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I learnt about Bill Washburn‘s series Taxi years ago (on a recommendation from Blake Andrews). The pictures stuck with me, especially during a recent two-year stint living in San Francisco. Now I’m back in Portland and Bill Washburn is my neighbour and I’m so happy to have been able to write about Taxi for Timeline: These vivid 1980s photos show gritty San Francisco cab life in the days before Uber.

“As a taxi driver, I had a very privileged viewpoint,” says Washburn who drove a cab between 1982 and 1986 to supplement his income during art school. “It was an opportunity to get to know San Francisco intensely. It was a dynamic city, I worked it all, not just downtown.”

Washburn’s unorthodox portraits are strange nostalgic triggers for a city we may not have known then but know now, through daily headlines, of a city drastically changed by decades of housing market spikes, mass displacement and gentrification. There’s loss as well as discovery in these photos.

I asked Kelly Dessaint, cab-driver, San Francisco Examiner columnist and author of I Drive SF, what he thought of Washburn’s images.

“It’s always a mystery who’s going to climb in the back of your taxi,” says Dessaint. “The uncertainty of where a ride will take you can be exhilarating and terrifying. Sometimes simultaneously. These photos really capture the randomness of taxi driving, as well as the awkward intimacy that comes from sharing an enclosed space with a stranger for a prolonged period of time.”

Dessaint, who drove for both Uber and Lyft before signing up with City Cabs, laments the loss of spontaneity and unpredictability brought on by ridesharing

“With app-based transportation,” he explains, “the pick up and drop off points, along with the route, are recorded. You know the passenger’s name before they get in the car. They know yours. It’s not a random encounter like when someone flags you on the street. And with the rating system, the passenger is always in control. Drivers know that if they step out of line, they can easily get deactivated. Which limits spontaneity and creates a passive experience for the driver. As a taxi driver, you’re always in control.”

The power of these photos may lie in the fact that they show conversation not merely transaction; that they depict a time before profiles, stars and likes. For Washburn, now in his seventies, the differences and decisions are obvious.

“I’ll never take an Uber or a Lyft. I’d feel like a traitor,” says Washburn.

See more and read more here.

 

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I’m getting my vote for ‘Photobook of 2017’ in very early. It goes to a title not even made yet. And I’m biased. The book, manchester MODERN is authored by my brother, Richard Brook.

The illustrated field-guide to Modernist architecture in Manchester, England is in production but Rich and designer Vaseem Bhatti are after some extra cash to make the thing sing. The Modernist Society is raising monies on Indiegogo.

The exciting development here is that they’re producing a collectors’ edition with a custom-formed concrete cover. Yours if you back the project with £111.

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My brother’s been photographing Manchester for 20 years and has, almost accidentally, become the expert on the city’s mid-to-late-20th century buildings. He’s no pro with a camera but he knows a bit. As for the text, his academic chops cannot be denied. The website of his decades of research is at www.mainstreammodern.co.uk

Go on, throw some money in the pot.

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Photo: Daniel Stier, from Ways of Knowing, 2015.

A couple of my fav photo-peeps are hosting a live online chat today about photography and science in the modern era. You can be involved. Michael Shaw of Reading the Pictures and independent curator Marvin Heiferman are putting on a salon conversation to analyze a group of ten news photos of “science” of one guise or another.

Panelists include Rebecca Adelman UMBC Professor of Media & Communication Studies; Ben de la Cruz, Multimedia Editor, Science Desk, NPR; Corey Keller, Curator, SFMOMA; Kurt Mutchler, Senior Editor, Science, Photography Department, National Geographic; and Max Mutchler, Space Telescope Science Institute, Hubble Heritage Project manager. Nate Stormer, University of Maine professor will moderate.

The ten photos were selected from thousands of media images.

“If photography was invented,” writes Shaw, “so that the sciences could communicate with each other, now it’s as much about making that investigation relevant to consumers, investors and alternately curious, fearful or enthralled citizens. This discussion is interested in science as a social agenda and a media phenomenon. It’s about the popularization of science, the attitude and approach on the part of science toward its own activities and what the general public sees of it.”

It will be fascinating. The salon is free but registration is required. Register here. Kicks of today December 1st, at 7 pm EST and will go for 2 hours on Google HangOut with live audio, video and with involvement from the public via live chat.

