Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Dispatch: Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Rolling Stone's Summer Doubles

It's apparently becoming a trend--or enough of one for me to mention, anyway. Every time Rolling Stone does a Summer Double Issue, the cover girl's breasts are turned into a sight gag. Last year, Lady Gaga sported machine gun jumblies, and this year Katy Perry's famous chest become candy kisses. Whom do we have to thank for that transition? The photographer was Terry Richardson, but Perry gives credit where credit is due inside the magazine, with this shot:

I could see Michelle Bachmann in that top. You?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Dispatch: Three Views of the Asteroid that Barely Missed Us

Every story I saw about the bus-sized asteroid that missed hitting the Earth yesterday by only 7,500 miles put the reassuring stuff in sentence two, after sentence one had already caused me Lower GI trouble: The 30-foot-long asteroid would not hit, said reports leading up to the fly-by, and even if it did, no worries, because scientists don't consider asteroids to be hazardous unless they're bigger than 490 in width. In any event, I wanted to see pictures of this thing, which came close enough to be viewed with a small telescope. (See Point 1, below.) Not much was available, so news orgs got creative with visual concepts used to describe what was happening:

1. First Sighting

It's not much to look at, if you're expecting to see a hellish rock like the one in Armageddon. This image, one of the first taken of Asteroid 2011 MD, was taken by Peter Lake, an amateur astronomer from Australia. The shot was taken with a 20-inch telescope in New Mexico, which Lake could control with his iPhone through the Rent-A-Scope program.

2. The Composite

This image is actually made up of three separate sightings of the asteroid as seen in different wavelengths of light--red, blue, and green--by Australia's Faulkes Telescope South. Not much, but red, blue, and green are better than nothing.

3.The Bigger Picture

Photographic imagery having largely failed to tell the story in satisfyingly terrible detail, the nerds at went with a screen shot from the Asteroids video arcade game, which they, I me, have probably spent too much time playing. This would a an example of whistling past the graveyard.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Last Week: The Pictures We Wanted to Talk About

Because of a welcome vacation, my regular weekly review of photography in print at Le Lettre de la Photographie has not appeared for the past couple of weeks. It was supposed to have reappear last Friday, but due to some technical glitches it appears there today. Herewith, the highlights, focusing on sports.


The Kiss
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Rich Lam’s shot of lovers embracing in the midst of angry Canadian hockey fans became an instant classic the moment it went viral. After the Vancouver Canucks lost the decisive Game 7 of a thrilling and brutal Stanley Cup championship series, the team’s fans went from avid to rabid, taking to Vancouver’s streets to loot local stores and set cars on fire. The anonymous couple inadvertently captured by freelancer Lam didn’t remain anonymous for long: After the picture was published, the lovers were identified by relatives, and within days Scott Jones and Alex Thomas were being interviewed on a morning television news show, joining a pantheon of famously photographed kissers. Final note: Are there any scarier words in the English language than “angry Canadian hockey fans?”
Hazard Ahead
Photo by Doug Mills

The big story of this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament was the dominating win by 22-year-old Irishman Rory McIlroy, who finished on Sunday at an astonishing 16-under par, erasing memories of his final-round collapse in the Masters tournament in April. Photographically, a better story was crowd-pleaser Phil Mickelson, who struggled on the tough Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. In this shot, we see Mickelson’s reaction as he watches a shot go into water during the second round of play. That kid on the left, with the gray pants, blue striped shirt, and bushy hair sticking out from under a white hat? That’s McIlroy. That look on Michelson’s face? It’s why I gave up golf a long time ago.

A Hero Rises
Photo by Greg Nelson

The essential narrative behind all sports events is the rise and fall of heroes. Last summer, National Basketball League superstar LeBron James joined a Miami Heat “dream team” to assure himself the championship he had never won. But a funny thing happened on the way to athletic immortality: James played poorly in this month’s finals, and his team lost to the Dallas Mavericks, led by 13-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki. Sports Illustrated told the tale with Greg Nelson’s cover shot.
Class War
Photo by Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP

A sign of the times? New austerity measures imposed by the Greek government led to a strike by the country’s largest labor union. This banner reads, “Yes to the Society, No to the Power.” If you think Greek politics have become polarized, take a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin.
The Fire
Photo by Dean Knuth/AP/Arizona Daily Star

This photograph sums up the heartache of loss caused by the wildfires that continue to burn in Arizona. On Sunday, the so-called Monument Fire raced down a mountain and into the town of Sierra Vista, forcing 3,000 people to flee. Sierra Vista resident Pete Tunstall stood amid the remains of his home.

