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© Ruddy Roye

PDX Design Week wrapped up last weekend. Before I moved out of the city, I was asked to do a guest post for the PDXDW blog. I don’t know much about design, so I wrote about photographers that are making good use of emerging technologies or commenting on our brave new world dominated by emerging and automated technologies.

Thanks to Taryn Cowart for her assistance getting it published.

With some line-editing, I crosspost the listicle below.



Good photography is good vibes. Often, even bad photography is good vibes. The world needs Seflies, SnapChat cheekiness, cat GIFs, and Doge bombs. However, sometimes, we have to search out the good stuff. We need to look around and ask what’s at stake. Frankly, there’s not a lot resting on your cellphone pictures — they’re not changing the world. When the technologies and file formats with which they were made are obsolete, no-one will care if your phone snaps are lost forever. Least of all you?

When we talk about art, journalism and photography we should be able to single projects out and to define worth. Some creative endeavors are world-changing. I want to give a nod to photographers and artists working with images who inform us about the world and some of its urgent issues. As users and consumers, I want to believe we can leverage rapid publishing and sharing for political and social improvement.


Ruddy Roye was the first photographer to really stake his style on the meaningful caption. He ditched the hashtags and asked real people some real questions. Based in New York most of his portraits are of people in his neighborhood and jollies around the Big Apple. His feed drips with humanity and reveals stories you couldn’t imagine. This is the REAL Humans OF New York! Also, I like to credit Roye for landing the fatal blow to the snarky #TLDR hashtag.


© EverydayAfrica


Peter DiCampo and fellow journalist Austin Merrill (both white American) set up the Everyday Africa after years of reporting from the continent and witnessing nothing but sensational and scary images of war, tragedy and the like. What about the normal everyday stuff? In an attempt to make the most of boring daily things, DiCampo and a wide cadre of collaborator quickly put together a simple, illuminating, sometimes colorful, and intimate Instagram feed. It’s political but not difficult. Okay, so it’s a free-for-all that promotes aesthetically ordinary pictures, but I’ll take neoliberal relativism over neocolonialist manipulation every day of the week.

EverydayAfrica spurned dozens of loose collective of photographers who set up EverydayMiddleEast, EverydayAsia, EverydayIran and even EverydayBronx. Instagram sponsored an Everyday “Summit” at the 2014 Photoville Festival and ponied up cash to fly in contributors from all corners of the globe. These guys are much better IG-movement than the creepy Christians making VSCO lifestyle shots to pair with their #blessed affirmations and bible quotes.

Watch out though: EverydayUSA has some of the best photojournalists under it’s belt. Photo-industry-folk reckon EverydayUSA will soon eclipse all the other accounts, at which point the whole Everyday movement may have announced its death. Get on this young movement while it’s still fresh and focused on countries other than the one you live in.


© Mishka Henner


If there’s a controversial topic Mishka Henner hasn’t produced a body of work on, he’s probably in his studio, right now, making it. From censorship, to prostitution in the Mediterranean, from military bases to big-ag food production, from war to big oil, Henner doesn’t shy away from tough topics. His skill is to do so without really leaving his studio. Henner is one of the cleverest, canniest and hardest working artists dealing with Google and the machine age of image-making.

He winds people up with his methods that are anathema to photo-purists but what else is there to do with available imagery if not to capture, ‘shop and frame it in political terms. Google is the all seeing eye that doesn’t care.


© Tomas Van Houtryve


The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates American operated drones have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians. That’s a whole lot of killing.

The program of U.S. airstrikes which began in 2002, but was only publicly acknowledged in 2012 is a remote war driven by a remote technology. Belgian photographer Tomas Van Houtryve decided the best way to grab Americans’ attention to the issue was to show them how drone attacks would appear in America.

There’s no shortage of projects about drones to get us thinking about the issue. John Vigg has his Google surveilled drone research labs and airports; Jamie Bridle traced a drone shadow in Washington D.C. last year and launched Dronestagram to populate social media sites with satellite views of drone strike sites; Trevor Paglen has photographed drones at distance; and Raphaella Dallaporta took a drone to Afghanistan under the guise of an archaeological survey.

Most recently Not A Bug Splat made a splash. Cheeky and powerful the project installed massive portraits of children in regions subject to U.S. drone strikes, with the intent of pricking the conscience of remote U.S. drone operators stationed in Nevada about to bring the hammer of destruction down on that Waziristan village.


Screenshot of Josh Begley’s Prison Map


Data artist Josh Begley specializing in scraping images from publicly available sources. He then creates App and websites to publish the info and produce push notifications you can’t avoid.

For his project Prison Map, Begley took the GPS coordinates of every prison, jail and immigration detention center in America and fed them into a Google Maps API code he had modified. He ran the script and it spat out more than 5,300 satellite images — one for every locked facility in the U.S. The prison population in this country has grown 500% in the past 30 years. One in every one hundred adults is behind bars and most of them are poor people. The recurrent patterns of brutally functional architecture within Prison Map are staggering. We’ve been building prisons in high desert and rural backwaters. Begley makes the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) visible once more.

Likewise, for his project Profiling Is, Begley snagged the NYPD’s surveillance shots of business and residences in the NY boroughs which were under monitoring.

He doesn’t stop there. Begley’s App MetaData alerts users to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This didn’t happen until the conclusion of a merrigoround of negotiation with the “apolitical” Apple. Begley finally got his drone strike App approved when he removed all mention the word drone! Now, you can get next-day updates of Obama’s largely-ignored drone war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen straight to your smartphone.

State Business II

© Mari Bastashevski


Mari Bastashevski skirts a fine line between journalist, artist, researcher, photographer and tourist to dig up the personalities and money makers in the international arms trade. Here’s the feature I did for WIRED a while back. Her ongoing project State Business is devastating inasmuch it reveals how pervasive and complicit most nations are in making billions on the slaughter of humans.The US, the UK, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Georgia; Bastashevski’s following of the money takes us all over the place … sometimes even to the carport on the Facebook pages of international arms dealers.



If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. In 2002, after Hasan Elahi was mistaken for someone on the terror watch list and detained for hours at Detroit airport, he decided he’d save the authorities the bother and monitor himself. Caustic, direct, creepy and amusing, Elahi photographed everything he did, ate, shit, saw and worked on. He also GPS tracked his every move on a live web map. The project is titled Tracking Transcience. One of the by-products of the self-monitoring is the creation of a typology of toilets. Taking sousveillance to another level and entertaining thousands while he does it. Brill.


© MigraZoom. A migrant on a cargo train traveling from Arriaga, Chiapas to Ixtepec, Oaxaca. After crossing the Mexican-Guatemalan border and traveling to Arriaga, migrants hitch a ride on top of cargo trains to Ixtepec. This trip takes about 12 hours. In addition to the risk of falling off the train (amputations and death are common), gangs frequently extort migrants, charging them $100 to ride. They face threats of being thrown off the train, kidnapped, raped or trafficked if they do not pay.


There’s some great fine art projects out there about the U.S./Mexican border. Probably, the stand out is David Taylor’s Working The Line, which documents the militarization of the border. But it can be criticised for being to distant and tends to rest on the creaking aesthetic mores of American landscape photography. If we want to see what is really going on during the tough journey’s into North America, we should pay attention to MigraZoom, a project by Spanish-born photographer Encarni Pindado which puts disposable cameras in the hands of economic migrants during their perilous treks northward.


© David Taylor

Another beautifully shot and more unexpected treatment of new arrivals is Gabriele Stabile’s Refugee Hotel which documents approved asylum seekers’ first nights in America at four hotels adjacent to four hub airports through which new refugee migrants arrive. Respectful documentation that is pregnant with uncertainty.

