Monday, September 17, 2012

So... What's New?

New? In the last decade? The one which has probably witnessed more technological innovation in the field of photography than any other period since its inception? How 'bout the fact that most photographers were still using the now antiquated medium called film? It's been a veritable technological sea change: digital capture that surpasses film quality, smart phones with sophisticated cameras, the ever evolving world of multimedia, photo editing software that defies reality...

Then there's the not so insignificant matter of the technology that disperses and promulgates all these images, in some cases instantaneously- of which you know better than I. Not to mention blogs, Facebook and Twitter (allowing us common folk some small voice in all that's happening), and perhaps last and not least, what some are currently referring to as "The Golden Age of Photography Books," brought on by the surge of independent publishing.

And all of that is great and good and wonderful, each of us "free" to pick and use whatever within our means and interests. But despite the glitter of technology, the most significant meaningful trend in the act of photography itself has been how some photographers have chosen to deal with their subject matter, particularly in documentary and photojournalism when dealing with the people that make up their story- not as fodder for mass consumption, but as real live human beings with lives that extend well beyond a picture frame and a deadline. As technology evolves and increasingly speeds us along, some have elected to purposely slow the process down, sometimes long enough to realize that those in front of their cameras also have eyes that see, and voices well worth listening to. These are the photographers who choose to give of themselves as their subjects give to them, those who do long term projects, projects that not only record visually but also investigate causes and seek out solutions. Ideally, the latter would also include empowering indigenous peoples to become media savvy themselves.

This more humane and responsible manner of documentation is not without precedent. Gilles Peress, Simon Norfolk, Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, Sebastio Salgado, James Nachtwey, Ken Light, Mary Ellen Mark, Shelby Lee Adams and Fazal Sheikh all helped pioneer various kinds of multi-faceted, long term documentation well before the digital revolution. And while all the above have continued their work well into this century, other, newer names have committed to expand and further that very legacy:

 Aaron Huey's documentation goes well beyond the extremes of simple romanticism or blatant voyeurism and strives for solutions.

Taryn Simon's multilayered work unveils hidden myths and truths that allow making real life (and even life saving) connections.

Zoe Strauss learned, practiced and exhibited her photography on the streets of her hometown.

Eva Leitolf's deceptively subtle and stunningly beautiful images serve to accentuate the horrors they disguise.

Mr. Thomas creates controversial images that can literally shock us into awareness and recognition (or descend us yet further into denial). Pity we don't have more great art that examines its relationship with money, rather than art created solely to make it

Matt Black's old school B&W triumphs when it comes to depicting today's troubled economic and environmental landscape.

Brenda Ann Keneally- The strength and passion of her commitment is surpassed only by the quality of her photography and the trust of her subjects.

Hopefully you're already familiar with these names, and their accomplishments- I've surely made some major omissions, so please feel free to include your own additions... I also think Benjamin Chesterton* of Duckrabbit blog should be mentioned for championing this very kind of dedicated photography not only on his blog, but in practice- through his advocacy, workshops and multi-media productions.  * In the interest of full disclosure I do "know" Mr. Chesterton, if only through the interweb. 


And then there are those who commit themselves to the long term visual documentation of the slow and sorrowful denigration of our very planet; a planet being wantonly stripped and scoured of every last ounce of its resources- 90% of the "big fish" in our oceans have been fished out and our climate would continue to increase in temperature for years even if we immediately shut down every coal plant on earth and stopped driving each and every single car, truck and airplane. And still, we continue to do... Nothing! We're approaching the very tipping point before ecosystems worldwide begin a nonstop cascade to oblivion. Photography may not offer answers, but it can help shine a light on the enroaching threat(s) surrounding us all, threats that will continue to endanger us well beyond the distractions of today and tomorrow's dessert and celebrity photos.

The following photographers are producing the kind of photographic documentation, and evidence, that if not willfully ignored, would make believers of the most ardent deniers. The plethora of highly detailed and comprehensive work created by the first three photographers have expanded into film, the last two photographers are perhaps less known but provide exemplary images of an environment and world community in crisis...

*I criticized Mr. Burtynsky years ago for not being "critical enough" of the criminals responsible for the desecration depicted in his photographs- in a word, I was wrong. There's no way he could continue to have the access he needs and maintains if he was, in fact, so openly critical. It's up to us to have the sense to notice, and the willingness to act... if only to save ourselves.

No comments: