The Amsterdam NOOR / NIKON Masterclass

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.25.01

I am in Pakistan now. But in a few weeks I will be in The Netherlands. And here is why.

We hear from self-proclaimed photojournalism futurists that the media world as we know it is dead. We are told repeatedly by major magazine editors that there are no budgets for serious, long-term photojournalism assignments. We argue every week with other editors for a even the most basic of day rates for the assignments we do get. We hear and read about all the new technical breakthroughs that are making sure magazine-spread, linearly laid out photo-essays, once the bread and butter of the craft, are no longer relevant, and that more sophisticated tools are promising us non-linear, complex, multi-layered means of story-telling.

And yet, there are few photography workshops that will actually discuss and incorporate these realities and help students figure out ways to navigate them. Even the most well known, resourced and taught photojournalism workshops continue to teach students based on a pedagogy that has little relevance in the world the students hope to make a name for themselves. We continue to see people standing around a light table carefully and with exaggerated precision, laying out photos in an A-to-B sequence, as if the magazine page was the principal and only possible publishing medium. We continue to hear teachers talking about ‘sense of place image’ or ‘an opener’ or a ‘closer’ and other such anachronistic ideas that frankly suggest that there  has been no digital transformation. Linearity, sequencing, start-here-then-go-there approach remain the principle method in workshops, photo festivals, gallery exhibits and even online portfolio presentations. This despite the fact that more likely than not, a new photographers work will end up on a digital platform far before it ever ends up in a printed one.

Photography workshops, much like the rest of mainstream photojournalism, are trapped in old forms and methods. I don’t mean to denigrate that method: it has been tried and remain true for decades, and has helped produce some incredible works. But with the decline in a willingness to pay for photojournalism, and to value its importance, it seems strange that we are still tied to an approach that is intrinsically connected to a medium that has largely disappeared i.e the printed page. That is, though there are more and more images online, and more and more illustrations in magazines, the value and worth of images has declined in inverse proportion, and the respect and commitment of editors to serious photojournalism has declined alongside. New students can’t simply be taught as if the world into which they are entering hasn’t changed, or is even able to sustain them as professionals. It can’t. Certainly not the number of people who would love to have a career in the field. The old methods remain sacrosanct and respected, which I also understand, but they must also now be re-worked. It isn’t enough simply to think about aesthetics, and edits, and sequencing, given that all of these are not as critical in a largely digital space as they once were. Furthermore, the very possibilities of ‘sequencing’ and ‘aesthetics’ has changed so much. And I also do not mean that we use more new  technical gizmos or design techniques. What I am referring to is to experiment with new epistemologies, frameworks, perspectives and ideas for what constitutes a photo project, and how it can be constructed using a range of materials, information, approaches, methods, and concepts.

Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t just about asking photographers to use more technology – this isn’t about a different Hackathon type approach. Of course, using animation, graphics, video, 3D, holograms and what not are the way people have been exploring the possibilities of digital media. But what is always left unsaid is the high cost of production, and the participation of teams of people. Most independent photographers can’t take this approach. Big budgets can obviously create new kinds of presentations and methods, as we have seen from so many publications and start-ups. What I am interested in is how we can come at issues, at subjects, at interests, in an entirely new way, and use commonly available digital tools, to create new ways of thinking about stories, and even about what constitutes a story. I am interesting in revealing new and unique aspects of existing work, of discovering avenues of investigation of conventional work, of creating new insights into well-worn and covered issues and subjects. And doing so by breaking away from the visual and intellectual conventions of editorial and documentary photography. This isn’t about toys or gizmos. This is about breaking away from nearly 30 years of now stultifying and fraying conventions of the craft and the subjects that obsess it, and finding something genuinely interesting to show and say.

The Amsterdam workshop will push students to produce beautiful photographs, and we will focus on the fundamental challenges of working on a complex photo project. But it will also push you to think past the photo-essay, and to strive to produce something larger, more complex, multi-faceted and layered. Unlike other photographers, I rarely use my own work as an example. My workshops are not a way for me to impose my own ideas, or hold my own work as an aim. We will explore a range of works by other photographers who are in fact trying new things, experimenting with new approaches, but most importantly, are breaking away from the repetitive and conventional subjects of mainstream photojournalism to open new worlds and new perspectives for us. Bring your cameras, and bring your mind. We will make photographs, we will read, we will explore, we will design, we will layout new structures for your project itself. This will be a shorter version of a workshop I taught in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013. I wrote a small note about that, pointing out that:

Whether the students are able to actually live up to the excitement of the ideas remains to be seen. What however they are doing is moving past their known forms of photography, and their known conception of how photography can work. I am moving them into zones of discomfort, trying to get them see how to use the photograph to do more than simply make nice photographs. Most all the students have typical photo portfolios, and many have confined themselves to conventional story ideas – poverty,  drugs and so on. Now hopefully they are playing with new ideas, and playing with photography, producing interesting stories that have a voice, a perspective, an argument, and are using various methods to do so. Those with little portrait experience are being pushed to work with it. Those who have avoided getting inside lives, are being asked to enter homes and get familiar. Its been an intense few days, but I am always happy when I can help students work on stories that I really want to see emerge. And these stories are just really very exciting and I am anxious to see how the students cope with them.

This is an opportunity to push yourself past the conventional ideas of photojournalism. My only goal in these structured sessions is to get students to liberate themselves from the strictures of commercial photojournalism, and to see magazines and editors are merely one of many outlets that their works can be featured on. By helping them produce broad, varied projects, students are able to not only create basic photo essays for magazines, but also more complex versions of projects that can have an appeal to academic and non-governmental organisations and also important foundations. That is, they can produce works that have a life and a depth that allows them to live and grow beyond the published print page or online slide-show. This is a workshop. Its a place where they can experiment, make mistakes, face fears and still have a great time doing it. Its Amsterdam. We will have a great time doing it.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

Details »

Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

Details »

Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

Details »

Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

Details »

Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

Details »

%d bloggers like this: