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I tumbled into photography while I was struggling to stay in New York after arriving from India with less than a dollar in my pocket and a visa that only lasted a month. In 1968, my plans were to become a fold singer; New York City was full of hippies and music was everywhere. This lady was listening to me sing in the village and asked me if I would come and audition at the United Nations’ choral group. I got the part and she got me a job as a messenger and took care of my visa problem. I won the grand spires in a photo-contest that led me to a job in the United Nation’s Photo Unit as a darkroom technician.

I had worked for 20 years as a photojournalist and I had a nervous breakdown after my coverage in Rwanda in 1994. At that point, I wanted to turn my camera towards nature and wildlife. Since I come from India and tigers are endangered, I decided to turn my photography towards documenting the tigers. I am also very fond of cats.

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This tiger documentary was a coincidence. Mary Fereira who is a United Nations Television (UNTV) documentary producer approached me and asked if I would be willing to share my tiger images and let them follow me while I was in the jungle in India and film with me. So last year they did the filming in India. During the 30 years I worked with the United Nations, I was a photojournalist covering crisis around the world of less fortunate people who suffered during wars and natural disasters. So to be featured as a wildlife photographer was a challenge and thrill.

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I want people to be aware of the delicate situation of these tigers existence in our ever changing world and needs. I want people to realize that we all have an obligation to protect our wildlife and the land we live in. There is an ancient saying that this Earth is given to us on loan and we must take the responsibility to nurture and safekeep it for our children and their children.

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Even though I have retired from my regular job as a photojournalist, I still work everyday in my studio in Yonkers. I make presentations at universities, schools, conduct workshops, and teach photography. As I am writing this, I am getting ready to leave for China on an invitation to make a presentation to 1,400 students in Beijing next week.

To see more of John Isaac’s work, visit his website: www.johnisaac.com

The beginning of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on last year and set goals for the year ahead. We decided to check in with longtime friend and photojournalist Christopher Morris to see what his most memorable moment was last year and what he plans to do in 2013.

What was your most memorable moment from this past year?

From the past year, oddly enough the most memorable moment for me came, when I was able to pull off getting a model onto the floor of the  Republican Convention in Florida. Shooting for the French fashion magazine L’Officiel. Anyone who works or is involved in the world of politics will understand the near impossible feat of being able pull this off. Here is an image from the Convention.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Morris

What is your biggest goal for 2013?

To survive!

How has liveBooks changed your business?

liveBooks, is a very liberating experience for me.  The seamless ability to edit and re-edit my work, is priceless. It has given me the opportunity to showcase my work in a style and format that suits my ever changing workflow.

liveBooks has a long history of commitment to photojournalism, philanthropy and social change. Our CEO Andy Patrick took over the International Fund for Documentary Photography (IFDP) from Mother Jones Magazine in 2001. The IFDP was a grant program started by photographers Ken Light, Michelle Vignes, Marc Riboud, Sebastiao Salgado and journalist Kerry Tremain. In 2001, Andy integrated the IFDP into FiftyCrows, a non-profit he founded to support documentary and photojournalistic photographers that were documenting social issues around the world.

Jack Piccone photography website

Andy and his wife contributed over a million dollars to assure that these important photographic essays made their way into the world and that great storytellers had an opportunity to continue their important work. FiftyCrows and the IFDP has supported many great photographers including Ed KashiJack PiconeMarcela TaboadaAndre Cypriano, Stephanie Sinclair, as well as in the early years amazing photographers such as Joseph Rodriguez, Donna Decesare, Nan Goldin, and Shahidul Alam.

Chobi Mela International Photography FestivalThe grants have been used for many things including financing the continuation of a story that otherwise would not have likely seen funding from traditional means, to starting organizations such as what Shahidul Alam did in the early 1990’s in Bangladesh. From this was born The Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the DRIK Picture Agency.

 

In 2004 Shahidul AlamChris RainierWade Davis, Andy and others formed the National Geographic All Roads Photography Awards. All Roads has supported countless indigenous photographers in their efforts to document their own cultures.

