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  • How much Photoshopping is too much? Judges of a Danish photo contest seemed to think that they have the answer. Last month, Danish photojournalist Klavs Bo Christensen was disqualified from the Danish equivalent of Pictures of the Year contest because the photographs that he submitted “went too far” in digital manipulation. The incident, not surprisingly, sparked a lot of discussions in Denmark and eventually among the English-speaking blogosphere. According to NPPA, Jens Tønnesen, the webmaster for the Danish Union of Press Photographers, decided to explain the story to people outside of Demark, and did an English translation of an article he posted on the Pressefotografforbundet website, where you can see the three images in question placed side by side with their RAW files. Check out interesting comments about this story at PDN Pulse and The Online Photographer.
  • Robert Adams, who is known for his landscape photography of the American West, has won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography and received a $60,000 prize at an official ceremony in San Francisco on April 15, 2009. The Foundations’s citation describes Adams as “one of the most important and influential photographers of the last forty years.” An exhibition of Adam’s work will open at the Hasselblad Center, Göteborg Art Museum in November, 2009. Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and William Eggleston are some of the previous award winners.
  • Paul Melcher, named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo, explained in a post on the Black Star Rising blog why the Chris Usher v. Corbis case is important to all photographers. While Usher won the case, he was only compensated for “a lousy $7 per image” for the 12,640 images that Corbis has permanently misplaced. Melcher argues, with great reasoning, that what this ruling means is that agencies or publishers will no longer have to worry about losing photographers images because “it will be cheaper for them to trash them than to return them to you.”

After dedicating nearly a decade to personal work and finding his own vision, fashion and advertising photographer Dietmar Busse is starting to seek out assignments again. Putting yourself out in the market is never easy, but Dietmar feels confident, in part because of the self-understanding he gained during his hiatus. In this discussion he suggest that every photographer take a step back and ask themselves why they make photographs before they go any further. Being honest with your answer may be the hardest — most rewarding — thing you can do.
©Dietmar Busse

©Dietmar Busse

Q: What do you see as your greatest success from your eight years of personal work?

Dietmar Busse: The most important thing that came out of that time was that I found my own language as a photographer. There was so much I had to learn about who I am as an artist and as a human being. For example, I don’t like to be in a crowded place with a lot of people I don’t know — and I like it even less if I have to take pictures there. It makes me completely nervous and I just want to leave. On the other hand, I really enjoy being with just one person in the room and taking their picture. I learned how to create the right atmosphere for my shoots, and consequently my work has become much more focused.

MJ: What has your experience been now that you are moving back into fashion and commercial photography?

DB: In many ways it’s much easier now. Getting some distance has helped a lot. I think I am much humbler now, and I appreciate every opportunity to do my work.

The most difficult thing has been to get access to the “right” people. So much of this business is social networking, and it’s a real challenge to rebuild a support system. But once I sit down with an art director or editor, I feel really comfortable. I think my work has a definite point of view, and people either like it or they don’t — it’s pretty straightforward. I am almost a bit embarrassed to say it, but I absolutely love showing my work now, and I am sure clients notice that.

MJ: Do you have advice for young photographers who are in a similar situation to you when you started out?

DB: I think it is very important to know what you want. Be honest with yourself. Why do you want to be a photographer? Why do you take pictures? Are you interested in the money, the models, self-expression?

At least for me it took quite some time to figure this out in my head, and later to build a body of work that corresponded to that. But I believe it was totally worth it. As we know, so much of our culture is about being richer, more beautiful, more famous, and all of that. People are divided into winners and losers. It’s important not buy into that. I think building a strong sense of self helps you to be immune to that and will hopefully lead you to create something unique and photographs that are meaningful to you.

Valenda Campbell, Senior Photo Editor for CARE, worked with renowned documentary photographer Phil Borges to create Women Empowered, an exhibition and book that highlight the importance of empowering women in indigenous communities — something Phil has long advocated and CARE has increasingly focused on. In this post Valenda discusses how CARE collaborates with Phil and other photojournalists to help them produce images that help the organization most. Check out our other discussions about the importance of making sure the photographer’s and NGO’s goals align and reaching new audiences.
Esperansa, 9, is the first girl in her family to attend school. Her mother, Catarina, although illiterate, leads a group of eighty indigenous women in their struggle to gain gender equality and end racial discrimination in Ixtahuacan. Like Rosa, they have chosen to confront the injustices they face.

Esperansa, 9, is the first girl in her family to attend school. Her mother, Catarina, although illiterate, leads a group of eighty indigenous women in their struggle to gain gender equality and end racial discrimination in Ixtahuacan. ©Phil Borges, courtesy CARE

Miki Johnson: What were the logistics of how you collaborated with Phil?

Valenda Campbell: We took our basic system for executing a photo commission and sort of tweaked it. We knew that Phil wanted to really understand the projects, the community context, and the culture in order to develop more meaningful stories. That meant he would need some time in the communities to suss out the best subjects. Up to this point, most of our photo commissions were typically teaming up photographers with the local country office staff who would take you and a writer out to a community. The writer would interview, the photographer would take photos, and you’d spend an afternoon there doing that. The country office staff is usually anxious to hurry on to the next community so they could show you the next great project to photograph. So this time we had to say, “Okay, we need to be able to spend four days in a community. And we need to be able to stay either in the community or very close to the community so that we can maximize our time there.” It was actually quite a challenge, and still can be, to shift their understanding as to how we needed to carry out this work.