The discussion, jointly produced with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a featured component of SEEING SCIENCE, a year-long project that explores the role photography plays in shaping, representing, and furthering the sciences.

Sign up here.

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It’s not even December, but I’m getting my pick for photobook of the year pick out the way early. My choice for 2016 is the Apple Cabin 2016 Calendar by Sean Tejaratchi.

Advertising is super-weird, but our eyes and minds quickly become accustomed to its garish agenda. We are exposed to 5,000 ads daily. We ambulate through three dimensions constructed from image-planes urging us to buy buy buy.

Some ads are ingenious, most are not, and most follow formulas. Tejaratchi tweaks the grocery-store insert formula with nasty little words and plucky phrases. He shows advertising to be the creepy thing it is. In the Apple Cabin calendar he takes a pop at foodstuffs that are luminous, canned, mysterious. As food-desertification checkers its way across the United States, we’re reminded that many Americans eat stuff closer to Soylent Green than fresh farm greens.

Tejaratchi undermines the footings to advertising generally. The ‘Apple Cabin 2016 Calendar’ is the anti-ad; the anti-Times Square; it’s the opposite of political pantomime; it’s a gross mirror to the fact an orange man-baby tantrumed his way to the White House by means of simplistic and fear-based messaging.

In a rather humorless year, thank god for Tejaratchi.

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Photo: Mimi Plumb. Anonymous man. Do you know this man?

During the summer of 1975, Mimi Plumb spent months in the Salinas Valley, watching farmworkers make history.

“I traveled up and down the valleys of California photographing the young men living in farm labor camps, in chicken coops and under the sky, the children and adults working together in the fields, and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) organizers and volunteers listening and talking with farmworkers about how elections in the fields might change their lives,” says Plumb.

Plumb shot dozens of rolls of film, which she developed at the time and made prints. But she didn’t show them much except for in the UFW field office and in an SFAI (San Francisco Art Institute) exhibition. A few images appeared in newspapers at the time.

Almost 40 years later, after her retirement from teaching, Plumb pulled the negatives and old prints from their boxes and started to put together the pieces. (An edit Pictures From The Valley is on her website).

It is an exhilarating re-emergence.

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Camp Roberts. The weather had turned warm, and by noon the temperature topped 100 degrees. The marchers stopped for a rest at Camp Roberts, a former Army training center just off Highway 101. Chavez was always using his time to organize – whether he was in motion or sitting still. He posed for photos with groups of workers from each of the ranches — the hand sewn banners forming a good backdrop. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.

The photos are rich and pregnant; they deserve so much attention. And they get it. The California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with help from the Center for Community Advocacy and the National Steinbeck Center, produced and funded efforts to identify the people in Plumb’s photographs and to seek out their stories.

The result is Democracy In The Fields, a visual record paired with oral histories. It’s the history of popular movements mixed with anthropology mixed with the history of labor. I love the way photographs have been leveraged here to shape a collective story that would otherwise have been dissipated and drowned out.

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Among the subjects are Rosa Saucedo, Jose Renteria, Mario Bustamante, Alberto Magallon, Sabino Lopez, Celestino Rivas, Ricardo Villalpando, Cesar Chavez and the Amezcua Family.

Many of the people in Plumb’s photographs were identified by journalist Miriam Pawel who has written extensively about Chavez and the history of the United Farm Workers union. Together, Plumb and Pawel met with groups of former farmworkers who had been in Salinas in 1975.

“Children saw pictures of their parents as young adults for the first time. Grown men who had no photos of their fathers found them in Plumb’s images,” says the Democracy In The Fields website.

The faces in the images are luminous. Time and time again, there’s huge joy among the workers. Did they know they were marching to victory? Despite the grave consequences at stake, the workers and protesters seem unencumbered by the repsonsibility. The marchers particularly look as if they’re relishing ever purpose-defined moment.

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The Teatro Campesino performed skits at the Potter Road Labor Camp. Photo: Mimi Plumb.

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UFW Field Office. Photo: Mimi Plumb.

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Photo: Mimi Plumb.