Shahidul Alam photography website

So today, it is with great anticipation and excitement that we share with you one of our favorite events, the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photograpy. If you get a chance – GO! The festival takes place in Dhaka, Bangladesh and opens on January 25th. What sets Chobi Mela apart from other other photo festivals is that it is not only truly international, but is also perhaps the world’s most demographically inclusive festival.

In keeping with ethos of DRIK, Chobi Mela has always symbolized a struggle against hegemony and oppression. The theme for Chobi Mela VII is Fragility. It will feature photographers from 23 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Exhibitors include well known photojournalists and new ones alike.

Mr. Alam said he created the Chobi Mela festival primarily so Bangladeshi photographers could be more widely exposed globally, extending to international audiences. “I wanted to create a bridge,” he said. “But it also gives us a chance to take stock of this remarkable transformation that is taking place within photography in Bangladesh.”

Congratulations to Shahidul and his amazing team… our hearts our with you!

Ron Haviv is an award-winning photojournalist that has produced images of conflict and humanitarian crises that have made headlines from around the world since the end of the Cold War. Haviv is also the co-founder of the photo agency VII which is dedicated to documenting conflict, both violent and non-violent, to produce an unflinching record of the injustices created and experienced by people caught up in the events they describe.

Ron is teaching a workshop about what it takes to work as a photojournalist. It will take place from June 17-23 at the Maine Media Workshops. You can register here.

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Photo courtesy of Ron Haviv

Melissa Dubasik: Would you tell us about your upcoming workshop?

Ron Haviv: The workshop is an intense 5 day course designed to help develop a personal style of photography. By combining a shooting assignment, class edits and one on one time, the photographer’s vision will rise to the next level. In addition we will discuss the business of photography – how to get to places and how to get your work published and seen among many other things.

MD: Why and/or how you have come to focus on documentary work?

RH: To be able to tell stories with images whether it’s in your own back yard or across the ocean is an amazing way to spend your life. Understanding the work that photographers do can have an affect on the world is something that keeps one motivated to working every day.

MD: Is this workshop geared more towards being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?

RH: The workshop emphasizes the visual voice above all else but having the technical skills is something that everyone needs.

MD: What differentiates this workshop from others?

RH: This workshop is designed to get the photographer to the next level by learning from my experiences in the field.

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Photo courtesy of Ron Haviv

MD: I’d love to get a little background on why you host workshops and what you hope others will get out of them?

RH: I’ve always seen the world of photojournalists as always being concerned with the next generation. You see it in the field all the time with the more experienced people helping the newer ones. This workshop is in the same spirit but benefits from being together in an intense environment where we are all focused on becoming better.

MD: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending this workshop?

RH: Many people thinking about being or starting out as a photojournalist feel it’s an impossible task. We will demystify the world and show a path that will allow you to make photography a part of your life.

MD: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?

RH: To come open and ready to learn. All else will follow.

MD: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?

RH: I never took a workshop and had I taken one like this a lot of wasted time and mistakes that I’ve made would have been avoided.

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Photo courtesy of Ron Haviv

As sponsors of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop for the third year, liveBooks recently got an update about the lineup of instructors for this year’s workshop happening from June 20-26 in Istanbul, Turkey.

We have to admit, it’s an impressive list: Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, Andrea Bruce, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale, Guy Calaf, Kate Brooks, Tyler Hicks, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbruaskas, Jared Moossy, David Guttendfelder, Rena Effendi, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Jon Vidar, David Bathgate, Tewfic el Sawy, Henrik Kastenskov/Bombay Flying Club.

You can read all about the Foundry Workshop in our interview with founder Eric Beecroft from last year’s edition in India (year one was in Mexico). The workshop began in 2008 as a more affordable workshop option that international and emerging photographers could afford.

With such a prestigious list of instructors this year, we thought it would be good to hear from a few of them about the Foundry experience and their advice for workshops in general.

