there’s conscientious, and then there’s conscientious

I’ve spent the last couple of hours surfing for more photography blogs to return to later for information and inspiration. One of the few that engaged me for more than a few seconds is conscientious by Jorg Colberg. Anyways, one of his posts linked to portraits of crack addicts by Tony Fouhse, though he questioned this kind of photography with :

“I’m somewhat torn about “User”, though – not so much because of the photography, but because of the subject matter. I’ve lately seen a quite a few series on drug users, and I’m not sure whether turning drug users into a fine-art photography fad is going to help them too much. Needless to say, this concern applies not just to Tony’s work, but to all the other photographers who have produced similar work as well.”

Now, I suspect I need to state my bias towards this very kind of photography (to see Fouhse’s images, go to the Personal menu and choose USER – I can’t link directly to it because his gallery uses Flash). I’m fascinated by street people (and I use this term to include drug addicts and people with severe mental illness) in photography. It seems that street people are at once visible and invisible, that as a society we would prefer not to see them at all.

I find myself reacting quite strongly to Colberg’s comment for a few reasons. First off, I’m not convinced that anybody’s “fine art photography” is obligated to “help” the people, things or places pictured in them. I do think photographs shouldn’t harm the people in the pictures, but even that can be argued, I suppose, if a greater good is served.

Second, I think that making portraits of drug addicts DOES help them. Why shouldn’t they be the subject of art photography? They’re people just like the rest of us, and there is no us and them, except for the walls we build around ourselves. In revealing the individuality of their subjects as human beings, good portraits also reveal the same spark of humanity that’s in all of us. And Tony Fouhse’s portraits are brilliant. Despite the candid feeling of each image, it’s obvious he interacted with each person, from the names of the people being used as the titles, and from his sensitive treatment. There is no judgment in these images.

* * *

As I wrote this, I explored Fouhse’s site a bit more, and discovered his blog, where he undefensively responded to Colberg’s comment. I dug through his archives a bit, and sure enough, he’s posted stories of the people he photographed.

This is the kind of work I’d like to aspire to.

* * *

Going just a little bit deeper into his archives, I see he got lots of media coverage, and the stories were written by a writer who interviewed the people they could find after his show opened. The writer did a great job to capture the same sensitivity as Fouhse did in the images. And, just so you don’t miss it, he posted an email he received from a social worker at a local homeless shelter who said that one of the people he photographed asked to have her print from Fouhse put in her file so she wouldn’t lose it or ruin it. “It was obvious that the time you took with her meant something, and I’m sure it’s something she will always remember, and keep with her.”

Oh – and the pics of him shooting one of those nights? Holy crap, I have long, long way to go…


Other bloggers have picked up on this discussion, and expanded it. Check it out.

Orton Effect

As usual, I am late to the party. When I first joined Imagekind a couple of months ago, I discovered the beautiful photography of Antje Bormann and immediately wanted to emulate her treatment. Today, she tipped me off to the Orton Effect, and once googled, I found this easy tutorial. And just like that, I think I’ve found a new addiction… first came Urban Acid, then textures, and now the Orton Effect.

(Boys at Langa Township – there is broken glass next to the barefoot boy’s foot)

(view from the ladies’ bathroom at the South African Art Gallery in Cape Town, SA)

both shots from early 2007

I’m trying not to giggle every time I type wiener

I just this minute finished reading How do you Photograph People? by Leigh Wiener, a professional photographer. I’m sure it’s well overdue at the library, but I wanted to take my time with it, to get the most out of it. The book seems to be out of print, but if you can find it, I highly recommend it.

Wiener uses an interesting structure for the book: questions that his celebrity subjects have asked over the years, often accompanied by the very portraits that came from the interchange. Along with some technical tips (like shooting from above helps eliminate double chins — self-portraits here I come!), he also talks about the psychology a portrait photographer must understand and make use of to get his subjects to relax and reveal parts of themselves they would rather protect. Some quotes that will circle my mind for a long time:

“I never worry about composition, but I am constantly aware of it. There is a difference.”


