Archive for the ‘Photo History’ Category

Women in Photojournalism

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

A excellent article by an fine photographer, Yunghi Kim, Gas Lighting in Photography, says much that I would have thought but would hardly dare say about a National Geographic article which claims that women are only now making a breakthrough into photojournalism, which the subtitle of her piece calls “Revisionist history threatens to whitewash The Silent Generation — women who paved The Way.”

Kim’s piece is far more detailed than anything I could have written, naming many women photographers (though there are some I could add, including those I’ve known personally and others from way back) who have proved themselves in what was once certainly very much a male-dominated world, and speaking from her own experience. As she says, her list “is largely drawn from US photojournalism” and there are many more from around the world who could be included,

Possibly one might quibble about the year 1997, which she states “was a breakthrough year for women in photojournalism. Looking back now, we established that women stood firmly on an even playing field across the entire industry. We had a collective voice that was raised and listened to by dint of the power and quality of our work” but she makes an excellent case for i. Certinaly as she says it was a year that women for the first time won a great many of the awards, but changes in the industry were surely more gradual and less dramatic than choosing any particular year suggests. 1997 was certainly a year in which it became very clear.

As Kim says to those who want to revise photographic history: “I am here to attest to the historical fact that there were legions of passionate and heroic women photographers who paved the roads you are walking on today. Respect.”

Blind Spot for Pictorialism?

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Andy Romanoff‘s article,  ‘Even Ansel Adams Had a Blind Spot‘ looks at the continuation of pictorialism in photography after the emergence of straight photography around 1920, which he says ““disappeared” some very important and wonderful photographers from the history of photography“, chief among them William Mortensen and his ‘disciple’ Robert Balcomb.

While it’s true that Mortensen gets little mention in most histories of photography, the contention that Pictorialism is neglected is certainly untrue. Nor was Mortensen really forgotten, but perhaps for good reason ignored. I have a copy of ‘The New Projection Control‘ by William Mortensen, which by 1945 was in its third edition and third printing, one of 8 books by Mortensen then on sale, and when I joined a photographic club in the mid-1970s the great majority or work on display there and in the international salons could stil broadly be described as Pictorialism, still alive if not particularly well.

Although Mortensen was undoubtedly a great technician this did not make him into a particularly interesting photographer, and as Romanoff states:

“In retrospect, although Mortensen’s subject matter was often grotesque and sometimes fell into the kitschy, his mastery of craft was and is astounding. Most people seeing a Mortensen print for the first time find it hard to believe it is a photograph.”

Pictorialism had its great heyday in the years around 1900, and in particular under the curation of Alfred Stieglitz, who established an international movement called the the Photo-Secession and published his magnificently produced Camera Work, from 1903-1917. It is a movement and an age which gets extensively and sympathetically treated by Beaumont Newhall (and I think Ansel Adams) and others in their histories of photography. Perhaps suprisingly Stieglitz doesn’t get a mention in Romanoff’s post, though Edward Steichen, who designed the cover for Camera Work does. It could perhaps be described as a movement which attempted to legitimise photography as art by showing it could produce images that mimicked those produced by accepted artistic printing printing processes using only the manual skills of artists, and which concentrated on the qualities and surface of the print, often involving considerable manual intervention in its production. The object was perhaps to make it hard for people ‘to believe it is a photograph.’

Romanoff’s list of photographers who began as pictorialists but moved on to straight photography is short, and perhaps significantly omits the names of some of its greatest exponents, notably both Paul Strand and Edward Weston. These and others wanted to make work that was purely photographic, some thinking that this was how photography could truly become art, while others felt that photography was a development of the modern age, a replacement, a kind of post-art.  They certainly wanted ot make photographs that really did look like photographs.

Weston’s own struggles with the impact of modernism on photography have been extensively documented by himself and others. His work, and that of other straight photographers, both in the USA and in Europe and elsewhere was new and exciting, while pictorialism remained producing the same old tropes but with less and less creativity.

I’m not a huge fan of Ansel Adams either, but again – as with Mortensen – there is no denying his technical mastery, again encapsulated in his books. His Basic Photo Series, though by then somewhat out of date (and later editions were never quite as good), was the foundation for my own technical education in the medium, though it never led me to try and remake my version of “Moonrise Hernandez, New Mexico.”

To some extent the illustrations to Romanoff’s article speak for themselves. William Porterfield‘s image was made during the heyday of pictorialism and neglected only because it isn’t a particularly interesting picture, and the four later examples do little for me. Mortensen (as did Adams) provided the images for  ‘The New Projection Control’, and a pretty dire collection they are, with the before ‘straight’ version he prints of some images often seeming to me very much preferable to his variously pimped version.