Miki Johnson: What is your favorite thing about being involved in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop? Do you have a favorite moment from past years?

Ron Haviv: Watching the growth of the students in such a short period of time. The realization from many that this is a great way to spend your life. Seeing that moment on students’ faces is inspirational to me.

Ami Vitale: The collaboration and working with fine photographers and fun people. It’s always a great experience and I’m always inspired by my students and colleagues. Last time I left feeling  full of inspiration and ideas. Watching students grow in the short span of the workshop is incredible.

Tewic el Sawy: My favorite take-home sentiment from participating in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is the mutual camaraderie and unfettered sharing of knowledge, information, and support between instructors and students/attendees. As for my favorite moment: during the final screening of the students work at the Manali workshop, learning that Dhiraj Singh (one of my class attendees) had deservedly won the top photography spot/prize of the workshop.

MJ: What is the most important things for students to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?

Ron: To open their minds to the knowledge that all the photographers, both students and teachers alike, are sharing with them.

Ami: To have fun and not to be too hard on themselves. I think some people come into this and put so much pressure on themselves to succeed.  This should be an environment of exploration and learning — and making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Tewic: The most important lessons that students will learn is to leave their ego at home, to help each other, to collaborate, and to be optimistic. Speaking for my class, they will realize that the more they know of multimedia, the more they’ll progress in their careers.

MJ: Was there a class or instructor that helped you become the photographer that you are now? How did they do that?

Ami: Rich Beckman. I’m back in grad school with him again! He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to finding new paths for storytelling. I’m studying Multimedia and Film with him now.

Tewic: I took a class in Havana with Magnum photographer Costa Manos and he told me that my photographs were “too simple.” He was right, and I’ve been trying to complicate them ever since.

In 2005 David Bathgate, a teacher, writer, and visual storyteller, started an online program to teach visual storytelling in a way that worked for people with busy schedules in any part of the world. Keep an eye out for more informative posts from The Compelling Image‘s topnotch instructors coming up.

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Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about what you learned when you were teaching, photographing, and writing all at once. It seems that your work at TCI brings all those skills together.

David Bathgate: The short answer to this is that it’s improved my own communication skills with a camera and in words. Mentoring students draws on skills I’ve acquired and brings things I’ve learned through experience to a more conscious level. From here, I can better analyze what I see in student images at TCI and thus be more constructive in the critiques and advice I give.

MJ: What was your initial goal for starting TCI and where do you see it going?

DB: My initial and continuing aim is to offer an alternative to increasingly more expensive “on-location” photo and video workshops. One of things that will be changing soon, however, is the temporal format for courses. Instead of continuing with our original and current four- and six-week offerings with a set start and end date, students will be able to enroll and begin their course immediately — whenever they want.

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Our new “subscription” system will provide students with two, four, or six months (Mentor Program) to complete each course’s six assignments and upload them to the TCI website for instructor comments and critiques. Additionally, students will have course-related access to their instructor throughout their subscription period and be able (for an additional fee) to obtain a full portfolio review of their work and arrange an hour-long Skype appointment to discuss their course progress in full.

TCI’s new approach is designed to take optimum advantage of the internet’s on-demand convenience and real-time capability. We are confident the change will add great functionality and robustness to our already proven “virtual classroom” experience.

A strong social networking component is also in the works. With this, both those establishing a free on-site account with us, as well as currently enrolled and past students, will be able to upload photos and/or video to a personal gallery and communicate with a group of like-minded people.

What the future holds for the TCI depends to large degree on the evolution of the internet itself. Our goal here is to make our classrooms as real as possible and to have our courses deliver not just a valuable educational experience, but and enjoyable one, too.

Still another avenue we are pursuing is that of accreditation. To this end, we’ve already opened discussions with several universities in the U.S. and Europe and hope to add “college credit available” to our brand soon.

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MJ: Were there other online classes when TCI was launched? What are the advantages to the students and instructors of online classes?

