Schooner race. By Nubar Alexanian

Nubar Alexanian

Intro from Jay Allison: Okay he's a photographer, but it seemed a fine idea to invite Nubar Alexanian to come talk about storytelling. For one thing, when I first met him he was in a rare position: Official Photographer on a radio project ("Vanishing Homelands"). But more than that, when I would ask him about documentary photography, I learned something about narrative, point of view, authorship, revelation of character, journalistic ethics, creative spirit, interpreting life. Useful stuff for radio. You can read all about his work on his webpage, but what I can say is that Nubar is full of heart, tells the truth, and doesn't like compromise. He's a teacher. He came to our local station recently and we did a call-in show together. Photography on the Radio. And the Web. We posted his pictures, with backstories from Nubar, so listeners could look at the photos and hear Nubar tell their stories. People really liked it. We invited him to Transom. Nubar will be inviting some of his photographer friends over to join the discussion. This is fitting for the Internet, as all the tools converge, as the lines get fuzzy, as writers, radio producers, photographers, videographers become one. It is particularly useful now to talk about the images embedded in stories and the stories embedded in images. Please welcome Nubar. You can even ask him what's the best camera to buy and how to take better pictures of your kids. He won't mind.

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Picture – Sound

A few years ago, a radio producer friend and I were testing High 8 video cameras. We were both new to the medium, he coming from radio and I coming from photography. Standing side by side, we planned to shoot the same thing with each of our cameras, switching tapes back and forth to see if there was any difference in quality. He had a small single chip Sony High 8 camera with a large Sennheiser microphone on top. I had a large 3 chip Sony High 8 camera using the on-board microphone (three chips are better than one for picture quality). Puzzled by how we might identify who was shooting what with which camera, I suggested we shoot our feet and thereby identify ourselves by the shoes we were wearing. Perplexed by the extravagance of this, he said, “Why don’t we just say our names?”

Ah, the presence of a microphone. It wasn’t long before I learned the painful lesson that a story can be told with bad footage and good sound, but not with bad sound and good footage – no matter how great the footage looked! My bewilderment aside, this was a wonderful example of the different worlds we live and work in: to look or listen, to notice what we see or hear what’s being said.

I love the saying, “Where there’s a life, there’s a story,” and I believe it’s true. It’s kind of overwhelming when you think about it. Six billion different stories taking place at the same time, beginning, growing, ending. I am fond of stories about regular people that are done well. This, along with the news, is why I listen to public radio. I am particularly interested in the “ordinary lives done well” part of this, because the storyteller must be at the top of his/her game in order to pull it off. To do this, they are, by necessity, challenged to celebrate the medium they are working in – in this case, radio. So I am not only entertained and informed about the subject, but also about the medium. This American Life is a wonderful example of this.

The Subject, The Photographer, and Photography

Yellowstone_Rebecca_NA

But I’m here to wax eloquently about photography, not tell radio journalists what they already know. I love to joke with friends who are radio or print journalists about how dependent they are on facts to tell a story. It confounds (and perhaps irritates) them. As a photojournalist, I am not dependent on the literal facts of a story to take honest pictures of subjects within the story. Besides, narrative has never been one of photography’s strengths: as a medium it is much too ambiguous. (There are exceptions. Gene Richards and Sebastiao Salgado – their work being some of the best.)

There are, of course, different kinds of documentary photographers, but many of us working today are what I like to call first-person photojournalists. We rely on our experience of events to make images that translate how we feel about what’s happening in front of our cameras. This is one way to make honest pictures. I use the word honest here because I believe acknowledging one’s presence, whenever possible, makes for a fuller, truer description. There are, arguably, other, more noble approaches. But what I’m most interested in are photographs that are not dependent on captions — images strong enough to stand on their own. When the experience of the photographer is included, the content includes more than subject and medium: it includes the photographer as well. This is what all strong photographs have in common. They are about the subject, the photographer and photography.

A Voice To Call Your Own

Christina's Grave. By Nubar Alexanian.
Christina’s Grave. By Nubar Alexanian.

When I talk about photography, I like using the phrase “finding your own voice” rather than “finding your own personal vision.” I think it’s because the former is more universally understood, but we are talking about the same thing here. We are all born with a voice that identifies us. And yes, we each develop a singular point of view. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we have our own way of seeing – not photographically. Having your own vision as a photographer means acquiring a visual vocabulary that has evolved over time. (I don’t mean style here, but a way of seeing. They are different.)

About fifteen years ago, I had a young woman working with me whom I liked very much. Sarah had majored in photography in college and was very competent and made a great assistant. But her work was boring. Back then, I insisted that my assistants work on long term documentary projects so that our relationship involved more than making money and learning the trade. She was working on a project about a Vietnamese fishing family that immigrated to Boston. After six months, I felt like things weren’t working out. Her work was not progressing and I was out of suggestions. Sarah expressed frustration with what she called a “protective shield” that surrounded her and kept her from taking risks – even visual risks. After some discussion, I asked her to name the shield (my wife, Rebecca, is a psychotherapist). Having been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, Sarah thought it had to do with her upbringing.

We made a deal. We would keep working together and she would find a Jewish family in Brookline to photograph for a year. She would put away all of her equipment, her Nikon cameras and lenses, and take pictures only with a Canonette camera. The Canonette is a small inexpensive rangefinder with a fixed lens and limited choices. It was a difficult year. I was impressed by her commitment and tenacity to stay with this project. During this first year, she watched as her peers went to New York to show their portfolios, trying to advance their careers. It was painful. I have always discouraged showing a portfolio to magazine editors. It is far more effective to show a completed photo-essay, about a subject that called you and kept you over an extended period of time. In those days, the staff at Life magazine received about 100 competent portfolios per week for review. (Photography is a relatively easy to be competent in, especially when it’s viewed as a technical medium.)

Sarah produced an extraordinary body of work that took three years to complete. Though she couldn’t see it at the time, her photographs described her experience of what it was like to be a woman in the Hasidic Jewish culture. Every time I edited her contact sheets, I could see her development as a photographer – her ability to include more emotional elements and translate them visually. When it came time to go to New York, photo editors loved the work and every magazine she visited wanted to find a way to use it. She produced a memorable body of work while at the same time launching her career as a documentary photographer.

Photographer As Witness – Storyteller As Witness

Murder of A Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief. By Eddie Adams (Vietnam, 1968) Associated Press
Murder of A Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief. By Eddie Adams (Vietnam, 1968) Associated Press

In 1968 photographer Eddie Adams took this photograph of the execution of a North Vietnamese spy. It’s a powerful image, one which not only describes the horror of war, but the power of photographs. Also present at the time of this execution was a television news crew, who, it seems, were standing right next to Adams when he took his photograph. When you view their footage, what you see is an event with a beginning, middle and end, a journalistic document in the purest sense. Perhaps because it describes this event in its entirety, and certainly because there is a contextual relationship between each moment (the strength of film) there is relief in ending – of being allowed to move on. In the photograph, there is no end, no beginning, no moving on. In the photograph, there is no context, there is only the present, carried into the future, by one five-hundredth of a second. This photograph, along with the image by Nick Ut of nine-year-old Kim Phuc running naked from Napalm being sprayed in her village went a long way toward stopping the war. It’s impossible to imagine photographs being more effective in the world.

Vietnamese Girl Fleeing in Terror After a Napalm Attack. By Nick Ut (Vietnam, 1972) © Associated Press
Vietnamese Girl Fleeing in Terror After a Napalm Attack. By Nick Ut (Vietnam, 1972) © Associated Press

Seeing such pictures published today is almost unimaginable. Yes, the act of witness is important. And there are many photographers documenting important events around the globe, creating sensational images. Yet there is reason for caution. The greatest threat to documentary photography has always been illustration. This is more true today than ever. In fact, I would argue that illustration has won over all forms of documentary photography, generating photographs that look and feel like photojournalism, but are, in fact, conceptual ideas of how to describe a subject or an event. (I’m talking about what magazine editors find appealing, rather than what photographers are willing to do.)

On the other hand, perhaps documentary photography is going through a growth phase, being challenged by other media. For example, no recent single photograph or body of work covering civil wars or atrocities around the world has effected me as much as the story I read recently by Leroy Sievers, Executive Producer of ABC’s “Nightline” – re-posted here on Transom. Photography certainly has it’s own way of transporting the viewer and, as described above, can be very effective. However, the intimacy of this story had a profound effect on me. Perhaps because it is so personal, it provides what none of the photographs seem to offer – a place to stand within the horror of this event, creating a way for the reader to become a witness through telling. This is a powerful example of the effect of first-person journalism, which is what I think it is.

A Thousand Words

Photography is an odd and fascinating medium. As Wim Wenders once said about a friend’s photographs: “Whoever came up first with that saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ didn’t understand the first thing about either one.” I’m not sure what Wim Wenders had in mind when he wrote this. But if a photograph were worth a thousand words, it’s entirely possible they would have nothing to do with the truth.

So what’s the truth here? Do you have any idea what’s going on in this photograph?

Yuqui_Bob_Umbrella_NA

Peru

I was seeking a kind of personal truth when I began my first long-term documentary project about Peru. I first traveled to Peru on assignment in 1974 and fell in love with the place – deeply in love. I was taking landscape photographs back then with a view camera, the kind of camera you have on a tripod with a big black cloth over your head. These photographs were very beautiful, but it’s easy to take beautiful pictures of beautiful things. Besides, I felt like I was taking and not giving, as if I had secretly slipped into the country, taken a few jewels, and slipped back out without being noticed. I didn’t have to interact with anyone. So beginning in 1978, I spent 15 years traveling back and forth to Peru on my own. I accepted no assignments to subsidize this work because I wanted to see in my own work why I found this country and its people so compelling. I wanted to take pictures that were about them that also told me something about me.

I am proud of this body of work. In 1992 it was eventually published as Stones In The Road: Photographs of Peru. Peru taught me about photography. It was there that I learned and developed my own visual vocabulary. And it was this body of work that helped establish my career as a documentary photographer (even though it wasn’t published until 1992). I am flattered that my friends in Peru feel strongly about how well these photographs portray their country. However, it’s also true that no one in these photographs benefited by being in them. This disturbs me about this work and a lot of photographic books published in the last 20 years.