I guess it is a matter of taste, and as Mortensen says in his concluding chapter, “Unhappily, there is no known method of teaching taste, good sense and discretion. To such readers as lack these valuable qualities this book will merely discover new ways of making bad pictures.” And it did in spades. As he continues, “Babies will be butchered and ingenues outraged in the name of Projection Control“. And pictorialism.

Debunking the Capa Myths

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

I’ve several times written about the lengthy and detailed researches into exactly what happened to Robert Capa on D-Day made by A D Coleman and his team and published in a long series of articles as their research developed.  It’s a case study in thorough and diligent research, involving expertise from various fields including military history as well as photography, and one that, although not changing the handful of photographs Capa made, has certainly shown some very different readings of them.

Most of what photographic histories and biographies have told us in the past about the circumstances in which these pictures were made has been shown to be false; either deliberate invention or imaginative contructions by those well removed from the situation and with little knowledge of it.

Rather than have to read all of the over 40 articles on Coleman’s own web site (some in several parts, with the latest episode, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (40b) a few days ago) you can now read his precis on Petapixel, still a fairly lengthy read, Debunking the Myths of Robert Capa on D-Day.

We can now be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Capa went in, not with the first wave of the landing but rather later, and on the least heavily defended section of the beach, where US soldiers met relatively little opposition, and that he never quite made the beach, taking only a small number of pictures –  perhaps 10 or 12 – before rushing back to the landing craft and ship that had brought him there. Probably he made the right decision for a news photographer, to hurry back with those few pictures to meet his deadlines, but he does appear to have felt the need to support and elaborate an elaborate fiction to cover his actions. Capa was certainly a great story-teller, and bare truth seldom makes the best stories.

There was no darkroom accident that spoilt his film (and the story never made sense anyway.) Those men around the obstacles on the beach were not sheltering from enemy fire but getting on with the job of demolishing them. There were no bodies in his pictures, no bullets hitting the water. It wasn’t at all like the film version (and Capa’s published account was written as a film script.)

The research also looks at another Capa-related incident and image, the ‘Falling Soldier’ from the Spanish Civil War, where the detailed heavy lifting was done by others. It seems probable that the picture was not actually taken by Capa by by his partner Gerda Taro. The two worked as a team, and ‘Robert Capa’ was actually a joint invention of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle; after her tragic death – the first woman war photographer to die in conflict – many of the pictures she had taken were attributed to Capa. It now seems to have been clearly shown that this was taken during a training exercise and that the soldier had merely tripped – and that no one was killed in its making.

The publication on PetaPixel comes at the start of the year in which the 75th anniversary of D-Day is to be celebrated, and already some authorities (including the ICP) are re-publishing the old, now totally discredited legends about Capa and his landing pictures. Let’s instead celebrate them (and the ‘Falling Soldier’) for what they are, powerfully iconic images which have become invested with a meaning that completely transcends the very different circumstances of their production.

Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Shahidul Alam talks with Daniel Boetker-Smith about how his 107 days in prison has impacted the tenth Chobi Mela photography festival which opens on February 28th 2019. Because many of the partner companies in Dhaka now see it as a dangerous organisation to work with and many public spaces and government buildings are no longer available for the festival, it has been forced to return to its roots and “become much more raw and community-oriented festival” and organised more tightly around the new premises for Drik Picture Library Ltd and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a few other centres.

You can read more about what is happening in There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival, and it does sound rather exciting, and indeed encouraging to those of us who live in rather more blasé societies where cultural manipulation is very much more nuanced.

Shahidul states “We see this year’s Chobi Mela as an act of defiance. We are still working out what we are allowed and not allowed to do, and this extends to obtaining visas for our visitors and guests” and it remains to see if some of those invited to take part, including Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy will be allowed into the country.

One of the more interesting exhibitions will be of the work of the great Bangladeshi photojournalist Rashid Talukder, born in 1939, who gave all his work to Drik before his death in 2011.   But there are over 27 exhibitions with works from 35 artists spanning 20 countries , as well as site-specific artwork by a group of young Bangladeshi artists around the festival theme of ‘Place’.

You can find more information about the festival on the Chobi Mela web site, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Shahidul News

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

I’m not a great fan of the Lucie Awards for photography, modelled on the Oscars, which seem to me to bring out the worst of Hollywood, although I’ve never attended the awards ceremony. When they began and I was writing as About Photography guide I used to get invitations to them – and offers of free tickets – but never took these up, partly because I was on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Also because I felt that the last thing that photography needed was something like this, and particularly one that seemed so entirely US-centric.

