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Following its 66th AGM earlier this week, Magnum Photo Agency announced that Olivia Arthur and Peter van Agtmael are its newest members.

Good choices. Peter’s a nice guy and was kind enough to offer up images and his first hand account of a story we weren’t even sure was a story. I have not met Olivia Arthur. She is a photographer I’ve admired for a long time. I am amazed (and a little embarrassed) that I’ve not mentioned her photography before here on the blog.

Jeddah Diary is one of the standout photography projects of recent years. Now is a good time to feature some images and publicly applaud Arthur’s tenaciously delicate observations of Saudi women.

In 2009 , the British Council invited Arthur to conduct a two week photography workshop with women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Jeddah Diary does not feature the photographs made by Arthur’s students; the products of the workshops largely remain a mystery. Instead, Jeddah Diary is comprised of Arthur’s own fragmentary observations and photographic concessions that emerged as she tried to make sense of depicting a veiled subject.

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The cultural and religious traditions of Saudi Arabia restrict the opportunities to photograph many women who are not wearing the abaya. As I understand, both Arthur and the women did make images of each other unveiled, but the images could not seen or distributed; conceived of, but not shared.

Arthur says that her first impression of the city of Jeddah was that public spaces were empty. Perhaps the important (human) interactions went on behind closed doors? The abaya is only one form of cover in Saudi society. The fabric of architectures, court yards and corridors bend and shape relationships.

Saudi society thwarts many of the visual relationships — photographer/subject and photographer/audience — that are taken for granted in secular countries and in less traditional regions of the Arab world. As such, Jeddah Diary is a collection of work-arounds and solutions; rephotographed portraits, limbs and parts of people, plays with spotlight and night shadow to obscure identities.

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The parameters of negotiation between Arthur and the women about what could be shown trod, at times, strange ground. After using flash to anonymise her subject (above photo), Arthur showed it to the women and they responded, “That’s great, but can’t you show a bit more of her eyes so people can see how beautiful she is?” asked some of the women.

These unique discussions led to photographer and subjects becoming close friends. Arthur says:

“On my first trip to Saudi I worked in medium format but this photo was taken on my second trip, using a little Panasonic Lumix. Because this was the sort of camera the women themselves used, when I used it they started to stop seeing me as a photographer and saw me instead as a friend. At the beginning I’d been clear with them that – as professional photographer – I wanted to show these pictures, but the funny thing was that when I switched cameras they relaxed and I ended up taking pictures that afterwards they didn’t want me to use.”

For me, the most compelling images are those of women veiled and in everyday moments; sitting on a kitchen counter, in a restaurant; fooling around while sharing tea. These are intimate events and the challenge to depict a hidden subject can be solved the moment one abandons a battle against restraints. Arthur’s interactions and discoveries are central to the book Jeddah Diary.

“I just thought, let’s take people on the journey that I went on, and show how confusing and contradictory it can be rather than trying to explain it; that’s the point when it finally made sense to me.”

And because of Arthur’s efforts, it starts to make sense for us. As Antone Dolezal remarks in his review of the book, “Jeddah Diary tells a story that could only be informed from a female perspective … a story both hidden from the world of men and only privately discussed in the world of women.”

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Jeddah Diary, by it’s nature cannot make full sense to us. Or rather, if we adopt our usual insistence to see idenifiable faces, and know names, and have place and date stamps attached to each image, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Arthur’s primary consideration was to protect her friend-subjects. As Sarah Bradley notes in her review of the book:

“It’s hard to tell who we are looking at in the images — some girls are named, but we see few faces, and in a small postscript Arthur makes it clear that in no way should one infer that the girls attending illegal parties are the same girls depicted elsewhere in the book. Her thank-yous show that many chose not to be named.”

Jeddah Diary is a moment of slippage. It is a document of the undocumentable. In that regard it is also a moment of reflection — and, for me, a cause of sadness — on the fact that Saudi women have limited choices in how they operate in society and interact with the world. Fashion is a flip topic, but clothing is not. It’s a simple point to make, but the abaya limits self-expression. I wouldn’t want to state the degree to which self-expression is limited or even what the results (positive and negative) emerge from a single, designated type of garb for one gender in a society.

The women in Jeddah Diary were, based on Arthur’s report, ambivalent about the project. And, I feel, probably reluctant to think of images as agents for social change.

“I was surprised how few of them had any major feedback. When I was there and tried to ask them how they felt about their situation, they’d say, “You know what – we’re okay” so I’d leave it. They were happy to be in the photographs but they’re not bothered about the comment I’m making on their society.”

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A couple of months ago, I was contacted by the Magnum Foundation (MF) and asked to nominate six photographers who were pursuing projects of social importance. The MF was readying itself to disperse the 2013 Emergency Fund grants.