“There are many, many decisive moments, and this brings us to the best reason for taking many pictures: the subject himself. Once rapport has been established and the subject is relaxed, he begins to reveal many portraits of himself. I want as many as I can get.

“There is no such thing as a single best picture of a person.”

Carrying on in the same theme, he asserts later,

“Since the beginning of time, there has never been a decisive moment — or an indecisive moment for that matter… Moments are like minutes and hours, days and weeks: one just follows another.”It is people who are decisive or indecisive; not the moments in time. As a photographer, you create hte image. You decide when to release the shutter. You, the photographer, are the decisive element in the taking of the a photograph, not some hyped-up moment. Your sensitivity and your understanding of the subject matter, and your point of view, will determine whether your photograph is decisive or not.”

This past weekend, my dad turned 65 and I decided to try to document our family, potentially for a belated gift. Wiener’s book has definitely changed my approach to portraits — where before I (mostly unsuccessfully) tried to be an unobtrusive observer with a lightning fast trigger finger, now I try to make the person in front of me comfortable, and not to show my self-consciousness.

My one niece has no shyness with the camera… she was so absorbed in her play, I’m not even sure she noticed me. (This shot was totally unset-up by the way. She chose her outfit — the tutu was compliments of the Easter Bunny — and she just started playing with these plastic masks my parents brought home from their recent cruise.)


But my other niece said she hates getting her picture taken, and it showed. Most of the shots I made of her are blurry from camera shake (I ordered a new Nikon 50 mm F1.8 lens yesterday because I can’t stand how slow my kit zoom lens is so hopefully that won’t happen again), but I did get one sharp shot that I think is not bad.


Here are some other people shots I like from the weekend:




My brother opened another art show this weekend, and it was great to get the chance to go. This is my mom, looking at some of the reading material. I’ll post more pics from the gallery later, because I like them, and I think they’ll go nicely together.

Winter finally begins to recede!

Last weekend was bright and sunny, not particularly mild but not particularly freezing either. So I took my camera with me on our usual weekend trips to the Farmer’s Market, Planet Bean Café, and the library.

planet bean cafe
I’m a sucker for a clear reflection, and I love all the heads poking out from places you don’t expect to see people’s heads.

On the way to the library, I noticed this guy and his crazy beard from half a block away. My husband was all grim resignation, you want to take his picture, don’t you, and I was all, YEAH! So he proceeded to the library with our son and I shot these kids playing hackey sack before meeting back up at the library.

The guy with the dreads kept tapping his fingers on the drum every time the sack came near him, almost like a nervous tic, and randomly blowing his harmonica.


Yesterday I went shopping. I’ve had a $50 gift card to Chapters burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas, and I finally decided what to do with it. I was going to buy The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby, which I got out of the library a couple of months ago and saw it would be a great reference book to own.

When I got there, however, they didn’t have any copies left of the CS2 book, only the CS3. So I browsed the photography section, and along with the 2008 Photographer’s Market, I decided to get Forsaken by Lana Slezic.

Immediately I knew this was a special book. It is the only book I own that I won’t look at or hold if I’m eating or drinking. Something about it makes me want to keep it pristine.

What started as a six-week assignment in Afghanistan for Canadian photographer Lana Slezic quickly lengthened into a two-year project. She and her friend/translator, Farazan, quietly travelled the country, speaking to Afghan women and listening to their stories. Over and over again she heard horrible stories of forced marriages, abuse, illiteracy, murder and suicide, stories that made it clear that the end of the Taliban has not freed Afghan women in any meaningful way. I flipped through the pages in the bookstore enough to identify a collection of beautiful photos, more engaging than any of the other photo books on the shelves. That it was created by a Canadian woman was a bonus.

