Skip to content

In Solidarity with Jonathan Worth

From Mr. Worth, in England:
“So this week’s phonar class session had over 700 people “drop by” and reached over 42,000 people via Twitter ,  I’ve asked a few people for nominations of a book that “is notable/ inspiring/ seminal/ provocative,  in it’s narrative structure/approach or perhaps in it’s ‘discussion’ of narrative”.
“Would you possibly mind nominating a tome ?”
My response:
There are three that come to mind (two short stories and a hypertextual poem):
“Borges y Yo” (Borges and I), the extraordinary short story by Sr. Borges about him and him
“Las Babas del Diablo” (The Devil’s Spittle), Julio Cortázar’s short story about photography, literature and life, with shifting pronouns, translated as “Blow-Up” for the Antonioni movie that it did and did not inspire
“Cent mille milliards de poèmes” (One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems), by Raymond Queneau, the simplest and most beautiful of hypertext poems, from 1961

Paris Photo/Offprint etc.

I recently returned from Paris Photo, that enormous commercial fair for galleries from all over the world. While I was impressed by certain work such as from Silk Road Photo in Teheran (photographers living and working in Iran– thanks Abbas), I had the overall sense that imagery was growing larger and more about nothing. Somehow there seems to be an inverse relationship between meaning and the price of the print; when I ran into some Robert Doisneau images I felt overwrought at their humanity.

But the Offprint book fair near Place Voltaire was stunning. The range of small publishers, the risks they take, the cultures they represent, had a diversity and energy that Paris Photo’s main space lacked. It was rare to find the standard photo book with a white page and centered image, but rather books that were offbeat in layout and imagery with enormous energy. One book from Japan, it was explained to me, had a single photograph cut out by hand because the photographer no longer wanted to include it. Monica Haller’s exquisite collaboration with Riley Sharbonno (Riley and His Story) is a therapeutic apocalyptic rendition of what it meant for Riley to serve as a nurse in Abu Ghraib, to lose his memory and his “normalness,” and then to try and retrieve it by re-living the experience in what Haller calls, on the cover, not a book but a “container for unstable images, a model for further action.” Or, as she puts it, “Here is the formula: Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us.” It is the book from our recent wars that explores the soldier’s life most ferociously, spreading nightmares, empathy and astonishment, playing with the form of the book to evoke her college classmate’s harrowing narrative as soldier/nurse. Are we surprised that it was published in Paris?

So the photographic book, reinvented, is very much alive. But based on my recent experience, photographs themselves are another matter.

The Past and Future of Digital Imaging

If anyone is in New York Tuesday evening, you are invited:
In Our Own Image
Fred Ritchin and Brian Palmer
in Conversation

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
6:30 pm


Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor
New York, New York
(212) 505-5555

Join Fred Ritchin and journalist, photographer, and filmmaker Brian Palmer for a discussion on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary edition of Ritchin’s groundbreaking book In Our Own Image. This seminal text, the first to address “the coming revolution in photography” was originally published twenty years ago, poignantly the same year that Photoshop was released. This twentieth-anniversary edition features a preface by the author that contextualizes the book for a contemporary audience. The lecture will focus on the book’s pointed and sometimes chilling questions that are increasingly relevant today, including whether democracy can survive the erosion of media accelerated by facile use of digital means.

Fred Ritchin is Professor of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is the author, most recently, of After Photography, on the future of new media (translated in four languages), and his essay on Felice Beato, “First War Photographer,” will appear in the Getty Museum’s new volume on his work. Ritchin is also the director of PixelPress, former picture editor of Horizon magazine and the New York Times Magazine, former executive editor of Camera Arts magazine, and the founding director of the photojournalism and documentary photography educational program at the International Center of Photography. He also produced the first multimedia version of the daily New York Times, and the website he created with Gilles Peress, “Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace,” was nominated by the New York Times in 1997 for a Pulitzer prize in public service. Fred lectures and conducts workshops internationally on new media and documentary.