The Princess
Photo by Patrick Demarchelier

On July 1 the world gets another royal wedding. Prince Albert of Monaco will marry Charlene Wittstock, a former competitive swimmer who represented South Africa in the 2000 Olympics. The couple met a decade ago, at an event in Monaco. “After seeing me swim, Albert asked my management for permission to take me out,” Wittstock says in Vogue’s July issue. Patrick Demarchelier’s photograph explains the prince’s thought process.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"The Shot That Almost Killed Me"...

Last Saturday, the British Guardian newspaper ran a terrific story, which my friend Deborah Mauro just to me. It's called "The Shot that Almost killed Me." Seventeen photojournalists tell the tales about their most harrowing experiences. If you ever wanted to know what's it's like to be a war photographer, this is it. Below are a few of excerpts. Go here for the complete piece.


"I'd been in Afghanistan a month when I stepped on a landmine. I was the third man in, and as I put my foot down I heard a mechanic click and I was thrown in the air. I knew exactly what had happened. As the soldiers dragged me away from the kill zone, I took these pictures....I had to keep working."
--Joao Silva, Afghanistan, October 2010


"The situation was very tense--people were drunk and aggressive. I was with two other photographers most of the time, but at this moment I went back to the road alone. I saw three soldiers smoking, playing with their guns, and I felt safe--I don't know why. Then I saw a man with a knife in his mouth, coming out of the bush. He was holding up a hand like a trophy. The soldiers started laughing and firing in the air. I didn't think about it and started shooting." --Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, Congo, 2008


"I got into Ajdabiya shortly after it's fall. The rebels had just moved in and the locals were going crazy, shooting in the air. Bodies of pro-Qadaffi were lying around, beginning to stink as the sun got higher. The fire from the tank was incredibly strong and I was worried that it might explode at any moment. Suddenly this guy jumped up on it....I had wanted to capture that sense of release that everyone had, and suddenly this became the shot. I got as close as possible, within meters, and started shooting, counting to five in my head. Then I got out. I had corpses, torn apart, in the morgue, and I didn't want to end up like that." --Mads Nissen, Libya, February 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“An Extremely Explosive Year”: Interview with Storm-Chasing Photographer Jim Reed

A Jim Reed photo of Joplin, Missouri after the tornado
Photographer Jim Reed’s business is severe weather, and this year business has been good.

I spoke by phone with Reed, one of the country’s premier “storm chaser” photographers, the day before yesterday, as he was watching a dangerous weather system forming over Wichita, Kansas, where he lives. “We might get disconnected,” he warned me. I’ve known Jim for quite a few years now, and I wanted to get his take on what has appeared to me (based on all the weather-related photos I've seen in the past few months.) to be particularly wicked season of dangerous storms. Or was it just my imagination?

“It was not your imagination,” he said. “It’s been an extremely explosive year. We’ve been looking at extremely large, long-track tornadoes across the country, and the aftermath is really hard to accept.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Splended Photo Projects: Why Farming Is Now Cooler than Being In a Band

A worker at the Hearty Roots farm in Tivoli, New York plants potatoes

 Andy Kropa is a talented freelance photographer who lives in the world capital of hipsterism: Brooklyn, New York. Kropa happens to be from Iowa, a place that is generally not considered hip.
While Brooklyn has a rich culture of artisanal baking, brewing, pickling, and whatever, Iowa has rich black earth that produces prodigious amounts of corn, soybeans, and whatnot. Growing up in Iowa, Kropa viewed farming as being about as uncool a thing as there was. Living in Brooklyn has opening his eyes to farming's new hipness.

“I think it’s now considered way more cool that being in a band,” he told me recently. 

A couple of years ago, after he'd been laid off from a magazine job during the darkest moments of the Great Recession, Kropa started looking around for a long-term photo documentary project to sink his teeth into. "I had time on my hands," he said. He wanted to focus on how other people who suddenly had time on their hands were coping. "But I wanted to come up with an angle on all this downtime that wasn't just another sad story--about people who had turned it into something positive for themselves."

