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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.

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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 thingssome 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.

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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 doto 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.

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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.

FURTHER READS

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

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© Kate Peters

Here we are at the end of the first week of 2016. How’s it going so far? I spent the holidays lying in, reading stuff and watching my team Liverpool at silly hours of the morning. When at my desk, I was putting together a series of year end proclamations for Vantage.

It was a marathon, and by marathon I mean a six-parter. Still, that was more than 10,000 words and scores of images.

Part 1: The Best Nature Photos of 2015

Part 2: The Best Photobooks of 2015

Part 3: The Best San Francisco Street Photographer of 2015

Part 4: The Best Portraiture of 2015

Part 5: The Best GIFs of 2015

Part 6: The Best Photography Exhibition of 2015

Are these actually the best of the year? Are these the most watertight objective statements? Of course not, and I admit as much in the pieces. What they are though is my strongest arguments as to why these projects and ideas are more relevant, caring (even), fruitful and connecting.

Put your feet up. Have a glance.

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© Alan Powdrill
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© Troy Holden
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© Suzanne Opton
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© Thomas Roma
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© Vicente Paredes
Book cover of Vicente Paredes’ Pony Congo
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© Brandon Tauszik
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© Sara Terry + Mariam X
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© Troy Holden

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Brandon Tauszik moved to Oakland from San Diego three years ago. He’s got a day job. Some of his images are a little raw — check his Instagram feed @BE_DIZZLE. Tauszik was for a while assistant to the legendary Jim Goldberg. He’s also a big fan of TBW Books the small publisher just down the road run by Paul Schiek. I haven’t asked Tauszik but I reckon he’s probably a fan of the Hamburger Eyes folks too.

Tauszik is making the Bay Area his home and the aesthetic of his work makes obvious sense amid the prevalent scratched-up, banged-up, gritty, kids-street-realism typical of California. Less obvious though are the motives, goals and choices within Tauszik’s latest body of work White Wax

White Wax is a year-long visual document of memorials to homicide victims on the streets of Oakland. Tauszik says in his artist statement that his photos are to serve as a medium for self-examination. He thinks America is in the middle of a collective re-examination of its criminal justice policy, gun culture and post-racial credo.

White Wax is also,I suspect, a means by which Tauszik can remain connected to the place he lives. Unfortunately, for most people, murders are pretty easy to ignore; they just have to stay off the wrong streets. Some Oaklanders don’t have that luxury though.

“Why has the ecology of the American inner city long enabled it’s own self-destruction?” asks Tauszik. “Is it possible to shift our tired narrative of another young black man memorialized with white wax?”

SCROLL DOWN FOR OUR Q&A

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Q&A

Prison Photography (PP):  Why take on this project?

Brandon Tauszik (BT): Oakland is a violent city, but America is a violent country. Its inner cities particularly so. There is already a great deal of photography approaching this subject with a kind of coarse imagery. We’ve all seen it over and over. I asked myself, ‘How can I photograph gun violence without showing any guns? How can I create an emotional project without showing victims or mourners? How can I approach a politically charged subject, yet leave cops and politicians out of it?’ I hope that with these images I am able to communicate something beyond just melted wax on the sidewalk.

PP:  I used to live in San Francisco and there was a bizarre media obsession about the annual homicide rate, as if people were waiting for it to meet or surpass the previous year’s figure. Oakland was always the depressing counterpoint to SF figures as it suffered 2 to 3 times the number of murders. Briefly, can you describe your experience of information, conversation, attitudes about murder? Surely, beyond figures there’s talk of interventions and solutions? Basically, what should Oaklanders do?

BT: That’s a loaded question! There is a lot of social inequality in the Bay Area and particularly here in Oakland. Having been largely de-industrialized over the past few decades, Oakland is currently in the midst of a strong wave of gentrification. Despite this new influx of higher income residents, the crime rate has barely shifted in the past decade. It’s currently the most dangerous city on the west coast and has the highest robbery rate in the whole country. People blame this on the understaffed police department, the economy, the gangs, the guns, whatever.

