W. Eugene Smith’s The Jazz Loft Project

Lets face it; when it comes to photojournalism and the photoraphers who most defined its characteristics, attitudes, aspirations, values and language, we would almost always have to begin with W. Eugene Smith. The master photographer, the passionate soul, the determinedly individual and independent, the singularly human, Eugene Smith raised the bar of not only how one worked as a photographer, but also how one ‘drew’ a photograph onto film.

Who can ever forget the beauty of Tomoko Uemura in her bath, and the genius of the photographer who found a way to represent it:

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath Minamata, 1972 Copyright W. Eugene Smith

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath Minamata, 1972 Copyright W. Eugene Smith

I do not exaggerate when I saw that this was the photograph that back in 1986 first made me think about becoming a photographer. It has remained etched in my mind and soul since.

So it was with some excitement and pleasure that I discovered Sam Stephenson,of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, website for his book The Jazz Loft Project

The Jazz Loft Project

The Jazz Loft Project

Stephenson describe’s Smith’s production of this work as ‘…an obsessive achievement’, but clearly, by his own definition, Stephenson too was obsessed for he points out that he:

…made 115 trips to New York City over a span of time that can be measured by telephones and storefronts: I called Robert Frank from a cold, indestructible pay phone at the end of Bleecker, near CBGB; Roy Haynes on a Motorola StarTAC from a brownstone on 9th Street, a few doors from Balducci’s; and, a few weeks ago, Mary Frank on my iPhone from Spoon in Chelsea.

You can read Stephenson’s piece in the new issue of The Paris Review blog where in a piece called The Jazz Loft Project he discussed Eugene Smith’s involvement in this project and the characters and lives that he documented.

This is a wonderfully interesting site, and it is a thrill to see the love, care, attention and detail that has been bestowed on the work of W. Eugene Smith. Stephenson’s inquiries into the life and career of this most amazing of photographers continues as he works on a new biography that will also see him:

… embark on a five-week visit to the Pacific Islands, where Smith made combat photographs during World War II, and to Japan, where he photographed Hitachi City in the early sixties and Minamata a decade later. There are some fifty more people I want to interview as well. The detective work is intoxicating, opening up unexpected worlds outside of Smith’s immediate circle.

W. Eugene Smith was frequently derided in his times, ignored by editors and even fired from his positions at major magazines. But he worked past all of this through the strength of his vision, convictions and self-confidence. His work and his legacy has stood the test of time and remains an inspiration to so many still naively determined to produced beautiful works about beautiful and human issues.

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The Courtier’s Obsession

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The Guardian reviewed Carlos Spottorno’s new work Wealth Management and claimed “…that there is enough mischief here to prove that Carlos Spottorno is one of the most serious political provocateurs currently operating in photography.” There is no doubt that Spottorno is a very smart photographer, but I disagree with the thought that this work is anything provocative. Unlike previous efforts, such as his project PIGS, this one falls within the same confines of the predictable and unimaginative.

The fact of the matter is that it has now become quite banal to document the profligate life-styles of the super-rich. In fact, Lauren Greenfield was an early pioneer of documenting the bizarre and deviant priorities and interests of the American elite society. However, since the 2008 crash, there have been a whole host of works that try to speak about global inequality and do so from the perspective of the hyper-wealthy. In fact, there are so many works that Time Magazine’s associate Photo Editor Myles Little could put together a massive global exhibition of works that bring together a visual potpourri of the lives of the super-rich.

In fact, so much so that Michael Shaw of BagNewsNotes even went so far as to point out recently that:

More and more, I’m seeing wealth and power — in specific photo stories, and even more so, in the increasingly random presentation of news photos — as not just a recurrent theme, but as connective tissue….If hyper-capitalism is becoming the issue of our time, however, I’m tempted also say that more and more images…are presenting a moral counterweight. Details »

On Indexing, Categorising And As A Result, Erasing

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I would like Arab women to stop trying to represent ‘Arab’ women.

This is an insidious trap that steals from them the width and breath of life and imagination. We have so much to document, so much to speak about, beyond the constant rehashing of issues of ‘hijabs’ and ‘harems’ and ‘self-identify’. The Western curatorial tradition – ideological, and blind to its affiliations to power and politics, wants the brown wo/man to only always be explaining and representing themselves. It’s as if we are alien beings under constant interrogation and curious observation. Previously they forced it from us, now they try to get us to do it voluntarily by offering us a ‘space’ in their beautiful galleries and magazine spreads. No Western photographer or curator would ever put together an exhibition like this about White /European women. The subject would not even occur to them, and in fact, it would be considered seriously bizarre. The European needs no representation. The ‘other’s’ women – inexplicable, opaque, deviant, incomprehensible, are constantly placed under a gaze – curatorial, documentary, journalistic and what not. Or being bought together to justify their ‘humanity’ by showing possibly that they are as much human as we are. I don’t even quite understand the need to have such ethnically and geographically segmented works, but clearly there is a huge market for it in the imperial nations. The French are great purveyors of such anachronistic Orientalism, constantly categorising and indexing the world into its neat little ‘packets’.  Details »

Dream Palaces / Tensin Tsundue – IV

My father died
defending our home,
our village, our country.
I too wanted to fight.
But we are Buddhist.
People say we should be
Peaceful and Non-Violent.
So I forgive our enemy.
But sometimes I feel
I betrayed my father.