He began documenting Community SupportedAgriculture projects, including a one-acre rooftop-farm operation called the Brooklyn Grange, which ironically is located on Northern Boulevard in Queens. A couple of hours to the north, in Tivoli, New York—in the heart of the Hudson Valley, another center of foody hipness—Kropa shot other younger farmers getting their hands dirty. He also looked at urban farming projects in other cities, including Chicago.

Free-range chickens at Awesome Farm in New York
 What he discovered, he says, was a generation of people in their 20s--just a few years younger than Kropa himself--who viewed farming without the ironic associations he'd grown up with. "I wanted to try to show agriculture in a way it hadn't been depicted before," he said.

You can see images from this ongoing project at, and at Kropa's website. The work will also be on view at the Brooklyn Grange building at 37-18 Northern Boulevdard, Long Island City, Queens, throughout the summer growing season.

Time for a yoga break at City Farm in Chicago
Pies at the Eagle Street rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Planting time at the Brooklyn Grange
The Brooklyn Grange as the new American heartland
I should note here that the magazine from which Andy was laid off was the magazine I used to edit, and that I was laid off the same day he was. So we have a bond. I think this work is, as Andy say, uplifting--and inimitably cool.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Daily Dispatch: The Monster Attacks in Arizona

The Wallow wildfire in eastern Arizona. Photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
I flew to Arizona yesterday afternoon, and on the final descent into Phoenix the giant Wallow wildfire was visible, spread out to the southeast. The smoke billowed up across what seemed to be the entire horizon line. When you read about a wildfire covering more than 600 square miles, you note the epic dimensions abstractly. Seeing it is another thing. The photograph here, by Rob Schumacher, appeared in today's Arizona Republic, describes the breadth of the blaze particularly well. The photo also suggests the living nature of the fire, as if it were a massive beast moving through the landscape, consuming everything in its path. Headline writers understand the metaphor: "Monster Arizona Wildfire as Seen From Space" says the Business Insider website. "Monster Arizona Wildfire Threatens Towns" says USA Today. "Monster Wildfire Continues to Expand" says the Huffington Post. "A New Monster Attacks" says the Yuma Sun. As of today, firefighters say the monster is 40 percent contained.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Daily Dispatch: On Weinergate

 "The proliferation of recorded images undermines our sense of reality. We distrust our perceptions until the camera verifies them. Photographic images provide us with the proof of our existence, without which we would find it difficult even to reconstruct a personal history." Christopher Lasch from his 1979 book "The Culture of Narcissism."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Visual Culture: Daily Briefing

Two Color D-Day Shots by Scherschel
Diaz's Side View
Quote of the Day: “Sex is the sexiest word in the English language.” The New York Post reports that Cameron Diaz’s favorite sport is not baseball, even though she dates Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, but sex. Diaz, starring in the new movie Bad Teacher, also told the Post her relationship with A-Rod “is awesome.” Why this is a photo story: Diaz covers of the June issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Cosmo covers, like Kabuki theatre, adhere to a highly formalized structure, usually a three-quarter frontal shot with abundant cleavage. The slightest variation--in this case, Diaz's side-cleavage pose, comes as a visual shock ...This Day in History, Part 1: To mark the 67th anniversary of D-Day, has a vibrant portfolio of color photos of the buildup to Operation Overlord and its aftermath. The pictures were shot by Frank Scherschel, who covered both the European and the Pacific theaters of World War II. (Scherschel also snapped this iconic color image of Winston Churchill dabbling as a painter.) Among Scherschel's tack-sharp D-Day images: a shot of a French couple sharing cognac with a GI (above left) and a shot of an American soldier back in England, waiting for the "GO' order ... Those Darn British Liberals Are Coming!: Sarah Palin defended her revisionist history of Paul Revere's ride today. It seems Revere really was trying to warn the Red Coats "that they weren't gonna be

