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Damon Winter emailed me this week to let me know he’s been tinkering with his website. Since we spoke last [here and here] about his ‘Angola Prison Rodeo’ series, he’s revisited and re-edited.

http://www.damonwinter.com/ > STORIES2 > 5 > ANGOLA PRISON RODEO

The image above is new and one of Damon’s preferred images.

Also since then, Winter covered Haiti. It was his first work in a disaster area. This week, Winter’s Afghanistan i-Phone images hit the front page of the New York Times – Between Firefights, Jokes, Sweat and Tedium (James Dao, November 21, 2010)

On those i-Phone Hipstamatic App shots … three things.
1) David Guttenfelder did the same thing earlier this year with a Polaroid App.
2) The simple i-Phone angle is not a story. Judging by the cursory Lens Blog entry, I think James Estrin and Winter might have known this.
3) I’ll pass on the i-Phone photos. Mainly because these have got a stupid amount of attention; attention that should be going to Winter’s videography and incredible number of stories in his short time in Afghanistan.

Damon, I still love your portraits and I still dig your work!

ELSEWHERES

I’d also like to recommend my interview with Winter (for Too Much Chocolate) about his career trajectory.

Two photographers featured in the awards at Visa pour l’Image Perpignan for their work in Haiti. One of them photographed the aftermath of Fabienne Cherisma’s shooting.

DAMON

From Lens Blog:

Damon Winter, a New York Times staff photographer, won the Visa d’Or news award for his photographs of Haiti. “Prayers in the Dark,” Jan. 15, 2010; “Where Is the Help?” Jan. 17, 2010; “Prison Break,” Jan. 19, 2010; and “Vignettes,” Feb. 3, 2010.”

Church Service, Haiti. © Damon Winter/The New York Times

Damon deserves the award. He succeeded where almost all other photojournalists failed and that was to dispatch thoughtful, emotionally affected work. He avoided some, not all, but some of the tropes of disaster photography.

Whether it was his or the New York Times’ decision to get him on the phone I don’t know, but the mix of audio and images was heartfelt. Michele McNally, director of photography at the Times backs this up.

Damon’s coverage of the broken Haiti prison was a story I followed (here, here and here). I interviewed Damon last year and I am sure he’ll take the honor with all the humility it demands.

Damon Winter was not witness to Fabienne’s death or its aftermath.

FABIENNE & FREDERIC

As many of you may know, I spent a lot of time looking at one particular incident in Haiti – the death of Fabienne Cherisma and the photographic activity about it.

Fabienne’s Father, Osama, and Fabienne’s sister mourn over the dead body of Fabienne Cherisma. Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 19th, 2010

Frederic Sautereau, who was one of the last of the fifteen photographers I identified at Fabienne’s side.

Sautereau won the Visa d’Or daily press award for his work in Gaza for the French newspaper La Croix. He was also nominated this year for the Visa d’Or news award for his photos of Haiti after the earthquake.

In his Haiti portfolio, Sautereau has 7 or 8 images from around the time of Fabienne’s death. I am quite ambivalent about the work. Some of the images are as bloody as the ones I’ve chosen not to show previously on this blog.

ME

I must be wary of solipsism here. This isn’t about me. I want to convince you it shouldn’t be about Winter or Sautereau either. I want to bend your arm behind your back and tell you its all about Fabienne.

But, really, don’t I only care because I noted the story in January? And, despite all my efforts, I feel like I explained the circumstances of her death without actually improving her lot (in terms of justice) nor the lot of her family (in terms of healing or moving on or however you might measure that).

I guess I would just like to have handed out hard-copies of my inquiry and a CD of images to the Perpignan judges so that at least the possibility for remembrance could have carried with the awards.

© Damon Winter / New York Times

In November, I interviewed Damon Winter for Too Much Chocolate. He is calm, modest and (quite frankly) not the best interviewee because he still feels he is too young in the career to make bold statements … you know the sound-bites from photojournalists we all crave … the ones about adventure or celebrity subjects.

His skills were proven when he raked in the Pulitzer for A Vision Of History his coverage of Obama (it was his first time covering a political campaign!)

Damon attested to the fact he has always learnt on the job. He did not train formally as photojournalist per se; he studied environmental science at college. He even admits that since his job is so time-consuming he feels somewhat detached from the talk and over-talk (my term) within the industry.

To cut a long intro short, I have a lot of respect for Damon.

Damon’s visit to Haiti has been his first coverage of a disaster area. His dispatches have been well received; most likely because he has put sensitive words (here and here) out there as well as his photographs.

I posted earlier this week about the unknowns surrounding the escape of the entire Haiti National Penitentiary population. Damon has since visited the prison for the New York Times and the NYT continues the reflections on these unknowns:

Who were the [prisoners]? Were they among the machete-wielding pillagers who made their way along the Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Saturday afternoon? (The account in The Times, “Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down,” said no one could answer with certainty.) Did their numbers include political prisoners? In “Disaster Imperialism in Haiti” on MRZine, a Socialist Web site, Shirley Pate wrote: “Who knows how many of the dead or escaped prisoners there were those who were incarcerated without cause over the course of the two years that followed Aristide’s departure?”

Damon Winter’s photographs answer none of these questions. They don’t mean to. But they do begin to paint a picture of life inside a Haitian prison; a picture that few people have ever seen before.

(My bolding)

SEE DAMON’S DISPATCH

© Damon Winter

Too Much Chocolate

When Jake Stangel put out a call to interview Damon Winter for Too Much Chocolate I didn’t hesitate. How often do you get to bend the ear of a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer?

Jake assured me that Damon was – is – “a super-nice guy” as well. I might argue that Damon is too nice; he carried, without complaint, a sinus-busting cold to deliver the interview.

