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COLORS has been a favourite of mine since their PRISONS Issue #50. By chance I picked up a copy of the Spring 2013 COLORS magazine, Issue #86 MAKING THE NEWS.

Issue #86 is a cracker of an issue: North Korea, Al Qaeda’s film production house, surveillance, Tahrir Square, El Narco Blog,  Pakistani drone attack survivors’ photographs, Will Steacy’s photos of a dead Philadelphia Inquirer and James Mollison’s images from Sierra Leone; the issue deals with heavy topics and uncomfortable imagery.

Also uncomfortable, is the scene of Fabienne Cherisma’s corpse atop a collapsed cement rooftop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on the 19th January, 2010 (one week after the massive Haiti earthquake). The scene was captured by multiple photojournalists, whose images COLORS features over 4 pages. They are online here.

The photographs and the circumstances in which they were made are very familiar to me. Between January 27th and April 8th, 2010, I published a fifteen-part series (beginning here) about the photos and photographers activities. In short-shrift, from a desktop in Seattle, I uncovered the similar photographs by scouring the wires, agency websites and news feeds. I interviewed a dozen of the photographers on scene.

The scene of Fabienne splayed out was — and remains — stark. It is one of the more indelible images to emerge from the natural and social disaster. So, the image was known but it’s dissection and the placement of multiple photographers’ works was done by me. My inquiries accelerated the image and the stories into the public sphere (the posts remain the most visited of Prison Photography; approximately 240,000 page views all-in-all). If my work had not put the story of Fabienne’s death and its photojournalist treatment into the spotlight maybe the awards that came later for three of the photographers would?

I was surprised to make the discovery of those images of Fabienne within the pages of COLORS. More than that, I was bothered. Why was I perturbed? I don’t own the images and I certainly don’t own the story. I’ve not been wronged.

In short, the problem for me is COLORS treatment. They could not have researched the piece without being aware of my 15-part series. COLORS doesn’t deal with the issue in any depth. In fact, they rely on the images to drive the segment and then raise the question of ethics without really providing their own position. Of the images Nathan Weber’s image of the photographers surrounding Fabienne’s body is printed larger and with prominence. Are we incited by the image? Has COLORS forfeited a nuanced handling the images, and thus the story?

Prison Photography was the first to publish Nathan Weber’s image; without doubt that was the image that launched many hyperbolic statements about the depravity of Western photojournalism. So, maybe if I hadn’t contacted Weber directly and asked him specifically about the circumstances perhaps he would never have sent that image to me … or anyone? That’s a question for Weber.

I guess, at heart, I am protective of the story. There’s so many sides to the coverage of Fabienne’s death that I don’t like to see it reduced to an over-simplified “it-was-wrong/it-was-what-it-is” argument. COLORS barely takes us past that.

Finally, I am bothered by COLORS‘ passive use of an abbreviated Weber quote that describes the circulation of the many images of Fabienne thusly:

“Even though grouping together is common for photographers in dangerous situations, many in the international photojournalist community were unhappy with having “their laundry aired in public.”

Prison Photography was the root and the source for the extended debate about these pictures. I brought the issue to the international community. All the feedback that I received for my digging and analysis was, without exception, positive. Readers were thankful to have had the scene looked at from the multiple angles, appreciated my interviews with the photographers, and understood more deeply the complexity of the situation.

No one felt that I was hanging-out photojournalists or photojournalism to dry. Pick any laundry metaphor you wish, it was not my experience reporting the story that people were upset. To suggest that the photojournalist community was irritated by having this public discussion is, frankly, insulting.

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Bruce Gilden’s street shooting methods polarise opinion. His “ambush tactics” (for want of a better phrase) are, for some, the exercise of any photographer’s right in public space, for others he just goes about stuff in a rude way.

Anyway, here’s a TMZ-style photo exclusive of Gilden in front of the camera and not behind it. Gilden the ambushed; not Gilden the ambusher.

