Over the last few years, the world of photography seems to have been literally turned upside down: with unprecedented speed, the dynamics revolutionizing the field over the past decade have become trends that media companies must not discount — at least not the ones that wish to survive.
To borrow a cliché, vertical is the new horizontal, thanks to platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, whose mobile-only audience, especially the younger one, dictates the rules of the format. News websites as well as social media feeds are dominated by moving images, whether GIFS or videos on loop, or anything that can grab attention and page views. At the same time, a set of cardboard goggles to view virtual reality gets delivered directly to your doorstep, with your morning paper.
New technologies and habits have made photography an invaluable tool of documentary and journalism. And the more tangible the presence of photography around us, the more questions arise: where is the democratization of the medium leading, as far as both the creation and the consumption of the product? What audience and whose trust are photographers seeking? How do changes in labels — from photojournalism to visual journalism, and from multimedia to digital storytelling — reflect changes in practice?
The debate about the opportunities and challenges of technological change can be traced back to the first daguerreotype. In an effort to understand where the still image is moving to, we decided to open the conversation to three personalities behind the scenes of the photography world: Fred Ritchin, Dean of the School of the International Center of Photography; Kristen Lubben, a curator and the Executive Director of Magnum Foundation; and Lars Boering, the Managing Director of World Press Photo. All of these institutions have recently undergone a makeover, not only to keep up with the changing landscape of photography but to try and guide that change.
New Names, Same Practices
Since becoming Managing Director of World Press Photo (WPP) in November 2014, Lars Boering has had one mantra: act towards change, instead of reacting to it.
“Hardly anybody is arguing that multimedia will go away,” says Boering. “That’s the voodoo of photography. This will all pass. With photography, in the 175 years that it has existed, anyone who has tried to battle change has always lost.”
“World Press Photo originally started the multimedia contest because they couldn’t avoid it anymore, which is a terrible position to be in. You should be out there, you should be the first.”
That’s why Boering decided to set up an Instagram account for WPP as soon as he started with the institution just over 18 months ago. By regularly posting winning photos from the contest and having photographers do “takeovers,” WPP now has 284,000 followers. With that same mindset, he now is pushing to be the first to get rid of the ‘multimedia’ label for one of the sections of the contest, and turn it into digital storytelling.
“I don’t believe in analog anymore: the chemicals are gone, nobody is producing the film anymore, in five years it will be gone,” Boering explained in a Skype interview.
“Digital photography and digital storytelling match up very nicely — and digital involves photography, coding, data journalism, etc. This is also the reason why I stopped using the name photojournalism and changed it to visual journalism.”
A similar approach was adopted by the School of the International Center of Photography, where the one-year certificate in documentary photography and photojournalism has become a course in “documentary practice and visual journalism,” and added another one-year course of study in new media narratives to refer to a much larger sense of using imagery — from VR filmmaking to photographing with drones, not just “old school” still photography.
“We don’t want people to graduate and then find out the world is quite different from what they thought it was. We can’t just teach Eugene Smith at this point and expect it to be enough,” said Fred Ritchin, the Dean of the School.
“There is a new generation [of photographers], and things are changing fast for those who are willing to take on challenges,“ agreed Boering.
“Since everything moves at light-speed, there are no boundaries anymore: you can be a photographer today, a designer tomorrow, a writer in the afternoon, you can publish whatever you want. Everybody does it, and yet lots of photographers get stuck in being just a photographer. And they have a hard time cooperating.”
Innovation is at the heart of most of Magnum Foundation’s grants and initiatives, in particular “Photography Expanded” which started in 2013 with a series of fellowships, panel discussions, and workshops. Co-produced with Columbia’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the annual symposium is taking place for the fourth time this year as Magnum Photos celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Aiming to connect documentary photographers with technologies, practices, and ideas that extend far beyond still photography, “Photography Expanded” also tries to create a network, highlighting another skill photographers must have to be able to thrive nowadays: the willingness and ability to collaborate.
“Photographers are out in the field and they are deeply in connection with the community they are working with but don’t always have opportunities to talk to one another about their practices,” said Kristen Lubben, who joined the Foundation as its first full-time Executive Director in December 2015 after being a curator at the ICP since 1997.
“So that’s another thing these new tools can potentially be used for: to foster a sense of community and a network.”
According to Lubben, since photographers can’t be masters of every emerging digital tool, it’s necessary for them to collaborate with one another. Not necessarily to learn new technologies and new ways of working, but instead to connect with people who have the skills they lack in order to work on a particular project, and think collaboratively about it, whether the other is a filmmaker, a technologist, an activist, an advocate, or a writer.
