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I’m away from the computer so I write long hand. My energies each day dictate how straight I can get my thoughts. I’m just trying to pin down honest observations of the Pacific Crest Trail. Outside Online is publishing the dispatches fortnightly.
I’m one month in and at Mile 454 in Agua Dulce, California. Just 2,196 to the Canadian border.
As well as writing on real paper, I’m drawing on real paper too (see above). About one sketch a day. You can follow my daily progress on my Instah: @petebrook. It’s surprising how much of this National Scenic Trail–this wilderness–is covered by cellphone service.
From a borrowed computer, Pete.
Maria Maldonado cries hugging Ethan Arbelo, 12, as he transitions into death on July, 3, 2014, in Lehigh Acres, Fla. “In those last minutes when you know your son is taking those last breaths, all you’re doing is praying for death for you too because you can’t imagine life without your baby,” Maria said.
IMAGES MADE IN THE SPIRIT OF THE SUBJECT
I was recently asked by EyeEm to select a neat piece of storytelling I’d seen in the past year or so. I thought back to Dania Maxwell‘s piece Little Man.
Here’s what I wrote.
One story from the last year that really caught my eye was Dania Maxwell’s Little Man, the story of Ethan Arbelo, who was ten when doctors diagnosed him with terminal brain cancer. This is the story of Ethan’s journey from boy to young man and his pursuit of happiness along the way.
Stories, particularly extended news stories or human interests profiles of individuals with terminal diagnoses are relatively common, but here Maxwell found in Arbelo a subject that really took the message, the impact and the emotion of the work to a new level.
Reggie Iacono, right, helps Ethan Arbelo, 12, choose a poster for his bedroom while out for a boys’ day on February 21, 2014 in Fort Myers, Fla. Reggie, the son of one of Maria’s friends, moved in with Maria and Ethan in January to act as Ethan’s caregiver for a few months while Maria was back at work.
Arbelo was between childhood and adulthood and so his bucket list was a hotchpotch of things — some very predictable and others very surprising. For example, the photo of the woman kissing him as an 11-year-old is seriously dicey, but then you must remember that the things we see in the photos are things Ethan had discussed with his mother beforehand. Some dying wishes could be attained and others not.
Ethan Arbelo, 11, kisses Ashley Schroeder at a mud park named, The Redneck Yacht Club on May 25, 2013, in Punta Gorda, Fla. Ethan’s mom took him to the mud park as a compromise after Ethan had asked for a stripper for his 12th birthday. It was the first time Ethan had kissed a girl. “It felt like ice cream melting on my tongue,” he said.
Furthermore, over the course of the images we see the changes in Ethan’s body; we witness his death in pictures. But in each frame his personality bursts through. The story in each frame trumps the desperate circumstances Ethan is in. In that sense, Maxwell has achieved what all good photography should attempt to do — to really capture the subject’s spirit. Maxwell does this without trivializing, or patronizing, or sugarcoating.
The images are made in the spirit that Ethan wanted to live out his life; they’re optimistic and try to hone in on the common optimism we all surely have.
Two days after Ethan Arbelo died, Maria Maldonado receives a tattoo of a drawing Ethan made with their initials just before losing movement in his hands, at Ink Cafe on July 5, 2014, in Cape Coral, Fla. “This way he is always with me,” Maria said.
WHAT DOES “STORYTELLING” MEAN?
I think our future will be better if we start to agree as a community what storytelling is. It seems now that the term storytelling is a descriptor for everything. The term has been diluted. Are casual Instagrammers storytellers? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Is Humans Of New York storytelling? Yes, but the captions do the telling and the photos are not needed. Are selfies storytelling? What about still portraits? Storytelling has become a synonym of too many things to the point I don’t know if we’re all on the same page. For me, this is to storytellers’ and audiences’ detriment.
I’d like to see more long term projects and deep reporting and less throw away image making. I’d prefer one year long well-researched story than 3 or 4 in a year. I want to see huge silences on photographers’ social media, because then I know (I hope?!) they’re away reporting. Let’s make images to make stories visible, not just to feed the channels and try to stay visible ourselves.
ALSO, THE GIF
I think the GIF, and to a degree the looped video have huge untapped potential for telling stories in a clever way. Brandon Tauszik’s Tapered Throne is the best example I’ve seen of GIFs being used for documentary purposes but there’s all sorts of applications. Get over cat GIFs and memes and there’s a lot to be made, told and discovered.
Taylor Glascock’s feature of Little Man on Vantage: Dying Couldn’t Stop Ethan From Living.
Read the selections of four other photo editors much more expert than I: 5 Leading Photo Editors on the Most Powerful Storytelling Today
Taj Mahal and train in Agra, 1983. Credit Steve McCurry
I had a disagreement with a friend last week about whether Teju Cole writes well about photography. I think he does. My friend thinks he’s a very talented writer and critic but much prefers Cole’s books above his criticism. We agreed to disagree and left it at that.
I don’t know what the final verdict on Cole will be, but I sure did enjoy his skewering of Steve McCurry and Coldplay—bland, bland men—in a single article. For me, it only strengthens the argument that he’s a good writer on photography.
In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiarity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.
[McCurry’s] photographs in “India,” all taken in the last 40 years, are popular in part because they evoke an earlier time in Indian history, as well as old ideas of what photographs of Indians should look like, what the accouterments of their lives should be: umbrellas, looms, sewing machines; not laptops, wireless printers, escalators.
The song [Hymn for the Weekend] is typical Coldplay, written for vague uplift but resistant to sense (“You said, ‘Drink from me, drink from me’/When I was so thirsty/Poured on a symphony/Now I just can’t get enough”). […] The video is a kind of exotification bingo, and almost like a live-action version of Steve McCurry’s vision: peacocks, holy men, painted children, incense. Almost nothing in the video allows true contemporaneity to Indians. They seem to have been placed there as a colorful backdrop to the fantasies of Western visitors.