Taylor’s work is currently on show at the amazing ‘Covert Operations’ at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.


Photographer Hank Willis Thomas is a prolific force. One of his most recent projects Question Bridge is a platform for black males to ask other black males questions about black identity. Participants do so through video and provide answers similarly. Access is easy, involvement free, connections priceless and it works well in exhibition format too. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson is the latest incident to demonstrate to the entire nation our shared need to face racial inequality int he country. Willis Thomas is doing his bit.


© Lindsay Lochman and Barbara Ciurej


With Ag Gag laws becoming ever more common, clever responses to imaging industrial food production must be inventive. Lindsay Lochman & Barbara Ciurej rip on the much-mythologized West and specifically on the hero-worship of Carleton Watkins by constructing sugar-coated and corn-fed diorama reconstruction of Watkins’ landscapes with shitty foodstuffs.

Will Potter ain’t a photographer but he’s putting imagery to good ends. Potter, a TED Fellow, has been reporting on the crack down on environmental activists under homeland security legislation that was designed to tackle terrorist. Instead of chasing bombchuckers, our law enforcement is going after tree huggers. The title of Potter’s book, Green Is The New Red, say its all. Routinely, it has been eco-activists who’ve brought us the shocking footage from inside factory farms. Potter, continuing the tradition of expose, wants to fly drones over feedlots and take advantage of laws being slow to be written. Again, we seeing the convergence of technologies and activist peel back the layers of obscurity purposefully put over our shady business practices in years past.


© Donna Ferrato


The greatest photography work being done to reveal the entrapped, terrorized lives of those victim to domestic violence, is done — perhaps not unsurprisingly by female photographers. Donna Ferrato has trained a lens on the topic for decades. Recently, young gun Sara Naomi Lewkowicz captured similar images to Ferrato as an intimate witness to partner abuse. The parallels were saddening proving that this is a strand of violent psychology we just are not dealing with effectively. To be frank, the issue isn’t being imaged enough; intimate partner abuse remains hidden behind closed doors.

Paula Bronstein was one of the earliest and most direct photographers to document the survivors of acid attacks in Asia. If we’re to mention women’s rights abroad we have to look at the work of Stephanie Sinclair, whose multiyear project Too Young To Wed is pitch perfect. Quiet, weighty, tragic and polychrome portraits of child brides throughout the world. Sinclair’s had help from all the major distributors and grant makers to cast the net of her survey far and wide. The transmedia project is about as good as it gets in terms of audience engagement tactics too.


© Jim Goldberg


It’s difficult to name a stand out photographer who has taken on the wealth gap in a resonant way. It sounds strange to say but maybe cash is difficult to shoot? This apparent lack is consistent with other art forms though. If Occupy taught us one thing, some issues are designed for public performance, demonstration, walking and protest signs. Think of music, for comparison. In the sixties musicians such as Joe Strummer and Nina Simone emerged with brilliant anger toward social injustice. Despite public disgust made visible in anti-Iraq-war protests and Occupy, there’s not a protest song from the 21st century of note. Perhaps music isn’t the format for anger or the wealth gap either?

Don’t worry, I’m not being a pessimist here. Violent dismay certainly exists. I’m just not convinced art is the realm where we see the most direct political action. Gone are the days of the great labor photographers such as Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis. Inequality was laid bare in the photojournalism of the civil rights era (Ernest Cole, Charles Moore, Danny Lyon) and while those reportages were about money and opportunity they weren’t primarily about the markets. Check out the work of Gregory Halpern for your modern day Milton Rogovin.

The most indelible and forthright description of wealth inequality is Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor, which remains the high point and the tone at which aspiring photographers should aim.

Dang, that’s been a lot of men’s names. I think it right to end with LaToya Ruby Frazier’s name then. She, better than anyone currently making work, ties together class, race, income, post-industrial America, public health, personal health, family and environmental hazard with her generational survey of the women in her family and her home town of Braddock, PA, in The Notion OF Family.