Burro. By Nubar Alexanian
Burro. By Nubar Alexanian.
Wedding Band. By Nubar Alexanian
Wedding Band. By Nubar Alexanian
Chinchero. Photo by Nubar Alexanian
Chinchero. Photo by Nubar Alexanian

Inside Out

Palm Sunday in Peru. By Nubar Alexanian
Palm Sunday in Peru. By Nubar Alexanian

Many of you will probably find this surprising, but I believe that in radio the greater good is greater than in photography. I am aware of the editorial struggles radio and print journalists go through. We go through them as well. I am also aware that there is basically one outlet for radio. But everything I’ve been talking about can be summed up this way: what dedicated radio journalists and dedicated photo-journalists have in common is the willingness to work from inside out rather than outside in. This means not looking at the marketplace to see what will sell. Rather, to do stories we all feel passionate about, allowing the subject and content to dictate what is necessary whenever possible.

The rub is, although there are many more magazines being published today than ever before, there are none publishing this work. You will only see this work in books – books that are mostly purchased by other photographers. There is basically no mainstream audience for the work we do. So when I’m sitting in my driveway, captivated by a piece on NPR, I marvel that you have this one outlet that connects your work with me and most of the people I know.

Nubar Alexanian’s Friends

Susan Meiselas

Susan Meiselas is an award winning documentary photographer best known for her work in Central America. In 1978, Meiselas received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “outstanding courage and reporting” for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua that same year. In 1992 she was named a MacArthur Fellow.

Her photographs have been published worldwide in the pages of Time, The New York Times, Paris Match, and Life. She is the author of two monographs: “Carnival Strippers” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976) and “Nicaragua” (Pantheon, 1981). She is the editor of “Learn to See” (Polaroid Foundation, 1975), “El Salvador: Work of 30 Photographers” (Writers & Readers,1983), and “Chile From Within” (W.W. Norton, 1990). Meiselas is a member of Magnum photos and lives in New York City. See her Kurdistan in the Shadow of History Exhibit and portfolio at Magnumphotos.com.

Abigail Heyman

Abigail Heyman became the feminist eye/voice of photography with “Growing Up Female; A Personal Photo-Journal”, the landmark book which documented the female experience from a feminist perspective, and challenged assumptions about being a woman. While much of the book is autobiographical in theme, her photographs “transcend the strictly personal and assume public posture.” Photographically, as Andy Grundberg said, it “tested the line between reportage and personal expression.”

Her book, “Butcher, Baker, Cabinetmaker; Photographs of Women at Work,” is about women who hold jobs that children commonly assume are only done by men, and is aimed at changing those expectations for a new generation of school children. “Dreams & Schemes; Love and Marriage in Modern Times” penetrates wedding rituals to examine the underlying emotions and widespread implications they often conceal. Photographs of her own family were the genesis of “Flesh & Blood: Photographers’ Images of Their Own Families,” an intimate and poignant collection of many contemporary photographers’ work, which Ms. Heyman co-edited and produced.

Heyman has participated in solo and group photo exhibitions; her work frequently appears in publications in the United States and abroad. She is a former member of Magnum Photos, and at one time directed the Documentary and Photojournalism Studies Program at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Jeff Jacobson

Jeff Jacobson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1946. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1968, and from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., in 1971. While practicing as a civil rights lawyer in the American South in the early 70’s, Jacobson became interested in photography, shooting in southern jails and rural areas. After completing a workshop at Apeiron with Charles Harbutt, in 1974, Jacobson quit his law practice to devote full energies to photography.

In 1976, Jacobson began working in color while photographing the American presidential campaign. It was during this personal project that he began experimenting with strobe and long exposures, a now familiar technique that he pioneered. Jacobson joined Magnum Photos in 1978, and in 1981 he left Magnum, along with photographers Charles Harbutt, MaryEllen Mark, Burk Uzzle and others to found Archive Pictures. He continued his color explorations in the United States throughout the 80’s which culminated in the publication of his monograph, “My Fellow Americans,” in 1990. During this time, and continuing to the present, Jacobson regularly does assignments for magazines, such as The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Time, Geo, Stern, Life, and many others.

Jacobson’s photographs have been exhibited or are in the collections of museums around the world. He has taught workshops regularly at ICP and other venues in the US & Europe and has been awarded grants from the National Endowment For The Arts, and The New York Foundation For The Arts.

In 1990, Jacobson moved to Los Angeles and began a series of complex, mostly urban landscapes from all over the world which appear as if they were digitally altered, even though all are straight documentary photographs. These photographs raise questions about the influence of the computer upon our notions of photographic reality, and will be published in the book, You Are Here in 1992. In 1999, Jacobson returned to New York where he now lives. He has begun a series of photographs made mostly at night, pushing Kodachrome film as far as possible.

Alex Webb

Alex Webb was born in San Francisco, California in 1952. He became interested in photography during his high school years. He majored in history and literature at Harvard University and studied photography at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Webb attended the Apeiron Workshops in 1972; he began working as a professional photojournalist in 1974. His photographs began to appear in such publications as the New York Times Magazine, Life, Geo, and eventually in Stern and National Geographic. Webb joined Magnum Photos as an associate member in 1976, becoming a full memeber in 1979.

During the mid-1970’s, Webb conducted reportages in the US south, traveling extensively, documenting small town life in black and white. He also began working in the Caribbean and Mexico. In 1979, Webb began a body of color work that he continues to pursue today. Since then he has traveled throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. He has published four books: Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds (1986) and Under A Grudging Sun (1989), both published by Thames and Hudson and From the Sunshine State and Amazon: From the Floodplains to the Clouds, both published by the Monacelli Press. He has also created a technology-mediated artist’s book entitled Dislocations with the Film Study Center at Harvard University (1998-99). A new book about the US/Mexico border is due out fall 2001, also from Monacelli Press.

Webb received a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant in 1986, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1990, a Hasselblad Foundation Grant in 1998, and won the Leopold Godowsky Color Photography Award in 1988 and the Leica Medal of Excellence in 2000. His photographs have been the subject of articles in Art in America and Modern Photography. He has exhibited widely both in the United States and Europe. Among museums that have exhibited his work are: the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the International Center of Photography, the High Museum of Art, the Southeast Museum of Photography, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

To see some of his recent work visit Alex’s portfolio at Magnumphotos.com.

Nubar Alexanian

About
Nubar Alexanian

Nubar Alexanian was born in 1950 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became passionate about photography while studying at Boston University, and later co-founded the Essex Photographic Workshop in Essex, Massachusetts. He has travelled and photographed extensively in Peru. His 1991 book of photographs from Peru, Stones in the Road, has been called by Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, "an authentic expression of our geography and our people, making at the same time a personal statement which is artistically original and morally compelling." In 1990 Alexanian started a five year project about music, travelling around the world with twenty-five musicians, including Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis, Philip Glass, Emmylou Harris, and Phish. The resulting book, Where Music Comes From, published in 1996, captures the spirit of music, as it explores what inspires committed musicians. In 2001, his book, Gloucester Photographs, about his home town of Gloucester Massachusetts, was published by Walker Creek Press. The publication of this book coincided with an exhibition of this and other recent work at the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester. His new book, JAZZ, a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, is his first narrative attempt at using images and words and is available only online at Walker Creek Press. Alexanian's many awards include a Fulbright Fellowship in 1983. His work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Life, Geo Fortune, National Geographic, and The London Sunday Times, among other publications around the world. He has had numerous one-person exhibitions in the United States and Europe, and his work is in private and museum collections internationally. He teaches workshops at the International Center of Photography in New York, and in the Boston area. Alexanian lives in Gloucester with his wife and daughter. Nubar's Website is www.nubar.com and his photography bookstore is at www.walkercreekpress.com.

More by Nubar Alexanian

Comments

  • Jay Allison

    8.14.01

    Welcome Nubar
    Schooners
    Schooners

    Okay he’s a photographer, but it seemed a fine idea to invite Nubar Alexanian to come talk about storytelling.

    For one thing, when I first met him he was in a rare position: The Official Photographer on a radio project. (“Vanishing Homelands”)

    But more than that, when I would ask him about documentary photography, I learned something about narrative, point of view, authorship, revelation of character, journalistic ethics, creative spirit, interpreting life. Useful stuff for radio.

    You can read all about his work on his page here, but what I can say is that Nubar is full of heart, tells the truth, and doesn’t like compromise. He’s a teacher. He came to our local station recently and we did a call-in show together. Photography on the Radio. And the Web. We posted his pictures, with backstories from Nubar, so listeners could look at the photos and hear Nubar tell their stories. People really liked it. We invited him to Transom. By the way, you can find links to all this stuff on his Bio Page

    Nubar will be inviting some of his photographer friends over to join the discussion. This is fitting for the Internet, as all the tools converge, as the lines get fuzzy, as writers, radio producers, photographers, videographers become one. It is particularly useful now to talk about the images embedded in stories and the stories embedded in images.

    Please welcome Nubar. You can even ask him what’s the best camera to buy and how to take better pictures of your kids. He won’t mind.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    PICTURE – SOUND
    Nubar Alexanian
    Nubar Alexanian

    A few years ago, a radio producer friend and I were testing High 8 video cameras. We were both new to the medium, he coming from radio and I coming from photography. Standing side by side, we planned to shoot the same thing with each of our cameras, switching tapes back and forth to see if there was any difference in quality. He had a small single chip Sony High 8 camera with a large Sennheiser microphone on top. I had a large 3 chip Sony High 8 camera using the on board microphone. (Three chips are better than one for picture quality.) Puzzled by how we might identify who was shooting what with which camera, I suggested we shoot our feet and thereby identify ourselves by the shoes we were wearing. Perplexed by the extravagance of this, he said, "Why don’t we just say our names?"

    Ah, the presence of a microphone. It wasn’t long before I learned the painful lesson that a story can be told with bad footage and good sound, but not with bad sound and good footage (no matter how great the footage looked!). My bewilderment aside, this was a wonderful example of the different worlds we live and work in: to look or listen; to notice what we see, or hear what’s being said.

