Category Thoughts & Theory

Another Camera Store Shuttered

Many years ago, I sold cameras. I worked in a catalog showroom, running the photo area for a while. I worked in a one-hour photo lab for a while and did time behind the counter at one of the major retailers in Washington, D.C.

Every one of those businesses is gone now.


The shops I frequented in Boston, places where I built relationships and spent tens of thousands of dollars … all gone.

Here in Athens I can’t look at anything beyond the most basic kit cameras in person, there’s no one that sells anything I’m interested in.

And now, Showcase Photo & Video, the last holdout in Atlanta, is gone, too. Phil Mistry has the story at PetaPixel – it’s a long read, but it’s worth it.

So what closed so many photo counters? There’s no one thing – the move to digital, manufacturers cutting margins, internet superstores and states not being able to figure out sales tax laws are all culpable.

I ran my photo business for years, I needed to get the best price I could. That’s what being in business is all about – lower costs mean higher profits. I never showroomed – I never walked into a brick and mortar shop, asked questions, played with the gear then went home and ordered online for a better price.

But I have ordered online and now, well, I have no more options.

It’s important for us as both photographers and journalists to understand this story.

(Thanks to Michael Schwarz for the link.)

Kandahar Journals Showing in Athens

As part of our McGill Symposium on Wednesday, October 5, we will be showing Louie Palu’s documentary on his time in Afghanistan here at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Kandahar Journals looks at his time covering the war and its effects on his psychological transformation.

Doors will open at 7:30 and we will start at 8 a.m. in Studio 100 of the Grady College building. Free parking is available in the N09 and N08 lots at the corner of Hooper Street and East Campus Drive. To enter the building, use the entrance next to the exterior stairs on the Sanford Drive side of the building.

No admission charge and Mr. Palu will do a Q&A after the showing.

Photo Editors Please, or At Least Visual Awareness (Updated)

It seems that I am on a multi-year rant about my local news organization. I pay my subscription, I read it every day online, spend time with the delivered Sunday edition and I truly appreciate that they are severely understaffed. That the depth of their coverage has suffered is sad and I do not find fault with the individual journalists – photojournalists, reporters and editors – for the stories they miss. That’s economics, that’s the result of poor judgement on the part of past managers.

What I do take issue with is the sloppiness of the editing, the lack of awareness of what they have published and their seeming inability to improve what they have through simple adjustments.

Like, perhaps, looking at the front page and seeing that an obituary story, that has now been on the front of their web site for more than a day, features a teaser photo of the woman’s chest. Not her face, as in the adjacent stories of men, but of her cleavage.

(And, for those who know me, yeah, it’s come to me talking about cleavage on this site. That’s how frustrating this is.)

I get that this is a wire service feed, that it is automated at some level. And, as with most other issues I have with the Athens Banner-Herald, I do not suspect any level of malice here.

In my classes, we talk about ethical transgressions of commission and omission. The former is an active attempt to deceive, think Jason Blair or Allan Dietrich. For whatever reason, they made a choice to lie because they did not care about their audience.

Transgressions of omission are, I suspect, much more common and more insidious. They come from failed processes, they come from a lack of awareness, they come from a lack of training. In the end, though, they again symbolize a lack of care.

Newsrooms are limited in their resources and need to make decisions about what to cover and what to publish. Part of that decision making process needs to ensure that what they do publish is both accurate and fair, that they have the resources to execute that coverage properly.

If you don’t have someone to monitor automated feeds, to at least check in once a few hours, then you need to decide if the risk of something going wrong is worth it. And here, my local news publication failed us.

Again.

UPDATE: After 34 hours, someone finally fixed the image. No note, no comment, just fixed it. Here’s what she looks like:

Support the HPR

Something a little light for a Tuesday afternoon.

“Here at Hipster Photographer Rescue we give these kids options, and make them see that lurking self-consciously on street corners, wearing a messenger bag filled with old cameras, cigarettes, a James Joyce novel, organic cashews and a Macbook Pro, does not make you a professional photographer.

“Still, we can only detox, de-program and re-home so many of these little guys,” he sighed.

Grace and Power

I suspect there will be a lot of discussions in my classes about Jonathan Bachman’s image of two Baton Rouge police officers approaching a woman to arrest her. Allen Murabayashi has a nice compilation of commentary over at PhotoShelter, a good starting point.