Today, in conjunction with TIME LightBox, the Magnum Foundation announced the 10 chosen photographers and their bodies of work:

Adam Nadel, Getting the Water Right
Alex Welsh, Home of the Brave
Giulio Piscitelli, From There to Here
Jehad Nga, Unmasking the Unthinkable
Mari Bastashevski, State Business
Olga Kravets, Radicalization
Rafal Milach, The Winners
Tanya Habjouqa, Occupied Pleasures
Philippe Dudouit, The Dynamics of Dust
Tomoko Kikuchi, The River

Two of my nominations won support. That’s a one-in-three strike rate; better than the current form of Blazers’ guard Wesley Matthews.

Nominations by myself and 14 others resulted in a pool of 100 photographers. From that 100, a three-person editorial committee – Philip Gourevitch, contributing writer for the New Yorker and former editor of Paris Review; Marc Kusnetz, former Senior Producer of NBC news and Consultant for Human Rights First; and Bob Dannin, former Editorial Director of Magnum Photos, and professor of history at Suffolk University – chose 10 projects.

10 grants have been dispersed. Regional photographers who live and work near their homes each received between $4,000 and $7,000, while the photographers working internationally secured grants between $7,500 and $12,000.

The EF 2013 grantees are a group of talented photographers, working internationally and within their home regions. All of the projects anticipate emerging issues that are underreported and show great promise to reveal new perspectives through a range of visual styles and approaches. [...] The selected projects address a range of pressing issues including human impact on one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, systemic roots of violence in vulnerable communities, investigation of human rights abuses, and post-arab spring immigration flows,” says the Magnum Foundation.

Due to the sensitive nature of many of these projects, MF is being careful about the amount of information it shares publicly about the projects’ details and geography. We’ll just have to follow the photographers’ output closely.

Congratulations to all grantees.

See the work at TIME LightBox.

Above image: Tomoko Kikuchi, from the series The River.

Magnum photographer, Mikhael Subotzky has made available a print at the $1,000 funding level of my Kickstarter project Prison Photography on the Road.

It is a framed photograph made by a student during one of his photography workshops in South African prisons.

Photographer: Incarcerated student of Mikhael Subotzky
Title: Maplank in the Workshop, Pollsmoor Prison, 2005
Year: 2005
Print: B&W, silver gelatin print on fiber paper, 35x50cm (frame approx 50x65cm)
Edition: # 1/9

Print, PLUS postcard, mixtape and self=published book = $1000. BUY NOW

A NOTE ON THE PRINTS SALE

As with all the unsold prints if Mikhael’s doesn’t get snapped up, it’ll return to its maker, and possibly a darkened drawer. Certainly, it and any of the others won’t be gracing your walls!

There is one week left of fundraising. Even though I’ve passed my fundraising target, I don’t want to see the figure stop rising as I have very special plans for the extra dough in the form of spin off projects (the scope of which all depend on who much extra is secured).

Please visit this page for all the details on available prints. Tell all your loaded photofolk friends to pay a visit and pick up a print.

Between April and now, right under everybody’s noses, Visura Magazine only went and interviewed about over a dozen of the really important folk in photography. Here’s a few:

Interview: Jessica Ingram
Interview: Michael Itkoff
Interview: Mark Murrmann (Mother Jones)
Interview: Claire O’Neill (NPR Picture Show)
Interview: Nathalie Herschdorfer (Curator, Musée de l’Elysée): reGeneration project
Interview: Brian Storm (MediaStorm)
Interview: James Estrin & Josh Haner (NY Times Lens Blog)
Interview: David Alan Harvey (Burn Magazine)
Interview: Nelson Ramírez de Arellano (Curator, Fototeca de Cuba)
Interview: Jon Levy (FOTO8)
Interview: Ricardo Viera (Curator, LUAG)
Interview: Idurre Alonso (Curator, MoLAA)

And in plain sight of everyone, Gerald Holubowicz went long-from and interviewed on film some of the sharpest minds and forward thinkers in the industry (Sharpness is a must to mastermind the diversification and survival of leading collectives such as VII and Magnum.)

Gerald’s interview series “Sortir du Cadre” (Think outside the box) has so far quizzed

Interview: Stephen Mayes (Director of VII)
Interview: Mark Lubell (Managing Director of Magnum)
Interview: Paul Melcher (Cofounder and Senior Vice President of PictureGroup)
Interview: Jean Pierre Pappis (Founder of Polaris Images)

- – -

First class efforts from Gerald and from Adriana Teresa and Lauren Schneidermann at Visura

NYC103226 © Bruce Gilden / MAGNUM Photos

Gilden makes no bones about his style. He’s brash and in-yer-face. It’s his visual brand.

He doesn’t change his brand. With his surprise tactics, Gilden makes fun of New Yorkers as much as Texan millionaires as much as Guantanamo soldiers. (Might he also employ subtler approaches than the video below suggests?)