    I love the saying, "Where there’s a life, there’s a story," and I believe it’s true. It’s kind of overwhelming when you think about it. Six billion different stories taking place at the same time, beginning, growing, ending. I am fond of stories about regular people that are done well. This, along with the news, is why I listen to public radio. I am particularly interested in the "ordinary lives done well" part of this, because the storyteller must be at the top of his/her game in order to pull it off. To do this, they are, by necessity, challenged to celebrate the medium they are working in-in this case, radio. So I am not only entertained and informed about the subject, but also about the medium. This American Life is a wonderful example of this.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    THE SUBJECT, THE PHOTOGRAPHER, AND PHOTOGRAPHY
    Yellowstone

    Grave

    But I’m here to wax eloquently about photography, not tell radio journalists what they already know. I love to joke with friends who are radio or print journalists about how dependent they are on facts to tell a story. It confounds (and perhaps irritates) them. As a photojournalist, I am not dependent on the literal facts of a story to take honest pictures of subjects within the story. Besides, narrative has never been one of photography’s strengths: as a medium it is much too ambiguous. (There are exceptions. Gene Richards and Sebastião Salgado‘s work being some of the best.)

    There are, of course, different kinds of documentary photographers, but many of us working today are what I like to call first-person photojournalists. We rely on our experience of events to make images that translate how we feel about what’s happening in front of our cameras. This is one way to make honest pictures. I use the word honest here because I believe acknowledging one’s presence, whenever possible, makes for a fuller, truer description. There are, arguably, other, more noble approaches. But what I’m most interested in are photographs that are not dependent on captions — images strong enough to stand on their own. When the experience of the photographer is included, the content includes more than subject and medium: it includes the photographer as well. This is what all strong photographs have in common. They are about the subject, the photographer and photography.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    A VOICE TO CALL YOUR OWN

    When I talk about photography, I like using the phrase "finding your own voice" rather than "finding your own personal vision." I think it’s because the former is more universally understood, but we are talking about the same thing here. We are all born with a voice that identifies us. And yes, we each develop a singular point of view. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we have our own way of seeing — not photographically. Having your own vision as a photographer means acquiring a visual vocabulary that has evolved over time. (I don’t mean style here, but a way of seeing. They are different.)

    About fifteen years ago, I had a young woman working with me whom I liked very much. Sarah had majored in photography in college and was very competent and made a great assistant. But her work was boring. Back then, I insisted that my assistants work on long term documentary projects so that our relationship involved more than making money and learning the trade. She was working on a project about a Vietnamese fishing family that immigrated to Boston. After six months, I felt like things weren’t working out. Her work was not progressing and I was out of suggestions. Sarah expressed frustration with what she called a "protective shield" that surrounded her and kept her from taking risks-even visual risks. After some discussion, I asked her to name the shield (My wife, Rebecca, is a psychotherapist.). Having been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, she thought it had to do with her upbringing.

    We made a deal. We would keep working together and she would find a Jewish family in Brookline to photograph for a year. She would put away all of her equipment, her Nikon cameras & lenses, and take pictures only with a Canonette camera. The Canonette is a small inexpensive rangefinder with a fixed lens and limited choices. It was a difficult year. I was impressed by her commitment and tenacity to stay with this project. During this first year, she watched as her peers went to New York to show their portfolios, trying to advance their careers. It was painful. I have always discouraged showing a portfolio to magazine editors. It is far more effective to show a completed photo-essay, about a subject that called you and kept you over an extended period of time. In those days, the staff at Life magazine received about 100 competent portfolios per week for review. (Photography is a relatively easy to be competent in, especially when it’s viewed as a technical medium.)

    Sarah produced an extraordinary body of work that took three years to complete. Though she couldn’t see it at the time, her photographs described her experience of what it was like to be a woman in the Hasidic Jewish culture. Every time I edited her contact sheets, I could see her development as a photographer — her ability to include more emotional elements and translate them visually. When it came time to go to New York, photo editors loved the work and every magazine she visited wanted to find a way to use it. She produced a memorable body of work while at the same time launching her career as a documentary photographer.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    PHOTOGRAPHER AS WITNESS – STORYTELLER AS WITNESS
    Murder of A Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief
    Murder of A Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief, Eddie Adams (Vietnam, 1968) © Associated Press

    Vietnamese Girl
    Vietnamese Girl Fleeing in Terror After a Napalm Attack, Nick Ut (Vietnam, 1972) © Associated Press

    In 1968 photographer Eddie Adams took this photograph of the execution of a North Vietnamese spy. It’s a powerful image, one which not only describes the horror of war, but the power of photographs. Also present at the time of this execution was a television news crew, who, it seems, were standing right next to Adams when he took his photograph. When you view their footage, what you see is an event with a beginning, middle and end, a journalistic document in the purest sense. Perhaps because it describes this event in its entirety, and certainly because there is a contextual relationship between each moment (the strength of film) there is relief in ending-of being allowed to move on. In the photograph, there is no end, no beginning, no moving on. In the photograph, there is no context, there is only the present, carried into the future, by one five hundredth of a second. This photograph, along with the image by Nick Ut of 9 year old Kim Phuc running naked from Napalm being sprayed in her village went a long way toward stopping the war. It’s impossible to imagine photographs being more effective in the world.

    Seeing such pictures published today is almost unimaginable. Yes, the act of witness is important. And there are many photographers documenting important events around the globe, creating sensational images. Yet there is reason for caution. The greatest threat to documentary photography has always been illustration. This is more true today than ever. In fact, I would argue that illustration has won over all forms of documentary photography, generating photographs that look and feel like photojournalism, but are, in fact, conceptual ideas of how to describe a subject or an event. (I’m talking about what magazine editors find appealing, rather than what photographers are willing to do.)

    On the other hand, perhaps documentary photography is going through a growth phase, being challenged by other media. For example, no recent single photograph or body of work covering civil wars or atrocities around the world has effected me as much as the story I read recently by Leroy Sievers, Executive Producer Nightline – re-posted here on Transom. Photography certainly has it’s own way of transporting the viewer and, as described above, can be very effective. However, the intimacy of this story had a profound effect on me. Perhaps because it is so personal, it provides what none of the photographs seem to offer — a place to stand within the horror of this event, creating a way for the reader to become a witness through telling. This is a powerful example of the effect of first-person journalism, which is what I think it is.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    A THOUSAND WORDS

    Photography is an odd and fascinating medium. As Wim Wenders once said about a friend’s photographs: "Whoever came up first with that saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ didn’t understand the first thing about either one." I’m not sure what Wim Wenders had in mind when he wrote this. But if a photograph were worth a thousand words, it’s entirely possible they would have nothing to do with the truth.

    So what’s the truth here? Do you have any idea what’s going on in this photograph?


    Bob Garland
    Click for Larger View
    Wedding Band

    Click for Larger View
    Chinchero

    Click for Larger View
    Burro

    PERU

    I was seeking a kind of personal truth when I began my first long-term documentary project about Peru. I first traveled to Peru on assignment in 1974 and fell in love with the place-deeply in love. I was taking landscape photographs back then with a view camera, the kind of camera you have on a tripod with a big black cloth over your head. These photographs were very beautiful, but it’s easy to take beautiful pictures of beautiful things. Besides, I felt like I was taking and not giving, as if I had secretly slipped into the country, took a few jewels, and slipped back out without being noticed. I didn’t have to interact with anyone. So beginning in 1978, I spent 15 years traveling back and forth to Peru on my own. I accepted no assignments to subsidize this work because I wanted to see in my own work why I found this country and its people so compelling. I wanted to take pictures that were about them that also told me something about me.

    I am proud of this body of work. In 1992 it was eventually published as Stones In The Road: Photographs of Peru. Peru taught me about photography. It was there that I learned and developed my own visual vocabulary. And it was this body of work that helped establish my career as a documentary photographer (even though it wasn’t published until 1992). I am flattered that my friends in Peru feel strongly about how well these photographs portray their country. However, it’s also true that no one in these photographs benefited by being in them. This disturbs me about this work and a lot of photographic books published in the last 20 years.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.14.01

    INSIDE OUT
    Palm Sunday
    Palm Sunday

    Many of you will probably find this surprising, but I believe that in radio, the greater good is greater than in photography. I am aware of the editorial struggles radio and print journalists go through. We go through them as well. I am also aware that there is basically one outlet for radio. But everything I’ve been talking about can be summed up this way: what dedicated radio journalists and dedicated photo-journalists have in common is the willingness to work from inside out rather than outside in. This means not looking at the marketplace to see what will sell. Rather, to do stories we all feel passionate about, allowing the subject and content to dictate what is necessary whenever possible. The rub is, although there are many more magazines being published today than ever before, there are none publishing this work. You will only see this work in books — books that are mostly purchased by other photographers. There is basically no mainstream audience for the work we do. So when I’m sitting in my driveway, captivated by a piece on NPR, I marvel that you have this one outlet that connects your work with me and most of the people I know.

  • Viki Merrick

    8.19.01

    sensory simpleton

    You make me think too many things at once ! Let’s see if I can drag out a single coherent thought.

    It’s befuddling to compare eyes to ears. Sometimes I feel like a sensory simpleton. I know that pictures can get in my way if what I am really trying to do is listen – I also think if your pictures from Stones in the Road had a sound or a caption other than what the image inspired in me – I might not be quite as transported.

    I like radio stories because of how they play on our emotions – what we might be imagining along the way. The stories that are told aurally may be less ambiguous than a photograph but some photographs, like Stones in the Road, or Salgado’s train station in Migrations, let the imagination travel, opening so many windows that you can smell stuff – the story we concoct might be "right" – or not – but that seems less important than the fact of having wandered there. Perhaps it is the honesty you speak of and what it transmits that might very well be the "right" story, for the viewer.

    I am beginning to think that senses which feed impressions to the brain through image or thought need to be approached one at a time. Movies and documentaries, good ones, can be very evocative, when word and sight dance. It’s just never as intense. Director Godfrey Reggio (Koyaannisqaatsi, Powaqaatsi) makes movies with just music and they can scare you like no other horror film or tragic documentary. It’s the editorial choices. Can you talk about an editorial choice you made from one of the photographs posted that might address that question? The lone woman in the shawl from Chinchero? You probably took more than one of her – why that one? The way she is looking outward? Because her mouth has or is about to utter a sound? Her head nearly turned away from what she sees? Maybe nothing. Maybe it was a one-shot deal, a moment. even better. mysterious fortune. gorgeous photograph, as is the whole book.

    Another question:
    The current show featured, Street Dogs, has multi-versions, with and without images. I am curious, which version would you be drawn to first? If you haven’t checked it out yet, maybe do an experiment and first either do eyes or ears only. and then tell us. Just don’t do a photography critique ’cause Jake/Matt might get hurt – to quote Jay Allison, they, like us, might be "sensitive public radio types".

