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 Silences Of The Crusader

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You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its

flavour, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing,

but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.

Matthew 5:13

Wim Wenders is a classic example of a man of bourgeois privilege blinds – possibly intentionally, to the violence and exploitation that creates his privilege. And as all such men & women, he is illiterate to the the idea of – one that Gambatista Vico so fabulously gifted mankind, that man makes the world and to understand it we must examine, with honesty and truth, man’s actions and decisions in it.

From handing prizes to embedded photojournalist James Nachtwey (yes, he does make amazing photos, but lets just also look at the interests and ideas that informs his politics shall we? I am working on a critique of Nachtwey’s life’s work that maps his ‘projects’ to the political ‘ethos’ of the time, looking to examine his close collusion with American imperial interests and the angles adopted in his Time magazine funded stories), to this white-wash of Salgado’s collusions with mining interests and his continued refusal to speak honestly about the devastating impact of unchecked capitalism, share-holder returns, outright corporate thievery and corruption, political bribery and ‘development’ and ‘growth’ addictions, Wenders embodies many of the presumptions of his class. As Laura Jaramillo points out:

Wenders is careful to shape Salgado’s interviews into a meditation on the human condition palatable for the international art-film market, not a meditation on the destructive effects of globalised capitalism. “Everyone should see these images to see how deadly our species is,” Salgado says over one particularly grisly set. Each event that feeds into his illustrious career is, not coincidentally, one of the greatest atrocities of the latter half of the 20th-century. Each is curiously disconnected from the last, presented without historical context.

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A Stubborn Refusal

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My continued disdain dismissal of most all photojournalists working on ‘immigration’ stories begins with this simple fact outlined in this excellent article titled The Story Behind The Stories, where author Rodney Benson argues that:

The complexity of the international causes of migration cannot be easily expressed as a melodrama. And mentioning them is ideologically sensitive: it suggests there could be something wrong about an economic system that most politicians — and journalists — take for granted. From the early 1970s to the mid-2000s — a time of neoliberal globalisation and bloody conflicts in Central America manipulated by the US — immigration stories that mentioned international causes fell from 30% to 12% in leading US papers. To their credit, French newspapers in the 2000s, just as in the 1970s, mentioned the global angle in 33% of their immigration news stories, mostly because of the greater prominence of anti-globalisation sentiment in French intellectual and political culture. Yet, too often, both French and US media fail to give the full picture on immigration. Their focus on emotion, and on individual stories, diverts attention from the fundamental political issues, and leaves the way open for the simplistic “solutions” advocated by the far right.

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A Subservient Subversion?

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Setting back feminism every new season, the fashion world yet again undermine a woman’s struggle to free herself from the male gaze all the while suggesting that dancing to the very tunes men make is the true measure of her liberation. I quote the brilliant Judith Butler:

The female body that is freed from the shackles of the paternal law may well prove to be yet another incarnation of that law, posing as subversive but operating in the service of that law’s self-amplification and proliferation.

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (1999) (Thanks to fabulous Åsa Jansson of The Unpractical Scheme)

The Law As A Weapon Of War

A key tool / weapon in the use of mass and collective violence of so-called ‘tribal’ societies of Pakistan is the prejudiced presumption that these are ‘lawless’ communities, or communities that have ‘traditional law’ or even no ‘rule of law’. Few have examined the idea of ‘rule of law’, and the use of this convention to oppress and dominate those who have something that does not look like what is basically a bizarre belief that only anglo-american ideas of law are valid descriptions of ‘rule of law’.

As Ugo Mattei, in his essay ”Emergency based predatory capitalism'(see the book: “contemporary states of emergency”, edited by Didier Fassin / Mariella Pandolfi) , points out.

