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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Seeing Beauty Or Seeing Repression – Is It A Question Of Perspective?

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Federical Valabrega’s photo essay on the lives of Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn, New York that appeared on Time Lightbox reminded me of something I had read in Carol A. Brekenridge and Peter van der Veer’s excellent book Orientalism And The Post Colonial Predicament Details »

What Can’t Be Discussed Or How Photojournalism Disconnected Itself From Its Own Reality

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These are the discussions the photojournalism industry – from editors, to award winning photographers – refuse to engage in. I have already written about the many ways in which manipulated and doctored photography has been for the last some decades been a core part of photojournalism. I have argued that the competitions assiduously avoid speaking about this, and continue to waste time and energy on trivial issues of ‘digital image manipulation’. Somewhere along the line, photo editors, and photojournalists, have convinced themselves that their only, and exclusive, purview is what lies within the frame – the aesthetic of the image. So they endlessly discuss the style, the grammar, the technical facets of frame / image only, but nothing more. Nothing can touch on the lies, manipulations, and doctoring that goes on beyond the frame. Details »

On Things Shown And Those Hidden – The Travails Of World Press Photo

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What ails World Press Photo? Well, if you were to read the online comments, and the public statements being made by representatives and spokespersons of WPP, you would think that the only issue that matters is the now seriously tiresome, circular and self-righteous arguments around ‘image manipulation’. Here is a system (which also includes other competitions like POYI for example), that remains silent, and in fact in collusion with, the image manipulations of state-sanctioned, military enforced, ‘embedded’ photojournalism, and yet wails endlessly about ‘digital’ manipulation.

When compared to the fact that corporate and embedded photo/journalism has been one of the ugly handmaidens to our recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Chad, Mali, Somalia, Pakistan’s Waziristan regions and more, I find it egregiously silly, if not entirely infantile, that manipulations that led to the deaths, destruction, occupation, torture, and more, are quietly ignored, but digital manipulations that are largely irrelevant and silly, garner all the outrage. We get so upset that Paul Hansen edited his image, while remain silent about the structural reasons for the deaths of the children that his image actually showed! Details »

How To Read In France

I question (a) its (Western liberal discourse’s) assumption that ‘religion’ is the major threat to the principles of tolerance and democracy; (b) its part in constructing “an Islamic enemy”; (c) its privileging of the fate of literary authors (and media persons) as against other victims of cruelty; (d) its sacralization of the principles of Freedom of Speech. In brief, I question the assumption that the people who attack these literary authors (and media persons) are part of the larger forces that threaten Modernity itself.

Talal Asad, Europe Against Islam: Islam In Europe 1997

Few are still willing to provide a context, so here is some.”Je Suis Charlie” could just as well be “Je Suis Charles” – here I am referring to the bigoted French interior minister from 1986-1988 Charles Pasqua whose immigration policies were so harsh – as he himself argued, waxing beautifully racist and stupid at the same time: “we will terrorize the terrorists”, that even the UN had to speak up and issue a severe reprimand.

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Seeing It Again, But This Time Seeing It Differently

Mountain of Servants Poster (Final) (Small)

An image from Northern Iraq that I made back in 2005 while working on a story about the struggle of Iraq’s Assyrian Christian community, appears this week on the poster of a new film by Daniel Lombroso about the region’s oldest Christian community. Back in 2005 I had argued that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had bought no respite to a community that had been targeted under the Saddam Hussein regime, and that all pretense to the contrary, the so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq was about to create even more miseries and difficulties for the very people we claimed we were there to ‘liberate’.

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Our Protection Of Frivolous Speech And Our Prosecution Of Political Speech

Our silence is hypocritical – we conflate bigotry with ‘free speech’ and celebrate ourselves, while refusing to fight the more uncomfortable, difficult and problematic acts of ‘free speech’ itself as in this case of the young British citizen. Free speech laws and rights are most in need of defense when speech is problematic and disturbing, not when speech easily joins a wide public discourse that is tinged with bigotry and self-congratulations. It takes no courage in Europe to humiliate and mock Muslims for example, because this is the easiest, most trite, and most acceptable form of fraudulent ‘free speech’ we know. It is merely an echo of widely held prejudice in our societies. Only cowards and hypocrites confuse it as something bold. It isn’t free speech if you are hurling abuse against the already demeaned, humiliated and reduced. It isn’t free speech if you are simply parroting the main stream. Our rights to genuine free speech are most obvious when something difficult is uttered about ourselves and our societies, something that stops us in our tracks, and reveals something sour in ourselves.

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A War Without Geography And Without End Keeps Coming Home

Paris. France. Charlie.

Of course, this has to be condemned. It is an outrage and cannot be allowed to go without the criminals being caught and prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo was a racist and bigoted rag that hid behind a false discourse of ‘free speech’ to selectively attack certain groups and certain speech. However, that cannot be a reason for such actions and our outrage at their bigotry can’t become a justification for violence. Not against publications, nor against communities either. Much as in response to the Ander’s Brevik’s attacks in Oslo, what is needed now is an effective criminal investigation, prosecution and indictment of the men who carried out this act. What has to be assiduously avoided is the use of this horrendous act for justifications for further wars, racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and humiliation that i fear will most likely be the reaction in a nation like France that is already drunk a vile and crass relationship with its ‘others’.

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In Nepal…

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Contradicting my own recent post (see The Lure of The Ephemeral), our travels across South Asia investigating the prevalence of fistula amongst women in South Asia is being posted regularly on Instagram and Facebook. Its not your usual set of UN feeds, so enjoy it while it lasts. We are wrapping up our work here, and moving on to Pakistan soon.

The Lure Of The Ephemeral

A few friends and fellow photographers have stepped away from Instagram and other social media platforms for their work. In fact, I too have not posted on any social media platform for a while because of a nagging sense that by constantly feeding a structure of information dissemination that relied on the ‘likes’ of random strangers (a large number of whom seem to be prepubescent or barely adolescent boys and girls), i was being dragged away from a more considered, and measured way of working. There was this realization that at some point feeding the beast become more important than patiently producing the work, and that any and all measure of its success and its relevance becomes reduced to ‘# of followers’ or ‘likes’. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of major editors criticizing my work in Pakistan for not being ‘accessible’ enough, and for being too difficult. They were concerned that I had no ‘social media’ strategy, and wondered what I was going to do to bring tens of thousands of followers to my site. The fact was that I wasn’t really even interested in that. In fact, there is a distinct intent in my works to be difficult, and demanding. I design these projects to be hard to view, and engage with. They are never meant for a vast audience, and I can’t even see the value of the audience of ‘social media’ that I am being told I need to pursue. Details »

The Easy Beauty Of The Unpolitical, The Effective Seduction Of The Obfuscatory

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