Journalist Jake Warga made these photographs in April. Warga was not part of Gilden’s entourage. We can presume that Gilden, at this time, was shooting Haiti: 15 Months Later.

I was critical of Gilden in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake suggesting his images were little more than a digitised freak-show.

Warga was not surprised the Haitian, who he described as “drunk out of his mind on cheap wine” was attracted to the documentary film crew following Gilden through the graveyard with their photo accoutrements.

“He wanted his photo taken,” says Warga, “I try not to be seduced by spectacle but it was the only way he’d leave me alone. In turn, he gravitated towards Gilden’s cameras, joining the circus of gazes already in Bruce’s orbit.”

The bizarre nature of this interaction can be put down to a mixture of grief, inebriation, intrusion, Gilden’s personal theatre, and the scene acted out by the Haitian man. And all this in a cemetery.

This is probably just another day at the office for Gilden who makes a habit of hanging out with violent persons.

Confusing layers here no doubt, but for me, the take away is Gilden’s flitting averted eyes (top image). As if part of some karmic return, this Haitian man getting up in Gilden’s grill can be read as a metaphor; as a spectre, and brief embodiment, of Gilden’s many victims down the years.

The tables are turned and it looks briefly unsettling doesn’t it?

Last week, Danish photojournalist Jan Grarup was awarded the Oskar Barnack Leica Award 2011 for Haiti Aftermath.


Grarup tells “I want to put some focus on what is going on in other places in the world. […] When you try to photograph things from perspective, you get a little more in-depth of what is happening.”

So, I guess my question is ‘Does colour not exist in the other places of the world?’ Grarup originally shot the images in colour, converting to B&W in post-production. It should be said that not all images in his Barnack entry are part of the original dispatch and so there is a (slight) chance those files were made originally in B&W. [UPDATE 06.22.11, 10:00PST. It could be that as Grarup shot in RGB, and had his screen displaying B&W. It could be that he never intended to use colour. Yet, everything’s colour still, as you look at it through the viewfinder.]

I include shots from his 136-image portfolio, dispatched to his agency NOOR briefly after his stint in Haiti, so you can compare them with the B&W images of his winning portfolio. I’m not here to argue for or against colour and/or B&W – I just want to provide a starting point for conversation.


As part of my ongoing inquiry into the photojournalism surrounding Fabienne Cherisma’s death, Grarup offered Prison Photography a brief Q&A in March 2010.

Grarup took several photographs of Fabienne Cherisma dead on the collapsed roof-top; it’s an image, I argue, is both multi-authored and synonymous with the Haiti earthquake. Grarup did not include such an image in his Barnack entry, but did include a photograph of Fabienne’s brother and sister over her corpse after she’d been retrieved from the rooftop.


And to the main issue at hand. Jan Grarup, a member of NOOR Images, was given the award by a five-person jury. One of the jurors was Stanley Greene, a member of NOOR Images.

I should say that, by my reckoning, NOOR is one of the most responsible photo agencies I’ve looked at; it’s stories impress me consistently and they have a couple of my preferred photographers on staff. This is not a distant attack, but a very specific question as to how they could possibly see this one panning out without any questions being asked.

Moreover, the Oskar Barnack Award (OBA) either shouldn’t have allowed Greene on the jury, or if he was so vital to the jury process, they should’ve insisted NOOR photographers needn’t apply. Both NOOR and OBA have exposed themselves unnecessarily to ethical questions.


1) These images provide anchors to which the endless colour vs. B&W debate can gain some focus.

2) Stanley Greene‘s role as a juror deserves to come under serious scrutiny. As a member of NOOR images, it’s difficult to ignore the conflict of interest.

3) I feel obliged to report on any news, updates and industry awards as they have concerned the photographers involved in my original inquiry.

Jan Grarup photographs police beating a looter in downtown Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon. © Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star.