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.21.01

    Viki

    In 1980 I was covering the Democratic Convention in NYC for one of the news weeklies. These events can be fun and frustrating at the same time. There is a major sight/sound issue to contend with. There was so much noise and commotion, I found it very hard to shoot.Sony had just come out with the first Walkman and I thought I would experiment to see if this new contraption could help me focus visually. So I bought one and shot the second and third day listening to music while I was shooting. It changed it for me, but only slightly, because I was still being stimulated by sound, just in a more pleasing way.

    This was really an issue when I shot Where Music Comes From, my book on musicians. For five years I travelled with musicians and though I could not tell when I felt I was making interesting pictures (you can never really know this), I could definitely tell when I wasn’t. If I was aware of the music, I was not inside the camera. Even a 10% reduction of concentration can affect me adversely. I’m either in the "zone" connecting visually with a subject, or I’m not. So when I was shooting musicians making music I don’t feel a strong connection with, it was easier than, say, shooting Jazz musicians, because I love Jazz. Because of this, it took me three times as long to shoot Jazz for this book than any other kind of music.

    Regarding the picture of the old woman in Chinchero, let me say this. First, one of the reasons I’ve always liked this image is that people can’t tell whether it’s a man or woman. More than this, she was the reason I changed from shooting color film to black and white. In color, what you would notice more than anything would be her shawl, called a manta in Peru. These mantas are really beautiful, but I wanted people to see her face, not be distracted by the beauty of her manta. There’s an entire life’s story in her face…in the lines…the shine of her skin. I know it sounds like a cliche, but she looks so weathered by living outside most of her life, working and sometimes sleeping in the fields at an altitude of 11,000 feet.

    I’ll take a look at Street Dogs soon.

  • Viki Merrick

    8.21.01

    shaman

    I’m going to start collecting these cross-sensory conflicts like not seeing when the volume is too much, out of focus when your body is invaded with meaningful sounds, not being able to talk with sunglasses on….what I’m going to do with them I’m not sure because I am typing right now so I can’t think.

    The colored shawl – Beyond the obvious distraction of the shawl of many colors, all of Stones in the Road is in b/w – please say more about that choice. I am a total snob for black and white. And I would like to be able to use a logical explanation for that. For me, color is like adding ANOTHER sensory thing that might distract from the essence of the subject (even when there isn’t much color to begin with). Which is a totally weird concept that I don’t understand but just feel – I mean we SEE in color, usually. So why do I want to look longer at a b/w photo? call me crazy. or help me understand.

    I actually figured the old woman in Chinchero was a shaman and could be either, so before I posted I have to confess I looked at her in the book for a REALLY long time, which was a great thing too. Then wandering around her face, picking up/inventing some stories – she definitely FELT like a woman.

  • Jay Allison

    8.21.01

    Black & White

    I’m wonder if there’s an audio analogy for color vs. black & white. Possibly stereo. Or high fi / low fi.

    Some stories are enhanced by brilliant three-dimensional sound. Others benefit from graininess. And it doesn’t always follow that a rough subject should be recorded roughly. Some of Dave Isay’s work in hard places — prison, flophouse — is magnificently recorded with a very high end microphone through good pre-amps into Nagra or HHB Dat. The sheen of the sound, the warmth and proximity of the voice, stands in contrast to the harsh story told.

    On the other hand, diary pieces like Carmen Delzell’s piece here on Transom or some of "Life Stories" or Joe Richman’s work have a "brownie camera" feel because there’s hiss and mic noise and p-pops that enhance a sense of improvisation. They’d sound false if they were too "good."

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.21.01

    color vs black and white

    I think I said this in our live show on photography, but color and black and white are two different languages, like speaking Spanish and Portuguese: they share some words and phrases but they are different. And Jay your analogy in sound is a good one. However, the difference between color and black and white is that in black and white the image is abstracted one step further from the subject. Just as you said, Viki, we see in color, but we don’t see the way color film sees. So the use of color film is already an abstraction of sorts. But there’s a real separation between reality and image in black and white, which can engage the viewers’ imagination more fully. However, there are color photographers who are so good, that just because of the way they use it, they can abstract the subject almost as much, and in some cases more, than a black and white image. You’ll meet some of these photographers later in this discussion. Jeff Jacobson and Alex Webb are two of the best color photographers working today. And, for now, I would simply say they don’t use color as an adjective, but as a verb. The color is active and represents action much of the time.

  • Jake Warga

    8.22.01

    Listening to Photos

    Mr. Alexanian-
    Thanks for your discussion on images. I’ve always fancied the separation of senses. Radio gives the audience credit for imagination, to give picture to voice. Radio works BECAUSE of that lack of image. TV allows no credit to the imagination–giving the audience pictures, sound and even cues of when to laugh (Kill your TV!) But I do see the disappearance of that capacity of imagination in my generation (X). Unless were from the mid-West, radio is not a big part of our lives. Maybe a multimedia approach to telling a story is in order, something to keep our senses occupied. A photograph is a frozen moment in time, but so is an interview. They do share elements. Neither can ever happen again and are precious that way (unless you’re in a studio)

    I’m bogged down with mini-discs, mics, cameras and lenses. I’m useless without batteries. There must be a balance. I not sure "Street Dogs" has done that. The audio and photos stand alone confidently, but seem to be battling in the same arena. But it will keep people interested, something to look at other than an unflinching radio. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on that project. And please ignore Viki’s concern of hurting my feelings–I would like to become a professional something someday, and photos play a part in whatever that might be.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.22.01

    Response to Jake

    I really liked Street Dogs, but it’s success lies in the audio not the visual component. Sorry to say, I think the images not only take a back seat to the audio, but they come close to doing what you rightly accuse TV of doing: chipping away at the audiences capacity to imagine. It’s very difficult to do an audio-visual presentation without audio being dominant. In your case, the stories are so wonderful, I think the only way for the images to work successfully is to have many many more of them. The average time an image is up on a screen during an audio-visual piece is 7 seconds. I didn’t time yours, but they were easily over 30 seconds each. So I found myself turning away until the next image came up. After going through it this way, I listened without looking and was very satisfied by the experience. In the end, I agree with Jay Allison’s assessment of your piece.

    TV is a drag for the reasons you describe. However, it’s very easy to fall into the groove (or gutter if you like) TV id in. The more one medium explains, defines, or illustrates another, the less room there is for audience participation. And since Americans don’t like to participate, it leaves the door open for TV and films, etc. to occupy that space. This is cultural to a large extent. For example, in my field of photojournalism, I (and my friends and colleagues) have had greater support from magazines and institutions in Europe than in the US. (Both my books were published by a British publisher.) Culturally, the audience in Europe is much more active, perhaps with all their senses, than in the US. Jazz has always had more support in Europe than the US. And I was astonished to find that when I was travelling with Emmylou Harris in Europe, she…a country western gal…has larger audiences there as well.

    I’m happy to go further into this with you if you’d like. But for now, if you come across a book by photographer Elliot Erwitt on Dogs, definitely have a look. It’s an extraordinary set of photographs.

  • Jake Warga

    8.24.01

    OK

    Thanks for your comments on "Dogs." I have seen the Erwitt photos, but tend not to like ‘happy’ photos of dogs, or pix that would be best on greeting cards with captions like ‘feel better’ or ‘life’s a dog.’ "Street Dogs" was an effort to understand the people thru their dogs, but I was not as interview savy then to get that deep. I’ve photographed what feels like hundreds of wild dogs in Romania in an attempt to understand the larger culture. I just don’t know what to do with getting the story marketed.

    Now I’m curious, how do you market yourself? I’ve got loads of images and would like to learn more of how to share them with the world (and make accidental $ by extension). Did someone load you with film and say go shoot X? Are you self-edited? Are all your images iris prints, or do you manipulate in post? What’s your b/w film choice? Are these enough questions for now?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.25.01

    Accidental Income

    Jake: Just thought I’d take a moment to say, there’s no such thing as accidental income. Not in my experience anyway. In terms of marketing yourself, the story of Sarah under A Voice to Call Your Own really covers how I’ve worked all my life and what I suggest to others. When I started out, I shot my own picture essays and dragged them to NY to sell to magazines. I don’t believe I’ve ever shown a portfolio in NY. Only stories. So I built my career that way. Since then, I’ve shot on assignment for magazines in the US and Europe, mostly. So yes, they give photographers film, expenses and a day rate to go shoot X.

    My technique is nothing special: Tri-X film processed in D76 and I don’t make Iris prints, but I love to make Archival Ink Jet prints.

    Your question about self editing is curious. I’ve never been asked about it in this way. I always edit my own projects, and when I’m on assignment, I give the client what we call an "A" edit and "B" edit of the film I’ve shot. They are under no obligation to use anything I’ve marked. Most editors want to see what the photographer’s choices are. And if the editor agrees with the choices, a really good picture editor will fight for the correct pictures. Which raises another question. When I’m on assignment for a magazine, who do I represent? Do I represent the magazine? They think so. Or isn’t it truer that I represent the subject (to the magazine) which generally doesn’t occur to them.

  • Joshua Barlow

    8.27.01

    Who Do I Represent?

    Last January, I was asked to cover the Presidential Inaugeration for a news Website. Before going out into the field, I was instructed by the editors to keep an equal balance between protests in the street, photos of well-wishers, and just plain witnesses to the event. This, understandably, was because it was such a hotly contested election, and they wanted to avoid any appearance of bias.

    As it turned out, instead of the 20,000 demonstrators DC police had predicted would turn out, it was somewhere near 100,000 and there was not one inch of parade route that was not marked by protesters, their slogans, and their signs. It was quite overwhelming. When I returned to the office at the end of the day, I remember having to debate with the editors over how to assemble the photo-gallery – having to defend my shots by saying, "No, that’s what was happening. Trust me, I was there. I have the pictures to prove it…"

    Have you ever had a situation where the goals of your editors, and the reality of what you found on site came into conflict? I always enjoy a bit of shop talk about expectation/reality management between artists and editors. I suppose it’s different depending on what kind of scene you trying to capture, but it is a scenario radio journalists often find themselves in as well.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.27.01

    Joshua

    It’s a common occurance I’m afraid. However, if you were the picture editor, what would you have asked for? Coverage. That’s what you need. That’s why the News Weeklies have a dozen photographers or so covering something like the Inaugural. First because no single photographer could cover the entire thing logistically. More important, they need a broad view of the event. In situations like these, I think it’s important to give the editors what they need, and then some. The latter has more of what I’m interested in. But if I accept the assignment, I have to deliver the former.