Part of my mission as a guide was top extend the horizons and to try to promote photography as a worldwide medium. I’m not sure how much my meagre efforts helped, with features on photography in countries around the world and on photographers from other countries than the USA and Western Europe, but things have now changed at least to some extent.

One of the many I wrote about was of course Shahidul Alam, and I’ve written about him on several occasions on this site, most recently following his arrest last August at his home in Bangladesh and the international outcry, particularly by photographers this led to. Of course he is much more than a photographer, setting up agencies to promote majority world photograph, photographic schools and festivals and making photography relevant to the politics of Bangladesh.

Shahidul Alam was – as I’ve previously mentioned – honoured at the 16th Lucie Awards in October 2018 with their Humanitarian Award, and now that he is out of prison (though not out of trouble, still under threat of a trial and lengthy sentence) publishing regular posts on Shahidul News. One recent post was about his Lucie Award and was a link to the video they produced on him for this. I suggest you watch it full-screen, and you can go direct to it on Vimeo.

While you are there you can also watch other short videos on the other honorees, including Lee Friedlander who gained the Lifetime Award and Raghu Rai, along with those from previous years.

Also at Shahidul News is a post reproduced from PIX by Rahaab Allana, The Place of Shahidul Alam, which looks in more detail at some of his acheivements and has a number of comments by others.

You can read a longer piece I wrote about him in 2011 on this site at From the Lions Point Of View.
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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Notable women in photography

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

I have a couple of small reservations about the article by Australian photographer and writer Megan Kennedy, “9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History” which makes an interesting contribution, particularly in introducing several photographers whose work deserves to be known more widely.

The first is about the phrase “shaped photographic history“, which I think is rather undervalued by its use here. How would photographic history have been different if it were not for the work of some of these women, interesting though it was? While it would be straightforward to make a case for some of the nine, I think it would be something of a problem for others. Of course all of us who publish or work or show it to others in some small way are a part of photographic history, but I think relatively few are pioneers who really shape it.

Putting that to one side, there are I think five in the list that over the years I have written about (unfortunately mainly in articles no longer available for contractual reasons), and about whom there is considerable information both on-line and in print, and the article would have been considerably more useful had it included links to some of these. It was after all published by the Digital Photography School which should be more encouraging to its students to dig further.

Of course for most of them resources are not hard to find (though the quality of some links highly ranked by Google is often poor), but here I’ll give just one link to each of them on Wikipedia which seems generally a good starting point:

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)
Mary Steen (1856 – 1939)
Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976)
Gertrude Fehr (1895 – 1996)
Trude Fleischmann (1895 – 1990)
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)
Grete Stern (1904 – 1999)
Ylla (1911 – 1955)
Olive Cotton (1911 – 2003)

As a minor caveat I might perhaps question the choice of these particular nine women, when a good case could be made for so many others. But as Kennedy finishes her article:

“It’s impossible to cover the sheer number of women that have embodied the tenacity and creativity of a photographer’s spirit in a single article. With this piece, however, I hope to have encapsulated some of the resolves of the generations of women who have shaped photographic history. And although we aren’t all the way to achieving equality yet, thanks to the female photographers of the past and present, we’re a lot closer than we used to be.”

When I put together on line a ‘Directory of Notable Photographers‘ around 20 years ago (and highly debatable guide to those for whom further information was then available on the web) it included the following women photographers:

Abbott, Berenice
Arbus, Diane
Becher, Hilla
Bourke-White, Margaret
Cameron, Julia Margaret
Connor, Linda
Cunningham, Imogen
Dahl-Wolfe, Louise
Dater, Judy
Ewald, Wendy
Franck, Martine
Freedman, Jill
Gilpin, Laura
Goldin, Nan
Groover, Jan
Hahn, Betty
Henri, Florence
Heyman, Abigail
Iturbide, Graciela
Jacobi, Lotte
Kasebier, Gertrude
Kruger, Barbara
Lange, Dorothea
Levitt, Helen
Lestido, Adriana
Mann, Sally
Mark, Mary Ellen
Meiselas, Susan
Metzner, Sheila
Miller, Lee
Model, Lisette
Modotti, Tina
Moholy-Nagy, Lucia
Orkin, Ruth
Parker, Olivia
Post Wolcott, Marion
Rheims, Bettina
Sherman, Cindy
Spence, Jo
Stern, Grete
Tenneson, Joyce
Ulmann, Doris

Of course there were many other women I wrote about then and since,;  an updated list would include many more.