It’s not so much the point that McCurry is old-hat, but that the point is made with so much panache. If I’d written such luscious take downs, I’d cart myself into retirement, all happy-like. Good stuff.
Cole, however, has other ideas. He’s not opposed to outsiders taking photos of India. He points out that Mary Ellen Mark made telling portraits of prostitutes in Mumbai which presented, with a new sensibility and focus, an ignored community.
Kemps Corner, Mumbai, 1989. Credit Succession Raghubir Singh
Ultimately, the article is a celebration of Raghubir Singh, who is the best example of an Indian photographing India. The article is Cole’s call for us to (permanently?) redirect (all?) our energies from the photographs of McCurry and those of every fetishizing (white) (usually male) photographer who has mimicked McCurry, toward the photography of practitioners such as Singh and other cracking Indian photographers. Cole names them: Ketaki Sheth, Sooni Taraporevala, Raghu Rai and Richard and Pablo Bartholomew.
I mean, really, in a world replete with images made by folks in every corner of the globe, is there any defense for the space taken up by McCurry?
“Being calm in pink and blue will deliver us from evil. Carefully-selected colour swatches, if only some paint-God would reveal itself, are the antidote to war, global warming and bigotry.”
Last week, I went all Beautiful Mind on the Pantone Colour of the Year announcement, specifically its 55-second video accompanying the announcement. Here’s my rant.
I put together a play-by-play of the vid. It was excruciating work. But the world needed to know.
Read the full piece: The Pantone Color of the Year is a Big Steaming Pile of Turd.
According to the Indianapolis Art Center, teens in the jail were repeatedly being caught with—canvases made of pillowcases, paints made of candies, and a host of other DIY art supplies. All these were technically contraband. But they were also a glaring pointer to the fact that young minds want to remain engaged and creative.
“These juveniles were trying to find a positive outlet in a very hard situation,” says IAC.
Making a bad situation less bad, IAC and the Sheriff’s Office created the Insider Art program.
“We know that art can be a peaceful outlet for self-expression, a tool to channel frustrations, and an opportunity to reflect on new pathways.”
In weekly studio art classes, children considered themselves within the three concepts: I Am, I Create, and We Connect.
Insider Art has just completed its first summer of instruction within the jail. There’s a show of the children’s work opening at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E 67th St, Indianapolis, Indiana 46220. Friday 23rd, from 6pm-8pm.
Support Insider Art with a donation HERE.
Tonight between, 8-9pm ET (that’s 5-6pm PST), I’ll be part of a VICE News Skype Group Chat about prisons.
Me and a bunch of others will be discussing education, law, some policy and inequality — all the stuff that has shaped a broken prison system.
I’ve been told “a Skype Group Chat is a virtual, text-based discussion falling somewhere on the spectrum between chatroom and Reddit AMA.”
It’s part of VICE’s ongoing, month-long focus on prison in the U.S.
“On September 27th, VICE on HBO aired a special report entitled Fixing The System which investigated mass incarceration in America, and the mounting civil rights crisis surrounding our prison population. Set against the backdrop of President Obama’s historic visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, VICE co-founder Shane Smith spoke with inmates, as well as community reformers, and members of the judiciary about the structural failings of our criminal justice system and the challenges that lie ahead for those who aim to fix them.” says VICE.
That spirit of fixing things continues here. Although we’ll see if “fixing” is the right approach. How about disassembling?
The chat will be moderated by members of the VICE News and team, including the producers of Fixing the System BJ Levin, Alex Chitty, Jana Kozlowski, and Matt Horowitz.
Might you tune in?
Boreal Bash 2015 kicks off on Friday is to include “photographers working around the world who will discuss some of their most personal projects and the process they have gone through to conceive of and produce their work.” The event is focusing on photography collectives, members’ “perspectives on working collectively toward a more cooperative future in our community.”
On Saturday, I’ll be moderating a discussion with members of Boreal Collective, guest collectives MJR and Prime, and Dustin Drankowski fromMashable.com. Below is the full roster of speakers.
All talks will be at Tranzac Club, at 292 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto.
Mauricio Palos (6pm): Boreal Collective’s Palos will open our Bash speakers series with a memorial for Ruben Espinosa, featuring his photographs, and then will share some of his own work from Mexico.
Émilie Régnier (6:55pm): Emilie Regenier, a Montreal-born photographer, will discuss the evolution of her work on identity in African communities.
Panel (7:55pm): Writer and curator Pete Brook will moderate a discussion about collectivism, cooperation and community in the photo industry with Mashable.com’s Photo Director Dustin Drankowski, members of Boreal Collective, Medium.com’s Photo Editor Noah Rabinowitz from MJR and Lance Rosenfield from Prime Collective.
Dominic Nahr (5pm): Nahr will present his work from Fukushima, Japan and discuss why he is continuing to follow the story even when he is not on assignment.
Brendan Hoffman (5:45pm): Prime Collective’s Brendan Hoffman, an American photographer based in Kiev, will present his work from Ukraine, where he has been covering the unfolding events for more than a year.
Brandon Thibodeaux (Sunday, 6:35pm): Brandon Thibodeaux from MJR will discuss his long term projects from his home in the American South.
Matt Lutton (Sunday, 7:25pm): Lutton, a Boreal Collective photographer who was based in Belgrade, Serbia for more than six years, will present his projects from The Balkans and his experiences as a foreign correspondent.
For speaker bios and more information on the Boreal Bash, click here.
Image: Uros Popovic lights his cigarette from the embers of a Christmas Eve bonfire near Velika Hoca, Kosovo. January 2011. © Matt Lutton.