© La Toya Ruby Frazier


Sharon at the front door. Simone Lueck

CRITICAL MASS: 593 entrants, over 200 jurors, 181 shortlisted photographers, 50 finalists, 6 contenders, 2 eventual book deals.

For months, the Critical Mass jurors nudge and judge portfolio across the internet casting their opinions by way of prescribed digits – NO (0), YES (1), MEGA-YES (3), WOW (7). It’s numbers-gymnastics.

The 36,000 scores are then thrown into a big statistics cauldron and Shawn Records, one of CM’s organisers informed us back in November that the difference between the “lowest score on the list and the highest one that didn’t make the cut was just 0.01314411684.”

Down at the Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle the scores and calibration tables are forgotten as each of the Top50 winners is represented by a singe print chosen by juror Andy Adams of FlakPhoto.


The Top50 have been online for three months now. The names in the show are likely familiar, but the chosen prints possibly not. In some cases the anointed print on show didn’t satisfactorily deputize for the complete portfolio, and in other cases the strength of a single print was spur for a second glance at a portfolio.

Simone Lueck’s  Sharon at the front door was a stand-out print, as garish and perky as the subject’s make-up. Sharon holds your stare as the direct sunlight degrades her skin by the second. “Let me help you with that door” I urged, worried for the integrity of the l’Oreal face-goop.

Aguardiente shots backstage at the beginning of the Miss Light pageant, Mesitas del Colegio, Colombia. Carl Bower

Women and the politics of appearance featured strongly throughout. Carl Bower’s project Chica Barbie examines the beauty pageant phenomenon of Colombia placing the contests within the context of the country’s pervasive violence; pageantry as escapism.

Bower’s work compresses pride, anxiety, routines, achievement and exploitation, but never casts aspersions upon this particular cultural more. Bower’s even-handedness presumably stems from his photojournalist background.

Bradley Peters’ print was banished to the stairwell, yet his work is strong enough to endure. Earlier on the night of opening, PCNW gallery director Ann Pallesen described juror Andy Adam’s FlakPhoto project as “off-kilter” – Peters is perhaps the best proponent of that look. Peters constructs scenes that so flauntingly blur art and documentary the viewer is hooked. I was befuddled last year when Peters came on the scene.

I liken Peters to Crewdson but without the six-figure budget; perhaps Crewdson on Valium. Peters also won the Conscientious Portfolio Competition, 2009.

© Bradley Peters

Ponce. Ellen Rennard

Also on the stairs, Ellen Rennard. Let me tell you, I generally don’t care for pictures of aninals but Rennard is the type of special talent to get my stubborn eyes seeing again. The runners and riders in the stables are partners, total equals. Respect runs through this series from photographer to subject, man to mammal. Rennard’s work is as compelling as any documentary portrait project I’ve seen in the past two years.

Dead dogs anyone? No, how about dead cats then? Mary Shannon Johnstone cares deeply enough about animal welfare and responsible stewardship that she went inside a North Carolina euthanasia clinic. Breeding Ignorance is a view we’ve not seen before and it may not be one you want to see again such is the visceral rendering of matted fur, stiff eyelids and garbage-headed biomass.

Cats Disposed. Mary Shannon Johnstone

Tree, Boston Public Garden, 2009. Pelle Cass

Talking about fur, Pelle Cass specializes in composite images of frantic activity, human and animal. The print from Selected People chosen for this show depicts a tree covered in scores of pudgy, russet squirrels surrounded by less fat humans and a flutter of birds in various stages of take off and perch. Cass’ work made me laugh, which is always a good sign.

Jane Fulton Alt’s portfolio Burn series is delicate but underwhelming if isolated. Fortunately, it is not isolated in that Fulton Alt has followed up on previous work with great intelligence. In 2005, Fulton Alt worked as a social worker in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At dusk she’d document the ruined city. Burn series continues the same washed out grey of her Katrina series Look and Leave, only here it is smoke and not the “toxic, metallic air” of New Orleans. Fulton Alt observed upper respiratory problems among post-Katrina survivors and it as if this work is a lingering acknowledgement of legacy complications after the fact. Disasters are never just natural or man made but always a spiteful conflagration of the two … the air needs to clear … the dust needs to settle … the poisons sometimes burn slow.

Burn No. 81. Jane Fulton Alt

Alley Behind Ferris St. © Will Steacy

I really enjoy Will Steacy’s politic (his blog rants are a breath of fresh air) and he seems to be one of the hardest working photographers out there. The chosen print was luminous. However, I get the impression that Steacy only cares about these streets in as much as the debilitating effect they have on their inhabitants and itinerants. I’d have like to have seen one of his figure studies.

Manuel Capurso and Samar Jodha both pierced the darkness with portrait studies. Capurso’s chiaroscuro isolates his subjects and communicates the loneliness of life’s latter stages. Jodha literally spotlights the Phaneng people with whom he has lived for four years; they are a people on the verge of extinction and he has photographed every member of the 1,500 deep tribe. Both artists were effective.

Untitled. © Manuel Capurso

Phaneng 1. Samar Jodha

Alejandro Cartagena was one of the two book award winners this year and I wouldn’t argue with the selection; he is doing immensely important work about mass-suburbanisation/social-housing projects in Mexico. However, I would argue for the case of half a dozen prints from his portfolio before the one chosen for this show.

David Taylor and Victor Cobo are also engaged in important inquiries both probing issues of immigration and policing, family and place. In each case though, the print did neither of their theses any favours. Cobo’s print was bright and with humour but, without context, it receded quickly from memory. Taylor’s print was large and empty but perhaps that was the point to suggest the illegal immigrants as helpless, lost and losing agency?

Definitely spend time with Cartagena, Taylor and Cobo’s online portfolios as I think they are three vital political thinkers in photography. Perhaps that was the problem, my hopes for the print were too high ?…

Mi Abuela, México, 2003 © Victor Cobo

Untitled © Ed Freeman

Up until last Friday, Joni Sternbach had single-handedly carried the genre of surf photography. She now has Ed Freeman to help her with the load. Generally, I dislike pictures of surf (bar the odd Friedkin print) as much as I dislike pictures of animals, but Ed Freeman’s print really stood out. His online portfolio is as balanced too. Definitely the surprise of the evening.

Finally, leaving the best to the last, Andrea Camuto’s print romped home with the win in the ‘gut-punching-and-my-world-is-better-informed-for-seeing-this’ category.

Visitation, Waleyat woman's prison, Afghanistan © Andrea Camuto

Camuto is interested in the needs of families to survive as they have migrated in and out of Afghanistan and in and out of the capitol Kabul in bids to find livings.

From Camuto’s statement, “Feeling great compassion for their struggles, I was compelled to return several times, most recently in 2009. As my ties with these families deepened, I followed them into such places as the women’s hospital and the women’s prison. Each trip furthered my understanding of the political and social complexities of Afghan culture. Entrenched attitudes, coupled with rampant illiteracy, create the oppressive conditions under which Afghan women are forced to live. In these photographs I call attention to these ordinary Afghans, who go unnoticed and unrecorded in the larger narrative of the conflict in Afghanistan today.”

While the chosen print is a literal depiction of enclosure, the house arrests and claustrophobic hardships of rural life as portrayed in Camuto’s work bring a heavier weight to bear on the viewer. Camuto’s is the latest in a slew of projects I’ve seen recently coming out of the AfPak region that don’t depict military engagement. These personal struggles, significantly, are dictated by larger political and infrastructural battles currently being fought in Afghanistan.

The helplessness served up in Camuto’s work is bitter blow and one that lasts.

– – – – –

EXPOSED: CRITICAL MASS will be on show at the Photographic Center Northwest, 900 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122 until the 18th May.


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