Part One: Fabienne Cherisma (Initial inquiries, Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban Mattei)
Part Two: More on Fabienne Cherisma (Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Part Three: Furthermore on Fabienne Cherisma (Michael Mullady)
Part Four: Yet more on Fabienne Cherisma (Linsmier, Nathan Weber)
Part Five: Interview with Edward Linsmier
Part Six: Interview with Jan Grarup
Part Seven: Interview with Paul Hansen
Part Eight: Interview with Michael Winiarski
Part Nine: Interview with Nathan Weber
Part Ten: Interview with James Oatway
Part Eleven: Interview with Nick Kozak
Part Twelve: Two Months On (Winiarski/Hansen)
Reporter Rory Carroll Clarifies Some Details
Part Fourteen: Interview with Alon Skuy
Part Fifteen: Conclusions (Matt Levitch, Felix Dlangamandla)
Part Sixteen: Fabienne Cherisma’s Corpse Features at Perpignan (Frederic Sautereau)
Part Seventeen: Brouhaha in Sweden following Award to Paul Hansen for his Image of Fabienne Cherisma (Paul Hansen, Olivier Laban Mattei, James Oatway)
Part Eighteen: A Photo of Fabienne Cherisma by Another Photographer Wins Another Award (Lucas Oleniuk)

© Marjorie Jean-Baptiste/Fotokonbit

After my extended commentaries on photography in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, I’d like to bring attention to a non-profit producing and teaching photography workshops and putting cameras in the hands of Haitians.

FotoKonbit is a non-profit organization “created to empower Haitians to tell their own stories through photography. […] Inspired by the Creole word “konbit” which can be defined as the coming together of similar talents in an effort towards a common goal, we use our skills as photographers, educators, and artists to make a positive difference, through photography. By partnering with established Haitian organizations, FotoKonbit is uniquely positioned to inspire hope through creative expression and provide Haitians with the opportunity to document their reality and share it with the largest possible audience.”

The FotoKonbit team is made up of Frederic Dupoux, Ralph Dupoux, Maggie Steber, Marie Arago, Noelle Theard, Tatiana Mora Liautaud and Edwidge Danticat.

As TIME notes:

One of the most innovative uses for the photographs has been as documentary evidence for aid organizations. During three recent workshops for teenagers and younger adults living in tent communities, participants were asked to photograph aid efforts that they thought were successful, and to demonstrate needs that had not yet been met. Fotokonbit’s partnership with the American Embassy helped to get the work seen by the international aid community in Haiti.

In addition to these laudable humanitarian uses of Haitians photographs, is the simple fact that these images represent something distinctly different to the majority of Western media. How often have we seen naked, entranced worshipers prostrate in the waterfalls of Saut d’Eau? And how often are photographs from Haiti wrought with some outsider hyperbole or gratuitous pain? I don’t want to vilify photographers, especially as many such as Jonas Bendiksen and Louis Quail are committed to nuanced story telling.

Just to say that perhaps the mundane serenity of the landscape photograph below probably would not appear in our mainstream media.

And the market shot is just beautiful.

More images at TIME LightBox.

The lifeless body of fifteen-year-old Fabienne Cherisma lies on the roof of a fallen building in downtown Port-au-Prince on January 19, 2010. Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star

Canadian photographer Lucas Oleniuk has been awarded a National Newspaper Award in Canada for his image of Fabienne Cherisma dead on a Port-au-Prince roof-top, one week after the Haiti Earthquake.

Eight weeks ago Paul Hansen won a national award in his home country of Sweden. In March, I wrote about Hansen’s and other photographers’ awards for coverage of Fabienne’s death – Brouhaha in Sweden following Award to Paul Hansen for his Image of Fabienne Cherisma.

That’s now five photographers recognised for their images made within the space of an hour on a Tuesday afternoon.