Palin's Revisionist Ride. Photo by Molly Riley/AP

takin' away our arms by ringin' those bells." (Business Insider Reports that some Palin fans have been trying to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on Revere to make it cohere to Palin's version of events.) Why this is a photo story: The Palin-Picture-of-the-Day award (something tells me we'll be handing out quite a few over the next year) goes to this shot (by Molly Riley for AP) of the would-be presidential candidate, which appeared in the Week In Review section of yesterday's New York Times to illustrate a story about Palin's recent East Coast tour, but it works even better for the Paul Revere tale. Photos are malleable.  ... Also In the News: Aero Films announces that Indrani (of the noted Markus Klinko and Indrani photo team)  has transitioned to live-action directing, recently creating spots for the London Sunday Times and Ralph Lauren. Meanwhile, Carolyn E. Wright, who writes the very informative Photo Attorney website, reports that the Texas Motor Speedway has become the latest venue to require photographers to give up the copyright to images they shoot there. "Because the Speedway owns the property where photographers want to shoot, it has the right to require photographers sign the agreement before they can get access to the races," says Wright.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Iconic Sunday: Two Images of AIDS

Ken Meeks by Alon Reininger, 1986
Today, June 5, marks what public health historians consider the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS. As this absorbing piece from Wired explans, it was on June 5, 1981 that the first bulletin describing a case of HIV was published in any medical journal.

In the years that followed, HIV/AIDS came to be called “the gay disease” and was largely overlooked by the public. Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 put a famous face to the disease. A year later, Life magazine published a picture by Contact Press Images photographer Alon Reininger that presented HIV/AIDS in an entirely new way. No one could think dismiss the disease, the pain it caused, and the threat it represented any longer.

Reininger, who had covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and political unrest around the world, learned about HIV/AIDS through his acquaintance with playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer. “When 50 or 80 people started to [die], it became apparent that something was going on. [Kramer and I] spoke about it, and then tried to figure out how I would climb into it,” Reininger told Photo District News a few years ago. Research led Reininger to an AIDS patient named Ken Meeks, whom he photographed. Three days later, Meeks died.

One of photos Reininger got that day showed Meeks bent into a wheelchair, stick thin, his arm spotted with blood-colored lesions. But it is Meeks’s face, his eyes in particular, that gives the image meaning. The eyes, to me at least, cry out. They want to be heard. They want to tell a story that until 1986 had been ignored.

David Kirby's death, by Therese Frare, 1990
In 1990, Life published another photo that captured the human cost of HIV/AIDS. Taken by a journalism graduate student named Therese Frare, it showed a dying young man, David Kirby, surrounded by his family. The image became another icon of the disease, and, later, a controversial one when it was used in an advertisement for United Colors of Benetton created by the editor Tibor Kalman. Some AIDS activists decried the commercial use of the image, while other groups were concerned the ad marked a mainstreaming of homosexuality. Such is the ambiguous nature of photography. Life later included Frare's image as one of the 100 photographs that changed the world.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Photos of the Week: Obama's Mojo vs. Palin's Mojo and more

The complete weekly photo review is up today on Le Lettre de la Photographie. Here's the sampling:

1. Painterly Photo

The great Frans Lanting has been astounding us with nature and landscape imagery for years, but this photograph, taken at the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, goes beyond astounding, all the way to astonishing. The photo, which appears in the June issue of National Geographic, is indeed a photo, its painterly effect coming from lighting conditions at dawn: Lanting explained: “The warm light of the morning sun was illuminating a huge red sand dune dotted with white grasses while the white floor of the clay pan was still in shade. It looks blue because it reflects the color of the sky above.” This might be the nature photo of the year.

 2. Tornado Alley

In the week after the a killer tornado his Joplin, Missouri, residents began picking up the pieces of their lives and recalling the terror of May 22. Photographer Edward Keating, shooting for Time magazine, photographed Ed Boyd and his wife Kathy standing near the closet they hid in when the storm destroyed their house.

3. Clash

In Somalia, clashes continued this week between Somali soldiers supported by the African Union and Islamist fighters—though “clash” seems too weak a word, in light of this image of a Somali soldier standing over the body of a man believed to be one of the Islamists.The photo was taken by Mustafa Abdi/AFP

 4. Obama's Mojo

Visually, if not politically, it has been a very good month for President Barack Obama. There was now-iconic "Situation Room" photo showing him in command as a Navy Seal team killed Osama bin Laden, then came a successful four-nation European trip, during which Obama was photographed performing in a variety of presidential roles. Meeting with with Briton's Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his new wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Obama was the Glambassador-in-Chief. Meeting with  world leaders at a G8 Summit in France, he was the dynamic Chief Executive. This photo, which shows Obama at Paris’s Orly airport on May 27, was shot by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images. Two days later Obama would be photographed with his arms around survivors of the Joplin tornado, fulfilling his duty as Comforter-in-Chief.