DB: We actually began with a “beta” version of TCI in mid-2005. At that time there were a couple of online schools offering photography courses of the “basic” kind or not involving instructor interaction at all. The TCI groundstone was laid to offer instruction not only to newcomers, but also to serious amateurs and aspiring professionals. These are our roots and from this we continue to grow, as technology and the internet offer ever more fertile ground for our evolution.

For TCI students this means guaranteed educational value, as well as an enjoyable experience void of the cost, scheduling, and time-consuming hassle of making one’s way to a distant photography or videography course or workshop.

For TCI instructors, the venue and its rich functionality means being able to teach a course successfully and interactively from just about anywhere on the planet. Instructors can access their courses while on assignment or from the comfort of their very own studio. No need to allocate large blocks of time for teaching.

For example, I can critique student assignments and answer questions from a wifi hotspot in Dubai’s International Airport while in transit. Then when I arrive at my assignment destination in Kabul, Afghanistan, I can connect my laptop to a guesthouse ethernet cable and continue the process of running a “classroom” in an effective and efficient manner. For everyone — students and instructors — online, interactive teaching as TCI does it is a great alternative for anyone seeking quality, professionally-led photography or video production learning experience.

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MJ: What are a few of the most important things for visual storytellers to understand about the market right now and in the near future?

DB: The most important thing as I see it, is to begin thinking beyond the traditional outlets for visual storytelling like magazines and newspapers. It’s becoming nearly cliche, but it’s true. Costs of production and evaporating advertising revenues are driving these long-established venues to extinction. By consensus, the internet is the “new frontier” for publishing — and rightfully so. Its speed, its expansiveness, and its accessibility yields far more room for all sorts of publication and exposure potential. This is where I want to take The Compelling Image into the future.

Freelance photographer Robert Caplin launched The Photo Brigade in mid-February as a place to bring together and highlight work being published on photographer’s own platforms (blogs). By placing a premium on viral capabilities through Facebook and Twitter, he’s helping build a huge network to publicize freelancers’ work.

Miki Johnson: How did the idea for Photo Brigade come to you?

Robert Caplin: As a fairly new blogger myself, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of how to actually build a following and bring traffic to my personal blog. After months of research and good old trial and error, I found the best way to increase my traffic and find readers was by sharing my link by way of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and referring links or stories on other blogs, such as this one. I quickly realized that if I combined my Facebook and Twitter networks, I was suddenly reaching a much larger potential viewership, which only multiplied when someone else decided to share or re-tweet my link.

Suddenly, not only was I reaching thousands of people through my personal network, but I was also reaching the networks of those who were kind enough to share my link with their followers. The viral nature of social media can really work to the advantage of photographers to get their work seen by the masses. So it went to figure that if photographers as a whole worked together to build a vast shared network, all would benefit by the added traffic it would bring their websites and blogs…and that’s how the The Photo Brigade came to me.

MJ: How long did it take you to make it a reality?

RC: Not long actually. My original idea was to start a blog, but that would take a while to design (because I wanted to do it properly) and it would take time to actually build a following. It occurred to me that I could test the concept quite easily by simply making a Facebook Page where I could easily share direct links to the cool blogs I was reading and people could easily subscribe to the feed by becoming a fan.

I also started a Twitter account. Over the next week The Photo Brigade page gained hundreds of followers and within weeks had over a thousand. I should also mention that this happened completely unsolicited and 100% organically, proving how well social networking can get the word out. It was obvious that not only was there a desire for a service like this, but also a genuine need.

MJ: It seems like a lot of work for something you do on the side of your own photography business. What makes it worth it?

RC: Well, to be honest it has taken a good chunk of my time to build … but that was the hard part. I should also note that I worked with my wonderful designer Laia Prats to create the brand and build the blogs using custom templates she tediously tweaked and designed. I couldn’t have done it without her help!

Now that the blog has been designed and content has been uploaded, the rest is really quite simple. There’s no lack of amazing photography out there. Given that The Photo Brigade was built to promote the work of freelancers, those photographers have been happy to share their work. Also, with a number of shooters submitting work, it’s almost as though it’s running itself. As Photo Brigade grows, I’ll be implementing some really great tools and resources for photographers and editors alike … but you’ll have to stay tuned to see what those are!