Photo: Nathan Weber


Part One: Fabienne Cherisma (Initial inquiries, Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban Mattei)
Part Two: More on Fabienne Cherisma (Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Part Three: Furthermore on Fabienne Cherisma (Michael Mullady)
Part Four: Yet more on Fabienne Cherisma (Linsmier, Nathan Weber)
Part Five: Interview with Edward Linsmier
Part Six: Interview with Jan Grarup
Part Seven: Interview with Paul Hansen
Part Eight: Interview with Michael Winiarski
Part Nine: Interview with Nathan Weber
Part Ten: Interview with James Oatway
Part Eleven: Interview with Nick Kozak
Part Twelve: Two Months On (Winiarski/Hansen)
Reporter Rory Carroll Clarifies Some Details
Part Fourteen: Interview with Alon Skuy
Part Fifteen: Conclusions (04.08.2010)
Fabienne Cherisma’s Corpse Features at Perpignan (09.07.2010)
Brouhaha in Sweden following Award to Paul Hansen for his Image of Fabienne Cherisma (03.23.2011)

Last November, I delivered a lecture entitled Photography and Haiti’s Prisons in the Aftermath of the Earthquake. (Listen here, prep here.)

The lecture was more about how scant photographic evidence compounded the scare-mongering in written media following the escape of over 4,000 prisoners from Haiti’s National Penitentiary, Port-au-Prince.

I also paid tribute to The New York Times for their tenacious investigation of a prison massacre cover-up at Les Cayes Prison, 100 miles west of Port-au-Prince.

I encouraged students to have both critical stances on these contested and emotional narratives, but also keep a look out for media follow ups to the situation in Haiti regarding prison conditions, the reconstruction of the justice/prison system, and policing in the capitol.

Today Bite Magazine! published a 10 image essay by Boots Levinson of the ongoing “round-up” of prisoners.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s prisons were renowned for corruption. Levinson’s images show us policing activities but they do not answer whether these prisoners were guilty of a serious crime in the first place.


So successful was Jonathan Worth’s Photography & Narrative (#PHONAR) course, that Coventry University has decided to repeat the open and free, web-based format once-more. Classes are already underway for the Picturing the Body (#PICBOD) course. I am pleased to say I shall be involved again. More on that later.

Visit the site #PICBOD website.

Fonografia: “Money and press coverage started to arrive. Women organizers in Port-au-Prince camps spoke openly about the rapes and began raising money to move the victims into a new home, but as Bell says, “the visibility and funding have come with a price. Seeing all the ‘blan’ (human rights workers, gender advocates, journalists, delegations) troop to the women’s tents in Port-au-Prince, and knowing that ‘blan’ equals money, last week a man came to the KOFAVIV headquarters (a tarp in the middle of a camp) with a gun to kidnap one of the coordinators and to extract ransom from the coordinator. Fortunately, the plot failed. But (it) highlighted the utter danger that women and children face in the camps each day.”

Without apportioning blame, let’s all admit that we barely consider Haiti today. We all poured over the story, the ruin, the coverage – myself included. We took the opportunity to express our politics but we are too distant and too engaged elsewhere to sustain an informed, daily consciousness.

News media can be an empowering tool but it is also distorts our true commitment to its subjects. A flood soon becomes a trickle.

Last week, as part of that trickle, Deborah Sontag reported for the New York Times on the sexual violence threatening Haitian women.

Follow Beverly Bell’s writings on the issue of rape in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake, and consider supporting KOFAVIV’s efforts by making a donation and spreading the word.

Note: The Fonografia Collective have, as an exception to my point, been consistently committed to reporting on developments in Haiti.

Two weeks ago, I participated in an OPEN-i webinar about Haiti imagery. Louis Quail, another of the panelists, committed eight days to photographing Haitians during the month of May.

I wanted to present Quail’s work here as his photographs are products of a quieter, more engaged process than a lot of the photojournalism created in the earthquake’s immediate aftermath.

The Haiti webinar is not posted yet, but a growing archive of OPEN-i webinars is available at its Vimeo channel.


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