What we typically try to do with a commission now is close to what we did with Phil. We coordinate with our country office, give them some dates, and tell them what we want to focus on. We want to go out and see this type of program, we’d like for them to talk to their field staff in hopes of identifying any particular women that really stand out as stars. Hopefully, we can find people who are not too shy, who are articulate, and who can help us tell this story through their experiences. So the country office provides all the logistical support: the in-country transportation, the lodging, translator, driver, etc. And then we go out to the community and stay for a few days. We started this process with Phil’s first trip with CARE to Ethiopia where he met the people who the field had staff pre-identified. We needed to get everything started in advance because for Phil, spending four days in a community is considerably less than what he would do if he were working a project more independently. So we just tried to get everything lined up as best we could and made sure he wouldn’t need to worry about the logistical support so he could focus on finding those stand-out subjects.

But CARE wants to be careful and considerate about the disruption that we cause with the community when we come to visit and any particular burden that we put on them: keeping them away from their daily lives and the way they generate income or food for their family. We can’t be too disruptive and overstay our welcome. We also like to be there to help make the introductions and answer questions about the programming or the local community, so that Phil has an expert on hand and he can be really tuned into what he’s seeing and what he’s hearing from the interviews.

MJ: Did you have different specifications for the images from Phil than you normally would have because you were thinking ahead to a book project or an exhibition?

VC: Usually when we’re doing a photo commission, we want to produce photos that could be used for anything and everything. We’re a non-profit with modest budgets, so we need to make every dollar we invest in these photo commissions yield the most value possible. So, while we went into this project with the primary objective of creating an exhibit and producing a book, we also wanted to make sure that in working with Phil we were able to help populate our stock of images. We rely on that stock for calendars, annual reports, brochures, posters, and the web site – basically everything. We wanted to make sure that, in the end, we had something that not only reflected Phil’s style but also really represented the brand of CARE and our messaging around the empowerment of women.

At the time CARE was also launching a new marketing and print PSA campaign –- “I Am Powerful” — that had a distinct type of image we were looking for. We put together a creative articulation of what the images for this campaign should convey; we were looking for that portrait that compels the viewer to feel a connection with the subject. Through the image and her expression, the viewer should see or sense the latent potential within this woman, her determination to make her life, her family’s life, and her community’s life better. So we offered some creative direction, but Phil’s style of portraiture just naturally nailed it. It was like preaching to the choir.

In general we write up scopes of work that spell out all of the different things we could possibly use the images and caption information for. We try to give the photographers we work with an idea of the important aspects the program and what we find to be visually effective in helping to communicate what the project is about. We give them some ideas to think about but ultimately look to them to use their unique creative and journalistic skills to execute the idea.

What we asked for from Phil — and he was already doing — holds true today. We want engaging environmental portrait photos, but we also want to show people in action and carrying out their daily lives, overcoming their greatest challenges, along with CARE’s program in action. We try to make the photographer aware of what is most important to CARE to capture and what else we find really useful. Over the past eight years we’ve worked hard to strengthen our scopes of work.

When I first started the standard scope of work was pretty much give us everything and take pictures of anything that moves. But now we’ve really refined them to convey that the images that are most useful to us, and that most accurately reflect CARE’s work, are the images of actual project participants. We certainly appreciate the pictures you just can’t help but take because it’s just such a nice shot. But in the end, we won’t be able to get as much use out of those images because we can’t speak about that person as an individual and how their life relates to the work CARE is doing in the community. So we have really tried to get photographers to keep their focus on our programs so that their images and supporting caption information is very applicable to our communications. We want to make sure that the photographers are able to focus their efforts on delivering what CARE needs most, and what supports our efforts to accurately and effectively tell the stories of the women who are so committed to overcoming poverty for their families and their communities.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you have experience working with NGOs? Did they define what images they needed well?

During the 1980s photojournalist Lou Dematteis was based in Nicaragua for Reuters covering many of the conflicts in South America. In 1990 a journalist friend alerted Lou to the havoc being wrecked by large oil companies on native Amazon communities, and in ’93 he traveled to the region to see the devastation for himself. Impressed by the way local organizers were able to utilize his images in their resistance efforts and frustrated to hear their stories of photographers who took their pictures and never returned as they promised, Lou created an exhibition and bilingual book. Crude Reflections cautions against the false promises of companies like Chevron/Texaco, with whom Amazon communities are in a legal battle, and utilizes Lou’s images as well as interviews with people directly affected to make a strong case against collaboration with large outside companies.
Luz Maria Marin holds the head of her husband Angel Toala one day before he died of stomach cancer in his home in Shushufindi.

Luz Maria Marin holds the head of her husband Angel Toala one day before he died of stomach cancer in his home in Shushufindi. ©Lou Dematteis

Click below for segments from a recent audio conversation between Lou Dematteis and Michael Costuros, the founder of liveBooks. Lou speaks candidly about the tangible social change produced by the project and how his involvement with the cause continues to nourish his own passion and creativity.

Part 1: How did Amazon organizers initially use your images? “I found out that photographs I had taken that I had passed on for use in Ecuador had been used as part of an education and organizing campaign.”

Part 2: How did the book Crude Reflections come about? “In 2007 we received a Distribution Grant from the Open Society Institute, and that allowed us to print a set of photos and display them back in the Amazon, so the people living this and experiencing this had a chance to see their photos. They were literally in tears.”

Part 3: What effect has the book had in South American communities? “The book is bilingual…we didn’t just want to produce a book we were going to show in the United States. We wanted to make it useful and available to people in Ecuador and Latin America.”

Part 4: How has this project enriched your life? “I’ve developed an incredible bond with many people there. They are very thankful that I’ve helped give a voice to their community. That is tremendously fulfilling to me.”

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Have you run into people who are wary of photographers after hearing false promises about returning to help the community? What is the photographer’s responsibility in these situations?


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