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Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about how you first found out about the beauty pageants of Colombia.
Carl Bower: I saw a small article in the New York Times that said there was a pageant there for practically anything imaginable — Miss Sun, Miss Sea, Miss Purity, Miss Pretty Legs, Miss Honey — the list went on. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of these contests with everything else I had been reading about Colombia: the cartels, the guerrillas, the bombings and kidnappings. I thought of how such parallel realities could coexist and the extent to which our popular conception of the country had been a caricature formed by stories of the drug trade.
At the time I came across the article, I was supporting a close friend in her battle with breast cancer. She had been a national champion ballroom dancer and a competitive bodybuilder. Her appearance was something that she took pride in and took pains to maintain even as she lost one breast, then another, and suffered the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Throughout her ordeal, I noticed how her sexuality seemed undiminished, if not stronger. I started to wonder, if a beautiful person gradually loses elements deemed to be part of that beauty, where is the tipping point at which they are no longer beautiful? Is there one?
In my anger and frustration with the cancer and growing obsession with the commoditization of beauty, the story of the pageants struck a nerve. Here was an environment where all the issues I was grappling with were stripped bare and distilled to the point that it might be possible to convey some of them on film.
At first I tried finding the pageants through government records, but most of the information was unreliable or outdated. Through a friend, I met a fashion designer commissioned to create the dresses for a candidate to the national pageant. I photographed her preparation and coaching, learned of regional pageants, and met with judges, organizers, parents of contestants. I visited modeling agencies and schools where girls were being trained to compete in the pageants from the age of four.
When I learned of festivals occurring throughout the country, I went to various towns and introduced myself in their mayors’ offices. I went everywhere: to the national pageants, with their weeks-long round-the-clock media blitz, to high school pageants, to pageants with just three candidates.
I began to see how the pageants were one of the few unifying threads in a country compartmentalized by geography, politics, and social stratification. It seemed that everyone, regardless of social standing, had an opinion about them: not on whether they were good or bad, or whether they should exist, but on who should win. When I returned to the United States, I found that some of the complexity I experienced was missing from the photos, so I went back. I kept finding new layers of meaning, so I ended up going back again and again.
MJ: You said that as you’ve gotten deeper into the story it has gotten more complicated and you feel more ambivalent about the role of these pageants in the culture (something visible in the images). What were some of the contradictions you discovered?
CB: When I began photographing, I felt that the pageants were essentially meat markets. It wasn’t just that thousands of people were scrutinizing the contestants’ bodies; what struck me was the categorical, exhaustive, and unforgiving nature of it. Are her ankles thick? Who has breast implants? Who doesn’t but should? Whose ass is too small, too large, or shaped like melons when it should be like oranges? After the current Miss Colombia was crowned last November, there were months of public demands that she have her nose fixed to better compete in Miss World. More »
Throughout the recent digital revolution in photography, I have continued to shoot film, but there is one area where I have happily adopted new lightweight digital capture — audio. With the technology jumping leaps and bounds, audio that previously required large, complex recorders can now be captured on small digital recorders, perfect for the kind of multimedia storytelling that I’m exploring.
I’ve been intrigued with the advance of multimedia in the last few year, and especially how it can be used to enhance the art of storytelling. I have a deep respect for still photographers moving into video — like Tim Hetherington with his award-winning documentary Restrepo — but I’m not ready to turn in my viewfinder for a video camera yet. What feels right to me right now is the multimedia slideshow.
You see, I love to write and I enjoy the process of preparing a script to accompany imagery. The multimedia slideshow allows me to go one step beyond the still image with regards to storytelling, but still aligns with my belief that still images are more powerful than moving ones.
My first dabble in multimedia, I decided to create a slideshow (above) of my black-and-white fine-art project on Chinese Turkestan in an attempt to reach a wider audience. In my visits to the region several times a year for the last several years, I began recording audio with a small hand-held recorder. For the slideshow’s audio I used a “Call to Prayer,” essentially a man who stands on the top of the mosque and calls everyone to come and pray several times per day. It is something I hear all the time while working in the region and I thought it was fitting.
My goal here was never to produce a “news” piece or include various clips of audio with fuller storytelling. I wanted to create a space for the viewer to fully experience the still image. For that reason, the sequencing was incredibly important, and difficult. I payed particular attention to composition and flow, and I’m still working on it, since the project itself is not yet complete.
One of the exciting things about this first foray into multimedia is starting to think about how this slideshow can support the still images in terms of publicity and marketing. For instance, I integrated the slideshow into my presentations at a few universities and galleries during a recent trip to the U.S. I was very pleased with both the impact of the slideshow and the feedback I received. Remembering that the end goal is to have my images reach the widest possible audience, I believe an audio slideshow contribute to that in many ways.