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In the summer of 1975, with only months to prepare for the first elections in the fields, dozens of farmworkers who had demonstrated leadership were tapped by the UFW to leave their jobs in the fields and work for the union for ten weeks. Rosa Saucedo, a 21-year-old in the lettuce fields, was one of 40 hired in Salinas. Each was assigned specific companies. Rosa’s job was to win over workers at D’Arrigo, a large vegetable grower where the UFW was fighting the Teamsters. She was interviewed in Spanish by journalist Bob Barber in the midst of the campaign. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.

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Photo: Mimi Plumb.

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Jose Renteria mans one of the election booths. When the votes were counted, the UFW won a big victory – 188 votes to 84 for the Teamsters and 4 for No Union. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.

Journalist Bob Barber was conducting interviews in 1975 in the fields. Tapes from his archives provide audio on the website. Plumb and Pawel also conducted their own interviews in recent years. Wendy Vissar finessed the workers’ stories into a digital form.

“Celestino, Ricardo, Rosa and Chuy often included me in their daily rounds, from the fields and camps to Maria’s kitchen table,” writes Plumb. “The UFW field offices were a hub of activity, of nightly meetings, and frequent visits from the union president, Cesar Chavez.”

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Farmworkers listen to Ricardo Villalpando, who worked tirelessly to persuade others that supporting the UFW was the path to a better life. He went wherever he had to in order to talk to workers in small groups—buses, the fields, labor camps, apartments. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.

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‘With the Virgen of Guadalupe Leading the Way’. Every day, Chavez walked between ten and twenty miles. On July 28, the marchers reached San Lucas, where Chavez held the first evening rally in the Salinas Valley, in a small wooded grove on a makeshift stage. The next morning, the marchers set off again, heading for King City. Photo: Mimi Plumb. Caption: Miriam Pawel.

“On June 5th, 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CALRA) became law,” explains Plumb. “In July and August of 1975, Chavez led a 1,000 mile march, to help bring attention to the landmark statute recognizing the right of farmworkers to vote for union representation. The first farmworker election was held on September 5th, 1975 with a vote of 15-0 for the UFW.”

What an incredible project.

It takes a while to meander through the history and the people involved in the movement, but it’s a rewarding wander.

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Photo: Mimi Plumb.

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Photo: Mimi Plumb.

For more images and info visit Mimi Plumb‘s website and the Democracy In The Fields website.

The project is ongoing. You can help identify people in Plumb’s pictures! 

Connect on Facebook too.

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I mean really, at this point, what should we expect? I’m getting sick and tired of centrist, rightwing (and older) Americans ignoring the wonderful examples repeatedly set by youngsters about humane ways to treat one another.

Latest example? In Arizona, the students of Prescott College, a small liberal arts school focused on environmental education, recently voted by a huge majority to initiate a $30 added charge to their annual tuition fees. The $15,000 that will be raised is to pay for a scholarship for one undocumented person to attend the college.

It’s laudable. It’s community minded. It’s called the Freedom Education Fund.

A few things to note first.

  • This was a student led initiative.
  • No faculty or administrative body foisted this upon the kids.
  • This is a relatively small gesture: This fund will assist one teenager from an estimated 65,000 undocumented high-school graduates each year. (Only 10,000 of those graduates enroll in college each year.)
  • This is a massive gesture in Arizona, a state in which voters approved Prop 300, a 2006 ballot measure, that prohibits students from paying in-state tuition and receiving federal and state financial aid if they cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally. Prescott College, a private institution, is exempt from the law which polices only public colleges and universities. Here then, relatively privileged kids are acknowledging and acting upon their privilege. This is Millennials being global citizens. Meanwhile the powerful in our world are hoarding and secreting cash left, right and centre!

Really, what is wrong with rightwing media like Fox and Breitbart who cast this empowered and beautiful move by students as a “levy” and a sneaky, “mandatory” subversive maneuver? What are right-wingers so fearful of? What whinging, narrow-focus on the world do you grip when youth solidarity bothers you but bloody-minded racism you let pass? What small world does one inhabit, if youngsters’ kindness to one another is cause for contempt?

Hurrah, kudos and all the very best to the students at Prescott College. Don’t listen to the haters and don’t let them distract you from the love you bear, the values you hold and the structural tweaks you make in the cause of social justice.

More at Mic and Phoenix Times.

 

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This is mind-boggling. But perhaps not surprising. It’s another very large leap in AI/robotics/super-computing.

At Google, Tobias Weyand and his team have trained a deep-learning machine to work out the location of almost any photo using only the photo; only the pixels it contains.