Last night I sat down to go through the book more slowly, cover to cover. I was transfixed and finished it in one sitting. I can’t imagine how tightly edited the colletion must be, since Slezic spent two years shooting, and I found the structure of the book really enhanced my experience and exploration of the images. The preface by Deborah Ellis situates these photos and stories in a country destroyed by a quarter-century of war.

I’m normally a pretty quick viewer of photos; I decide very quickly whether I think it is good or bad, beautiful or boring, then move on. I rarely spend time lingering over an image, but I did with many of the images in Forsaken.

The text is concise and it seems to me that rather than trying to tell every story Slezic heard, the stories are included only as an introduction to the magnitude of the force oppressing women in Afghanistan. The stories are an entry to the photos, where the real narrative is. In the images, we see women gathered in a dress shop, covered in burkas, the mannequins behind them modelling the dresses that must be hidden on the real-life women. We see a woman weeping on a crude, snow-covered grave, her head pressed to the stone. We see hands holding photos, a single eye illuminated by a strip of sunlight in darkness, we see burkas, we see children playing and living in crumbling buildings. And those are just a few of what linger in my mind, more than 12 hours after my last viewing. If a photo has a story with it, you only find out after you turn the page, and none of the photos have captions, which forced me to examine the photos for information. I was pleased to discover captions for all the photos at the back of the book, but by the time I got there, I was resigned to experiencing the photos on their own terms. If you enjoy photography and feminism, I definitely recommend this book.

You can see most of the images from the book at Slezic’s website and several of her other projects. All of her images are simply beautiful. She’s working on her next book, which will collect images of her family’s home town, Dubrovnik, Croatia.


So I was all excited to fire up my new blog in advance of the coming gallery, but now I’m sitting in front of a blank screen. I’d love to start this off with a clever and witty bang, but I’m not particularly clever or witty, and certainly not on demand.

Once upon a time, I got passionately into photography. I bought a 20-year-old, fully manual 35 mm SLR, read every photography book I could find at the library or my local used bookstore, and threw myself into Photo I at my university. I worked at a chain photofinishing store to learn more, then decided retail work sucked and finished my degree in English. Then I started working full-time in an office and somehow interest in my camera all but disappeared. Once I stopped looking through the camera regularly, I lost my eye, so when I DID pick up my camera, I was very frustrated with the results. Which led me into a vicious circle of frustration and discouragement on the rare occasions when I felt inspired.

After several years of not picking up my camera, I figured it was just another one of my passions that fell by the wayside. I tend to be a serial monogamist in my hobbies, having been passionately committed to, at different times, horseback riding, poetry, photography and belly dance. Mostly, I spent several years as a drone who went to work and came home to veg in front of the tv.

But all that changed after my son was born. It’s almost as if, in losing myself to the intense and relentless task of parenting, I found myself. I went for a lot of walks pushing my son in his stroller, and I started to see photos everywhere. After a month of two of being hounded by all these photos, I finally took my husband’s digital point and shoot with me, and I haven’t looked back. I couldn’t stand the restrictions of the point and shoot, but I loved working digitally. Not only does it provide instant gratification, but I don’t have to shut myself up in a dark room or deal with scratched negatives (now it’s corrupted files but still…). So in November 2006, I bought a Nikon D70s, and I’ve been shooting as much as I can.

Something radical shifted in me this past Christmas. My husband gave me a book of Rudy Burckhardt’s photography for my birthday. I’d never heard of him before, but my husband said his photos reminded him of mine. Something about seeing photos in a big coffee table book, all shiny and crisp, sharing some visual elements with my own photos made me want to take my photos more seriously, to aspire. For the past year, I’ve thought about finding a way to make some of my photos available for sale online and donating the proceeds to charity. A couple of months ago, I found Imagekind. Right now I’m donating 50% of the proceeds to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and I’ve already sold several prints.

Hopefully soon I’ll have my gallery up and running here, but in the meantime I will blog, occasionally.