    For example, sometime in the 80’s I was on assignment for Fortune Magazine, covering a story on Rev. Jessie Jackson. I was with him for 5 days at Operation Push headquarters in Chicago. Jackson was promoting a boycott of businesses that did not hire or negotiate to hire a percentage of blacks that was commensurate with the ratio of black consumers of their product. Kentucky Fried Chicken and a few other large corporations agreed, while Anheiser Bush did not. So Jackson asked the black community to boycott Anheiser Bush. The managing editor of Fortune wanted me to take a picture of Jackson eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with one hand, while crushing a can of Bud with the other. After getting to know him, I felt I couldn’t do this…that his mission was more noble than that kind of picture would describe. Alice Rose George, one of the finest picture editors ever to work in the business, told me I had to produce that picture, but to get her one that was better and she would fight for it. And it worked. They ran a portrait of him sitting near a large white column with lots of light thrown on it. To me it was a much more dignified image. Interestingly, I don’t think Jackson really cared which picture they used, as long as they ran the story.

  • Jay Allison

    8.27.01

    Stories

    I love that sort of backstory. Pictures do have narratives of one kind or another.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: if you’d like to read more interesting stories of pictures, visit a couple of pages of Nubar’s photos along with his notes about them. I’d put them in html, but I’m lazy:
    http://www.atlantic.org/nubar/index.html
    http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0108/nubar_intro.htm

    Nubar, what happens when your sense of the truth is unflattering to someone who has given you unusual access? For instance, in your book, "Where Music Comes From," you certainly must have encountered an asshole or two. How are you able to reveal that in a fair, but honest way? In radio, we could simply let them talk, stand back and let the asshole moment play out., along with all the other moments. We have time on our side, which lets us create a portrait with some dimensionality and contradiction. How do you achieve that with pictures? Or with picture?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.28.01

    picture

    This was a huge problem with the music book. And getting access was a nightmare because publicists and managers want to control everything. I met Wynton Marsalis on assignment for Life Magazine. As I say in my introduction, I was told no pictures on the bus, in his hotel room or during sound checks. What was left, I argued? Publicists say it this way. If you even ask about any of these things, we will never work with you again.

    My way around this was to bring a copy of my Peru book to his room. I wanted him to see the kind of photographer I was. When he answered the door and saw two cameras around my neck, he said: "Your not comin’ in here with those," or something like that. I just handed him the book and left. One hour later there was a knock on my hotel room door. It was Wynton. He said I could do whatever I wanted. And he meant it. In his case, we also went on to become good friends.

    Now I know this story is kind of cute. But part of the point I want to make is that most celebrities/musicians/public people have never been photographed by a documentary photographer. They are guarding against photographers who build their own careers by skiing behind their boats. Look at Annie Leibovitz’s pictures. What are they about? The subject of her photographs is about what she can get famous people to do: they are about her. And if you go into a situation after her, you have to clean up the mess she left behind before you can begin working. So I learned very quickly not to react and to understand why they are not entirely wrong in protecting themselves.

    Photographing women was different than photographing men in the music book and, though I did not give approval to anyone in terms of which pictures I used, I did agree to show them, especially to the women. For example, Emmylou Harris objected to the use of one picture I took because she looked tired and jet-lagged. This was, indeed, the point of this photograph. She was working hard and I wanted people to see her this way. In the end, she didn’t want that picture used and I had to argue with her manager: either that picture is in, or none of the pictures of her would be included in the book (this, after spending a week with her in Europe on my own dime.) He agreed.


    Emmylou Harris

    I do have some "asshole" moment stories not directly related to celebrities. But they’re kind of long.

  • Jay Allison

    8.29.01

    Our Favorite Asshole Moment Stories

    >I do have some "asshole" moment stories not directly related to celebrities. But they’re kind of long.

    We got time.

  • Joshua Barlow

    8.29.01

    What is Romance?

    You’ve worked with such a wide spectrum of people. I have always found it more intriguing to capture the human (non-glamorous) side of celebrities and , inversely, to relay the grander (poetic) themes present in the lives of "ordinary" people.

    Your work seems to achieve a wonderful balance that doesn’t exploit in either direction, but do you find that some photographers (especially younger ones), have a tendency to over-romantacize, or project through their subjects? At what point is the photographer no longer being true to the subject?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.29.01

    Sense of truth

    Before I address Joshua’s question about being true to the subject, I want to go back to Jay’s question about a sense of truth being unflattering to someone who has given unusual access. After thinking more about it, I realize that the place where a sense of truth is most compromised is with the magazines. There are times when I’ve had to be protective of people who’ve given me access, fearful that their generosity will be betrayed. There have even been times (here goes my career) when I’ve held out images that I know a magazine would use and use badly, betraying the trust AND my experience of the subject.

    This gets back to the idea of photojournalism vs illustration. Can a photographer and a writer work on the same story and have different experiences of the subject? Of course. The real question is whether photojournalism is journalism in the eye of the editor, and able to hold sway with the writing. Aren’t photojournalists reporters? Don’t they gather information, reveal things about the subject, just like writing? Walker Evans and James Agee proved the power of these two mediums working within their strengths, in a parallel way, neither one explaining or illustrating the other. This rarely, if ever, happens in the real world of documentary photography. And it shouldn’t matter whether the subject is a celebrity or a dairy farmer. If the magazine already knows which pictures they want before the photographer goes into the field, then why go at all? To illustrate what they think they know about the subject. And this is where truth is compromised.

    I’ll step down now.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.31.01

    Response to Joshua

    At what point is the photographer no longer being true to the subject? What a great question! There are so many ways to answer this, yet no one way seems adequate. A photograph dignifies everything. And it’s not really true that my work doesn’t exploit my subjects. I exploit to the extent that the work is about me and what’s important to me. I don’t mean to keep beating this drum, but being honest is what matters. So I don’t ask subjects to do anything for my camera unless it’s obvious in the image, as in a portrait. However I did exploit the people of Peru to the degree that photographing my experience of them taught me what I know about photography. Some photographers take a harsher view of what they do, calling it "taking" as opposed to giving. Of course, photographers take photographs. But they make no bones about how much photography involves "taking" from people, and giving little else in return. It’s a compelling way to look at one’s work. And perhaps difficult to argue with, though I do wonder whether this lets them off to easily.

    Regarding personal projection, I don’t see how a photographer who cares about what he/she is photographing can’t project to some degree. And if the photographer’s visual vocabulary is adequate, this will be obvious in the pictures.

    I know this doesn’t cover all of this. It’s a complex question. But when some of my friends and colleagues join in the discussion next week,perhaps they can address this as well.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    8.31.01

    We Got Time

    Don’t #&*+ with the photographer! An asshole moment.

    So I’m on this oil drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, shooting an assignment for GEO magazine back in 1983 I think. I’m supposed to spend two weeks shooting life on an off shore oil rig and things are going fine for the first few days. The men (and one woman) work 12 hour shifts/day for two weeks and then get two weeks off. The boss on the rig is called the tool-pusher. He was a real hard ass with a strange sense of humor. He was riding me from the moment I stepped off the helicopter. On the fourth day, he told all the other workers that I was GREEN, which to them meant I had never been on a rig before. I argued that I had (I was lying.) There’s an initiation that someone green has to go through. They pull your pants down and wipe this tar all over your butt that won’t come off. It has to wear away. Takes months, I’ve heard.

    So the tool-pusher provoked the crew and they chased me around the rig with this huge dollop of tar that they use when they’re drilling. I was panicked. So I climbed up near the top of one of the legs of the rig and hollered down to the tool-pusher that I was his responsibility and if they came near me, I would jump. I further stated that I was the guest of the Governor of Louisiana, and not to be messed with.

    They backed off. Near the end of my stay, I saw the tool-pusher fishing off the edge of the rig. He pulled up a small red fish. A very small red fish. I asked if I could take his picture. So there he was, wearing a blue jump suit, white hard hat, a little fishing rod and a tiny red fish, with a big, little boy’s grin on his face.

    Tool Pusher

    Back in New York, I pleaded with the art director to run that picture with the others and she agreed. I arranged to send 12 copies of the magazine to the helicopter pilot who delivered them to the rig. I could almost hear the crew laughing all the way back in Massachusetts and I got a phone call from the tool-pusher himself, right from the rig. He was really pissed and told me if he ever saw me in the state of Louisiana again….

    And I said, man, don’t mess with the photographer.

  • Jay Allison

    9.03.01

    Ha!

    Excellent story. And it wouldn’t work as well without the picture.

    I remembering seeing that picture in GEO way back when and remember the little boy quality of it. It works on its own, but I’m especially glad to have the backstage view.

    In fact, while you say that photography is a non-narrative medium, I often sense narratives in your work and other photographers. Is photography truly non-narrative? Aren’t we compelled to create our own narrative, our own caption, in the absence of one.

    And certainly the backstories you provide are wonderfully edifying. (Again, I’d urge people to go to Nubar’s Bio page linked from "About Nubar Alexanian" above, and visit the sites listed in the footers for a selection of his images and associated stories)

    >A photograph dignifies everything

    This is an interesting thought. What exactly do you mean by "dignify." I can see how it codifies, preserves, even elevates. I wonder how a story works in the same way. It brings to mind that venerable match of image and story, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."

  • Viki Merrick

    9.04.01

    VERBS and NARRATIVES

    You have talked about taking and giving a couple of times, so I figure this is a big issue for you in your art. I wouldn’t use those verbs when I look at your work. When a radio documentary reveals what is in a human’s dark place, or a photograph reveals austerity or sorrow in a human face or body pose, yes the artist "takes" the revealment and "gives" it to the world. But your use of these verbs sounds like a much larger moral one and makes me thoughtful. Your work is remarkably eloquent – giving back a story with heightened poignancy. Isn’t that your "giving"? Isn’t that enough?

    Are you simply talking about the difference between decency vs. pillaging ? I don’t really think so. Talk more please.
    …and more asshole stories too.

