Category Archives: Photojournalism

P2: Photojournalism Aftermath and Aesthetics

Veronica Tello  calls the genre of documentary photography ,which David Campany (2) describes as photographing  the trace of the trace of the event,  Aftermath Photography. It involves photographing places, buildings or other detritus of war or catastrophes after the event. Roger Fenton was one of the earliest photographers to exploit this theme with his photographs of the aftermath of the Crimean War. As a possible explanation for the emergence of this genre of documentary both Tello and Campany agree that still documentary photography has lost its relevance in the age of video.  Video frames can be halted  to freeze the moment and then moved on. Video illustrates what is or has happened at the site of the event.

Hence still photography has moved from centre stage to the footnote of the story. This is not to demean the genre as the work of Joel Meyerowitz at Ground Zero demonstrates. “Late” or ‘Aftermath’ photography is usually strikingly simple. An object or building is usually placed in the centre of the image. However this is not the case with Meyerwitz’s Ground Zero images. They are almost carnavalesque. Meyerowitzs explains in a Channel4 programme (3,4) that he wanted to photograph the aftermath of the twin towers catastrophe so that there would be a record of how it looked immediately  after the disaster. He argued, and I think in this case rightly, that as the site was being cleared so that New York could get on with life and install a memorial to those who had lost their lives, the memory of how it had looked would be lost. If he had not been granted permission, and he was the only photographer to receive permission to enter the site during the clear up, there would have been no official record of the devastation.

The ‘problem’ arises with the aesthetics of this work. No one could deny its stunning beauty. Although Meyerowitz claims that the work created itself, his mastery of composition and light has created magnificent images which were destined for gallery walls and to be printed in a large format book. When looking at such magnificent work we have to ask what emotions are awakened in us. Is the genre a fitting memorial to those who died so tragically or should it be viewed simply as a record? The answers are, I believe subjective. Tello cites Sarah James saying

In failing to produce a confrontation with the brutality of the events that are the focus of aftermath photography these images, … make the event ‘dangerously unreal, strangely theatrical, detached, inhuman’.

Campany argues that aftermath photography

.. is ‘pre-frozen’, its stillness complementing and underscoring the stillness of the aftermath

Meyerowitzs images of Ground Zero are anything but still in my opinion. They are full of colour and shape and movement.

In this Meyerowitz differs from most other Late photographers. Tello comments on Rosemary Laing’s work, Welcome to Australia (2004) , at the Woomera detention centre one year after it had been closed down

it is as if history is at a standstill. Laing arrives too late to capture the decisive moment

It is the absence of people, in this case the detained refugees, which makes her work so poignant. Paul Seawright’s images of Afghanistan also exude an empty stillness. They too are devoid of people. However I do not think we can compare the desert terrain of Afghanistan and the centre of New York in the aftermath of the respective tragedies. I think  it is dangerous to generalise about the work of late photographers working in vastly different regions.

One generalisation which could perhaps be made is that made by Falkner (5)

late photography appears to be marked by an avoidance of instruction; it seems to ‘present’ and ‘record’ rather than ‘comment’.

Falkner’s essay also discusses the work of Kuper and Ophir on the West Bank, Deserted detention centres and bunkers are presented in states of disuse and disrepair. These photographers have followed the ‘rules’ of late photography with their centrally placed theme and stark simplicity. Another photographer whose images follow these simple rules is that of Paul Seawright. His images of Afghanistan are eerily empty of life. One could ask was this terrain always thus. With the general absence of people or buildings and the presence of the detritus of war present in only a few, one could ask if these images could have been made at any time.

I struggle to find a ‘raison d’etre’ for this type of imagery other than to produce work for gallery walls or glossy coffee table books. I believe there is still a place for the still photographer in the midst of war situations. An expression caught in the moment of battle can be passed over on a video. However I believe the proponents of modern war want to manage the imagery that emerges from the battle fronts and discourage photographers from participating other than when they are ’embedded’.