I have several more videos currently in production, including ones with a narrative as well as more audio from locations. You can follow the process on my blog.
Thank you for joining us for the inaugural IMPACT online exhibition, a new project exploring the blog medium as a venue for photographic work. RESOLVE is excited to be hosting this experimental new project.
By clicking on the links below the IMPACT logo, you can move through the exhibition, viewing galleries of images, all related to the idea of “Outside Looking In.” Each “gallery” will include a series of images a photographer has uploaded to their blog along with this same IMPACT logo.
At any time you can click on the IMPACT logo to be taken to back to this post, where all the participating photographers are listed. (The “next” button actually takes you to a random gallery, so keep clicking if you get a repeat.)
By allowing viewers to move between different photographer’s online galleries, we hope to gain exposure for their work while providing a multifaceted visual study of the chosen topic.
We also wanted to remind viewers of the important role photographers play around the world, so we asked participants to share images from a project where they had an impact or were impacted themselves. If inclined, they have also included a link to an organization that they believe is having a positive impact on the world. Please help us increase this project’s IMPACT by sharing it with your community.
Gazi Nafis Ahmed: Inner Face
Daniel Beltra: Tropical Deforestation
Fabiano Busdraghi: Physics, adventure, poetry and photography in Antarctica
Shiho Fukada: No Retirement Plan
Sean Gallagher: Desertification Unseen
Bill Hatcher: New Zealand Masters of Sport
Ed Kashi: A “Fady” in Madagascar
Michael Kircher: Adventure for Healing
Pete Marovich: A Look Inside the Old Order
Sara Mayti: The Sound of a 4.16
Thomas Peschak: Saving the Most Important Fish In the Sea
Ian Shive: American National Parks
Jeremy Wade Shockley: The Mountain Kingdom
Art Wolfe: The Ganges River
Rachel Wolfe: Jamaica
Miki Johnson: Please tell us about the [OR]EDU project.
Liza Faktor: [OR]EDU is a new project for talented and highly motivated young photographers and photo students that was launched in 2009 by our foundation, Objective Reality. The project came from my personal experience directing a photo agency, editing an online magazine, and running offline workshops in Russia and CIS. Through it all I felt a growing frustration at the impossibility of doing business on the international level in this huge territory.
The idea of [OR]EDU is to find young photographers (from Russia, CIS, and the Baltics for now, but with a plan to take it international very soon) and connect them to the working professional photographers, editors, and curators around the world. Photographers are chosen by a competition, and then go through the series of thematic workshops where they are coached by “masters” through a blog where assignments are made and critiqued. Our goal is to help emerging photographers develop and maintain a personal vision, and to market that vision as a product.
So far, we have produced two seasons of the workshop. In 2008-2009 we received a total of 472 workshop applications. Originally intended for Russian photographers, the program gained much wider attention and drew participants from Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The first 55 workshops participants created photo essays and produced their own multimedia or exhibition projects.
Looking back at the start of the project, it seems like a scary and exciting adventure. We were programming all the interface ourselves and we had to work with limited resources. I’m very grateful to all the masters who joined the project at an early stage and struggled with the software — many of them taking on blogging for the first time. Among our masters were award-winning photographers Lucian Perkins, Alexander Gronsky, and Rena Effendi, and editors Michael Regnier of Panos Pictures, Andrey Polikanov of Russian Reporter, Barbara Stauss of Mare, and Rebecca McClelland.
MJ: What is a typical Objective Reality class like?
LF: Each workshop lasts for one or two months, during which the students are given two or three assignments from a “master.” Once they’ve completed the assignment, they upload it to the website, where it becomes part of the class blog, where they receive comments and critiques from the master. The whole process is open to the public, but only members of the class can write and comment on assignments.
For now we are able to run no more than three or four workshops simultaneously, otherwise our small stuff would not be able to keep track of everyone. The workshop themes are usually organized around a certain market sector, like editorial or art, or a particular kind of work, like a personal project or multimedia production. Assignments include daily life editorial, developing virtual exhibitions, multimedia technique and storytelling, and producing a documentary project.
MJ: Why was it important to you to offer photography classes online, not just in person?
LF: We started to concentrate on the workshops in 2005 and produced them in quite a few of the Russian regions over the next two years. By the end of 2006, we came to the conclusion that it made no sense to continue the workshops in their existing format. Out of 10 or 15 students, only one or two were ready to move on to higher level classes. Not to mention the travel costs photographers had to pay to travel from their hometowns to the regional workshops.
