I do not for one minute believe the conspiracy theorists who say it was all staged - yeah I saw the movie Capricorn One but I truly believe that we are just that insane to actually send those men up there in that aluminium foil box...)

Every so often I take a look at what those crazy scientists are doing now - for example, the following images of Saturn were taken by the Cassini Probe, with it's two massive telescope cameras - a whopping 2 metre focal length, f/10.5 Ritchey-Chretien telescope and a f/3.5 color-corrected refractor, with a 200mm focal length fronted by an array of interchangable filters and focusing light onto a CCD sensor built in the 90's. (For a really dry scientific paper on the probe's imaging systems check out this 134 page document; pretty cool even if - like me - you don't understand the algebra.)

So pictures like this take me back to my childhood dreams of being an spaceman. Only a tiny percentage of humans will make the trip into space in the forseeable future. The last manned trip to the moon was in 1972 and it doesn't look like we're in any rush to head back there.

It's a shame. There are those who say we should sort out our problems here on Earth before heading off to other planets and I wholeheartedly agree, though part of me believes that missions to space could serve as an inspiration to us here on the ground; who would fail to agree with the notion that the images of the Earth as seen from the moon give us a realisation of how tiny and fragile our world is, or with the the observation that "For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one."? (Even if it was Nixon who spoke the words...)

Also, thinking along these lines brings to mind the words of the late great Bill Hicks, who would so often make me laugh simply becasue he told us the truth. He would often close his stand up sets with the following:

"Here's what we can do to change the world right now, to a better ride; take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and instead spend it feeding clothing and educating the poor of the world which it would many times over not one human being excluded and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."

Amen to that.

Bradford's UNESCO Status

Photograph by Peter Conteh

My hometown has just been designated the world's first UNESCO City of Film. That's motion pictures, not Kodachrome, but it's still photography enough related for me to deem it relevant here!

So there's another reason to visit this culturally rich city in the North of England - let's hope it has an inspirational affect on the City's youth.

Photography For a Greener Planet - Daniel Shea

Let's face it - photography is a wasteful and ecologically unsound activity. Think of all the plastics, metals, paper and chemicals that get used by us photographers of the course of our careers - and plenty of it gets thrown away. Pretty horrendous really.

Photographer Andrea Bakacs recently alerted me to her blog - Photography for a greener planet - which seeks to present projects and photographers attempting to redress the balance by photographing stories and making work relating to the environmental damage we humans engage in with our activities and some of the things we can do to minimise our impact. Sometimes this can be a difficult thing to present visually as subjects of this nature are rarely easily to isolate as being purely ecological.

Take the photographs of Daniel Shea for example. His series - removing mountains - which is about open face coal mining in the Appalachian mountains - contains not only the obvious shots of big scars on the landscape from the mines but also some sense of the community that surrounds the coal mines, which are both providers of jobs and the source of economic woes (coal is a finite resource - once the mines are exhausted, what then?). The mines divide communities, with those who see them as a benefit pitted against those who oppose the damage they do. Coal mining provides fuel and yet devastates the environment. Complex - and difficult to portray, though of course the visual impact of the mines themselves is apparent.

Photograph by Daniel Shea

I think Shea has a decent stab at presenting this issue in it's many facets, though my only real complaint being that I really believe he should have captions for each of his photos on his website. In a story of this nature, you really need to know if the guy with the weapon resting on his lap is a miner, an environmental activist, or just a guy with a gun on his lap.

Photograph by Daniel Shea

Context is everything and with the debates surrounding issues such as this often becoming extremely muddy, clarity is essential. The subjects may have multiple issues attached to them and debate can rage back and forth, but ambiguity is something we should strive to eliminate if we are really to address these issues properly.

In any case, Kudos to Photography for a greener planet for bringing this work to my attention; check out Andrea's interview with Daniel Shea here.

Don McCullin

It was when I was a student in London in the late nineties that I first began to take photography seriously - in that I thought it might actually be a useful pursuit. In my second year a friend of mine who was studying media was making a short film with a photographer as the lead character. He asked me to do production stills and also to make the photographs that would appear in the film as belonging to the protagonist. Sure, I said. The story was based in part on a change in direction for the photographer; from a war correspondent to an abstract photographic artist.

My friend, the director, showed me a bunch of photographs and said 'Do you think you could do something like that?'

The photographs I was to imitate were by Don McCullin. I was stunned. In those days I didn't know barely anything about famous photographers. My parents liked Salgado and Cartier-Bresson and I'd seen a few books and exhibits but Don McCullin was a name vaguely recognised and I certainly hadn't seen more than one or two of his pictures before.

Since that moment he has been one of my favourite photographers. His work is incredible, his attitude is forthright and direct and he has a refreshing honesty regarding what he would see as the failure of his work to affect change.

I've written briefly about his book 'Is Anyone Taking Any notice?' before. Check that out here.

The current issue of Aperture magazine has a short conversation between him and Fred Ritchin, with some video excerpts online here.

He is also exhibiting in my hometown of Bradford in the north of England at The National Media Museum until the end of September 2009. Their website has a wealth of resources relating to his work and career and is well worth checking out. If you happen to be in Bradford definitely put it on you itinerary (along with a trip to some of the UK's best Curry Houses - the best curry outside of India in fact...)

Actually, you should make a trip to Bradford specifically for the above reasons. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

McCullin has some (sort of) nice things to say about my home town:

"I stopped wandering when I reached Bradford, where I found a microcosm of the dark satanic legacy that we had inherited from Britain’s industrial heyday ... I was met everywhere by warm and courteous people ... In Bradford I experienced a new freedom, wandering through the quiet dilapidated streets where, for the first time in years, I encountered a great deal of hospitality and the welcome absence of violence. I discovered here a city, a living city, and in so doing I rediscovered myself – not always a comfortable process."

Here is one of his photographs of the place.

Oh yeah, and those pictures I was supposed to imitate for the film? Impossible. We did get some pretty cool fake warzone shots in a burnt out building in South London one afternoon though...

Richard Ashe

Richard is a friend and sometime contributor to this blog. He has just updated his website. Check it out here.

From the 'Deacon Green' series

He is one of the most honest photographer's I have met. He photographs people with respect, rather than as spectacle. He walks a lot, still shoots with B&W film and doesn't own a digital camera.

He's good with kids too.