1. Veronica Tello (2014) The Aesthetics and Politics of Aftermath Photography,
Third Text, 28:6, 555-562, DOI:
10.1080/09528822.2014.970775
2.  David Campany. 2015. Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ | David Campany. [ONLINE] Available at: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/. [Accessed 14 October 2015].
3. Reflections Of Ground Zero Part 1a – YouTube. 2015. Reflections Of Ground Zero Part 1a – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8hN-aNWWBE. [Accessed 14 October 2015].
4. Reflections Of Ground Zero Part 2 – YouTube. 2015. Reflections Of Ground Zero Part 2 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vAZDBDDtz0. [Accessed 14 October 2015].
5. Late photography, military landscapes, and the politics of memory | Open Arts Journal. 2015. Late photography, military landscapes, and the politics of memory | Open Arts Journal. [ONLINE] Available at: http://openartsjournal.org/issue-3/2014s22sf/. [Accessed 14 October 2015].

P2: Photojournalism: Three Critical Viewpoints

We are asked to:

try and make time to find out more about at least one of these critical positions during your work on Part One.

  • Do you think Martha Rosler is unfair on socially driven photographers like Lewis Hine? Is there a sense in which work like this is exploitative or patronising? Does this matter if someone benefits in the long run? Can photography change situations?

Yes I do think Rosler http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf is unfair to some social Documentary photographers. Like all professions photography has had its charlatans. People who ‘pose’ as concerned photographers but who are only interested in exploiting the photograph for their own ends. In this I agree with Rosler who regarded the people photographed for these social documentary  images as ‘victims’. However I do think that among these early documentalists there were genuine concerned photographers. In her notes at the end of the essay In, around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography), Rosler seems to single Hine out as one such photographer (notwithstanding the questionable grammar and length of the sentence reprinted below….)

[HIne] “whose straightforward involvement with the struggles for decent working hours, pay and protections, as well as for decent housing, schooling and social dignity, for the people for whom he photographed and the social service agencies intending to represent them, and whose dedication to photography as the medium with which he could best serve those interests, was completely greater than Riis’s, to whom photography, and probably those whom he photographed, were at best an adjustment to, and moment in, a journalist career”.

Hine spent his whole life photographing the under privileged, mostly for the agencies for which he worked. But he truly believed that he could make a difference. As a professor of photography he encouraged his students to use the medium to make a difference. During the war he worked with the Red Cross. By not annotating his images he believed they should speak for themselves.

As a development worker in Africa I was very often faced with the dilemma of whether to photograph some situation or incident. My question to myself was always “How would this help to change anything?”. In most cases the answer was “it wouldn’t change anything”. However I have to accept that this was as much because I was an unknown as that photography per say does not change anything.

 

  • Do you think images of war are necessary to provoke change? Do you agree with Sontag’s earlier view that horrific images of war numb viewers’ responses? Read your answer again when you’ve read the next section on aftermath photography and note whether your view has changed. See also: http://lightbox.time.com/2014/01/28/
    when-photographs-of-atrocities-dont-shock/#1 [accessed 24/02/14]

This article, written by Fred Ritchin in Time Magazine Lightbox(2), would indicate that we are suffering from an image overload which is reducing the ability of individual shocking images to shock. This would support Sontag’s earlier view that horrific images numb the viewer’s responses. I would add to this that the viewing public have become a little jaundiced with the official imagery emerging from war zones. When photographers are ’embedded’  with one side or the other they loose their sense of objectivity. They can only see the war from one side. Their images are also, I believe, heavily censored. So the resultant images that we see have no great meaning and hence could not provoke any change. This is discussed in detail in David Campell’s article (3)

Sontag did however change her view in her work Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontags’s changing view is also discussed in Cambell’s article.

Some more evidence that photographs of war or crime victims do provoke change as discussed in this interview.(4)

Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till who did insist in 1954 that her son’s mangled body be displayed in its coffin and photographed with all of the physical evidence of lynching for it should be visible.

