Leave Counting Teaspoons to the Academics

It’s a while since I mentioned the online magazine Visura, which is now at issue 11. The highlight for me is a portfolio of the work of Elinor Carucci, pictures of her and her family. At the age of 21 she decided to “shoot things as they were happening. I returned to color film which is, for me, warmer, more vivid.”

The result over the years is a very intimate body of work, with pictures of her mother, self-portraits related to her own marriage and its problems, her back pain and her work for 10 years as a “professional Middle Eastern dancer, or as it is called in the West, a belly dancer.”

The work is very much a collaboration between her and her family, but particularly with her husband Eran: “Some of the photographs in this collection are a collaboration between us, a few of them are Eran’s own take on the situation, his own work.”

Other portfolios in the issue also have a very personal, intimate theme, and although I find some of them of interest they move me less, and at times some I think go over a difficult to define line of using people and some simply fail to engage me.

Stephen Crowley‘s images of men and boys from Afghanistan were made using the cameras and equipment of street photographers still working in old-fashioned ways there. It isn’t of course the calotype process as he states, but uses commercially produced photographic paper. There are some interesting images by Yannis Kontos (Kabul Photographers, under Features) of these photographers at work and some are also in Issue #8 of Daylight Magazine (it costs $5 to download) with a rather longer text. As one of them, Mia Mohammed, bemoans in a short article on CBSNews, his business is about to come to an end because his supplier no longer stocks the kind of photographic paper he needs. Despite the competition from digital there is still demand for these services which can be carried on in the absence of any electrical supply.

Looking at the pictures and text by Stephen Crowley, I can’t help thinking that this is a piece of work more about the story than about the pictures and that I would very much have preferred him to have made his pictures on large format film – still essentially nineteenth century technology. Or even on digital.

The teaspoons come in Visura columnist Charles Harbutt‘s account of how he became a photographer (Harbutt is one of several distinguished columnists and his Reflections on Kertesz appear in the current issue.)  When around 18 and taking pictures for a college newspaper Harbutt managed to attend a workshop run by two major figures in documentary photography, Roy Stryker and photographer Russell Lee.  Stryker picked on one of Harbutt’s pictures, a back view of a girl working in her family kitchen, and told him he should have used flash “so that future researchers could count the silverware and identify the dress pattern and get other significant facts about the family“.  Lee disagreed, as using flash would have lost the mood and made it impossible to take more than a single image of the situation. He said that “preserving the actual experience was what photography could do best. Leave counting teaspoons to the academics.”

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