MJ: What has the response been like so far, from contributors as well as viewers, especially editors?

RC: The response has been very positive! The website is receiving steady traffic and it’s growing by the day. The same goes for contributors. Everyday I’m receiving emails from photographers from around the world, some I know and others I’ve never heard of, sharing their latest blog posts of their work.

Editors are a little harder to track and gauge because they’re obviously not submitting work themselves, though I’ve received a number of emails from editors praising the blog. There are also editors and directors of photography from major media outlets who follow the Facebook feed.

MJ: How do you choose photographers to feature?

RC: The featured photographers have either submitted their work from the submissions page, or I’ve reached out to the them personally. Because we receive many submissions, not every submission is featured. The best way to be chosen is to have a blog, as our mission is to encourage blogging. In your blog post we’d like to see a number of strong images with a well written explanation about the photography. We will pull 2-3 images as well as take some of the copy and post it on Photo Brigade teasing the blog.

It’s also encouraged for the photographers to supply a Twitter account so we can plug their account when we tweet to our followers about the post. By doing so, we’ll raise awareness for the photographer, and also help build the photographer’s social network. Many are adverse to using Twitter, but it’s one hell of a marketing tool. It would be silly not to tap into the millions of Twitter users out there, many of whom are photo editors and image buyers. We’re all about viral marketing and social media — the more we link to other people, the more visibility our blog gets, which trickles down to the photographers we feature.

It’s important to note that photographers should not be discouraged a submission isn’t accepted. Please continue to submit whenever you have a post you feel is worthy!

MJ: You just added three university blogs. Why was that important and how do you see them growing?

RC: While I was answering these questions, we decided to start one more! My friend and fellow photographer Chip Litherland is helping me run the Colorado Photo Brigade, which will feature the University of Colorado at Boulder. I decided to branch out further and focus on universities because there are so many photography students producing amazing work on a daily basis. I figured I could use the same concept to create a community of students, alumni, and faculty to showcase the work coming from each school as well as former students.

Obviously I’m only a team of one, and don’t have time to moderate all these blogs and make a living myself, so I enlisted the help of eager students at each university who are closer to their classmates and can encourage them to blog. The regional branches also create a wonderful place for everyone to see the end product of what each institution is producing. Each post is tagged and categorized…so if you want to reference a particular class (photo 101) or search only for alumni work or just the class of 2002, you’ll be able to. Check out our regional blogs: Ohio, Missouri, and Rochester, all with their respective Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Many more to come!

Carl Bower‘s Chica Barbie series won a Blue Earth Alliance prize for Best Project Photography and was a finalist for Photolucida’s 2009 Critical Mass Book Award. The project on Colombia’s obsession with beauty pageants is astute and multi-faceted, and Carl’s explanation of how he captured such a complicated phenomenon is powerful and eloquent. To see his work in person, check out the Select Gender show opening today at Farmani Gallery.

'Cat Walk' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

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.

'Aguardiente' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

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 »

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.

Enjoy!
The IMPACT Team: Yumi Goto, Miki Johnson, Paul O’Sullivan, Jeremy Wade Shockley

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

Russia and CIS — they’re just so BIG. So it’s no wonder that’s where one of the first online photography workshops is taking shape. As Liza Faktor points out in this interview about the workshop, [OR]EDU, using online tools like blogs allows her Objective Reality foundation to bring international masters to emerging photographers who are too often cut off from a vibrant photo community and too rarely can afford travel costs to real-space workshops.

Yaroslav, 38, a 'Hruschevka' dweller for the last 11 years. By Petr Antonov

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.

A woman in St. Petersburg. By Alexander Aksakov

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.

This kind of carpet on the wall used to be very popular in the USSR. By Maria Morina

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.

“The work our students produce is as important as what they learn while producing it.”

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.

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