.And in the case of Emmett Till, that image did have an enormous impact then there’s a lot of, you know, testimony from the early years of the civil rights movement about the power of that image to shock. (npr.org)

There are also concerned journalists like Susan Moeller(5) who wrote that we need to be witnesses to what is happening in the world

When the best available evidence for a major news event is visual, and when that visual evidence is not itself an agent of fear-mongering (such as videos made by terrorist groups) journalists have the responsibility to publish that visual evidence and we the adult audience have the responsibility of looking at it — forewarned of the horrors to be seen perhaps, but not coddled into a comfortable obliviousness.

A whole movement of independent minded photographers and cinematographers continue to work in war torn areas and get their material out to sites like VICE News. (6) But I would hazard a guess that their readership/viewership is limited and consists of the ‘converted’.

Having read the next section I have not changed my opinion. The work of late’ photographers is a whole other genre.

  • Do you need to be an insider in order to produce a successful documentary project?

The answer to this question seems to me to depend on the project.  In the words of Aigail Solomon Godeau it its only relevant to certain practices. (7)

Larry Clarke and Nan Goldin needed to be ‘insiders’ to enter the world they depict. It would be difficult for you or me to get into this world to make such images  Having entered their worlds these photographers proceed to make images. Although they are ‘in’ the world they are recording, they are outside the action they are photographing. They are inside and outside at the same time. I would think this is very often the situation in which a photographer finds himself/herself. I would agree with Solomon Godeau on Rosler’s Bowery images. Juxtaposing words with the doorways where we would ‘expect’ to find homeless people, does not have the same impact as the images where these people are present. I don’t think Rosler’s images say anything worthwhile. She is neither an insider nor an outsider.

Solomon Godeau considers Chantal Akerman’s film D’Est a classic example of an ‘outsider’ project. I am not sure I would agree with that assessment. Akerman was, after all, a Polish Jewess, an insider of the world about which she is making a film. Akerman admits in a interview

that for her film Delphine she used her personal experiences of the very female world in which she had been reared. Perhaps her style of film making can be described as looking at or into something rather than being part of it. Alas as I was writing this I discovered that Chantal Akerman committed suicide last Monday night 5th October 2015.

The very recent film Mediteranea would fall into the same genre, in my

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 06.47.59opinion. The producer/director Capignano, a black American-Italian was ‘trusted’ by the immigrants probably because of his colour and was able to travel with these Burkinabe economic migrants in their quest to gain entry to Europe through Italy. The film is ‘true’ in  that he filmed, using a shoulder camera, the immigrants as they traveled. But we have no idea what he ‘chose’ to include or exclude  in the final cut. The immigrant world is not his world – he is not an insider but an observer and recorder of what happened on that one journey.

There is no such ambiguity in the written work of Chinua Achebe or Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. As Nigerians they were writing about their own country and very often their own experiences. They were, in my opinion, true insiders writing about their own experiences.

The question of whether an image represents truth and reality is a whole other question.We must question the purpose of the photographers in making these images. If no one wanted to look at them would they still be worth making?

I have not discussed the inside/outside effect of embedding photographers with their armies. These are truly ‘outsiders’ as they are with one side of the ‘war’ and probably know little of the the opponents. Maybe we could invent a word for these photographers as “onesiders”…

  1. . 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf. [Accessed 13 October 2015].
  2. Syrian Torture Archive: When Photographs of Atrocities Don’t Shock. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3426427/syrian-torture-archive-when-photographs-of-atrocities-dont-shock/. [Accessed 13 October 2015].
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  3.  Cambell, D, 2003. Representing Contemporary War. Ethics & International Affairs,, Volume 17.2,
  4. mages Of The Dead And The Change They Provoke : NPR. 2015. Images Of The Dead And The Change They Provoke : NPR. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/21/174958974/when-to-release-difficult-images. [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  5. Compassion Fatigue About Syria… Already? | Susan Moeller. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-moeller/why-you-need-to-look-at-t_b_3803383.html. [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  6. VICE News. 2015. VICE News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://news.vice.com/en. [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  7.  Chapter 6: Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s “Inside/Out” | Advanced Photography Journal. 2015. Chapter 6: Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s “Inside/Out” | Advanced Photography Journal. [ONLINE] Available at: https://advphotojournal.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/chapter-6-abigail-solomon-godeaus-insideout/. [Accessed 13 October 2015].