We decided it would be much easier to mobilize promising photographers on the internet. Most photographers who want to move beyond the limits of their local region are already actively using the internet, which is their only source for self-improvement and information. Plus the online format allows us to work with masters from around the world with no added cost for their travel.
MJ: What have the results of the workshops been so far?
LF: In addition to satisfying a pure desire to learn more, the workshops offer a real professional motivation to young photographers; many students are now working with the leading Russian and foreign magazines and agencies they connect with through class portfolio reviews. We have also realized that we are becoming a repository for high-quality stories by workshops participants. They are documenting important social issues and everyday life in our largely under-reported region: life in small towns; ethnic and sexual minorities and members of subcultures; health care; internally displaced people; homeless children and orphans; migrant workers.
These stories are being told less and less due to the global media crisis. It struck us that the work our students were producing could be as important as what they learned while they were producing it. We decided to develop a new media component on the website, which presents photographic projects by the workshops participants and provides a platform for contributions from other professional photographers and citizen journalists as well.
We are also working to integrate the workshops with other exciting internet projects. We engage with social networks and bring in interesting blog posts from resources like RESOLVE (only available in Russian) to draw in new traffic and help the images produced by the students be seen outside of our website.
MJ: Having worked for so long with photographers in Russia and CIS, have you found common problems that these photographers face? Is there style or philosophy of photography that has emerged from this region?
LF: Generally, I do not sympathize with the “national” idea or division of photography. Really exciting and original Russian photographers are not dramatically different from American or French photographers. If you looked at the work and personalities of Yuri Kozyrev or Alexander Gronsky or Rena Effendi, it would be hard to tell their nationality.
What is typical for most of the post-Soviet countries today, and what led me to start a foundation and take on the educational projects in the first place, is the lack of context, on many levels. By that I mean a poor or almost absent photography market infrastructure. Support for emerging photographers in the forms of academic schools, workshops, and grants is inconsistent; job opportunities with publications, agencies, and galleries are slim; and the criteria for judging photography are vague in the absence of national-scale contests and critique. As a result, there’s a very limited number of real professionals.
Naturally, these problems are not uniform across the whole territory — the situation is better in Russia and the Baltics than in Tajikistan or Moldova for instance. But in reality there is almost no serious photographic discourse going on, which makes it difficult for young photographers and editors to develop their careers.
Name: Josh Maready
What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I shoot mostly fashion and portraiture, but I feel really connected to photojournalism and documentary. I like capturing pieces of history that otherwise might have been lost or forgotten.
Personal project name and short description
Pic-A-Pet: This is a slideshow and interview with Mr. Madonna, the owner of a small plant and pet store named “Pic-A-Pet” in my hood in Inwood, at the very top of Manhattan.
When and why did you start it?
My old apartment was right above where the super put all of the trash overnight before he put it out on the street, and because of it there were always some stray flies that found their way in. I got pissed and went on a search to find some Venus fly traps that led me to Pic-A-Pet. I loved that place ever since I first walked in.
I have soft spot for old stores — the dirtier and more cluttered the better. Those places are so full of stories and have so much soul, you know? I instantly wanted to take pictures of that place and hear some of those stories, so I grabbed my camera and voice recorder and sat down with the owner, Mr, Madonna. Sadly, he had Stage 4 cancer and died a couple of weeks after our interview. It’s pretty amazing to think that because of the interview I did, a few of his stories will always be alive. That’s powerful stuff.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far?
From this story, I like two images the most: a portrait of Mr. Madonna smiling and a picture of his cluttered cash register that he told me he hasn’t used since the first day he opened. In the portrait, maybe it’s the smile he’s wearing, even though I knew he was in pain, or maybe the sunlight hitting the dust on his glasses. The register, to me, is a perfect summary of everything I love about old stores.
What has been the most challenging thing about the project?
The most challenging part was the editing. I sat down and talked with Mr. Madonna for almost an hour and a half. So taking all of those stories and condensing them into 10 minutes was tough.
What has been the most rewarding thing about it?
Just what I said earlier — to know that I was a part of keeping someone’s legacy alive is a huge honor. Mr. Madonna was loved by so many people. And even though this is a small and unworthy tribute for such a good man, at least it’ll give people a taste of what he was like.
In your ideal world, where would this project end up?
I hope this ends up in front of the eyes of people who appreciate the stories of the unknown heros of the world as much as I do.
Do you recommend personal projects to other photographers, and why?
Totally. I try to find time to fuel the creative fire by shooting things that really mean something to me. This project was time consuming and finding free time is hard. Freeing up time is usually hard to justify. But to look back and feel like I’ve done something good for the world is worth it.