Rather than photography becoming obsolete altogether, Boering argues that the big threat to photographers is to be considered image makers and thereby completely left out of the creative process. “All I see is that visuals and images are becoming more important than ever. It’s the biggest thing of our generation. So how come we’re not be able to connect photographers or image makers to their success?”
For Boering, many photographers look for answers in old places and old systems and get stuck. Hence they are frustrated and don’t think a future for photography exists. But the people who don’t get stuck succeed, Boering argues. Not only do they not get stuck, they also manage to do very important work. For Ritchin, in a similar way, it’s not the platform that dictates the work, but the creativity and ultimately the message.
“People in the old days asked what kind of camera do you use. Now it’s what platform, and how effective is it in terms of getting a readership, a viewership,” said Ritchin. “To me, the point is not the technology, it’s the creativity. You can choose between oil or acrylic, whatever works. The big issue is: are people delivering a vision the way they want to? Are they trying to have an impact in the world in the way they want?”
Ritchin cited Matt Black’s Geography of Poverty as an example of a social documentary project using Instagram effectively. Social media is the first tool that comes to mind to expand and engage a photographer’s audience, as well as increasing his or her visibility — hence the chances of making it a sustainable profession.
“I think we are way beyond the conversation of the old school versus new school,” Ritchin continued. “We just assume that there is a hybrid of options and people can just choose. But whether you do virtual reality or 35mm photography, there still are ethical questions, philosophical questions, the issue of fact versus fiction and so on, that are across platforms and we still have to deal with.”
New Platforms, Old Questions
At the last “Photography Expanded” conference in October 2015, a number of virtual reality projects were shown and Lubben recalled that it was “very experimental for a photography conference,” and probably seemed pointless for most photographers to be even thinking about VR. However, the next day, The New York Times sent its subscribers Google Cardboard VR goggles packaged with their Sunday paper.
“To me it was a real signal: this is now something that we are talking about, and it just forces us to consider what the implications are,” she continued.
Among other VR documentaries screened at the conference last year, Lubben recalled seeing Collisions, a Sundance-selected VR film about nuclear testing in the Australian outback in the 1950s.
“It attempts to use VR to describe somebody else’s view of the world. It’s a way of trying to visualize how these aboriginal elders described their experience. For me, that was very powerful as a storytelling technique.”
VR has been the most talked-about step forward in the field of visual storytelling this year, but Lubben rightly points out that it comes with a price — in terms of production costs, but also in terms of reach, as the audience that will be able to see it is very limited.
“It’s good for photographers to know what the possibilities are, but also to be really rigorous and thoughtful about why do a project in a particular way. If you are making a choice to do a very expensive, very laborious multimedia project, is there really a reason to do it that way? Is it going to amplify the story, are you going to reach an audience you wouldn’t otherwise reach?”
Sometimes the most powerful tool is still the simplest, and that’s where the debate comes full circle. As an extremely successful example of a very straight-forward documentary photography project, Lubben mentioned the work of ICP graduate and Magnum Foundation grantee Evgenia Arbugaeva, whose images from the Arctic were published in the New Yorker and other publications. Arbugaeva, who is from the Arctic, just photographed her home and her people.
“Everyone was blown away because the photographs are so surprising and they make us aware of a way of life and a place that most of us didn’t know about, which is one of the most old-fashioned and conventional uses of photography,” said Lubben.
According to her, it’s extremely important to have people photograph places they know, to photograph from within those communities, rather than continuing to see photographers coming in from somewhere else with a limited understanding of that place.
Another example Lubben picked was Eric Gyamfi, who is working in Ghana, photographing the LGBT community there: he is doing conventional photographs but wants to show them in public places, in communities, with the goal of displaying how the gay community looks just like your friends and neighbors. Or Zanele Muholi, who does portraiture of the lesbian community in South Africa and whose work has received significant attention and is also extremely important, Lubben pointed out.
“When it comes to oppressed minorities, there is an incredible power in just being pictured, showing your image, claiming your image. It’s a way of standing up and being counted.”
“The way she does these portraits is just extraordinary, she honors their dignity,” continued Lubben, “she is cataloging the community and celebrating it. And the way that she has chosen to do it, through still photography, is much more powerful than if she had been doing some technologically complex version of the project.”
Making The Still Image Move Forward — The Four Corners Idea
The first time Fred Ritchin talked about the “four corners” was during his keynote speech at World Press Photo in Amsterdam in 2004. His idea was simple: digital is not the same as paper, so it should not be treated the same way. There are layers in digital that do not exist on paper, so they should be utilized.