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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D-Day Anniversary Approaches

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

A D Coleman has broken his unusual 3 month on-line silence to return to the long campaign by him and his colleagues to correct the myths about Robert Capa‘s D-Day pictures (and the related issue of the Falling Soldier), realising that:

“with the 75th anniversary of D-Day coming up on June 6, 2019, I’ve just realized that I’m likely to feel compelled to correct an endless stream of repetitions of the Capa D-Day myth, which has so permeated our culture that this investigation has barely begun to dislodge it.”

This particular post, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (39), examines a recent article in a Le Monde supplement by Cynthia Young, the curator of the Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive at the International Center of Photography in New York, and as such a leading figure in studies of Capa.  Her ‘Les deux icônes de Capa’, published in October 2018 completely ignores all recent evidence which has established beyond any reasonable doubt the true circumstances under which Capa’s  1937 Spanish Civil War ‘Falling Soldier’ and  his 1944 D-Day ‘The Face in the Surf’ were made.

Coleman berates Young for “not just ignoring contrary evidence and doubling down on the myth but actually adding spurious details to it“, pointing out that her activity is “fatal to credible scholarship“, and is extremely damaging to the reputation of one of photography’s major institutions, the ICP.

The post also looks again at John Loengard‘s contibution to the myth in his 1994 book Celebrating the Negative which includes Loengard’s photograph of the hands of Cornell Capa and the 8 surviving negatives above a light-box, along with his commentary which, as Coleman comments, included the myth of the melting negatives that any professional photographer should have dismissed out of hand.  Certainly many of us had.

The post ends with a rather more amusing D-Day story with a picture of the Royal Mail £1.25 stamp from a series “showcasing the ‘Best of British’ “. The picture of allied troops knee-deep in water as they waded ashore from a landing craft  with its caption, ‘D-Day: Allied soldiers and medics wade ashore’ was outed within minutes of its posting on Twitter as showing a US landing on a beach in Dutch New Guinea (now in Indonesia), and the design had to be abandoned.

Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (39)

______________________________________________________

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

________________________________________________________

Migrant Mother

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

Had you asked me a few days ago I think I would have said that there was little more to say about Dorothea Lange‘s ‘Migrant Mother’ which has already had so much devoted to it, as one of photography’s truly iconic images. But there appears to be at least one significant fact I was not aware of in the new book from the Museum of Modern Art, written by Sarah Meister.

Perhaps not enough to make me want to read the book, but James Estrin, the co-editor of Lens, the New York Times photographic blog, has written a post on it, as always clear and concise, Unraveling the Mysteries of Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’.

As the image was one of a set taken for US federal Farm Security Administration, it is of course available at the Library of Congress, where you can download several versions of it and the others Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children.

This is a smaller version of my favourite of this image, and probably the oldest. The current version of it, available for download as a large tiff if you want to make your own print, has slightly different scratches on it, and both versions would take considerable retouching to make a really good print. As the LoC page above states “This is an unretouched version of the image listed in #1. This version of the image shows a thumb in the immediate foreground on the right side.”

There is more about the retouching to remove the thumb in the book and Estrin’s post, which remind us that Roy Stryker, “Lange’s boss at the Farm Security Administration … thought it compromised the authenticity not just of the photo but also of his whole F.S.A. documentary project” although such practices were widespread at the time and “Ms. Lange considered the thumb to be such a glaring defect that she apparently didn’t have a second thought about removing it“, getting an assistant to retouch the image in 1939, some 3 years after she had made the image in February 1936 (according to the FSA, though possibly March.) Personally I’m with Mr Stryker on this.

Perhaps the most interesting issue raised in the book is that after Florence Owens Thompson came forward and identified herself in 1978, an Associated Press article revealed that she was not as had been assumed of European descent ‘but “a full-blooded Cherokee Indian” from Oklahoma‘, something that would certainly have caused the image to have been seen differently had it been known when it was widely published – and even now where considerable prejudice still exists against Native Americans.  Lange appears not to have provided the usual field notes and captions for this set of images, and to have known relatively little about her subjects.

Sarah Meister’s book is one of a series “One on One” on individual items in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. Surely a prime candidate for such a series should be a book by A D Coleman on Robert Capa‘s iconic D-Day landing image, for which the material by Coleman and his collaborators has been published online in voluminous and convincing detail at Photocritic International in the Robert Capa D-Day Project. While I’m sure that this will one day emerge in book form, I think it is unlikely it will be published by MoMA.