    I’m sitting around here waiting to hear your response about narrative in photography. How can you say it is non-narrative? All these years of wasted mental wandering? I always thought photographs, more than other visual art, get to tell a story, BEYOND the image, through intimation, suggestion and that you photographers were in fact urging a narrative in the viewer. This is crazy, Shirly I’ve misunderstood.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.04.01

    Photographs and Narrative

    Most of the photographs we see day to day are used in a narrative way. And some photographers use it well, as I mentioned above. When I say narrative is not one of photography’s strengths, I’m comparing it to writing, radio, film, etc, where narrative is the heart and soul of these media. Photography is much better at metaphor, at the poetic. I’m not just talking about art photographs here, but documentary work as well. (There are examples on the Atlantic site.) So I’m not saying that photography is non-narrative.

    We could make this point together by having someone try to guess what that picture of those people in the jungle is all about? What do you know about them and their situation from the photograph? What story does it tell?

    Jay’s point about us creating our own narratives from work is true for all art, especially the visual arts. What constitutes meaning in a photograph has a lot to do with what someone expects from or brings to the work. Is this enough? Kind of goes back to Joshua’s question about projection. It just happens.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.04.01

    Verbs And Narratives

    I am talking about decency but not pillaging. With the correct amount of narcissism and equal amounts of talent and ambition, a photographer can leave behind a pretty nasty wake. Perhaps this is also true in radio or other forms of journalism. I know it to be true in film as well.

    I believe this is cultural as well: our culture supports the surface over substance. For example, it really astonished me that after the civil war ended in Peru, among the first things the government did along with building medical clinics in poor neighborhoods was to give out grants to artists, poets and writers. Right at the top of the list. I know this is a tangent and not really part of this topic, but it just popped into my head.

    Regarding my own work, I have never thought of it in terms of giving, only receiving. Perhaps this is because I’m so focused on "process" rather than "product."

    More asshole stories to come.

  • Viki Merrick

    9.04.01

    What IS going on in that picture

    Ok, just because you are patient enough to answer my questions I will stand up in front of the class and say what I think is going on. Actually i made my daughter come over and look too. Allegra says: he’s probably an American, like an official kind of helping person but WANTS to be there helping, more than just "his job". She is poor – (she and her baby don’t seem to have much for clothes- no diaper).and they aren’t American. Maybe floods or some other disaster have brought about the situation .
    I concur and: the umbrella is the key object – shelter – how he extends it over the mother and child, how he is turned kindly toward her. That kindly-ness, the shelter and how the sun is finally coming out all seem to amplify how tentative and sad her body message is.

    next.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.05.01

    Don’t sit down just yet.

    Viki: Please stay with the class for a moment. You and your daughter’s comments are very very good. I want to add one thing and see if this helps you go further. The umbrella is black.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.05.01

    And

    His hat is a silver helmut. Think of it like a painting that you painted.

  • Jay Allison

    9.05.01

    For the rest of the class…

    The photo in question is in Response #6 of this topic.

    If you like this game of fitting story to image, Nubar has some more shots for you. But you have to play.

  • Viki Merrick

    9.06.01

    yikes the helmut

    I don’t trust helmuts so I’m thrown into a quandry – I couldn’t see that detail here. Silver Helmut – but he is NOT a soldier. Metaphorically a silver helmut could be greek-godlike – Mercury or some gallant savior. or he’s over-protecting himself. It’s not a miner’s helmut either. But I am going to stay with the shelter/protector image.
    The black umbrella is authoritative (or like a pallbearer??).

    Something really sad/bad happened.

    Why aren’t you other guys out here helping me? Cat got yer tongues?

  • Andy Knight

    9.07.01

    Ok, here it goes… that’s a firechief. The umbrella is to provide protection from sparks and spraying water. I’ll go further: her place is going up in flames but the firefighters are concentrating on soaking down the surrounding foliage rather than actually saving her house. It hasn’t rained at all, the water is all from the firefighters… and a nearby highschool carwash. Yes?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.07.01

    The story

    Anyone else? If we could get a bunch of responses it would be great, especially given the huge difference between Andy and Viki. I’ll throw in an 8 x 10 archival ink jet print of the picture of the Tern on Atlantic Radio’s site to the person who comes the closest. How’z that.

    (No one afiliated with Nubar Alexanian, his associates or friends, or has known him for more than three days can participate.

  • Andy Knight

    9.07.01

    Which print is it?

  • Thomas Dixon

    9.07.01

    What’s going on here?

    He has found her in shock and wandering after a disastrous flood has destroyed her home and village. Older and fatherly, he extends the umbrella to shelter the woman and child. He walks slightly ahead and turns to encourage her to walk faster to food, dry clothing, and warm blankets. Vikki–I’m curious…how do you know they’re not American? The pic is too small for me to get a read on that. Regards, Thomas

  • Jay Allison

    9.07.01

    Which print is it?

    Andy, Nubar’s tern photo is at the foot of this page on the Atlantic Public Media website:

    http://www.atlantic.org/nubar/index.html

  • Jay Allison

    9.07.01

    Newton?

    Incidentally, must we spell Helmet with a "u"? Is that a photographer thing?

  • Andy Knight

    9.07.01

    TERN, not TEM (tern v tem)

    Oh, hey, I like that photo.

    Incidentally, does that firechief have a big mustache? It’s so hard to make out details in that scan.

  • Joshua Barlow

    9.07.01

    The Tern


    The Tern

  • Jay Allison

    9.07.01

    oooo…

    ….now you can see the ripples in the water emanating from the bird’s wing.

  • Jay Allison

    9.08.01

    a story while we wait

    Nubar, while we wait for your photographer friends to show up and for people to take a crack at winning the Tern, can you tell us a little about your ongoing current project — documenting your home town?

    Some of us have undertaken longitudinal radio/tv documentaries, following stories over time, but time tends to be part of the finished product. I’m wondering how the Gloucester project is different or the same.

    (note to Transomites. A link to photographs in this project, as I have mentioned unto tediousness, can be found at the foot of Nubar’s bio page.)

  • Jay Allison

    9.08.01

    oh, and…

    didn’t you have some more Mystery Shots that test the notion of truth in the narrative of photographs? Bring ‘em on.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    9.08.01

    you know how to build suspense…

    um, you’re talking about the color photo way back on number 6, right?
    Nubar Alexanian August 14, 2001 06:42pm

    and the umbrella and helmet color are clues? black umbrella means funeral here, what does it mean in Peru or somewhere in Asia? Is he part of a religious society? silver helmet means… what? Though it’s the shape of a fireman’s helmet, it’s not red like a fireman’s helmet here… And he’s helping one individual, not a stream of people. Was she up on a roof or in a tree? or hiding?

    oh please tell

    and what likely happened to these people after the photograph was taken?

    (A silver Helmut would be a German guy in a suit of armor, I guess, since that’s the spelling of a name. Ditto Helmuth)

    and may I tell my story of how I married a German guy because of color film? (no armor, but he does own lederhosen) or have you moved on?

  • Jeff Jacobson

    9.09.01

    Nubar asked me to talk about my view of narrative in documentary photographs. They aren’t, except in the mind of the viewer. A photograph means whatever the viewer decides it means, no matter what the photographer intended. I am speaking about a photograph unencumbered by words that direct us how to interpret it, such as captions in magazines, or text in advertisements. For example, the fact that the umbrella in Nubar’s picture is black means absolutely nothing to me, even though it has meaning for him. You see, Nubar was there when the picture was taken and he draws meaning from facts outside the frame of the photograph. I have only the photograph to go by. Hell, all umbrellas are black!
    There is a weekly column in the NY Times Magazine entitled, What Were They Thinking, in which the point seems to be that the meaning of the photograph hinges on what the subject of the picture was thinking at the moment of exposure. The only problem with this exercise is that the meaning of a photographic image becomes completely dependent on words, in this case the transcribed thoughts of the subject. I would argue that this limits and emasculates the potential meaning of the photograph and, of course, its viewer. Many photjournalists and photo editors would probably disagree with me. They feel that photographs and words work well together to create a narrative structure. I am just more interested in the pure photograph alone, where it functions more like poetry than journalism.
    I am aleays as interested in what is not visible in a photograph as in what is visible. For me, the most interesting photographs are those that create supreme tension between the real and unreal, reality and fantasy, visible and invisible. Its the unseen presences that haunt certain pictures that intrigue me. Words get in my way when I look at photographs; they interrupt my reverie. If the photograph, or sequence of photographs, move me, their meaning comes from the way I am moved, not from someone else’s words directing me how to interpret them.
    Well, this is quite a rant for an opener. Nubar, I probably just lost numerous assignment possibilities. I hope you’re stisfied!

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    Emasculated Assignment Possiblities

    First of all folks, let me introduce Jeff Jacobson. He’s not only one of my dearest friends, but as a photographer he’s doing some of the most interesting work in color documentary photography today. If fact, as I mentioned before, I believe he is one of a few photographers whose work advances our understanding of the possibilities of color photography. His resume and examples of his work will be available here soon.

    Jeff, I’m fascinated by your use of the work emasculate, when talking about the affect words have on the potential meaning of a photograph. Strong word. Say more.

    And don’t worry about those numerous assignment possiblities. I’m not.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    The Winner Is…..

    Before I announce the winner, let me say that as I read each post that was trying to describe what’s going on in the pictures, my first reaction was….oh..way off…or oh…how close. But what became interesting is that any of the descriptions could work. He could be a fireman helping a poor woman, or she could be a flood victim.

    However, Viki Merrick get’s the prize. Viki, you have a very non linear mind for someone working in a narrative medium.

    The man in the picture is Bob Garland of the New Tribes Mission. When I met him and his wife and other missionaries 10 years ago, he had spent 26 years of his life living in this remote jungle location in Bolivia trying to save the souls of the entire tribe of Yuqui Indians. Apparently there were only 125 members of the tribe and all of them were living in the bible camp except the chief’s brother, who was still at large in the jungle with his family. They lived naked in the jungle and had an extraordinary belief system: that the blue sky was actually water, etc. They were finally found, tossed into a plane and brought into the 20th century in a matter of hours. This is his wife and youngest child walking through the camp to Bob’s wife, Mary, for a formula feeding for the baby. When the Yuqui come out of the jungle into the camp, they get white man’s diseases. This baby and mother are very sick, and Bob and Mary were concerned she might die.

    I worked on this story for the New York Times Magazine with Sandy Tolan and Nancy Postero. I have a real attitude about people trying to save other people’s souls. But the story was much more complex than I imagined. First because the Bolivian government was colonizing the jungle where the Yuqui lived, given out parcels of land to anyone willing to farm. These colonists were killing off the Yuqui, so the bible camp became a kind of golden cage. I tried to take pictures that addressed this complexity.