The suggestion was to template a photograph, so that each of the four corners would have specific information, and the reader would know that right corner, left corner, top, and bottom, contained different kinds of information.
“People were cheering and thought it was extraordinary. And then nothing happened,” he recalled.”
Over the last 12 years, Ritchin gave the lecture on the four corners idea all over the world, provoking approval and excitement but little concrete action. Last October though, he showed it again during a talk at Columbia University and Boering, who was in the audience, said ”let’s do it.”
“There is a lot of skepticism about photography. Is it credible? Who did it? What is it really about? And so on,” said Ritchin. “In the digital world, the four corners allow you to contextualize the image, to author the image and to engage the audience, all in very important ways.”
The information contained in digital photographs would be divided in the following way: the bottom right corner contains the caption, the credit, the copyright and the code of ethics, which one can choose from a list or write a new one. That allows the viewer/reader to know right away what to expect.
“The photographer for example says ‘I never move elements or change anything in my photographs.’ Or, ‘I’m a fashion photographer and I never use models that are too thin.’ Or, ‘I’m a wildlife photographer and I never photograph in the zoo and pretend that it’s in the wild,’” explained Ritchin.
The bottom left corner is the back story corner, which contains the context surrounding what happened, given by the photographer, the witness, or the subject, with video, audio or text.
The upper left corner is the image context, which is video or a photograph, maybe the one before or after, or the person portrayed in another situation, an historical image, etc.
“The one I used was the Eddie Adams photo of the Viet Cong execution, and I chose for the image context the picture right before the [execution] and the photograph right after,” said Ritchin. “I also added a video of a film cameraman talking more broadly about the event. And I must say once you see that, it’s a very different experience than just seeing the iconic emblematic image, because you have much more history to it.”
The upper right corner contains links to other articles, Wikipedia, the photographer’s website, or other photos and videos taken on the same subject, and anything else the author wants to link to the work.
“I have been asked many times what is the difference between a professional and an amateur, ... The four corners allow the professional to give all kinds of context,” continued Ritchin.
“So when somebody says so and so event didn’t happen, you just look at the corners and you look at the context and there’s a certain autonomy and independence of seeing and interpretation.”
The four corners would travel with the image on all the websites publishing it, so even with a caption written differently according to the point of view of the media company, the information would remain accurate and consistent. This would help photographers to become more of the author of the image, similar to filmmakers in the ways in which they provide more context.
Ritchin’s hope is that it will be used by conventional and alternative publications, independent photographers, agencies, staff photographers and NGOs alike. World Press Photo is probably going to require it for at least one category of the awards next year, viewing it as almost like a bridge between a conventional photograph and a multimedia piece.
“There is a growing skepticism about media in general and its credibility all across the board, not just photography. We have a very odd electoral year, in terms of national elections, with people making up things, left and right. What’s a fact, not a fact, and does that even matter?,” said Ritchin.
“That’s the question. With the four corners, you can provide context so the image has more weight or, according to your stated code of ethics, you can stray into fiction and fantasy. What is important is that the reader is informed.”
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Fall 2016 Vol. 2/No. 2
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Copy Editor: John Rak
Intern: Kelly Kollias
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Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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Marketing Web Director
EBSCO Information Services
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Independent Photographer and Educator
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Member of VII photo agency
Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
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Consultant and educator
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Photographer and Educator
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ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibited on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by David Verberckt. From The Stateless Rohingya. Children playing in makeshift refugee camp for Rohingya from Myanmar. Shamplapur, Bangladesh, June 2015.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine.
Caterina Clerici is an independent multimedia journalist based in New York. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she’s currently a freelance photo editor at TIME and the Special Issue Editor at SDN. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, La Stampa, Libération, Die Zeit, among others. You can follow her at @caterinaclerici.
Susan S. Bank
Susan S. Bank lives in Philadelphia, PA and Portsmouth, NH. Largely a self-taught photographer, she studied through Maine Media Workshops with masters Mary Ellen Mark and Graciela Iturbide in Oaxaca, 1997-98, David Alan Harvey, Havana, 1999 and with Constantine Manos, Havana 2000.
Bank’s self-published first monograph Cuba: Campo Adentro, an intimate portrait of daily life of Cuban tobacco farmers and their families, was selected as “One of the Best Photography Books of the Year” 2009 PHotoEspaña and named “Best Books 2009”, photo-eye Books.