A Forgotten Street Photographer?

Friday, October 12th, 2018

While it’s great to see a film being made about Garry Winogrand which shows some insight into the man and his work, the description of him as a “forgotten street photographer” seems rather lacking in credibility.

Of course most people who think of themselves as “street photographers” nowadays are woefully ignorant of the history of photography including that of so-called street photography, and most people outside the photographic world would be hard put to name any photographer, certainly anyone who has been dead for over 30 years. Perhaps soon we will see a film about another of these “forgetten street photographers” like Henri Cartier-Bresson?

I’ve not seen the film, currently enjoying an extended run in New York, but I have watched the trailer and another introduction to it with more of WInogrand’s voice, as well as the preview – and many other videos about WInogrand, some of which I used in my teaching over 20 years ago. And I think the film will be something photographers should not miss. It will apparently be available later as a part of the ‘American Masters‘ series on PBS.

Vice has an interview This Forgotten Street Photographer Shot Some of Our Most Iconic Images with film director Sasha Waters Freyer which I think makes interesting reading and shows some fresh insight into the man and his work.

I’ve written about him and his work at some length, and have copies of most of his books as well as the most important works on him published since his death, and have been able to talk with one or two people who knew him working on the streets of New York. As well as this article, he gets a mention in 45 other posts I’ve written for this blog (and one other draft, about his work in Picture Post, that somehow never got finished.)

One of the problems with Winogrand is that he took so many pictures – including the many thousands on the undeveloped cassettes found after his death. Many of them didn’t really work as pictures, though without the openness they represent he would not have made those that, sometimes spectacularly, do. I feel sure that there are many images that have been published since his death (and a few during his lifetime) that do nothing to enhance his reputation, and the last show of his work I saw in London had far too many of them. Part of the reason for this lies with the art market, where anything attributed to him sells.

It’s interesting to look at his ‘Women Are Beautiful’ which Sasha Waters Freyer says “really hurt his reputation”. It obviously drew some attacks, but I don’t think he really had a reputation to destroy, and most of the attacks were based on the idea of a man publishing a book of that title rather than the work in it. As she goes on to say, “there are a lot of ways in which it is a celebration of women. It is a really important document of this period when women are entering the workforce and making themselves visible in a way that was completely new in American society.”

Winogrand thought it would sell, calling it in private “The Observations of a Male Chauvinist Pig” and hoping it might appeal to a different market, but it alienated too many and was too highbrow and insufficiently raunchy to attract the ‘Pigs’ he had anticipated. But it remains one of his best books, perhaps because of the focus given it by the problems in his personal life and the film sets out to examine him as a male artist and to understand how his “relationship to marriage and children and family … impacts (his) artistic output.”

Of course there are many other articles and reviews of the film (which has a Facebook page) you can find on-line. One from IndieWire by David Erlich caught my attention for this paragraph:

“Street photographer?” What a sterile way to describe someone who just captured what he wanted — who didn’t wait for permission to take pictures, or require an assignment.

Muybridge’s Horse

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

I don’t recall coming across the blog Muybridge’s Horse before, which is a site featuring artists whose work relates to the way we interact and experience animals and nature run by Emma Kisiel who lives in Portland Oregon.

It was drawn to my attention by a post featuring work by Carl Corey from his series Americaville, which you can see in more depth on his own web site and in particular in his Americaville blog, which appears to have been running since November 2016, though the photographs on it are undated. A feature on Slate suggests that Corey began the project in 2014, and you can hear him talk about the project on Wisconsin Public Radio in 2016.

You can find out more about Corey and see more of his archive and current projects on his impressive web site (a few may still need telling that the symbol with three horizontal lines close to top left indicates the menu.)

Corey’s work attracted my attention so much that I completely forgot about Muybridge, who I’ve previously written about elsewhere at some length. He came from Kingston, on the edge of London, close to where I was born and not far from where I live, and a few years ago in 2007 I took part in an exhibition with two other photographers, Paul Baldesare and Mike Seaborne, in the museum there which houses a display on Kingston’s most famous son, though the work which made him famous was made in California. Kingston Museum has put together a web site about him with the local university which is perhaps the best introduction to his work.

So much is written about Muybridge and is available on line that adding more would be superfluous, but perhaps I might link to the web site on our show at the Kingston Museum, still on line some years later, Another London, and a picture from Kingston in 2006, a very different place to that which Muybridge knew.