And why should he change his visual brand? He’s worked hard at it and we have supported it his whole career.

On the front page of magnumphotos.com today are a few of his shots from the Haiti earthquake aftermath. Should Gilden have changed his approach for his 2010 Haiti portfolio?

No, I don’t think Gilden should change his style; I think Gilden should’ve just stayed away.

This is my own personal opinion and I am not interested in any crusade against Gilden’s assumed approach or ethics. I just didn’t want to let his work pass without saying that I find it quite uncomfortable. This project isn’t the sort of thing I want to look at.

GILDEN REPEATS TOWELL’S MISTAKE?

A couple of weeks ago John Sevigny had a serious pop at Larry Towell (also of Magnum) for “gratuitous, racist and disgusting” work. I posted it, the Click picked it up and there was a short discussion at Lightstalkers.

I see where Sevigny’s coming from but I also appreciate comments which add a bit more subtlety to the debate – namely that exposed breasts are not always to be sexualised or considered part of an unequal power dynamic. This is just imposing ones own sensitivity upon another culture. More problematic is the fact the bare-chested woman is unable to move from the hospital bed away from Towell’s directed lens. Anyway, I digress, Gilden’s Haiti work is the topic at issue.

The situation with Gilden is slightly different. I must pause here and state that Gilden has photographed Haiti many times before (1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995); he has perhaps been as many as a dozen times? And yet, I feel as though Gilden’s images of victims (many amputees) in the MSF hospital are feeding the same distant disdain we reserve for drunk and bloodied hipsters in our faux-fashion magazines (Vice). Isn’t Gilden’s work going to get caught up in a visual culture that often replaces even slightly careful representation with the thrill of gore and body fluids?

I take issue with Gilden’s style as used in Haiti, now. To me personally, Gilden’s style mocks its subjects. I can’t get away from that. I would fully anticipate Gilden arguing (very well) just the opposite – that he cares deeply about different shapes, colours, countenances and circumstances of all the people at whom he launches his lens and flash.

NYC103269 © Bruce Gilden / MAGNUM Photos

After the MSF hospital Gilden goes on to make a typology of survivors’ structures and portraits of beggars, tent city dwellers and the mentally ill.

So, I want to ask. Do I have a point? Do you share my aversion to Gilden’s work in the aftermath of this natural disaster of a quarter-million fatalities?

Magnum has made a public commitment to funding work in Haiti, but should we maybe have hoped that the members had encouraged Gilden to perhaps sit this one out?

© Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos. Washington DC. 1963. At the climax of his "I Have A Dream" speech, Martin Luther KING Jr., the final speaker at the March on Washington, raises his arm on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and calls out for deliverance with the electrifying words of an old Negro spiritual hymn, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

PREAMBLE

When doing research for Wired’s Raw File piece on Dell’s acquisition of 185,000 Magnum press prints, reactions were unanimously positive.

The deal was understood as incentivised in the right ways so that Magnum, Dell’s MSD, the Harry Ransom Center, the individual photographers and – last but not least – the public would all win; the deal meant advanced archiving, preservation, research, lectures, education and access to the materials.

I leant particular weight to the feedback of Eli Reed and Susan Meiselas, two senior Magnum members, both grateful for the collection’s new lease of life.

CONTRASTING POSITIONS

I’d like to quickly bring to your attention two differing opinions I’ve come across this past week.

Firstly, Stephan Minard takes a suspicious view. Minard is the former director for stock-sales and archives of Magnum (Paris, London, New York & Tokyo) between 2008 and 2009. Here is Minard’s article (French) and here is a poor Google translation.

Minard sees the issue of the deal as “bigger than just a deal for money and posterity. It is more the sign of the incapacity of the photographers to protect a common treasure, to build a common project for the agency.”

Minard puts the Dell acquisition in the context of recent acquisitions of Magnum photographers’ works by outside parties (Capa’s “Mexican Suitcase” owned by the ICP, Henri Cartier Bresson’s archive owned by the HCB Foundation in Paris).

I think Minard deals somewhat in hyperbole and paints Dell as an unsuitable custodian. He believes Magnum has sold its ability to own and write its own history, whereas many in the industry feel the retention of all rights by the photographers has ensured exactly the opposite.

Magnum is a business and as such it would be useless hoarding sections of its past collections if in so doing they jeopardised the careers of its current and future members. Magnum is not a museum.

In the other corner, George Zimbel speaks of Michael Dell as an ever-benevolent father figure of documentary photography. Read here.

Zimbel asks a general question as applied to any number of hidden collections and obscured archives, “Where are those prints? I don’t know. No one will have to ask that question about the Magnum archive. Thank you Michael Dell.”

Zimbel knew Cornell Capa in the 1940s. Zimbel did the annual report for Xerox Corp. in 1961. When he couldn’t repeat the contract the following year, Xerox hired all of Magnum to continue the documentary approach.