Her award winning documentary photography has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, including The Fototeca, Havana. Bank’s work is collected by museums in the United States, Cuba, Spain, and Mexico, most recently The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Piercing the Darkness, a personal reflection of that maddening mythical port city of Havana, is her second monograph, published by Brilliant Press. A selection from Piercing the Darkness was exhibited in “100 Years of The History of Photography of the City of Havana” at the 9th Habana Bienal 2006. Throckmorton Fine Art in NYC recently selected work from the Havana series in a group exhibition, “Under the Cuban Sun”. Piercing the Darkness was selected for the 2016 Lucie Awards as First Place, Non-Professional Monograph. Images from the series are included in a traveling exhibition, “Los Dios” as Latin Fotografia V winners in NYC, LA, Brazil, and Brooklyn Photoville 201
Bank continues to work with her Leica M6 on projects close to home, including the Salisbury Beach series. Website: susansbank.com
Fulvio Bugani is an Italian freelance photographer based in Bologna, with more than 20 years of experience. He actively collaborates with Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. His work has been published on international magazines and websites such as TIME LightBox, LFI–Leica Fotografie International, and Cubadebate.
Among other recognition, in 2015 he was awarded at the World Press Photo, and has received two honorable mentions at MIFA-Moscow International Foto Award, for his work about Indonesian Transgender. In 2016 his reportage about Cuba was selected as one of the 12 finalist at the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
He has several ongoing photographic projects in Cuba, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Georgia. He teaches photography in his private photographic school in Bologna, as well as in seminars an workshops around the world. More info at www.fulviobugani.com
Susi Eggenberger is a freelance documentary photographer based in Arundel, Maine.
She originally worked as an RN for twenty years before making a career change into photography. As in her nursing career, her focus in photography is with children and her emphasis is working with non-profit organizations who address children’s issues including Seeds of Peace, Ronald McDonald House, Map International, and Camp Sunshine. She has won numerous national and international awards for her imagery and her self-generated film project on a transsexual woman living in Southern Maine was nominated for “Best Documentary Film” in the Maine Short Film Festival.
For seven years she has been documenting the journey of a young Iraqi girl who she has been bringing to Maine for surgeries after she was shot in the head by a U.S. sniper.
Isadora Kosofsky is a Los Angeles-based documentary photographer and filmmaker. She received the 2012 Inge Morath Award from the Magnum Foundation for her multi-series documentary about the lives and relationships of the elderly. She was a participant in the 2014 Joop Swart Masterclass of World Press Photo. She is the recipient of a 2015 Flash Forward Magenta Foundation Award and a 2015 Commended Award from the Ian Parry Foundation. Her projects have received distinctions from Women in Photography International, Prix de la Photographie Paris and The New York Photo Festival. Isadora’s work has been featured in The London Sunday Times, Slate, The Washington Post, TIME, Le Monde, American Photo, VICE, NationSwell, Mashable, PDN, The British Journal of Photography, The Huffington Post and The New Yorker Photo Booth, among others. “Vinny and David: Life and Incarceration of a Family” is featured in the Thames and Hudsons’ anthology Family Photography Now and Public Private Portraiture by Mossless.
Margaret Quackenbush is a freelance reporter based in Boston. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in January 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Business Journal, The Dorchester Reporter, Eater Boston and other publications in the Boston area.
She was the 2016 coordinator for Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference, and was previously the managing editor of the Boston University News Service and a teaching assistant at BU. Margaret received a BA in English and history from St. Lawrence University in 2010 and previously worked at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station.
Anne Sahler is an internationally published writer, photographer and graphic designer who divides her time between Japan and her homeland of Germany. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies, History of Art and Religious Studies which fuels her interests in Japan, art and social activism. Her curious nature and never ending need for travel helps lend a clarity of prospective to an evermore complicated world.
David Verberckt, originally from Belgium, is an independent reportage photographer currently living in Budapest, Hungary. He has studied photography at “le 75” in Brussels, and afterwards pursued studies in International Development at Bioforce in France. After exhibiting his first documentary reportages in the early nineties, David has turned to aid agencies and has spent 20 years working worldwide in humanitarian emergency and development with Médecins Sans Frontières and later the EU.
David’s reportages portray peculiarities of an often deprived civil society affected by latent or bygone conflicts. David has been working on several projects. Frozen Conflicts in the Caucasus depicts ordinary people whose lives are in limbo following the conflicts of the nineties. Palestinian Chronicles is a continuation of a series started in the early nineties, focusing on the daily realities of the numerous refugee camps’ population.
Recently, he is working on subjects depicting hard labor and seasonal migration flows in the overpopulated Bengal Bay and documenting statelessness of Bihari and Rohingya. More information at www.davidverberckt.com