Author Mark E. Johnson

Where the Press Isn’t Free

The New York Times has an interesting piece up about photojournalist Maya Vidon-White who photographed a dying victim of the November terrorist attacks in Paris and is now being sued for doing so. The story talks about the ethical challenges of covering conflicts, but it’s really about the legal challenges – in France, you can’t photograph the victims of terrorism without their permission.

Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

Congratulations to Jessica Rinaldi of the Boston Globe who won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography today.

Her story, about a young boy who survived being beaten nearly to death, is exactly the type of work that should be celebrated – it is heartbreaking and hopeful, it speaks to the need to slow down and spend time on a story, to find the little moments that help us understand.

This is a story to study and celebrate.

Congratulations also to Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, Tyler Hicks and Daniel Etter of The New York Times who won for Breaking News Photography for their images of refugees in Europe.

A Visual Discussion on the Human Condition

One of my long-time favorites is Peter Turnley. Early on in my studies, I saw something in his work that resonated deeply with me, but I’m not sure I was able to articulate it then.

There was a warmth, a connection. The people in his images were never just subjects, there was something more in the relationship separated only by some shards of glass.

The below video was made to coincide with an exhibit in Cuba. It is full of gems, but there’s one line that, at last, explains his work to me:

… the only thing that empowers everyone is love.

And that, from the joys of his Parisian street scenes to the horrors of war, is what I’ve seen for decades. Every image, no matter the destruction it may show, is about that which empowers all of us.

This is well worth your time.

A Documentary film about Peter Turnley – MOMENTS OF THE HUMAN CONDITION from Peter Turnley on Vimeo.

Would HCB Use a Cellphone?

It’s an interesting question, whether Henri Cariter-Bresson would convert from his Leica to a smartphone were he alive and working today. William Dalrymple believe he would have and, as much as I adore the craft of photography … I guess I agree HCB would be wielding an iPhone 6s. But definitely not a 6s Plus, that would be too big.

I do make images with my phone, but it still doesn’t give me the level of control and separation I want. It’s all about the sensor size – and not for the pixel count, but the focal length equivalents.

Photography Without Vision

Om Malik has a wonderful piece up at the New Yorker, triggered by Google’s announcement it is making the Nik Collection of software tools free.

This idea that we are photographing everything, never seeing anything and, perhaps worse, not remembering anything is troubling to me. I have a very large collection of family photos, somewhere in excess of 20,000 images, made by myself, my father and my grandfather. And that may seem like a massive amount of images, but it dates back more than 60 years. Each one of those images is a trigger for actual memories – they bring back the emotions of the moment for those who were there. (Or, for me on the older ones, the emotions of having heard the stories behind them.)

My grandfather and I shared a concern for describing the images individually, he in notebooks and me with captions embedded in the files. My father, as methodical a man as ever wandered this earth, not so much … there are images that I don’t understand because the one who was there has been gone for nearly 30 years.

Now, you can accuse me of having this same insatiable desire to make images as I’m some 1,600 days into a photo-a-day project myself. But I’m not photographing everything, and I’m certainly not posting everything. To me, it’s a visual journal – but one that hits the highlights of a day, not every moment of it.

Envision Kindness Contest Open

LogoThe Envision Kindness Student Photography and Film Contest is now accepting entries.

This is a pretty cool idea and not just because it involves one of my good friends. The idea is to celebrate work that celebrates kindness an compassion. A good news competition, if you will.

Defending McCurry

There’s been a bit of a storm brewing over a New York Times piece by Teju Cole about the work of Steve McCurry, one of the legendary National Geographic photojournalists.

I … don’t agree with his assessment but don’t feel qualified to take it on. Allen Murabayashi from PhotoShelter, though, has completely encapsulated my thoughts on the matter.

Having an obvious subject with tack sharp focus and proper exposure doesn’t mean a photo is devoid of layers of interest and interpretation.

Murabayashi’s sentiment aligns with my own here – the current fad of making low quality images to impart a gritty “realness” to them is ridiculous. We have spent nearly 200 years improving the quality of cameras through better lenses, better film stocks and now better sensors – why on earth do we apply “lo-fi” filters and strip out detail, accuracy and comprehension?

My student have heard this rant before – let the content of the image move your audience, don’t screw with their emotions with technique.

Times Changes

So you’ve spent you morning reprogramming the microwave and oven clocks, maybe you even reset your alarm clock last night. You’ll get to your watch later …

But, right now, pull out all your cameras and reset those clocks, as well. It’s usually pretty easy to find in the menus, but while you’re in there take a look at all the other settings and make sure they fit the way you shoot and are giving you the files you need.

Have you gone in and played with sharpness or saturation levels? Now is a good time to back those down again. Did you move your autofocus trigger off the shutter release and onto a separate button? Is that working for you (it does for me)? If it doesn’t, where does it belong? How about your AF point selection?

Envisioning a New Kind of Contest

There are days I come across things and think, why didn’t I think of that? Here’s one – the Envision Kindness Student Photography & Film Contest.

There are a lot of dark pictures out there, here’s a chance to celebrate the happier ones.

More on Morris-Secret Service Incident

I’m putting this under the Thoughts & Theory category because it deals with my thoughts.

I want you to read this headline:

Screen Shot 2016 03 02 at 12 13 44 PM

Given that you probably know that Time contract photographer Christopher Morris was thrown to the ground by a U.S. Secret Service agent at a Donald Trump rally, that headline tells you what? What does it make you think about the sequence of events?

It’s pretty clear that Morris grabs the agent, then the agent grabs him in a choke hold and throws him to the ground.

Except, that’s not the way it happened – Time has a new video that shows Morris had his arms at his side and had not touched the agent before he was slammed into the ground.

Did Morris make contact with the agent? Yes – after her had been thrown to the ground. Should he have done that? Absolutely not.

And here’s my rant – the bias shown in that headline above is staggering. It’s indicative of the way information is twisted around to benefit individuals, to try and shape the understanding of a story. It’s not about the story, it’s about controlling the way it is both presented and consumed. Anyone who reads that headline will believe that Morris assaulted the agent, then was taken down.

Watch the videos – that is not at all what happened.

That headline is a lie – a flat out lie. It’s dishonest and deceptive and the audience it is intended for will never understand that they are being mislead.

I’m not linking to the site, I don’t want any association with it. You can search for that headline and you’ll find it if you want.

This era of deception and greed is beyond anything I have ever witnessed or studies. The willingness of my fellow citizens to not think, to react emotionally to intellectual issues, is frightening.

I do not know where to go from here.