 

Betrayal by Tensin Tsundue

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Dream Palaces / Tensin Tsundue – III

When it rains in Dharamsala
raindrops wear boxing gloves,
thousands of them
come crashing down
and beat my room.
Under its tin roof
my room cries from inside
and wets my bed, my papers.

Sometimes the clever rain comes
from behind my room,
the treacherous walls lift
their heels and allow
a small flood into my room.

I sit on my island-nation bed
and watch my country in flood,
notes on freedom,
memoirs of my prison days,
letters from college friends,
crumbs of bread
and Maggi noodles
rise sprightly to the surface
like a sudden recovery
of a forgotten memory.

Three months of torture,
monsoon in the needle-leafed pines
Himalaya rinsed clean
glistens in the evening sun.
Until the rain calms down
and stops beating my room
I need to console my tin roof
who has been on duty
from the British Raj.
This room has sheltered
many homeless people.

Now captured by mongooses
and mice, lizards and spiders,
and partly rented by me.
A rented room for home
is a humbling existence.
My Kashmiri landlady
at eighty cannot return home.
We often compete for beauty
Kashmir or Tibet.

Every evening,
I return to my rented room;
but I am not going to die this way.
There has got to be
some way out of here.
I cannot cry like my room
I have cried enough
in prisons and
in small moments of despair.

There has got to be
some way out of here.
I cannot cry,
my room is wet enough.

Dream Palaces / Tenzin Tsundue – II

Pull your ceiling half way down and you can create a mezanine for me

Your walls open into cupboards

Is there an empty shelf for me?

Let me grow in your garden,

With your roses and prickly pears

I will sleep under your bed and watch tv in the mirror

Do you have an ear on your balcony, I am singing from your window

Open your door,

Let me in.

I am resting on your door step.

Call me when you are awake.

A proposal by Tenzin Tsundue

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Dream Palaces / Tenzin Tsundue

When I was born
my mother said
you are a refugee.
Our tent on the roadside
smoked in the snow.

On your forehead
between your eyebrows
there is an R embossed
my teacher said.

I scratched and scrubbed,
on my forehead I found
a brash of red pain.

I have three tongues
the one that sings
is my mother tongue.

The R on my forehead
between my English and Hindi
the Tibetan tongue reads:

RANGZEN

by Tenzin Tsundue

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Nothing Left To Do But The Selling Or Pakistan’s Tryst With The Public Relations Campaign

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It is important and necessary to critique foreign coverage of Pakistan. But this video isn’t it.

There is a conviction amongst a certain class of Pakistanis that what Pakistan suffers from is an image problem. this is very much like a certain class of Israeli who feels the same. they are convinced that it is portrayals that are the problem, not the problems that are portrayed. for this class, what is demanded is simply a different portrayal. a desire frequently backed by the sponsoring – quite often through international corporate and development funds, cultural events of limited and specific scope and access. If we can only show the world ‘we’ – this class that seems to be most concerned about ‘portrayals’, are sophisticated, well read and urbane, perhaps we will not be so ashamed of the issues we know are real, but have no inclination, courage or imagination to face them and speak about them. 

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Old Wounds

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Every single magazine we submitted our Haiti work to refused to publish it. In fact, they spent more time mocking our efforts to reveal a mostly unspoken aspect of the toppling and kidnapping of the democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide in 1994. So it was with some pleasure to read this piece in The Public Archive that in fact echos so much of what we had been trying to argue and reveal.

As Jemima Pierre writes:

The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”

Writer Malcolm Garcia and I had travelled – at our own expense and based on our own research, to Port Au Prince to document the targeting and killing of Lavalas activists and Aristided supporters under cover of a UN mission, and with the support and collusion of the USA and France. Details »

We Wanted To See A Train Wreck. We Saw A Train Wreck.

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Bruce Gilden’s shallow, narcissistic work and methods, thankfully come into the limelight. I respect Stacy Kranitz’s self-awareness and self-confidence to have written about it:

The past few days have been hard,” wrote Kranitz on Instagram on June 7th. “I have been on assignment with another photographer, Bruce Gilden. He and I are at odds with the way we make our work. I watched him make portraits and aggressively enter my shot to get his own, while telling me ‘this is my shoot, you are just here’ I listened as he said disparaging things about people, I listened to his dissatisfaction with people being to [sic] ‘plain’ and late last night I could no longer stand by and continue to feel good about being bullied. He humiliated me in front of a group of church goers and I feel that I may have taken a stand at the wrong moment. That I was not being considerate or mindful of my surroundings either. I don’t hate Bruce or his work but I think turning people into what you want them to be, turning people into ‘self-portraits’ of yourself is complicated and dangerous especially in a place with a history of extraction.

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History Is Another Planet

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Eliza Griswold pens an entirely farcical and ahistorical piece for – of course, the New York Times. And though it is now becoming tiresome to point out how ridiculously, amateurish this newspaper has become a shill for war and propaganda, it still remains critical to continue to point it out. There are still too many people who take this publication seriously, and repeat its arguments thoughtlessly. This in fact was the key point that Glenn Greenwald made in a critical take-down of The New York Times recent, stenographic piece on the Edward Snowden leaks. Details »

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