“Photographs are the images of history rescued from the oblivion of mortality.”
The toll of war in Syria has been unbelievably high. More than 4 million people have been displaced, 2 million as refugees into neighbouring countries and more 130,000 dead. I’ve lived my life in peaceful times and have been insulated from the high cost of conflict. There was a time when I entertained romantic notions of being a foreign war corespondent but I took a different path. My interest in how conflict is recorded and preserved, however, has not abated.
The Guardian’s Martin Chulov posted a piece (linked) about the toll of war on Syria’s heritage and the reason I’m sharing this with you is the before and after images included in the post. While there is no greater cost to war than human lives, the collateral damage to Syria’s history is heart breaking, and I can’t help but wonder if what will be left of Syria’s past is what is preserved by photos made prior to eruption into war.
Coincidentally, Monuments Men, a new film by George Clooney tells the story of a group of men, pressed into service in World War II, tasked to save the cultural artifacts stolen by the Nazis, is set to be released and I am looking forward to seeing it. Please have a look at Martin Chulov’s piece.
Two days ago, National Geographic launched a new page dedicated to the photography and photographers who’ve shaped the magazine. In one of the first posts, this video, The Photographers on Photography, some of the best recognized names in photojournalism, and perhaps least recognized faces, speak to the power, capacity and responsibility of photography. If you’ve ever wondered why or how a photographer can put themselves in harm’s way, or continue to shoot when a scene turns to something less savory; this short video addresses many of those questions.
The Editors at Proof describe Proof as National Geographic’s new online photography experience. Launched to engage ongoing conversations about photography, art, and journalism. In addition to featuring selections from the magazine and other publications, books, and galleries, this site will offer new avenues for our audience to get a behind-the-scenes look at the National Geographic storytelling process.
I saw the trailer for Chasing Ice more than a year ago. I was immediately drawn in by how visually striking the imagery was and the innovative way in which cameras were tasked to document the remote places featured in this film. Chasing Ice documents photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey project which, with great objectivity, turns the lens on glacial recession across the far north.
This is a documentary that demonstrates my first covenant of photography; you have to be passionate not only for the medium of photography but also what you turn your lens to. James Balog describes photographing ice as an experience close to that of a portraitist like Irving Pen or Richard Avedon finding infinite differences in familiar subjects. Clearly Balog maintains a fierce passion for what he does and for what this project represents. After a career spent documenting the natural world, Balog sought out a way to document environmental change that had few visual references beyond the nightly news video loop of drought, fire and the growing phenomena of extreme weather. The Extreme Ice Survey Project created a visual metric for climate change that is indisputable.
Chasing Ice is really two stories, that of Balog and his team and that of the profound rate at which these glaciers are changing. My blog is about photography, and I try to keep it at that, but whatever your position on global warming, it is impossible to deny that change on a global scale is happening. Whether or not you believe that the endeavors of human kind are at fault for this change are immaterial to the fact that glaciers are receding at an unprecedented rate and all that water has to go somewhere.
I believe that documentaries are portraits, they are revealing, suggestive and sometimes inspiring. Chasing Ice is no less a portrait of Balog than it is a position on climate change. We are invited into Balog’s home, family and hospital room where he is prepped for one of a series of knee surgeries that the photographer hopes will see him through his project. For those of us with 9-5 jobs, it might be difficult to understand this kind of drive or resolve; it can appear selfish, obsessive, even insane to those of us who maintain very narrow zones of comfort. This is the nature of photography at it’s best, it takes us places that we might otherwise fear to go and it takes people like Balog and his team to take us there. Photographers take risks so that others don’t have to so we can all better understand the world we live in.
Chasing Ice is available on NetFlix and on iTunes, but if it comes to a theatre near you check it out on the big screen, it’s worth it.
The International Center for Photography recently honoured Associated Press Photojournalist David Guttenfelder as an Infinity Award recipient for his work in North Korea. With all the recent news of North Korea’s posturing, it is easy to think that the hermited nation might have more in common with the land Oz than it does with it’s neighbours or others in the international community, but Guttenfelder’s photos reveal a degree of what passes as day to day normalcy. This is the revealing power of photography, showing us not only the things that divide and horrify us, but the similarities we share that may be otherwise hidden by fear, bureaucracy or secrecy. This is 12 minutes worth watching. This video was produced by Media Storm and was found at Alan Taylor’s In Focus blog at The Atlantic. Click either the image above, or the link below to watch the video.
Beyond the images of North Korea, Guttenfelder speaks a little of his career and time spent in Africa and Afghanistan as a photojournalist with the Associated Press. Guttenfelder comes across as humble, thoughtful and unphased by the intensity of his experiences. He talks about thinking of himself in a certain way after a decade of photographing conflict and violence and how that changed with an assignment to cover a three day reunion of families divided for 50 years by the Korean Conflict and how that pushed and drove his interest to look deeper into the North. This is another great power of photography, it is transformative. Photography changes us, our perspective, our understanding, and how we see others. It has an indelible affect on not only the audience but also the subject and the photographer forever changed by the events seen through the lens.
A few weeks ago I posted a link and a video about famed photojournalist Steve McCurry and how he chose to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome to come out of Kodak. Today I want to share the gallery. For a lot of photographers, the content captured on this roll might represent months, years or even decades of work, but for McCurry, among the most experienced, seasoned and professionally accomplished in the industry he managed to to capture this collection on one roll. It is impressive regardless of how many test shots he made with his DSLR.
I would like to say that this is the standard for photojournalism, even creative content at large, but unfortunately I don’t believe it is anymore. While I believe that photography, enabled by an infinite number of new tools, has the capacity to be more creative than ever before, there is a lot of work seeing the light of day that leaves me wanting for something more, something better. Content has to be compelling on it’s own. Creative content is everywhere we look, but good content, great content is more rarefied, it is the product of skill and, in many cases, hard won experience. The standard for content should be set at this level, however unattainable, not by what is affordable, what is easy or what is accessible. McCurry’s work is the work of a professional, of a creative able to make a living and succeed because others recognized value in his content.
On Christmas day there were presents in the living room of the rented cottage on Cox Bay, BC wrapped in well read pages of the New York Times. They were pages from this story, a story I had heard about, but had not yet been able to bring myself to read beyond a brief scan of the on line multimedia piece. Every so often I post a link to a gallery or a short video because I want to share something I’ve found which interests or inspires me creatively as a photographer. This morning I knew that I had to return to something that I have been putting off for weeks, the New York Times’ Snow Fall – The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.
I’ve spent much of this morning with this piece, with the galleries and the interviews, reviewing the graphics and, at times, clearing the tears from under my glasses. This is a story about tragedy and heartbreak the details of which I will leave for you to discover. When I was young, I spent every moment I could on Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains. If I wasn’t skiing I was thinking about skiing and conspiring with a few close friends of our next weekend on the hill. By the time I left for University I had been trained as an instructor and had volunteered with the Ski Patrol. The only future self I imagined was much closer to the men and women featured in this story than who I have eventually become.
I can’t imagine there are many multimedia pieces as well crafted as this, and this is the real reason for this post. It isn’t about specific images, videos, interviews or subjects, it is about how these elements have been brought together by reporters, editors, producers and photographers. Snow Fall is an unbelievably good piece of reporting and story telling that will affect you even if you’ve never spent a day in the mountains or have taken a single turn on skis. Be prepared, however, this is not a quick read, take your time and follow every link and finish by watching the 10 minute documentary at the end.