Wow – you wanna hear something weird? Right now as i’m writing this I just got an email from someone who had known Mr. Madonna. They told me they just watched the slideshow/interview and then poured their heart out about Mr. Madonna and told me a few of their own stories about him. That’s it, man! That’s why I love this stuff! That’s good fuel for the fire and motivation for the next few stories I have in mind…
Miki Johnson: Tell me about the book you just released with Ruthann Richter, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. What was the impetus of this project and what were you hoping to achieve with it?
Karen Ande: This book represents the culmination of seven years of work. The project began in 2002 when I was traveling in Kenya with my husband and friends. Our tour guide asked me if I’d like to visit an orphanage she had opened in the town of Naivasha and photograph the children, whose parents had died of AIDS.
I agreed to do it, thinking it would be a one-time visit that might result in a few shots she could use for fundraising. I did not realize that the children would charm me and that their survival hung in such a delicate balance. The orphanage ran out of rice the day I was there.
We left them with some money for food and I eventually went home and began to print the photographs. When I saw the images emerge in the developing tray I realized that I had an opportunity and a decision to make. I could choose to become involved in this issue or not. I chose to get involved, to reach out to nonprofits who were already supporting projects, to make multiple trips to document this issue. It has taken an enormous amount of time and personal finances, but I have never looked back.
I am driven by this issue — 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. There is little infrastructure to care for the children, but many local people whom I have met through NGO’s have creative viable projects that make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope this book will convince people to take a close look at the children I’ve met and begin to care enough to try to help them.
MJ: You’ve said that when you started photographing it was important to you to focus on the positive, things are getting better and people who are making a difference. Why was this so important to you?
KA: People do not hang around to be depressed. The media overexposes us to images of suffering I think, consistently giving us two messages: 1) there is really nothing one person can do to affect these overwhelming problems, and 2) money donated to Africa will be diverted by corrupt governments and aid agencies and never get to the people who need it.
In fact there is a great deal one person can do if they know how. If you donate to organizations working with in-country activists who know and understand their communities’ needs, the money is not wasted. In fact it is often the best way to help, as these projects are generally successful and sustainable. We list many NGO’s in our book that support these types of projects. More »
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to members of the conservation, media, and photography communities as part of the WildSpeak program at The WILD Foundation‘s World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. WildSpeak was created by the International League of Conservation Photographers, four days of presentations showing conservation organizations the power of visual storytelling and persuading them to make more room in their budgets for collaboration with conservation photographers.
The presentation I was part of, “New Media and Creating the Groundswell,” focused on using new online tools to disseminate conservation messages. The other speakers introduced me to several fascinating initiatives that I want to share with the RESOLVE community — by synthesizing photography, education, technology, and social action, they highlight trends that I believe will become increasingly important as the new media landscape evolves.
Collect and Contextualize
ARKive is an initiative by Wildscreen to create a digital library of text, photos, and video of a huge number of the world’s animal and plant species. In some ways, the vast number of images available online do not become truly useful and powerful until they are organized and searchable in a collection like this.
Frank Biasi, director of Conservation Projects for National Geographic Maps, demonstrated two projects he’s working on that are using maps as the main navigation tool for a site. The Global Action Atlas helps connect people with social action opportunities in specific areas of the world, and LandScope.org is a map-based resource for the land-protection community and the public. As geotagging becomes automatic and people interact more across all geographic barriers, information organized around a map structure will undoubtedly increase.
Mash Up Media
WildCoast is the perfect example of a non-profit taking their message far beyond the common trap of “preaching to the choir.” By signing up a sexy model and a Lucha Libre celebrity, this organization focused on saving coastal ecosystems won major victories for sea creatures. They also disseminate much of their information as comics and animated videos, something that Médecins Sans Frontières has also explored with their beautiful graphic novel, The Photographer.
Create Endless Collaboration
Matt Peters, the founder of Pandemic Labs, which ran social media strategy for the entire Wild9 congress, wrapped up with a wonderful presentation about the way online information tools can help keep people who connect at events like Wild9 connected and moving forward with their ideas long after the sessions end.
The Wild9 Live page collected blog posts in three languages, tweets about Wild9, live streams of many presenters, and Qik videos streamed from delegates’ cell phones, letting people from around the world (they received hits from around 80 countries) feel like they were part of the congress. And, possibly more important, now all that information is archived and available online. You can see the presentation videos at the Wild9 USTREAM page and even check out my presentation about creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites that drive visitors to act, not just look.
