Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Plagiarism or Privilege?

Monday, September 14th, 2020

If you’ve not already read the story about Alec Soth being accused of plagiarism in a set of pictures he took for a New York Times commission to explore inequality in Chicago, then the Art Newspaper provides good coverage in a feature ‘Magnum photographer Alec Soth accused of plagiarism by Chicago artist Tonika Johnson’ by Tom Seymour.

Soth has denied that he knew of Tonika Lewis Johnson’s long-term series The Folded Map Project when he took his pictures and has issued an apology and is donating his income from his work for the NYT to her project.

While I had no knowledge of Johnson’s work, I feel terrible for the offense I’ve caused. I apologize to Tonika Lewis Johnson and very much regret accepting this assignment. ⁣

⁣That said, I’m glad to be made aware of her committed work and will be donating all of my income from the New York Times to The Folded Map Project. I encourage you to check out the work too: foldedmapproject.com

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEzRQc4FK2a/

You can also read a letter that Soth has written to Tom Seymour about the article in Art Newspaper (which has since been edited to include comment from Soth.)

Soth suggests that rather than plagiarism he was guilty of “shallowness” in his approach to the commission, and he points out some key differences to his work and that of Johnson.

It seems to me to not be a case of plagiarism but of privilege. In his article Seymour states Soth “also criticised the historic culture—almost a founding principle of documentary photography—of image-makers “parachuting” to different locales in order to dispassionately visualise communities distinct from their own experience.”

Certainly this was the founding inspiration of Magnum, who divided the world between their first members, and it is something many of us have criticised for many years, but now given new emphasis by the Black Lives Matter movement. But although Johnson black and female and Soth is white and male and in many ways more privileged, these particular personal distinctions are I think not the essential root of the matter. He certainly was offered the job because he was well-known and a Magnum member. She didn’t get it because the NYT was unaware of her existence, not because of any failing by Soth.

Soth didn’t perhaps do as much research as he should have done, but he points out the commission was inspired by a Chicago Tribune story and when he Googled  “Streeterville and Englewood” he also found stories from the Chicago Sun Times, The Guardian, Chicago Public Radio and every network news station, in none of which was Tonika Johnson’s work mentioned.

It isn’t just Soth, it is the whole industry – press and other media – that has failed and needs to change. Journalists need to become aware about the communities they write about, the attitudes and voices of the people in them and documentary projects such as ‘The Folded Map Project’.


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

Witold Krassowski – Sackcloth and Ashes

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

Many UK photographers will remember Witold Krassowski who worked in London with Network Photographers from 1988-2005 and was also for the first five years here a freelance for The Independent.

On his web site you can read the story by Colin Jacobson of how he came to work for the Independent, having come to London to work as a house painter and you can also see some fine pictures from his work in Poland, Britain, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan as well as portraits and some commercial work.

Others will know him from his pictures in a couple of World Press Photo shows, and rather more awards in Poland, where I met him as vice-president of the Association of Polish Art Photographers. He’s led a Master Class for the WPP in Amsterdam, taught at Pathshala in Dhaka and been lecturer and deputy dean at the Faculty of Media Arts of the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw

But although his work has appeared in many publications and he has had a couple of books published in Poland, one on the social revolution at the end of communism in 1989 in that country and a second of portraits of much later of actors whose careers were dramatically changed by that political event, there has not yet been a book to present the breadth of his work over the years

Sackcloth and Ashes, Photographs by Witold Krassowski is described as “A lifetime of unstaged work on 35mm underlining human unity across borders and cultures.” With 119 black and white images, taken entirely on film, between 1985 and 2007 it represents his project to document “the commonality of human fate and the unity of mankind that stretches beyond culture and politics. “

But the book does not yet exist, and its publication depends on a Kickstarter campaign raising the £8,000 needed by April 1st. You can read much more about the book and why Krassowski feels it important that it should be published. By pledging £40 or more you can get a signed copy on publication, while for larger pledges there are further rewards.

Sackcloth and Ashes, Photographs by Witold Krassowski