Zimbel then rattles through a numbers of folk, generations and degrees of seperation to end up at the desk of a family friend Alex Gruzen, Senior Vice President Consumer Products Group at Dell Computers in Austin Texas, “I am sending Alex Gruzen a copy of my catalogue “George S. Zimbel, IVAM 2000″ to give to Michael Dell. He really values documentary photography. It’s like family.

© Olivia Wyatt

Recently, I panned the Magnum: In Motion piece on Haiti. Afterward, I went back to put a name to the disaster. Olivia Wyatt.

Then I felt guilty. I meant to attack Magnum, not an individual … who has a name … which is stated clearly at the end of the piece.

To allay may guilt, I feverishly went in search of other stuff to support the notion that Wyatt was piss-poor at what she did. I was sorely disappointed.

QUALITY

Olivia Wyatt has her lens and mic up in some good projects. As well as producing Jonas Bendiksen’s Nepal Maoists and the Magnum group’s Merry Christmas (with choice tunes from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra) she was also the producer on Christopher Anderson’s Capitolio Magnum: In Motion piece that played its part in getting everyone hot and bothered last summer.

Silicon Forest, the other Anderson piece Wyatt worked on fizzes and pops with the same disjointed eye that Anderson lent to Akademgorodok (Academic City), Siberia.

© Olivia Wyatt

THERE’S MORE

Then after unearthing some classy collage works, I came across Wyatt’s unexpected polaroids from Ethiopia (pages 46-54).

After all this, her Vimeo channel walks me straight into another dimension where Eraserhead meets Jesus Camp meets Point Break.

Seeking the Spirit is about Pastor Richard Philips and the congregation of the Celestial Church in Christ meeting at the Beach 96th Street, Rockaway, New York to observe an all night ceremony of prayer and cleansing.

Screen grab. Seeking the Spirit, by Olivia Wyatt

All great work. I am chastened.

Magnum has produced a three minute In Motion piece on Haiti:

The multimedia piece as a whole is disappointing. It features the photographs of Abbas, Christopher Anderson, Eve Arnold, Jonas Bendiksen, Bruce Gilden, Cristina Garcia Rodero and Alex Webb – all incredible photographers, but bundled together they compete against (and detract from) one another.

Abbas’ silvery images of Hounsis, ladies dressed in white (2000) … mix with his images of Saut D’eau (2000) … mix with his images of the Pentecostal Protestants of Jacmel … mix with Gilden’s hard-flash from Plaine du Nord (1985) … mix with Gilden’s street photography in Port-au-Prince (1990 & 1994) … mix with Eve Arnold’s quiet compositions (1956) … mix with Christopher Anderson’s menace … mix with Jonas Bendiksen’s beautiful retreated studies of Haitians in agrarian landscapes and activities … mix with Rodero‘s image of the rituals of Soukri, photos of the Carnival at Jacmel and Souvenance …

The slideshow concludes with a vertiginous volley of portraits of Restavek child servants/slaves by Paolo Pellegrin (who strangely has no credit line).

It’s all too busy and without context and frankly does nothing to describe the country of Haiti. It is in some ways just a limp, late addition to the flurry of visuals we’ve been served these past eleven days.

Magnum would have been much better promoting the recent traveling exhibition Disposable People – Contemporary Global Slavery, and making ‘In Motion’ pieces for contributors Webb and Pellegrin.

ALEX WEBB INTERVIEW

Fototapeta‘s interview with Webb is well worth reading. He talks about the cultural differences between the US and countries of Central and Southern America (with repeated references to to Haiti); about open energy and discrete action; about shooting in colour and in B&W; and about reconciling photojournalism with an inevitable personal reaction.

Webb notes his ongoing balancing act,

“I always felt to some extent that I am out one fringe of Magnum, but I was brought into Magnum particularly by Charles Harbutt, and Charles was really oriented not towards traditional photojournalism at that point. I mean at that point Marc Riboud was doing a lot of rather traditional photojournalism. Charles was encouraging a much more personal kind of vision of the world, and that influenced me much more. I have taken elements of that, which is a very personal approach, but taken them into situations that people do not associate with a totally personal approach like going somewhere else, like Haiti, where political violence takes place, therefore it is photojournalism, but I am actually taking a very personal approach inside places like Haiti.”

HAITI. Port-au-Prince. 1987. A memorial for victims of army violence. © Alex Webb

I picked out the image by Alex Webb (above) as my preferred image because, while it’s subject is death, it is – as a single image – actually about the bonds of a Haitian community and the composition of Webb’s craft. And they equalise one another perfectly.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood, Magnum: In Motion is a phenomenal service to the global photographic community. I can’t imagine a world nor web without it. The archive is a treasure. I guess when I believe a slideshow has fallen short I want to state it as such. I only criticise because I care.

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