Damon and I spoke about his assignments in Dallas, L.A. and New York, the Obama campaign coverage, making portraits, Dan Winters, Irving Penn and Bruce Gilden. Read the full interview here.

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Angola Rodeo

Not without my own agenda, I also asked Damon about his experience down at the Angola Prison Rodeo:

PP: Why were you there?

DW: I had gone out for two trips. It was when I worked at the Dallas Morning News. The way I pitched it was that the prison was expanding the program to launch a spring rodeo. I wanted any excuse I could get to go down there and photograph. It sounded absolutely incredible.

DW: And the paper ended up not being that interested. They may have run a small little blurb about it, but I did it for my own interest. It was fascinating – a completely wild situation. Most of these guys came from the cities. Some had never even seen a cow let alone roped a horse.

© Damon Winter

PP: Describe the atmosphere.

DW: The closest thing to modern day gladiators – something you’d see in a Roman Coliseum. The crowd is chanting for blood, they want to see a violent spectacle where prison inmates are the subjects. It’s the same reason people go to see a horror movie or stare at a wreck on the highway. It is a very strange situation but they want to see blood.

PP: Do you think it helpful to the local community?

DW: There is no interaction between public and inmates. The public is there to observe and the inmates are there to entertain. The benefit the inmates gain is at a level very specific to their situation. They risk injury being in the ring with massive bulls, and their prize is something I think anyone in the free world would laugh at, you know? Maybe a couple hundred bucks. But it is substantial in their environment.

It speaks to the bleak situation that those guys are in that this would be enticing – to risk bodily harm for a couple of hundred dollars.

I don’t know how constructive it is for relations between prison and non-prison populations.

PP: Which is unusual because in any other state across the country, there is no interaction between the public and the incarcerated population.

DW: What’s your feeling?

PP: I think it builds a division at a local level, but it also feeds a national view that excludes the realities of prisons. The inmates are put out there to be observed, photographed and consumed. Such a presentation is not unpalatable to the American public. To the contrary, the public feels as though it gains from it. I think here unexamined (and abusive) interactions can be confused with relationships.

I think the wasteful and very boring reality of prisons in America is not going to make it into newspapers or media, but the rodeo does. It skews perception. I think the rodeo is problematic.

DW: I felt the event was dehumanizing. It was done in a manner so that the inmates are reduced to the level of the beasts they are competing against. It seems the field has been leveled between animals and inmates and the feeling that you get from that is that they themselves are like animals. They are not seen terribly differently from the way that the animals are seen.

PP: I am not sure that that sort of spectacle would take place outside of Louisiana, certainly outside the South. Granted, Angola’s warden Burl Cain jumps at the chance to get the cameras in at any opportunity.

DW: Yes, I saw The Farm, a documentary filmed at Angola.

PP: I think Cain’s administration paired with the history of the event creates a spectacle at the rodeo that goes unexamined.

PP: Cameras are common at Angola; documentary shorts on the football team and photo essays on the hospice. It is a complex that has 92% of its population.

DW: You should look at Mona Reeder’s work. She works at the Dallas Morning News. I think it was called The Bottom Line and she turned the stats into photo essays and one of the stats was the number of prisoners in juvenile facilities. She got some pretty good access. She received a R.F. Kennedy Award.

PP: I certainly will. Thanks Damon.

DW: Thank you.

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Below are three of Damon’s photographs from Afghanistan which stopped me in my tracks. Unfortunately, I discovered them after the interview so didn’t get Damon’s take on them.

Winter1

The images of the boys really affected me. We see so many images of bearded men, U.S. Marines in the dirt, explosions, women in burqas, etc, but it is the children of Afghanistan who will carry the violent legacy for the longest. What pictures reflect that fact?

It is an impossible task of any image to near ‘truth’ or reality, but these two pictures get very close to the sad reality of conflict and the impressionability of youth.

Winter2

Winter15

1

The blogo-photo-sphere has been spinning the past couple of days with the 2009 Pulitzer Prize announcements. Damon Winter took one gong for “his memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.” (Featured Photography). Patrick Farrell secured the other with his “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” (Breaking News Story)

Winter’s images are eye-catching, but to be honest I am suffering from ‘Obama-fatigue’. So saturated were we with so many high-quality images of the new 44th President, I now look for different material. A quick shufties through Winters website revealed all. His portraits of sports stars show a precocious willing to improvise with technique and composition. Winter has a seriously sentimental side also epitomised by his portraits of American Olympians from the 1984 Los Angeles games.

I guess, my hope is that he doesn’t become known as ‘that guy that did Obama’ … which is why I am more interested in his Angola Prison Rodeo photojournalism.

4

The rodeo featuring the prisoners of Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, is an old – even traditional – event in the Louisiana calendar. Damon Winter is one of many photographers that have covered the community event. It is a raucous spectacle that brings together populations in and outside of the prison.

I still cannot reconcile this event my existing ethics which this event. There’s a charge that the rodeo is exploitative entertainment for which prisoners can suffer serious injury. Yet, I have not witnessed the rodeo-weekend first hand and I have read in the past that this is an event that provides long-term focus and short-term adulation for the prisoner-competitors. All I want to do is bring Winter’s photographs to your attention and hope they’ll compete with Obama for your attentions!

3

Winter’s pictures capture the strong forces and consequent risks of rodeo competition. I deliberately picked his colour images. The black & white stripes of inmates harry within Winter’s ‘red, white and blue’ palette. The star-spangled palette imbues the series with patriotism, pomp and faux-purpose. I almost feel we are subliminally less inclined to question Angola’s unique display of pseudo-gladiatorial entertainment when the games are suffused with hues of the American flag.

2

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View Damon Winter’s Obama campaign coverage for the New York Times, and listen to an audio interview with Winter about his experiences. Winter and PDN did an interview in 2008.

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