Brian Palmer is a journalist, photographer, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. He has written for Mother Jones, Pixel, ColorLines, and other publications. He has photographed for The New York Times, Time Inc, North Star Fund, and produced/created video for PBS, MTV News & Docs, and From 2000 to 2002, he was a New York-based CNN correspondent. Prior to that, Palmer served as Beijing Bureau Chief for US News & World Report. In 2009, Palmer completed Full Disclosure, a documentary about US Marines in Iraq for which he received grants from the Ford Foundation and Applied Research Center. He is a Fellow at NYU Law School’s Center on Law and Security and a faculty member at the School of Visual of Arts in the MFA Photography and Related Media Department.

Cell Phone Service on Mt. Everest

From the Huffington Post:

KATMANDU, Nepal — You can’t get away from a cell phone call, even at the top of the world.

Thanks to 3G towers newly installed near Mount Everest’s base camp, explorers can surf the Web, tweet and post Facebook updates without worrying that their signals will disappear into thin air.

The new high-speed service, announced Friday by Ncell, a subsidiary of Swedish telecom company TeliaSonera, will allow mountaineers setting off to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain to access wireless Internet and make video calls to family, friends and supporters.

I would put this under the category of “not sure that this is a good thing.”

The Digital Imaging Revolution, Past and Future

Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago I wrote the first book on the forthcoming digital imaging revolution and its eventual impact on photography. Aperture, which published In Our Own Image, is now re-issuing it in a new twentieth-anniversary edition, and to mark the occasion there will be a discussion between journalist Brian Palmer and myself. We will focus on what has transpired over the last twenty years, and some of the issues and trends in media that will confront us in the future. It will be held at the Aperture Gallery in New York on November 9 (Tuesday) at 6:30. And it is free. See here for more details

A Ten-Year Plan to Support Biodiversity

Representatives at a United Nations conference on biodiversity in Japan are said to have just reached agreement to protect at least 17 per cent of land areas and 10 per cent of oceans by 2020. (The Convention on Biological Diversity site is here.)

Despite divisions between rich and poor countries, they also agreed on a system to share the benefits and access to genetic resources, a point that threatened to derail the conference (as happened to the recent climate change meeting). Representatives from some 190 nations attended the 12-day conference.

While the percentages are less than some groups wanted (the European Union wanted 20 percent of oceans to be protected, while China is reported to have pushed to protect only 6 percent), an emphasis on ending overfishing and protecting parts of the oceans will hopefully allow fish species to replenish.

In any case, it is exhilarating and inspiring when the world can decide to help preserve its own future.

A Disease that is No More

As someone who worked on the campaign to end polio globally with photographer Sebastiao Salgado and the organizations WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Centers for Disease Control, I was happy to see that for only the second time in history (smallpox being the first) has humanity triumphed against a disease. This time it is rinderpest, a virus that killed millions of cattle, with a fatality rate of 80% for some species, leading to starvation among humans. It has been nine years since there has been an animal that contracted the disease, and now the United Nations has declared the disease to have been eradicated from the planet. Meanwhile, the campaign against polio continues.

Given the enormous problems this world faces, these kinds of public health successes should be emblazoned across the front pages and screens of our news media. They might just serve as models for other kinds of efforts for the public good.

Redefining “Self”

I have just come back from a fruitful, engaging, and most of all warm and generous weekend sponsored by the organization Images and Voices of Hope. From my stay at the Peace Village in upstate New York, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual group who are themselves based in India, I retain memories of many illuminating discussions, but also keen sensory memories of hourly one-minute breaks, triggered by soft, ethereal music. As the music starts, all discussion stops mid-sentence, people close their eyes, and, remarkably, the self is both refreshed and re-invited to participate. Time is fleeting, the music manages to say, and there is work to be done.

The ensuing conversations were respectful and at times intense, as each person managed to wait for the other person to finish speaking before responding, and each speaker stayed mostly on track, trying somehow to add to and complement the thoughts of the others in the room. The goal? In an open-source world, can we figure out how to be more human and create a kinder society?

How can we work with video games to teach social justice? How can journalism and the arts occupy more of a place of sharing and intelligence, rather than arrogance and isolation? How can enormous anger be channeled into the lonely voyage of exploration and, ultimately, of caring? How can a group of interested people amplify their voices while affirming their own modesty in the broader community?

And, of course, it was the conversations between the conversations, the ones that happened at a dining room table or on the grass, that helped push ideas further. And, for me, as I thought about what I had heard during and around these conversations, I realized that what I was witnessing was a redefinition of “self” in a multitude of ways.

I have written elsewhere about the assertion by Paul Stookey (of the singing group Peter, Paul and Mary), about the progression of values in the United States as seen through the popularity of certain magazines. During a 1980s concert he recounted how once the popular magazine in the United States was called Life (about life), then it was People (not about life, but just about people), then it was Us (not even about all people, but just about us), then it was Self (not even about us), and now - to add on to what he had said - it becomes the Daily Me of Nicholas Negroponte, where one’s dentist appointment or Facebook status supersedes the report of the declaration of a new war or healthcare initiative on the “front page” of one’s nearly ubiquitous screen.

But here, in this conference, we were talking about another kind of Self that is not part of this progressive retreating from Life. Rather than the consumerist self of Self magazine, the increasingly angry and frustrated self that demands more and more choices no matter how mediocre many of them are (the television dial, for example), and is now seduced by the Web as the platform that promises ultimate choice, there is another sense of self, and self-interest, that acknowledges that much of what we mean when we say choice is the ability to be diverted from what is more real, urgent and important, including ourselves.

This more amplified sense of self recognizes that we need to know what is going on in the physical world if we are to survive as individuals and as a species, rather than use media to have our own pre-conceptions affirmed. This larger sense of self, and self-interest, reflects the understanding that we cannot live fulfilled lives without embracing our co-inhabitants in both spiritual and pragmatic ways.

The affirmation of the consumerist self becomes a way of asserting entitlement without ever feeling fulfilled, of clicking from site to site without ever landing, of demanding more and more choices without focusing upon what we already have. Each foray into the other is not trivial; it is also a foray into the vastness of our selves.

If digital media would be crafted to better reflect a more holistic sense of Self, one that recognizes the power of less as much as that of more, we will have been given a second chance. We will have created, to echo Stookey’s progression, a means to better understand, to enlarge, and even to ennoble Life.

Is this what we mean by balanced coverage?

On September 11 the Portland, Maine newspaper, the Press-Herald, published on its front page this photograph of local Muslims praying as they ended the month-long observance of Ramadan. Then the newspaper’s editor and publisher, Richard L. Connor, apologized for having published the photograph and accompanying story:

.We made a news decision on Friday that offended many readers and we sincerely apologize for it.

Many saw Saturday’s front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive, particularly on the day, September 11, when our nation and the world were paying tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

We have acknowledged that we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.

Where are the apologies for the numerous times that Hollywood movies have portrayed Muslims as terrorists, before and after 2001? Or the apologies by the United States for having invaded the sovereign country of Iraq? Or by law enforcement agencies for profiling people who look like they might be Muslim?

But when a simple photograph showing members of a local Muslim community praying in Maine is published without front-page coverage of attacks on America by people of the same religion that occurred nine years previously, an apology is required for a lack of “balance to the story.”

Should every photograph of church-goers on Christmas be “balanced” by coverage of members of the Catholic clergy who acted as sexual predators, or every photograph of Jews in Los Angeles celebrating Chanuka be “balanced” by an article on the Israeli invasion of Gaza? Is this what we mean by balance, or by lunacy?

Click here to see the Press-Herald’s story and other images that were published. The headline and subhead are illuminating:

A show of faith and forgiveness

Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a celebration of life and an outpouring for those less fortunate.

These surely are not the most incendiary of headlines.

Read All About It!

The Last Newspaper is a timely exhibition coming to New York’s New Museum from October 6 until January 9. An artistic exploration of the meaning of news, the rise and fall of newspapers, and a critique of news gathering and dissemination, the exhibition has a number of interesting partner organizations, a free 12-page weekly newspaper to be published for ten weeks that will become, incrementally, the exhibition catalog, and a nice open-source feel to it. Stay tuned, and students are invited to intern.