    The black umbrella and silver helmut are not that important to me, except hints. You can see more of the pictures from this essay by going to the Stock Images section of my site and typing in keyword Yuqui.

    Shall we try another image?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    The Gloucester Project

    Jay, I’m not sure what you mean by longitudinal radio/tv documentaries, and following stories over time, with time ending up being part of the final product. There are many ways to come at this, especially the issue of time. Can you say more?

  • Jeff Jacobson

    9.09.01

    So the word "emasculate" elicited a particularly strong response in you, eh Nubar? I mean that I am struck by the ability of great photographs that document a fragment of real space and real time to give birth to many different meanings to different viewers. Words can attatch specific meaning to photographs which may inhibit their ability to reproduce a multiplicity of meanings. I love the paradox of ambiguity in an image that is a direct representation of the reality before the photographer’s lens. The combination of that ambiguity and specificity that paradox, is what I feel gives photography its most unique power.

  • Viki Merrick

    9.09.01

    bitter-sweet

    Gollllleeee – I don’t think I’ve ever won anything in my life !

    But the story – it plain makes me sick. It’s Sunday and now I feel really angry. When I was writing about my interpretation – I first elaborated on the man’s kindly-ness and that there was something overly-familiar in it or his way toward her that made me feel doubtful – and I edited it out for fear of saying too much crazy stuff. Now I can say that of course it seems overly- familiar. Anyone so sure of their belief to force-feed it on an entire tribe takes little else of others into consideration. He assumes he already KNOWS them. I hate these kind of stories – the Yuqui being the disposable commodity for the BOlivians and perfect fodder for the Missionary. Kind of like shit or go crazy.

    THomas – I guess I knew they weren’t American especially in contrast to Helmut. Also, her feet and ankles look like they’d never worn shoes and the few strange clothes she wore were just off somehow. American’s rarely leave their children undiapered.

    click.
    what’s next?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    Preaching to the choir.

    Jeff: Well said. I love the way you describe the tension that results from the paradox of ambiguity and specificity in photographs. And the reason I ask about your use of the word emasculate is that there appears to be anger in it. Si?

    To echoe your point, I feel like photographs are more like dreams, in that the power of their effect can be subtle, even unconscious for the viewer. I love this about photography.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    Bitter Sweet

    There is love in this photograph, Viki. That’s the irony. You and I can feel it’s oppressive. But everything about this man’sbody gesture, the way he’s holding the umbrella, is love and caring. He believes it and to some extent it’s true. When I knew I was going to shoot this story, I was prepared to nail these evangelists. But that was not only too easy. It wasn’t accurate. The writers also recognized the complexity and ambiguity in the story and wrote it this way. But the editors at the NY Times edited it a way that clearly slams the missionaries. It was an easy way out. They were pissed and so was I. The complexity of the story was so much more interesting.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.09.01

    Jane Pauley

    Jane Pauley

    This is easy. No prize for this one.

  • Jay Allison

    9.09.01

    Please?

    She’s not hero-worshipping, despite her prayerful hands. She’s using flattery to ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. Something on camera. He’s holding out.

  • Jay Allison

    9.09.01

    trying to be clearer

    >Jay, I’m not sure what you mean by longitudinal radio/tv documentaries, and following stories over time, with time ending up being part of the final product.

    If I spend six months chronicling an event or a place for a radio or TV documentary, the curve of time will become part of the story. As the listener/viewer, you’ll get to know people and circumstances and then your perceptions will change as you get to know them better. Perhaps your experience will parallel mine as the documenter. Or not. But still, the TIME I spent there will translate in some way to the sense of time in the piece itself.

    Of course, a storytelling medium functions in time, so this translation is easy.

    You’re spending years documenting your town in pictures. I assume your perspective and understanding change over time. Is it possible to chronicle that in your finished product? Can you reveal ways you feel differently now than when you started? Can the chronology, the STORY, of your experience be part of what you do?

    Do you even think like that? Hey, it’s a radio site, so I’m asking radio-type questions. I’m really just mostly interested in hearing some of your thoughts on the Gloucester Project.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    9.09.01

    speaking non-linearly…

    >Viki, you have a very non linear mind for someone working in a narrative medium.

    what/how would she have said if she had a linear mind you consider typical of narrative types?

    what other media are non-linear?

  • Abigail Heyman

    9.10.01

    re Jeff’s "The combination of that ambiguity and specificity, that paradox is what I feel gives photography its most unique power" is so valid but for the word unique. I’d prefer to say that combination/paradox – ambiguity and specificity – may be what gives photography its greatest power. It also gives good writing, and probably most arts, their greatest power. I respond on this point because this discussion is increasingly isolating photography, trying too hard to define it as different from any other form, defensive, as though in the larger world that is encompassing combined forms and multimedia, photography feels threatened. Perhaps even "emasculated"??? – a subject some of us don’t have to worry about at all.

  • Viki Merrick

    9.10.01

    jane Pauley

    she might also be trying to talk him OUT of something. Look at the way he is holding his WHITE hat. Deferential. Maybe the camera man was having white balance problems and said: get him to change that shirt or the white hat doesn’t work, use the black one. Whatever – it is a very superficial/forced stance on Pauley’s part.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.10.01

    Abigail Heyman

    Let me also take a moment to introduce Abby Heyman, another dear friend and great photographer. If you ever have the chance to see her book Growing Up Female, spend some time with it. It was published in the 70’s and remains one of the most influential photography books published. Also, her book on weddings, Dreams & Sceams, is a marvel.

    So Abby, can you say more about how photography is similar to other media? I agree that the discussion isolates photography somewhat. I separated it as a way to examine it. But it would be great to talk about how it is similar….where communication strengths are shared or held in common with other media.

  • Jeff Jacobson

    9.10.01

    re Abby; I’ll go with "greatest."" But photography is different from any other media in that it can render a still image from real space and time. That ability is what gives photography its uniqueness. Other mediums of course have their own unique properties. As for photography being threatened, it is, at least the kind of documentary photography I care about. The computer has undermined the basic assumption underlying documentary photography, i.e., that the image represents a moment from real time and space. It cuts the legs from under photography(note carefully my resistance to using the "e" word). Look at the magazines; most of the pictures are conceptual, set up images. Its becoming rare to find powerful documentary photographs in the media. Maybe its a phase, a fascination with the new technologies. In the interest of truth, justice and my bank account, I hope so.

  • Andy Knight

    9.10.01

    Jane Pauley

    This is obviously a conversation between two fire chiefs regarding the batting lineup for the softball game at the upcoming firemen’s picnic. This was easy! Who would have guessed that one would become a famous country singer and the other would go on to become Garth Brooks. Amazing stuff.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.10.01

    The Gloucester Project

    Time functions differently for me on long term projects than the way you describe your experience, Jay. Although certainly time does allow me to get to know people and place more intimately, sometimes revealing a deeper, more complex story.

    If I were working, say, in the old National Geographic style, and doing a story for them on Gloucester, I would spend this time getting certain required pictures,..the mayor, the librarian, the city councilors, the best beaches people frequent, etc. But to me, this is boring and predictable, and why the best photography can always be found in books.

    I am really photographing my experience of Gloucester. Time is a factor in that it affords me the luxury to wait and watch things develop. The back story I describe at the Atlantic site about the picture of Ten Pound Island is a good example of this. I followed the tide for a year before it was low enough for me to get the picture I thought I wanted.(thought I wanted is key here!)

    The other difference is that photographs don’t always build on themselves in a project as they might in a radio documentary. For example, when I committ myself to watching the tide’s affect on a rock for a year, it’s an idea that may or may not produce an image I’m interested in. Again, let me say, I’m interested in the power of individual images without captions other than place and date.

    So how, then, do I know when a project is done? I published the Peru & Music books when I felt I came to a place where I could leave them and they felt complete. There was no real arc to the story, if you will. Could I have included more/different musicans in the music book? Of course. Opera fans/friends object that it is not represented.

    With the Gloucester book, I see it as part of a volume of small books. There is so much to photograph here, so many things changing so fast, that if I were to wait until I had a body of work that looked/felt resolved, it could be ten years or more.

    Jeff has been working on his book You Are Here for at least ten years. Perhaps he could add something to this.

    I love this paragraph in your post (below). It really shows how different and how much the same we are. Yes, my perspective and understanding change. But I discover these things in the photographs, not from being with people and places. So my perspective and understanding are chronicled to that extent. Finally, the reason I like to use the date each photograph was taken is to let anyone who might be interested see how the subject affected me as a photographer (affected the way I see and how I translate my experience visually.)

    "You’re spending years documenting your town in pictures. I assume your perspective and understanding change over time. Is it possible to chronicle that in your finished product? Can you reveal ways you feel differently now than when you started? Can the chronology, the STORY, of your experience be part of what you do?"

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.10.01

    Jane Pauley

    I spent three weeks with Garth Brooks for Life Magazine in 1993. He was doing Saturday Night Live and Jane Pauley suddenly appeared and right in front of my camera…begged…and I mean begged Garth to come on her then floundering show, Dateline NBC. She handed him an envelope which I guess was a formal request to do a story about him and then said, "Now we are friends."

    Another picture to come later today. No more easy photographs.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.10.01

    Nannette

    By linear I’m talking about story telling, something that has a beginning, middle and end. For example, I’ve worked over the years with filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line). I think he’s a genius,partly because his mind is so non-linear yet the medium he works in requires a narrative form. He sometimes refers to his mind as a CD Rom, with random access memory. With Viki, she essentially read that photograph like a poem instead of non-fiction text. Which is really the point I’ve been trying to make here for the past few weeks. Photographs…strong photographs…left on their own, engage the viewer in a way which can ignite imagination and projection, and the viewers own personal experience in life. We can take this further if you like.

  • helen woodward

    9.10.01

    Jane Pauley

    I thought it might have something to do with the (what look like) ruffled bed covers behind them….

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    9.10.01

    Nubar Alexanian September 9, 2001 08:13pm

    Oh. I thought their (on-camera) conversation (translated) was:

    She: Ahh, then you compose and play to make a deep spiritual connection with your audience…
    He: I don’t know. I just play the stuff.

