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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Till Palestine

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The Shahrazade/El-Madani Studio Collection At New Museum, New York City

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I walked into the New Museum’s Here And Elsewhere exhibit recently. A major presentation of contemporary art from the Middle East. Much of it is quite predictable, some of it is downright amateurish, a few terribly is derivative and horribly scarred by the pretensions of modern Western contemporary art discourse. Some was quite disappointing as it desperately attempted to, as pointed out by one critic, that it “..takes our attention away from the political subject and draws it toward the artist’s techniques.” – a statement that I would use as a criticism of a work of art, but in fact was offered by way of praise by the writer. There are however moments of it that are luminous. For example, the gorgeous set of studio photography works from Hashem El-Madani.

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Making Baldwin Boring

 

Black Body: Rereading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” – The New Yorker.

I am confused about Teju Cole. This is possibly one of the most boring pieces I have read in a long time. A rambling, pointless journey to a small Swiss town in the footsteps of James Baldwin echoes a tried and true magazine concept piece. Fair enough. But if you are going to write about Baldwin, then really write about him. And write about what it was that he was speaking out against. Do it with a voice and a passion that at least mirrors Baldwin’s. If you claim to be like him, in his body and in his footsteps, then try to find a way to be in his disappointment, anger, sense of betrayal and determination to fight. Details »

Asian American Writers’ Workshop – Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, and Moral Courage

A wonderful meditation on the lives of two artists and intellectuals, and the different paths they took in the aftermath of 9/11. Salman Rushdie, as Pankaj Mishra so angrily pointed out, was amongst the European intellectuals who lost their moral courage in the shadow of that terrible event. Speaking about Amis, Mishra argued that:

It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”.

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The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson – The Intercept

Glenn Greewald’s piece about the growing militarization of the national police makes for uncomfortable reading. He argues, as others have that:

Ultimately, police militarization is part of a broader and truly dangerous trend: the importation of War on Terror tactics from foreign war zones onto American soil. American surveillance drones went from Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia into American cities, and it’s impossible to imagine that they won’t be followed by weaponized ones. The inhumane and oppressive conditions that prevailed at Guantanamo are matched, or exceeded, by the super-max hellholes and “Communications Management Units” now in the American prison system. And the “collect-it-all” mentality that drives NSA domestic surveillance was pioneered by Gen. Keith Alexander in Baghdad and by other generals in Afghanistan, aimed at enemy war populations.

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Still Beautiful After All These Years…

Still possibly the most amazing photographer I have ever seen. Alex Webb continues to confound even as he continues to create incredibly complex new work. There is an intelligence at work, and an incisive intellectual and creative insight. There is also the magnificent single-mindedness of it all – a love of repetition and a commitment to experimenting. Its beautiful work and it continues to inspire me. And it is also a powerful rejoinder to anyone claiming that today everyone is a photographer. This is photography – deliberate, concentrated, precise, complex and intentional. All else is picture taking. Details »

The Telegenically Dead Can Tell No Tales

Sarah Kendzior makes a powerful point: the ease with which American media echoes Israeli talking points, but the willingness with which vile, sick and immoral men like Elie Wiesel offer ahistorical and immoral rhetoric to hide cold-blooded and ethnic murder. An entire book could be written about the way in which men like Boteach, Wiesel, Grossman, Oz and others, who walk and talk and speak like moral liberals, are in fact the plastic pretty faces of a venal, brutal, racist and relentless madness. Read the article by Sarah Kendzior by clicking on the image below.

This Can’t Be All That Is Left To Tell…

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An excellent example of why not to interview a photojournalist….Saman has no historical context to the stuff he is saying and that is being quoted. He seems to have no ability to put things into a meaningful context. relying on clichés of ‘humanitarian crisis’, ‘bad situation’ etc.

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Rethinking Africa Or How Not To Talk About Your Africa Photo Project

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Vico’s The New Science is everywhere a reminder that scholars hide, overlook or mistreat the gross physical evidence of human activity, including their own.

Edward Said, Reflections On Exile, page 86)

…in the progress of nations negroes have shown less capacity for self-government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary whenever they have been left to their own devices they have shown an instant tendency to lapse into barbarism.

President Andrew Johnson (quoted in Amy Kaplan’s The Anarchy of Empire In The Making Of U.S. Culture, page 83)

The American photographer Pete Muller’s is working on a long-term project called Rethinking The Enemy: Men, Masculinity And Violence, that he claims attempts to:

…understand the causes of male-perpetrated violence,”

He explains that he is:

…working around the hypothesis that when men are not able to achieve what are often rigid standards of what makes successful manhood, they become extremely anxious and volatile, and they will revert to dangerous and violent behaviour in order to try to assert themselves as men.

This project has received considerable attention and support, not the least from the Open Society Initiative for South Africa, and he has produced work for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. It has recently been featured on Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog, The New York Times Lens blog and various other sites. It is clearly a work that is garnering considerable support and attention, even resulting in Pete Muller rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and diplomats. 

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João Pina’s Condor Project & The Questions Of History

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I wonder if PIna ever made the additions and elaborations I felt were missing in his New York Times Lens blog discussion about this work. Some months ago I had argued that (see:http://www.asimrafiqui.com/tsh/2014/01/30/musings-and-confusions-january-30-2014/):

 

An important photo project, but if you are going to speak about Operation Condor, you cannot, and must not, remain silent about the American collaboration and acquiescence in the campaign. It is important to remember that six nations were involved in this campaign, and they were American allies, not the least of which was Pinochet’s Chile. The US was well aware of the mass disappearances and killings that were taking place, and it did not merely stand aside, but also provided technical and other assistance to our allies while it was all taking place.

 

The Lens blog discussion never bought this issue up. It basically erased from the discussion only the most significant imperial player in the region. The American influence, collusion and interference in the politics, society, and economy of Latin American countries was at its height at the very moment that the Argentinian government was busily disappearing and murdering thousands. I challenged Pina – a man who clearly understands the region and must clearly know the history. As I pointed out challenging the New York Times Len blog editors that: Details »

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