Newsweek‘s cover image of Sarah Palin in running shorts awkwardly holding her PDAs caused a huge stir this week, especially when Daily Finance uncovered that the resale of the image, originally made for Runner’s World by Brian Adams, constituted a breach of the original contract. In a side saga, photojournalist Nina Berman took considerable heat for her incisive comments about the cover on the BAGnewsNotes blog when a YahooNews link flooded the blog with new readers.
A recent study conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found evidence that merely looking at a photo of a loved one can decrease a person’s perception of pain, the New York Times Well blog reported this week. Although the study was very small, focusing only on 25 women’s reactions to images of their boyfriends, it found that their pain perception was lower looking at a photo than even holding their boyfriend’s hand.
The winners of the 64th Annual College Photographer of the Year were announced over the weekend. Ryan C. Henriksen was named College Photographer of the Year and Maisie Crow, the runner-up (both are students at Ohio University). Check out the extensive gallery of winning images, as well as archived screencasts of the judging process, which lend incredible insight into how the judges’ decisions were made. UPDATE: There’s a great interview with Documentary Gold winner Alex Welsh over at The Visual Student.
The Telegraph launched a new section this week called Telephoto that compiles an impressive array of stories focusing on art and documentary photography. After being tipped off by 1854, the blog of the British Journal of Photography, we had a great time perusing gems like Alec Soth’s video diary of trying to photograph the most beautiful woman in Georgia (the country).
MIKI JOHNSON: What initially drew you both to Cuba? It has been photographed so much already…did you try to approach it in a new way that you hadn’t seen before?
ALEX WEBB: Like many projects, this one began somewhat serendipitously. We certainly did not plan it. I first went in to Cuba 1993 for Life magazine, and Rebecca traveled there around the same time separately. We were both intrigued by the island, but somehow didn’t manage to return until 2000, when we visited together to teach a workshop.
Returning to the country inspired both of us, and we embarked on two separate projects: my exploration of the streets of Cuba and Rebecca’s discovery of unique and sometimes mysterious collections of animals there –– from tiny zoos and pigeon societies to hand-painted natural history displays and quirky personal menageries. It was only eight years later, in 2008, that we hit upon the notion of putting our two very distinct bodies of work together to create a multi-layered portrait of Cuba.
MJ: How many trips to Cuba did you take while making photos for this book, and what places and parts of the culture were you specifically trying to capture?
AW: We made 11 trips to Cuba. Besides our first trips that we took separately, we made six trips together from 2000 to 2005 and then four long trips in 2007 and 2008, when I was fortunate enough to have a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue photographing the island. I initially called my project Esperando because in Spanish the term means both “waiting” and “hoping,” a title that starts to get at my impression of the streets of Cuba.
REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: I originally called my project Three Rooms after the following quote by a Habanero whom I met, a gentle and soft-spoken man who raises cockatiels, love birds, and parakeets: “I have three rooms in my house –– two are for my birds, and one is for my wife and me.”
For the past decade, I’ve been exploring the complicated relationship between people and the natural world. In the 25 cities I visited for my first book The Glass Between Us, I never witnessed anything quite like what I’ve seen on “the violet isle,” a little known nickname for Cuba inspired by the rich color of its soil. Nearly 700 miles across, Cuba is easily the largest island in the Caribbean and has its own endemic species, including the world’s smallest bat and the world’s smallest bird. Alex and I traveled nearly the entire length of the island in pursuit of our separate obsessions.
MJ: Why did it appeal to you to combine your two bodies of work into one book about Cuba? How are the images grouped in the book? More »
Prix Pictet announced yesterday that the winner of this year’s photography prize for environmental sustainability goes to British based Israeli photographer Nadav Kander, whose project Yangtze, The Long River Series documents the changing landscape along China’s Yangtze River. Pictet also awarded a photography commission to RESOLVE contributor Ed Kashi, who will fulfill Pictet’s annual commission this year in Madagascar.
Vincent Laforet released his latest short film, Nocturne, shot with a prototype Canon 1D MKIV on Monday, but was asked by Canon to take it down the following day, he explained on his blog. Photo Business News and Fake Chuck Westfall both took Canon Japan to task for the move. If you didn’t catch Nocturne before it was taken down, it’s on YouTube, of course.
And the drama goes on. After Shepard Fairey admitted last week that he had lied about his source of his Obama image, the Associated Press released a statement on Tuesday that they are challenging Fairey’s account in court as “purposely deceiving.” Excerpts of AP’s most recent court filings and the letter Fairey’s attorneys sent to the AP are available at PDN.
Jen Bekman Projects, the innovative creator of the 20×200 prints store and the Hey, Hot Shot! photo competition, received $800K+ in venture capital funding. The series A funding was led by California-based venture capitalist True Ventures, along with a other angel investors.