Aisha and TIME

Aisha, Photograph by Jodi Bieber / INSTITUTE for TIME

There is no doubt that this is a powerful picture. An obviously beautiful young woman whose physical disfigurement as a result of a brutal and violent act mirrors perfectly the psychological abuse the woman - Aisha - must have suffered. It is a portrait that alludes to so many issues about the oppression of women in Afghanistan, the horrific nature of an abuse of male power both personal and societal and the ability of someone to go through such an ordeal and still be able to present themselves to the world with strength and dignity. Fantastic to see this on the cover of such a prominent magazine. Then you read the copy pasted next to Aisha's face. And suddenly this is about something else entirely. Suddenly this is a thinly veiled - no, actually rather blatant - call to arms in support of a sustained military engagement in Afghanistan.

As a photographer, when you put your work into the hands of editors you have to trust that they have the same intentions as you. I have seen my interpretation of my own photographs change before my eyes when juxtaposed with words I did not write. It is remarkable how often an article or a caption can completely alter the context and reading of a photograph and underscores the importance of a working relationship where respect and trust and paramount.

It is a shame that there is not more collaboration in the industry between all the people who put an article together. I always thought that the writer, photographer, editor and designer should all be working together while the truth is that often the pieces are assembled without the input of the producers. A good editor is so important. I think this is the reason why many people are embracing the ideas of self publishing and distribution today, so they can have editorial control. Once your work is out there then it can be appropriated and used to further a multitude of agendas and it is near impossible to stop that, but it is also important that in the initial presentation it is put forward in the correct context. That way, you are not backtracking and having to say “No, what I meant was …” You will have the context and be able to point to it directly as an anchor.

My initial reaction to the caption on the cover was that it turned the photograph into a propaganda tool to support the war, rather than what I think was Jodi Bieber's original intention with this image, which was to show that this woman is still beautiful despite having her face mutilated, and to draw attention to the barbaric acts of violence perpetrated against Aisha and other women in Afghanistan. I believe that that is most likely what Aisha also thought as she posed for the photograph. She may also support the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan. I do not know.

What I do know is that the idea that the war is justified and it’s continuation will prevent this from happening is a matter for debate, and is not a fact, as TIME’s cover copy would imply. It turns the personal story of this woman into an archetypal illustration. That they focused on Aisha and not any of the other women photographed in the essay, which shows women in many different situations in Afghan society, many of whom are – for want of a better word – empowered, shows how far from the original intention of the photographic essay the editorial spin on the cover goes.

Robina Mukimyar Jalalai
In 2004, Jalalai was Afghanistan's first female representative at the Olympics. She is now running for Parliament.
Photograph by Jodi Bieber / INSTITUTE for TIME

It is very obvious that this essay is about women in Afghanistan and not about why the war should be sustained. It is fine – and important – to state your opinion, but it should be clearly stated that this is an editorial opinion and not fact. In this instance, you might as well replace the TIME logo with one for the U.S. Military. With that one phrase on the cover, TIME have shown themselves to be propagandists and not reporters.

Ooh la la

One day I will ponce around France, eating bread and cheese, drinking wine and discussing existentialism while wearing a black polo neck and waiting for the tour to pass by so I can photograph it with a 4x5. Till then....

Anthony Charteau, winner of the polkadot King of the Mountains jersey. Photograph by Tom Jenkins

Laura Pannack - Best In Show

Shay’ by photographer Laura Pannack

Congratulations to Laura Pannack who scoops the 'Best In Show' award at this year's FOTO8 summer show with this rather fine portrait. A special mention has to go to my talented friend Kathryn Obermaier whose work is also in the exhibit. If you can't make it to London to see the show the whole thing is online here.

Bodies In Question

The stand out show for me in this year's New York Photo Festival was the 'Bodies In Question' Pavilion curated by Fred Ritchin.

This exhibit was full of fascinating, important and arresting work and this comes as no surprise as Fred is one of the most articulate and critical thinkers on photography and the ways we both make and use imagery.

If you missed it first time round, you can catch it again as it is on display in New York at the Tisch School of Arts Gulf + Western Gallery & 8th Floor Gallery which is located at 721 Broadway. The opening reception is Thursday 22nd (tonight).

I know that there has been some talk of this exhibit travelling so hopefully it will make it's way out of New York at some point. If you own an exhibition space and want to put on a fantastic show, call Fred today...

Another one.

We just don't learn do we.

Workers attempt to rescue a firefighter from drowning in the oil slick during the oil spill clean-up operations at Dalian's Port on July 20, 2010. (REUTERS/Jiang He/Greenpeace) #

BP and the great photoshop Scandal

It's a strange fact of digital photography that most files benefit from some - or a lot - of retouching. A bit of contrast here, a touch of sharpening there, colour balance and saturation....

This morning I got pulled up on some retouching I had done and was told to tone it down a little. In fairness, looking at the photos there was perhaps a little too much sharpness and contrast on a couple of the shots, but it wasn't anything extreme - not even as bad as some I have seen in the very same publication, and in my defence I did work them very quickly, and it was hot to the point of distraction that day, which was long and busy. Still. It's good advice and another anecdote to tell students. Ease off on the adobe programs people. Lightroom and Photoshop have some pretty powerful tools, doesn't mean that using them is going to make your pictures any better. On the contrary it seems.

In fact we all know that photos can be poor truth tellers and they only tell part of the story at best. Now when people start getting out the digital scissors and really start cutting, pasting and altering, removing and adding we get into some serious lying with photos.

Take this one for example:

which was removed and replaced from BP's website with this. look carefully:

Terms of use: These images are the copyright of BP p.l.c. and are made available in good faith. You may reproduce the images on the understanding that (i) any reproduction of these images will include the following acknowledgement adjacent to the image(s) used - '© BP p.l.c.' and (ii) these images will not be used in connection with any purpose that is prejudicial to BP, its officers or employees or any other third party. The images may not be sold on.

I reproduced the full terms and conditions, which include a 'no prejudice' use restriction. Well, I'm not sure if that's supposed to prevent criticism, but I do like the 'good faith' bit, which makes me laugh because you need a healthy dose of good (blind) faith to believe what you see in this picture. It apparently shows the BP 'Hive' (whatever that is supposed to be) in July 2010. According to this, it may in fact be a photo from 2001 that has been retouched so the monitors show footage of the recent gulf oil well travesty. Now it seems BP are finally getting a grip on this problem, but given that journalists and photographers have been harassed and bullied, they could at least provide us with some proper PR shots as a consolation prize instead of some poorly photoshopped bullshit. I'd rather be lied to well than lied to badly and if you look at the hi res version of the photo here, you will see it is a pretty bad lie they are handing out. Though now I do feel much better about that ticking off I got this morning.

In any case. Well done BP for stopping that oil geyser you caused. Now let's hope that cap actually holds, that the U.S. government demands a full review of all the capped and tapped oil wells scattered throughout the gulf, that we just call it quits on the whole drilling holes into the planet and sucking out prehistoric old gunk regardless of the consequences thing and seriously start investing in clean, safe, renewable and sustainable energy technology. Oh, and about those Nigerian oil wells...

From a Gulf Oyster, a Domino Effect

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Luis Gomez, 24, a deckhand on the Miss Allison, pulled in the harvest from an oyster bed in Bayou Grand Caillou, La., for culling. More Photos »

This article is a good piece of journalism from writer Dan Barry and photographer Nicole Bengiveno on the knock on affects of the Gulf Oil disaster on several interrelated businesses. Well worth a read.

In the same day's paper, the Mayor of Galvaston, Texas was quoted as saying “O.K., so tar balls have washed up, and I think we’d all agree, it’s not a disaster, it’s a nuisance,". Granted, he was talking about the shores of his own town, and not the Gulf in general, but still, a nuisance? The chipmunk who ate my chili plant is a nuisance. An environmental catastrophe with severe economic repercussions is something a little more.

Oiver Pin-Fat: In-Land, Out-Cast

Digital is so neat, so clean, so sharp, so discrete. Computers are so dull. I remember when I was at art school I would make a real mess in the darkroom playing around with printing techniques, chemicals and all sorts. I even set fire to some chemical soaked paper in there once - not recommended, seriously - and got an amazing effect I was unable to replicate again. (partly for fear of causing a raging inferno). Somehow working on the computer seems so much more clinical.