It’s uncomfortable to address, but ultimately this isn’t about “What should Oakland do?” but instead “What should America do?” In New York City, Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles (the list goes on and on) young men of color kill and are killed more than any other demographic. We’ve ignored violence in our country because the victims don’t look like us. As one African American mother told me at a memorial, “We have been living a daily Sandy Hook and it’s time for the nation to know.”

There are some very strong local organizations (SAVEKhadafy FoundationRJOY) that do amazingly important work, but ultimately this is about a flawed national mindset in regards to prisons, guns and race relations.

SCROLL DOWN TO CONTINUE Q&A

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PP:  Is White Wax a memorial? A study of vernacular action? Other? Both?

BT: It’s more a study in the unique and visually distinct way that my neighbors mourn the loss of their loved ones. Or in your words, a study of vernacular action.

PP:  Was it important to commit to this for one year?

BT: Every big city has their yearly homicide count which is obsessed over and analyzed as strictly data. I wanted to see what that data would look like in context of the shrines, which are a direct result of that count.

PP:  White Wax images are taken at night. Was this a deliberate choice? If so, why?

BT: I wanted to capture these scenes as naturalistically as possible. The majority of these murders take place under the cover of darkness, so while this makes my work more difficult and dangerous, nighttime is one of the threads I use to tie the images together.

PP: I know you use Shine In Peace, Google Alerts and word of mouth to discover homicides. Do you fear White Wax has omitted some homicides just as the local news often misses/overlooks these murders? If you have missed some what does that mean?

BT: I’ve definitely missed some, due to a few reasons:

1. These memorials are, by nature, ephemeral and are displayed for anywhere from one day to many weeks. Sometimes I find a site I’ve missed where there are still traces of wax, but the shrine has been removed.

2. The given victim’s family and friends sometimes don’t erect a shrine. If the murder took place in a particular neighborhood where the victim was not welcome, that will usually apply to the victim’s family and acquaintances as well.

3. Many of these murders get little to no media exposure. For example, here is an example of a web-only murder story from last year. I rely on Oakland’s news outlets to report on (or at least tweet on) each murder. However there is low motivation to do so due to the very limited readership on these stories.

There are usually a few murders a week here, so unfortunately it can be hard for me to keep up.

SCROLL DOWN TO CONTINUE Q&A

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PP:  What about captions? Is there a need (from you or audience) to include information about the homicide?

BT: I have the name/age/race/sex/location information for most of these murders. However, captions have a didactic manner of reducing a photograph down to data and information, which is what I am trying to avoid. A recent study showed that Americans assume black people feel less pain than white people. This is deeply frightening. I want the viewer to ponder these images and wonder, ‘Was this person someone who looked like me?’

PP: What’s been the reaction from folks in Oakland to White Wax?

BT: I have been sitting on this project until very recently. I wanted to give it time to fill in and for the thesis to take shape. The local people I’ve showed it to so far seem to think it’s strong and thoughtful. I would love to arrange an exhibition towards the end of the year in Oakland.

PP: Which photographers are working in ways that you admire and value?

BT: When I first moved to the Bay Area, I assisted Jim Goldberg for a while. That was a pivotal time for me which pulled me away from strict photojournalism toward longer, in-depth projects. Lately though I’ve been into Harry GriffinYoshi Kametani, and Viviane Sassen.

PP:  What’s the purpose of photography? What should we be trying to do?

BT: We have ears to hear, but also eyes to see. The spoken word can only accomplish so much. You can sometimes say so much without using your mouth … a gesture, a glance.

For me, photography acts as a medium to illuminate ideas and questions on all aspects life.

END

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Biography

Brandon Tauszik is a photographer and filmmaker based in Oakland, California. He creates visual media at Sprinkle Lab while pursuing personal photography projects.

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EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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