5. Palin's Mojo

On May 30, the president was performing his duty as the Commander-in-Chief, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who may be inching closer to declaring herself a candidate for president, launched an East Coast bus tour at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally in Washington, D.C. “I love that smell of emissions,” she told FOX News.Who needs Air Force One as a backdrop of power when you can wear a Harley helmet? This photo was taken by Damon Winter for the New York Times.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turning Points: William Albert Allard, Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of a recent interview with National Geographic's William Albert Allard. There, he told of an inspiring meeting with Dennis Stock, the famed Magnum photographer, that proved to be a turning point in his early career. Today he tells the story of how he became a summer intern at National Geographic and the assignment that changed his life--and the look of the magazine.

Part 2: Among the Amish

Allard shooting his first National Geographic assignment, Lancaster, PA, 1964
I went back to Minnesota and finished my senior year. In the spring of my senior year I went back to New York. I got an appointment to see John Morris at the New York Times, and I saw Howard Chapnick at the Black Star agency. They were all encouraging. Then I saw Betty Leavitt at Look—I think Arthur Rothstein had left by then—and she sent me to Yoichi Okamoto, who was then director of photography for the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, D.C. He would of course go on to become the first official White House photographer under President Johnson.

So I went to Washington and asked if Mr. Okamoto would look at my pictures. And yes, he would. I remember him sitting there with his glasses perched up on the top of this head, and his sleeves rolled up, and he looked at the pictures and picked up the phone and called Robert Gilka, the director of photography at National Geographic.

I later wrote down on an envelope the half of the conversation I could overhear. Okamoto saying to him, “You want to see a good people photographer? … Well God damm it I wouldn’t send him if he wasn’t any good … Tomorrow 1:00? Okay, let’s have lunch sometime ….”

And that phone call pretty much changed my life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Turning Points Series: William Albert Allard

"Lone Rider, Texas, 1974"

I thought I would launch an irregular series of posts focused on turning points in the careers of major photographers. Maybe it’s the storytelling part of me—I’m always fascinated by narrative moments when fate steps in to take a hand, changing everything that follows. The form of this series may vary from post to post—interviews, Q&As, or, as in the case of this one, I might sometimes just step back and let the photographers tell their own stories.
William Albert Alard
It’s really the only way to go with someone like William Albert Allard, one of photography’s great storytellers. Allard has been a mainstay of National Geographic for more than 40 years, producing some 40 magazine articles and a number of books, the latest of which, a retrospective, is called William Albert Allard: Five Decades. It’s a heartfelt look back at an astonishing number of career high points and photographic destinations—from the American West to Sicily, from the Basque country to the film sets of Bollywood, from Hutterite colonies in Montana to minor league baseball diamonds in Arizona. “In a way, the stories are always about subcultures,” he told me recently. “That’s what I’m interested in.” While the far-flung landscapes form the backdrop for his work, it’s the people in his images that are the real focus—etched as compelling characters within frames that are filled with profound atmosphere.

Allard’s storytelling is not limited to pictures—he’s also written for Geographic, and he contributed some 55,000 words of text to his Five Decades book. “I wanted to be a writer before I became a photographer,” he says. “Writing is harder—good writing. You look at a picture and you either say, ‘Goddamnit, that’s nice,’ or it’s not, whereas with writing you think, “Will what I have to say mean anything to anybody? Why should they listen to this?’”

Here, Allard tells how he became a photographer—or, more precisely, how two events led him to become a professional: The first involved a famous photographer from the Magnum agency, who for no apparent good reason spent a couple of hours changing a young man’s life. The second, which I'll post later, involved a storied assignment that helped change the look and outlook of one of the world’s great photo magazines. As you’ll see, fate did indeed step in to alter Allard’s life—after he gave fate a little kick in the pants.