Anyway, I was glad to see this essay of Oliver Pin-Fat's that utilises many analog effects, what are often referred to as 'happy accidents' though in this case Pin-Fat admits that he deliberately vandalises his film, something that would have the white glove brigade fainting in shock I'm sure.

photo by Oliver Pin-Fat

The end result is a great series of perceptual pictures that reminded me of the photographic work of Sigmar Polke, who I've just discovered died June 10th this year. RIP Sigmar.

Final (addendum)

I had to add this picture to the series of World Cup posts - for two reasons. I only posted one of the losers yesterday and thought the winners deserved a moment. Secondly, this was taken by South African photographer Siphiwe Sibeko and I thought that seeing as this was the first world cup held on the African continent, it would be right and proper. Make sure you check out the work on Siphiwe's website.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Spain's Andres Iniesta lifts the World Cup trophy after their final match victory over Netherlands at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg July 11, 2010.


Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

To lose the world cup. Gutting. Well done Spain, the goal by Andrés Iniesta was fantastic.

The Black Tide - Chris Morris

I really wanted to like this. It's an important subject, this whole Gulf Oil 'spill' (it's not a spill ok, my kids spill their drink and it gets cleaned up in ten seconds - this is a...mmmm...what's the word....irresponsible fuckup of immense proportions that reveals the vicious consequences of our continued rape of the planet's resources.)

Anyway, it's an important subject. And let me point out that I admire Christopher Morris a great deal and he is an incredibly inspiring, talented and astute photographer. I have the book of his My America Series and it's one of the best things I have ever seen, plus he's a charming chap too.

But this piece doesn't really work for me. When the audio started I actually rolled my eyes and thought "Not another emotive plinky plonk bit of ambient piano." Honestly. Enough with the slow piano noodling please. Is it added to Final Cut exports by default or something? Don't get me wrong; I love the piano. There's one in our house (which I don't know how to play). Thelonious Monk gets me every time. But it's done to death on documentary pieces. It's like black and white - it's so cliche.

Oh wait. This piece is in black and white too. Oops. Don't get me wrong, I love black and white. I shoot black and white film all the time. I have boxes of the stuff. So I'm as guilty of this as the next man but sometimes it can feel a bit like saying "Hey this is serious, and just so you know it's serious, I'm going to shoot it in B&W, because that's how serious it is." It can feel a bit like a self conscious choice, where as a viewer you find yourself asking the question "why exactly is this in black & white." In these vibrant colour hi-def digital days its almost become a gimmick, you know, like tilt shift.

Ah. This whole piece looks like it was shot with a tilt shift. OK. Don't get me wrong, I use tilt shift too. I love swinging the lens on my 4x5, I just try not to do it too much. Sometimes things can get a bit tired if you labour the point.

Um...Is that 9 minutes long, and in slow motion? I have to confess I started skipping at 3 1/2 minutes, when the piano started to grate, I'd got bored of the tilt shift and it became clear that the concerned looking guy who was having his portrait shot wasn't going to open his mouth and speak a few words.

So. Chop half the footage out. Give me a few words from the guys in the video (just one or two perfectly formed sentences would do it) get rid of that damn piano and ease up on the tilt shift and you'd have a stunningly shot little documentary piece. Because there are moments of genius here and there are several points in particular where all the elements - the B&W, the slow motion, the selective focus - all come together in absolute harmony. That shot of the Pelicans is incredible. They look petrified with fear and confusion. That moment works wonderfully and I find it is much better at eliciting an emotional response than the still I have reproduced above. It shows the power the moving image can sometimes have over the static Also, the woman's reaction around 3 minutes - a mix of concern, exhaustion and frustration - speaks volumes.

Here's the thing. I know that sometimes it can be best to let the atmosphere wash over the viewer and to tell the story in a way that searches for rather forces a response. Something that asks you what you think rather than tells you how to react. I can see it in places here. This is perhaps what troubles me. In places it is so good that when it's not, it feels like a huge disappointment.

Ultimately though, I'm looking at this video as a piece of journalism. And in it, these people look poised; as if they have something really important to say.

Maybe it's just me, but after 10 minutes, I'm not quite sure what that something is.

Blood Sweat and Gears

Ok so that's a bad title. It's awfulness is inspired by this gallery of photographs on the Guardian website that show some of the crashes from this year's Tour De France. (I'm not totally obsessed with football see.)

Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Despite the bloodied limbs and broken collarbones, it was actually this picture that made me wince the most.


Jessica Hilltout

Why do I love football so much? I don't know. I think it's simply because it's a hell of a lot of fun to play. Essentially I think that's it. Opening the paper today I find myself looking at photographs taken by Jessica Hilltout which remind me of that sense of fun. Now before we get on the 'white foreigner tours Africa with a camera photographing poor black people doing poor black people stuff' bandwagon of dismissiveness, let's just admit that there are a certain amount of poor people in Africa, and they can't afford footballs, let alone cameras to photograph themselves and be done with it. Yes I know she seems to have the money to wander around at will, yes I know her daddy payed for her book. So what? At least the photos are good and just think: there are some daddies out there who buy their daughters facelifts, flash cars and boobjobs.

Now then. Put simply, this is a fine series of photographs. Great portraits of (mostly young) people playing football on improvised pitches and with homemade balls. It's the balls that really steal the show here. Some of these are pretty elaborate labour intensive creations. If you've ever made a ball out of whatever you can find lying around (I have - and it was a bit crap) then you'll know what I mean!

“Nelito’s Ball, Nhambonda, Mozambique,”

So, I know it's not the same; my parents could afford to buy me a real football and some (on sale) decent boots for example, but these pictures remind me of when I was a kid and we would set up a pitch wherever using coats, bags, traffic cones, stones, whatever as goal posts and if we didn't have a ball, we'd use a can or some other kickable object. It's all we needed and we were entertained for hours. That's one thing this middle class white guy from Yorkshire has in common with a poor black kid in an African village. And that indeed makes it a game worth loving.

For Rent

So you're an aspiring photographer who sees yourself as the heir to the legacy of the late great Eugene Smith. You want to live in the self proclaimed photography capital of the world and take the industry by storm. Well, you're in luck: available for rent by the aptly named 'Magnum Real Estate' is space in no other than the very same building Mr Smith occupied in the mid 20th century, conveniently located on 6th Avenue in midtown Manhattan and known in music and photo folklore as 'The Jazz Loft'.

Do you believe in signs?

And no, I'm not the real estate agent. I just pass by this building at least once a week..

Robben Island and the Makana Football Association

Ok, for those of you who care not one jot about football, I apologise for all the world cup related posts. However, it's not all about overpaid athletes competing for a shiny bauble. Sometimes sports can play a central role in improving all the other, arguably more important aspects of life. I've been working on and off on a project about one such situation, but more on that if and when I get it to a presentable state. In the meantime, check out this article in The New York Times.

A soccer game taking place on prison grounds in 1969. The Makana Football Association operated from 1969 to 1981.

Credit: Patrick Barth for The New York Times

I first learned about the Makana Football Association in this BBC radio show (which you can listen to here).

It is a fascinating story on how the future leaders of South Africa kept themselves together during their imprisonment under apartheid. A must read/listen, whether you like football or not.

World Cup Quarter Finals

What an entertaining weekend of football. I couldn't concentrate on work as Brazil lost their cool and then the match to the Netherlands.

Robinho arguing with the Netherlands' Mark van Bommel.

Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

I then went on a shoot and missed most of the Ghana/Uruguay game, but managed to catch the last 20 minutes of full time that then turned into a fantastic fight to the finish that Ghana deserved to win but couldn't quite grasp (unlike Uruguay's Suárez who managed to grab victory firmly with both hands).

Credit: Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Big thanks to Shiori for joining me at the bar for that one and also to the drunk Americans who spilled their beer on me and then bent my ear with their opinions about 'soccer' for a while. Bought me a drink so I'll forgive them. Besides, football, noisy bar, spilled beer...I almost felt like I was back in the UK..

The real question however, is who can beat Germany..

Not offside Argentinians for sure.

Tevez, Higuain and Messi were all offside by a good yard or two when Mascherano played the ball through. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe the overeager Spanish?

Xabi Alonso slots a penalty to the keeper's right and into the net, but Spain's celebrations are cut short as his penalty has to be taken again because some of the Spanish players had encroached the penalty area

Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Or will it be the determined Dutch, currently putting a lackluster Uruguay out of the cup?

Dylan Martinez/Reuters