An awesomely incredible, really epically epic Red Bull :60 spot from my favorite fellow Jackson Holers, Brain Farm Digital Cinema:
In reading more last week about Tim Hetherington and subsequently following an endless train of links down the internet rabbit hole, I ran across a photographer Damon Winter, who was embedded with the First Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division in Kunduz Province, northern Afghanistan last year. Damon’s photographs, shot with the Hipstamatic app, on his iPhone, accompanied the Nov 21, 2010 NY Times article Between Firefights, Jokes, Sweat and Tedium and were also the centerpiece for the NY Times Lens Blog post Finding the Right Tool to Tell a War Story that same day. Here’s one shot from the series:
Internet criticism and outrage over the series began almost immediately, escalating to something of a cataclysm in subsequent months when Winter won third place for the series in the Pictures of the Year International competition. Complaints generally centered around photojournalistic arguments on the fact that Hipstamatic does not portray a scene as it really appears, that Winter violated the competition rules, and that somehow today’s notion of creativity is becoming increasingly diluted, skewed, and bastardized from some gold standard of the days of yore. I won’t deny any of those things outright – I think they’re valid arguments in some regard, but I especially like Winter’s response Through My Eye, Not Hipstamaticâ€™s, also posted on the Lens Blog on February 11, 2011. He does a pretty good job summarizing the feverish outcries and responding in a humble, measured manner.
It’s funny to me that all of these things are connected – the technology wave that’s promoting a more social, connected world (on an unprecedented scale that enables us to share information like never before) is also at the heart of both the ability to blog (and thus complain incessantly about new things) AND the rise of apps like Hipstamatic. They’re fundamentally inseparable. This argument that’s out there that Hipstamatic is “destroying photography” is flat out ridiculous. New art forms, whether they’re worthy of the dubious title of “art” or not, have been destroying (ie, changing) the existing, accepted art forms for as long as such things have existed. These same blogs are “destroying” “reputable” news sources as we speak. Hey look, it’s the mid-1800s and photography is ruining oil painting. Oh my god, it’s 1913 and Nijinsky is ruining ballet, let’s all start a riot! Hide the kids and flush the birth control, dubstep is destroying music – what deaf A-hole made that awful remix? I do appreciate the dialogue, but blah blah blah, it’s all the same thing.
Anyway, I guess that ranting about someone else’s rant is just as ridiculous in my mind as the original rant, but that’s where nihilism sets in and it seems like none of it matters. And that’s just not true. I just watched The Devil Came on Horseback, and holy shit, it’s about as gnarly and real and horrifying as it gets. Maybe my nihilism is justified. I mean, as documented in The Devil Came on Horseback, Brian Steidle spends a full year in Darfur, Sudan, witnessing and photographing hideously evil, malicious violence, and another full year or so touring America, speaking out and trying to rally popular support for intervention in Darfur. And yet the conflict – and systematic violence by the Sudanese government – is still ongoing AND has spilled over into Chad. Our government isn’t doing much of anything to stop it, and despite thousands of Steidle’s tragic, horrifying photos (all shot on a normal, traditional, acceptable camera), Darfur is largely forgotten in the public conscience.
So you know what? Who gives a damn about how Damon Winter’s photos were created – what matters is the fact that photojournalism, in its “purest” form (as in Steidle’s photos, that critics of Winter would argue in favor of) may have lost the ability to move us as humans, or our government, into tangible action to do the right thing – perhaps again as a result of the media overload and instantaneous sharing that’s enabling it all in the first place. Remember the days when photos could make a government do something like set aside HUGE tracts of land for public preservation, for the good of the people? Nope, we don’t remember.
Arguably, Winter’s photos are that much MORE effective, because how many other times do you see people steaming over photos from Afghanistan? What difference does the method make if the intended outcome is no longer possible, if photos just fill another few column inches? That’s what we should be crying about.
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Here’s another link to Damon Winter’s original photographs, and also his subsequent statement in defense of his photos. Also, the post wouldn’t be complete without a link to Save Darfur. Click, read, share, and make a change.
British photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed this week in Misurata, Libya, while covering the ongoing Libyan conflict. Along with Sebastian Junger, Hetherington also filmed and directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, chronicling a year in the lives of US Army soldiers in the Korengal Valley in northeastern Afghanistan. One other photographer working with Hetherington, Chris Hondros, also died and two others were severely wounded.
It’s quite the understatement to say that there’s been an outpouring of emotion and reaction since Wednesday. Outside Online posted Hetherington’s last interview, and Vanity Fair posted a retrospective gallery of his work, as well as a stunning piece by Sebastian Junger. NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview on the ethics, morality, and motivation of war photographers, featuring Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva; both have sustained serious injuries while working in war zones.
I’ve always been drawn to war photojournalism; war and violence seem to me to be innately human, living in all of us in one form or another. That said, it’s not my place to comment or philosophize on the nature of war and our relationship to violence, or for that matter on the choices of those who document it. Most of us are too removed here in the United States to have any sort of truly legitimate perspective, but I do think we should have more real, intimate exposure to life as it is in much of the rest of the world.
Hetherington released a short film three months ago, Diary, in an attempt to understand all these things after ten years of working as a photojournalist. In Tim’s words:
‘Diary’ is a highly personal and experimental film that expresses the subjective experience of my work, and was made as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting. It’s a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.
I was really excited to see my Tiny JH vid hit the Wired homepage last week:
A Tiny Day in the Jackson Hole Backcountry went up a week ago and I’ve been completely overwhelmed – in the best sort of way – by the response. So thanks, internet, and all my friends and everyone else who has spread this thing all over the place.
Just a quick bit about influences – it’s hard to pick a moment when I first became aware of tilt-shift faked miniatures. 2008 was a banner year for tilt-shifters, optical and digital – Vincent Laforet published a few shots from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Keith Loutit started making his beautiful videos that now stand as cornerstones of the animated miniature video world. I remember reading a Communication Arts where Salt Lake photographer Matthew Turley won an award for some recent work, including some photos with highly irregular focal planes. I absolutely love his work – Turley shoots a whole lot with a view camera, which of course can move the focal plane all over the place (so technically people have been tilting and shifting things since the view camera was invented back in the 1800s) and create some really great focal manipulations. In reading up on tilt-shift miniatures, I’ve become familiar with Olivo Barbieri, who is something of a pioneering figure and has produced some really incredibly images. And there’s also Sam O’Hare’s stunning Coachelleta, which I posted back in October. In any case, I was along for a paragliding ride during the summer of 2008 and took a shot of Teton Village from the air, during the construction of the new tram, and this was the resulting photo that got me thinking about a miniature project of my own, posted as the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Photo of the Day on Sept. 22, 2008:
Since then I’ve been thinking about how to work the look into my ongoing photography, and had always wanted to make a short ski movie. I’ve always liked shooting tiny people amongst huge landscapes (see photos below – and this one), so aside from the post-production and animation, the Tiny JH project was similar to things I’d been shooting all along. The final motivating push was Switchback’s Whistler XXS earlier this winter – finally someone gave the big mountains a miniature treatment, not to mention that they did it in spectacular fashion. I moved back to Jackson from San Francisco in mid-January, and started shooting/experimenting soon thereafter – though with a slightly different intent than anything I’d seen before. More on that… another time.
Mini People/Big Landscapes Gallery:
It’s closing weekend in Jackson; winter turned suddenly to spring just two days ago and this funny project – which started on a whim as a curious experiment, and quickly got a little out of hand – is finally finished. Hope you enjoy:
Thomas Newman – Any Other Name
Pink Floyd – Time (Pretty Lights Remix)
More on my influences for the video here.