“It is worth repeating that whatever sense of the term (rule of law) we choose, the meaning of ‘the rule of law’ finds its roots in the deepest self-conscious of Western civilisation. It is certainly remote from non-Western political experiences. The ‘Orientalism’ that altogether dominates Western political discourse feeds on the perception of the ‘other’ (the non-Western) as lacking ‘the rule of law’ and therefore lacking ‘law’ itself, and consequently the basis of human rights. This discourse rejects the idea that the legal profession is just one of the ways in which conflicts can be governed in complex society. It perhaps may be a ‘better’ technical instrument, but certainly is not a more legitimate one from a democratic perspective, since jurists lack democratic legitimacy. From this perspective, the narrative around the legal history of people considered ‘without history’ is false beyond all limits.” Details »

All The People That Are Fit To Print

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This was weird. The reviewer is in awe of her – power, celebrity, scion, hereditary fame, activism, beauty, western composure, oriental aesthetic, class privilege and dynastic worth.

“It’s no wonder she has consistently denied any interest in going into politics. Still, at age 32, Bhutto is more of a celebrity than most first-time fiction writers. Born in Kabul, raised in Damascus, educated in New York and London, she now lives in Karachi. She has over 850,000 followers on Twitter, where her page begins with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov that reads, “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.”

Wow.

The perfect product of the Western imagination of how the Wogs will grow up to be civilised like us. And yet, the book review, when the writer does get past fawning over her and starts to read her work, suggests a trite, cliched, pretentious work. It may not be, but that is the impression left from reading the critical review part of this hagiography. Details »

Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who Is The Most Vacuous Of Them All?

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A friend sent the above to me this earlier today. Oddly, the list reminded me of Hassan Nasir.

I know most don’t know him. He was once a beautiful Pakistani man, but died after beatings and torture by the Pakistani state during the decades of anti-Communist and anti-progressive pogroms that not only destroyed any hope of an egalitarian and democratic Pakistan, but also opened the door to religio-political shennanigans meant to distract the people from their hunger, their cold, and their slow deaths. Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote of him. Our 22 boy-toys can’t quite live up to that achievement.
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What’s Water?

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Whats’ Water?

We love the myth of the individual crusader. And we love it even more when the crusaders convinces us, or his/her arguments are presented as if, there is no one else but the individual. National Geographic stories are very explicitly neoliberal in this regard: there is no government, there are no policies, there is no corporation, no labor, no collectivity and hence, there is no accountability for political and corporate power and interests. The selling of the myth that only individuals exist, and the re-painting of the social and economic collapse of a city as something that has nothing to do with policy choices (of government, of corporations and the two in collusion) is ideological. All this is washed away by feel good stories of resilience because demanding accountability from your elected officials, and struggling for social and economic support goes against our current neoliberal fantasy world of individuals as personal value agents alone.  Details »

We Have Heritage, They Have Barbarism. We Have Culture. They Have Misogyny.

Photo by Naumi Yaakov

Photo by Naumi Yaakov

Someone please send these people some skateboards (see my previous post When All Else Fails, Give Them Our Games… because their women are quite clearly in desperate need of liberation from their ‘men’! These are orthodox Jewish women in Israel, in case you cannot tell. And you would not be wrong for not being able to!  Details »

When All Else Fails, Give Them Our Games…

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They tried invasions, occupations, complete imperial rule. They tried bunker-busting bombs, Uranium tipped missiles. They have tried drones, and night raids, and torture and indefinite detention. They have tried the full weight of a rhetoric of love of man and human rights. And now they will try the….skate board. Details »

Lars Tunbjörk (1956 – 2015)

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Some influences creep up on you. They take time. You have been seeing their work for years, set it aside, perhaps not looked at it closely. But something from even the first cursory glances remains with you. Seeps into you. Keeps you thinking about it, perhaps over years. Tunbjörk was one of those photographers whose work at first seemed trivial, or perhaps even predictable. It was only later that I began to see that it was critically sharp, and visually brilliant. This was the year that I was starting to study him seriously. This was the year that I was going to meet him – his studios are very close to my apartment in Stockholm. I was just going to walk in and hope to find him there. R.I.P.

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