They fed the neural network–which they’ve named PlaNet–126 million images along with their accompanying Exif location data. Based upon that info, when fed a new image, PlaNet analyses visual clues (buildings, topography, vegetation, weather, etc) to determine the most probable location.

“PlaNet is able to localize 3.6% of the images at street-level accuracy and 10.1% at city-level accuracy,” say Weyand and co. What’s more, the machine determines the country of origin in a further 28.4% of the photos and the continent in 48% of them.

So that’s 3 in every 100 PlaNet puts right at the front door. 1 in 10, it knows the city, and in over a quarter the neural network correctly identifies the country. Impressive.

What’s the future looking like? For the first time, I’m really fretting over the strength of the global human community to make the right–and ever-recurring–decisions on the ethics and control of AI. After a computer beat the world’s best Go player this month, the making of AlphaGo (another Google project) warned against hasty application of AI technologies. Stephen Hawking has been erring caution for decades. AI is still is a long way from applying learning from one system to another so we needn’t worry about self-driving cars learning to control markets or journalism robots changing careers and taking the reigns of power.

But who’s to say that in a few decades, you won’t be able to connect the automated detection of news events in, say, social media, to trigger the dispatch of drones pre-programmed to make photos (behind police tape/above breaking stories/inside toxic environs)? Then the images are sent images to the systems of robot journalists which in turn publish a story in a template. Possible? Maybe. Fine-tune the identifying capacity of PlaNet and you’ve accurate captioning info enough to furnish a news agency … and dispose of the photojournalist!?!

Such a scenario would take care of breaking news, but I’ll still wager on humans, not robots, to fashion the long-form documentary projects. Hell, by then, documentary photography stories might be one of the few things left connecting us!

Thanks Robert Gumpert for the tip off

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Benedict Fernandez, Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., Central Park, New York, 1968. Courtesy Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

UPDATE: I guess the essay was that good, Aperture had second thoughts about sharing it online? It was deleted from the web a couple of days after publication. You can read a cached version here.

Sarah Lewis, an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African American Studies at Harvard University, has a lot of exhilarating thoughts about the roles images play and why they are so important to a justice-inclined society. More exciting for me is the argument she makes about we, as consuming citizens, having to educate ourselves, and to read images. In essence, we must leverage images to our democratic and just ends while rejecting the image-messaging of nefarious sources.

The essay “Vision & Justice” that Lewis penned as intro to the May 2016 Aperture magazine (of the same title) is a call to action, but one that demands buy-in and effort. It’s the opposite of abandoning media because we presume it’s controlled by corporate and state forces. It’s an essay that falls within the pedagogy of activism. Love it. Here’s a snippet:

“Understanding the relationship of race and the quest for full citizenship in this country requires an advanced state of visual literacy, particularly during periods of turmoil. Today, we’ve been able to witness injustices in a firsthand way on a massive scale that would have been unimaginable decades ago. We have had to ask ourselves questions that call upon powers of visual analysis to read, for example, the image of Eric Garner’s killing, virally disseminated through social media, or to understand the symbolism in Dylann Roof’s self-styled portraiture before his killing of the Emanuel 9 in Charleston. Being an engaged citizen requires grappling with pictures, and knowing their historical context with, at times, near art-historical precision. Yet it is the artist who knows what images need to be seen to affect change and alter history, to shine a spotlight in ways that will result in sustained attention. The enduring focus that comes from the power of the images presented in these pages—from artists such as Ava DuVernay and Bradford Young, Deborah Willis and Jamel Shabazz, to Lorna Simpson and LaToya Ruby Frazier—move us from merely seeing to holding a penetrating gaze long enough that we consider what is before us anew.”

And this:

“It was an abolitionist print, not logical argument, which dealt the final blow to the legalization of the slave trade—the broadside Description of a Slave Ship (1789). The London print of the British slave ship Brookes showed the dehumanizing statistical visualization with graphic precision—how the legally permitted 454 men, women, and children might be accommodated by treating humans as more base than commodities (though the ship Brookes carried many more, up to 740). The image it conjured in the mind was intolerable enough to help abolish the institution; the broadside served in parliamentary hearings as the evidentiary proof of slavery’s inhumanity.”

Sarah Lewis is the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery (2014).

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