The death of Fabienne Cherisma, from the series Haiti, 2010, © Nathan Weber/NBW Photo.
When Fabienne Cherisma was shot and killed by a police officer for looting in the aftermath of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake of 2010, Nathan Weber was there to capture the scene on camera, as seen in January’s This Picture selection. But Weber’s photograph shows us an event that seems tragic on more than one level, fanning the flames of an old controversy: When should a documentary photographer put down the camera and lend a helping hand?
In his own commissioned response to this photograph, Fred Ritchin challenges the trope of the photographer-as-vulture, a sensation-seeker who tries to make a buck on someone else’s misfortune. Maybe the real issue, Ritchin argues, is the way the photograph is being used. When a single photographic moment is made to stand in for an event of lasting duration, we lose the benefit of the full story, the before-and-after that brackets every newsworthy event. And, perhaps unfairly, that single and oft-heralded decisive moment gets blown out of proportion as a result. Given the possibilities of the digital environment, it is now easier than ever to provide additional context to the interested reader. But the impact of the single iconic photograph under a front-page headline – whether in print or online – is undeniable. It’s a useful tool for selling a story. And since the photographer often has little control over how his or her image is placed in that story, is the entire news media industry at fault for making a single image stand in for a nuanced event? Or do we, as digitally-savvy readers, have a responsibility to seek out the relevant context and build a fuller picture for ourselves?
Film still from ‘Subatomic: The European Organization for Nuclear Research,’ the final installment of The Invisible Photograph documentary series.
The Invisible Photograph: World Premiere of Subatomic set for February 26, 2015
Join us for the fifth and final documentary world premiere for The Invisible Photograph, set at the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the border between France and Switzerland! The same series that has featured photographs buried underground, retrieved from old Amiga floppy discs, rescued from data created in outer space, and resuscitated from the trash heap, now journeys to its final destination to explore how photographic technologies are being used to visualize the subatomic world. Join us on February 26th for the world premiere screening of Subatomic and enjoy custom cocktails, lively discussions, and a chance to meet CERN scientists! Click here to read more and register.
Unveiling of White House Christmas decorations, 2013, AP Images/Charles Dharapak.
I find it ironic—and more than just a bit curious—that this month’s This Picture photograph, chosen because it went viral just a year ago, netted a record low in public responses on nowseethis.org. Figuring out what’s going to go viral is a billion dollar industry, full of experts well-versed in the latest trends and sporting the technological skills to build The Next Big Thing. But, as history has shown us time and again, the public is fickle. Companies that spend millions to draw the public’s attention and set the world on fire with something sparkly or snazzy end up losing out to someone’s home video of a cat playing a piano.
This month’s photograph of First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2013 unveiling of the White House’s Christmas Decorations was a surprise entry into last year’s most-viral-photographs competition (I’m pretty sure I made that up, but I’m just as sure that all those well-versed and skillful experts keep tabs on things like that). As Marco Bohr discusses in his featured essay response to this photograph, an unexpected, unscripted moment in an otherwise carefully choreographed and staged event can sometimes equate to solid gold, as it did for photographer Charles Dharapak and the Associated Press.
Matthew, 1965 © Kenneth Josephson.
I love Stephanie Flati’s photo response to this month’s This Picture, which is a snapshot by Kenneth Josephson of his son, Matthew, from 1965. The subject of both Stephanie’s and Josephson’s pictures is a young boy whose face is obscured by the paraphernalia of photography; in Stephanie’s case an enormous lens and in Josephson’s, a snapshot. On the surface, both reflect a childhood fascination with imaging technology with which any parent who has struggled to remove a smartphone camera from his or her child’s hands will be familiar. On a deeper level, both seem to me to hint at a subconscious search for self through photographic representation. In her powerful essay, Nancy West, author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, dives into the visual Mobius strip of Josephson’s image and raises compelling questions about photographic authenticity and the search for meaning that also echo for me in Stephanie’s response, albeit in a different way.
Arne Svenson, The Neighbors #11, 2012 © Arne Svenson, Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.
Last month, This Picture asked you to consider a photograph from Arne Svenson’s series, The Neighbors. Taken without the subjects’ permission and shot with a long lens, these photographs of people in their private residences garnered widespread attention because of the lawsuit filed against the artist for alleged invasion of privacy.
This month’s responses did indeed explore the tension between public and private, but they also in equal measure injected a healthy dose of levity into the conversation by focusing on the partially obscured, slightly surreal, and completely compelling stuffed giraffe that makes an appearance in the photograph. I must admit, when we selected this image as one of our This Picture features, not one of us predicted the draw of “the giraffe factor.” Live and learn.