Photographing What You’re Interested In

This is an interesting video where Lee Friedlander talks about how his projects come together. And that wording is precise – he and the other panelists talk about the process of making images and then looking to see what you’re making images of and from that deciding if there’s a project.

Friedlander says, “I don’t know what I’m interested in until I see it.”

Fascinating look at the process.

On Photographing Everything

Here comes the cynical me … Jonathan Freeland wrote a pice for The Guardian about our penchant to record everything.

They will not need to look at sunsets and palm trees, for they will have flawless copies on their devices (click!). The great scale of the Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, or the Colosseum, in Rome, will bring no risk of eyestrain: they will be able to see the grandeur of these sites in harmless digital miniature (click!).

(Insert get off my lawn comment here …)

But it’s true, isn’t it? That these devices we carry, more powerful than those that sent us to the moon, are used for the most banal of things. Encoding memories takes effort – effort to observe, effort to process, effort to remember. Snapping a quick selfie does none of those things – the advancement of technology have hurt our innate ability to recall the moments in our own lives.

There are studies that show taking notes by hand, instead of by keyboard, improves our comprehension.

It’s more the disengagement with reality and, in effect, shared experiences that concern me. Yes, I carry a camera everywhere. Yes, I take photos everywhere. But rarely selfies (three? Maybe four in my life?) and almost always they are intentionally composed after observing what’s before me. (My family hates this – I can’t walk up to something, glance, snap a pic and move on. Once I’m there, I look all around, studying before finding the vantage point I believe will best share that visage with others.)

Last week, I was wandering around Virginia and decided to put in some time and foot traffic at Petersburg National Battlefield, site of one of the most spectacular (and ill fated) moves of the Civil War. At many of the stops along the trail, I came across groups of teens and young adults. From a distance, this made me happy – people out experiencing history, walking the blood soaked grounds from where our country came to be.

Then I noticed they weren’t looking around, they were looking through their devices. Hunting not knowledge but Pokemon.

I’m now thinking of putting a sketching assignment into my photojournalism classes – force them to observe, to ponder, to decide what belongs and what does not.

How Photographing Objects Leads to People

One of the great challenges in photojournalism is being told to photograph a thing. It may be a building or a bridge or a birdcage, but, chances are, unless you have the ability to light the daylights out of it, it’s going to be static.

And static isn’t great for news photographs. My mantra has always been we tell stories through people. Someone lived or worked in the building, someone built the bridge, someone put a bird in the birdcage – that’s there the story comes in.

So stumbling across this Alec Soth piece about being asked to photograph the oldest living tree in the world and how that grew into tying into aging made me smile.

That photo of Lloyd sitting on a picnic bench? Man, does that resonate with me. It speaks about the costs of survival, the will to continue on …

Not Trusting Our Viewers

There has been a lot written about the images of Steve McCurry being altered – whether is was his staff, his staff under his direction or the man himself doesn’t really matter. The images were altered and a photographer who has been held highly for decades for his journalism work is not rebranding himself as a “visual storyteller.”

Which is fine, I actually have no problem with him going forward with that. I do have some issues with him repurposing older work, from an era when he branded himself as a photojournalist. It is his work, he can do with it as he sees fit, but I think it should be disclosed that these images have been altered.

That’s just my opinion.

Over at Reading the Pictures, Lewis Bush has his take on the situation.* In it, there’s this one line that really resonated with me that I think anyone working under the auspices of journalism should take to heart:

I’m mad because (as we now know) he’s forcing me to remain in the foreground, to track horizontally, and far worse, he’s communicating that I can’t be trusted with the details.

That last phrase … that hits hard. When we alter images (or quotes or data), we are essentially saying we don’t tryst our audience to come to the conclusion we want. And that is a phenomenally arrogant thought.

As journalists (I’m not going to deal with the newly self-applied “visual storyteller” monicker any further), it is imperative that we act as a conduit for information – perhaps a bit of a translator, but never as an interpreter. It is imperative that we present information as it is, not altered, not re-colored and not manipulated.

* I’m making an assumption this piece is by Lewis Bush. He is on their masthead and is listed as one of the tags below the piece but there is no formal byline on the site.

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.