    So Jay was right. But was he really holding out?
    b Did he go on her show?
    His hat isn’t across his body to protect himself; his hat isn’t (going) on to end the conversation; his face is relaxed; he’s giving eye contact and maybe a look of concern. His lips are not pursed in defense or apology…

    okay, this is getting scary. Reminds me of putting down Erving Goffman’s
    b The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
    back in Sociology for fear I’d start foaming at the mouth and never have an unselfconscious encounter again.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    9.10.01

    Very Interesting Fun…

    b Does this mean documentary photographers and editors are akin to anthropologists and actors/directors studying non-verbal human behavior and interaction?

    Do you do this at parties? (like this one)

  • Jay Allison

    9.10.01

    Welcome, Abigail and Jeff. It’s good to have you here.

    It’s an interesting idea — photography as isolated and threatened now. Nubar has told me that he thinks photojournalism is dead or dying. At least at the magazine/newspaper level. Maybe not in books. (Or on the Internet?) Do you agree?

    Of course, radio is used to dying. We’ve been dying for a long time. Ever since the Golden Age. Ever since pictures began to venture through the air. Strangely, though, we refuse to give up entirely, and some (public radio publicists) would even say we’re in a Second Golden Age. I might dispute that (too few venues for adventurous stuff, too few artists working, general risk aversion), but there are plenty of days when the possibilities still seem thrilling.

  • Jay Allison

    9.10.01

    Over Time

    Nubar, thanks for your notes on the Goucester project.

    I suppose one obvious essential difference here is that once you have made your images, the central part of your work is done. After we have made our field recordings, the work is just beginning, the hardest part still ahead.

    Witness Tony Kahn’s "What’s Your Story" topic here on Transom. Joel Meyerowitz has finished. Tony’s still sweating.

  • Jay Allison

    9.17.01

    A new week has begun

    There has been silence here since September 11th, which was fitting.

    In the coming days, it will become more important to talk about images and stories and how they are used, properly and improperly.

    Television, print and radio, and the Internet function to describe and even define a national attitude and approach to events.

    I hope Nubar and his Friends will find time to drop by in the coming days and contribute their thoughts, as they see fit.

    Here at Transom.org — in cooperation with Atlantic Public Media, local public radio stations WCAI/WNAN, and others — we intend to channel, frame, and link stories/images that arise from various sources and offer a range of perspective. We encourage you to participate.

    Josh is designing pages to gather this stuff. He’s driving back from DC to Woods Hole and will be along to post links. In the meantime, you can hook up through the APM site. http://www.atlantic.org.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.20.01

    The New Yorker

    As a way of breaking the silence, I’d like to suggest that take a look at the New Yorker’s coverage of last week’s events in New York. There are many things to say about it, which perhaps can come later. Most pertinent to the thread this discussion is their thoughtful and provocative use of photographs and words. They let them each do their thing and do it well.

    More to come.

  • Robin White

    9.20.01

    A thousand times they flew

    Jay – awesome discussion. I just stopped in to check out your bulletinboard software (what is it btw?) and got drawn in. So one of the big questions for me about last week was to do with the repetition of the footage of the planes flying into the WTC and then the subsequent collapse of the buildings.

    Once I had seen the footage of the planes crashing and the buildings collapsing I found myself resisting watching again. I was nauseated at the number of times the images were repeated – it really must have been thousands of times over a few days. Surely enough it is one of the most devastating things ever captured on film, but I was horrified enough by seeing it once or twice. I was already waking up in the night unable to get the images out of my head – I never will.

    So I avoided the television mostly to try to preserve my own sanity. But the question for Nubar is what do you think it mean that those images were replayed over and over? Did it increase people’s sense of outrage? Did it numb people? I preserved the meaning of those images for myself, by not watching them too many times. But I missed out on the group experience (I always do) and now it’s harder to understand the public’s taste for blood.

  • Robin White

    9.20.01

    addendum

    …harder to understand the public’s taste for blood – because I remain shattered by what I saw.

  • Andy Knight

    9.20.01

    Robin, after some trial and error, transom uses WebX. You can find out more about it at worldcrossing.com

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.22.01

    Robin

    I’m not sure I understand your question about what it means that they used those images over and over again. Perhaps you could say more about this. However, I can tell you that I was….how can I say….sickened by how television used the image of the WTC collapsing as a background graphic, while showing live footage in front of it. What could this mean? Is this journalism? I, for one, could not watch the coverage on tv. I know reporters were referring to the television as our collective campfire, helping us through this horrific event….keeping us connected. Not true for me. Repeating those images over and over has an astonishing affect on peoples’ psyche. Does it encourage belief or disbelief? It certainly does not create an environment for understanding, let alone collective grieving.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.22.01

    Friends

    Most of the friends I invited to participate with me on this transom discussion have been covering the events in NY and Washington. I don’t imagine they will be able to sign on any time soon. But I’ll try to get them back, hopefully to talk about how it was for them to cover this tragedy.

  • Jay Allison

    9.23.01

    memory

    I’m wondering if memory consists of stills, not video.

    The horrifying pictures burned in my mind are frozen, not moving.

    And the peaceful pictures of memory too, those are stills. Like today on an empty beach on Nonamessett my children set against the sky, a storm moving in, our green skiff resting on the water.

    I think of Joel Meyerowitz, who photographs stillness as well as anyone I can think of, and his pictures in the New Yorker of the towers, and of the beach here on Cape Cod, all resting, floating in time.

  • Susan Jenkins

    9.24.01

    Saturday I hung out with an artist friend at my place in Harlem. She’s a new friend so we had lots of stuff to talk about besides our ways of dealing with what has happened. Yet it never left my mind the whole time we were talking. It was a weight. Another thing I noticed was that my eye kept wandering to the spine of a book on my shelf, a thick book, the Encyclopedia of NYC: it has the Empire State building on the spine. Anytime I see a skyscraper image, I’m a little unnerved, because my mind is making it into a target, my mind is even running a little airplane into the building, it doesn’t matter which building—any tall squarish building that stands out, even on a book spine, my mind topples it. I can’t look at these buildings right now, because they just trigger those televised images that played over and over again.

    Yet, as haunting as it was to handle Joel’s prints, which I delivered personally to the New Yorker, I found them to not trigger that reaction. I’m not really sure why.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    9.24.01

    floating

    coming from reading Tony Kahn’s remarks about key-turning events, I wonder whether we reduce moving images to one key moment when we had enough or changed with them. Cut!

    The still life images (Jay’s and Joel’s) are beautifully simple and soothing. We have little photographers in our minds, reducing and expanding what we see, as needed?

    Maybe the city scape images in the New Yorker inspired more calm than fear because they are floating and dreamlike (now)
    they connect with water still lifes in our minds
    floating

    beyond harm now.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.24.01

    Susan

    I wonder whether you would have had the same reaction if you had delivered Gilles or Susan’s pictures to the New Yorker, which were taken on the day of the attack? I ask this because one of the fascinating things about photographs is that they are a thing unto themselves: they are their own reality. Yes, a photograph is about something. But it, too, is a something….an object which could also be a subject. The still photograph of the second plane about to strike the WTC is a not just a haunting event captured on film. But that the photograph exists in time, in our time, in our reality makes both the event and the existence of the image part of our own record and personal history.

    Let me give another example. I was in Auschwitz a couple of years ago with Errol Morris working on his last film. We spent two weeks commuting every day back and forth to this death camp. It was indescribable. And Errol had extraordinary access to the archives room.

    In the archives room, I saw beautifully rendered architectural drawings of the death camp, right down to the gas chambers and ovens. They were even hand colored. It was more horrific than I could have imagined.I even saw an original carbon copy of a letter sent from the builder in Auschwitz to Berlin. On this carbon copy, the word Vergasungskeller was underlined in red pencil by the person in Berlin who informed the builder never to use this word again in any correspondence. Vergasungskeller means gas chamber.

    I held this original carbon copy in my hand and decided to photograph that word. The image is enclosed.

    Vergasungskeller

    I’m still thinking about Jay’s comment of whether memory consists of still images not moving images. It’s interesting.

  • Robin White

    9.24.01

    The photos I didn’t see

    Nubar – I think you answered my question. I suppose I was trying to see some point to the endless repetitions and to understand what on earth possesses the tv editors and how they could becomes so inured to the weight and meaning of images, as to do that.

    Jay – it’s interesting what you observe about stills vs video. I wonder if we’re physically incapable of remembering sequences of film. Put that together with Nubar’s comment about tv not creating understanding and you start to have a picture of the medium of tv. Perhaps most of the thinking and understanding comes after the television is turned off. While it’s on, it’s hardly even possible to breathe.

    On another topic, anyone else find themselves full of photographs that they didn’t actually see? I have snapshots in my mind of the firefighters under the buildings as they fell, the families on the planes as they crashed, the people working in offices as the planes came in, the ramjackers at some training camp beforehand, being indoctrinated, the struggle on the plane in Pittsburg and so on…

  • Susan Jenkins

    9.24.01

    Photographs: they too are a something

    Gilles’ images in the New Yorker are "somethings," they exist in their own reality, yet refer us to another reality through the suggestion (in this case) of timing and text. Susan’s cathedral-like image too. But they don’t act as triggers to my skyscraper dilemma, since they don’t depict something tall, sticking out, unscathed, like the image on the spine of my book or close-up images of the towers (and others).

    Joel’s images (I’m looking at them again today in the studio) also are their own reality. But the scale of city/landscape, of vast, color-filled, sometimes turbulent sky, is able to overpower the other subject, the towers sticking up there in the center. The WTC buildings are a significant feature, but they are still less than 1/16th of the image. (This doesn’t diminish the subject matter, but gives it a different POV). While the images are "about" the WTC, they are about it in a larger context of the city’s universe. Plus, the effect of setting land against sky flattens the overall perspective, so that the buildings lose their 3-dimensionality. I think it is the perspective, his perspective, that does an end-run around my skyscraper quirck.

    How any of this perspective/dimensionality stuff translates to radio narrative I’ll have to work on.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.24.01

    Memory & Experience

    Susan, in this discussion we’ve talked some about photography and story telling. However, we haven’t really discussed that most people relate to photographs in terms of memory….in family pictures, personal events and so on. Photography is good at this. Photography is also good at describing someone’s experience of a subject because they (experience & photography) both happen in the present….meaning they both happen now, now, now, now, now, etc. Joel’s pictures of the WTC hit on both of these cylinders, but because of the events of Sept 11, memory begins to play a larger role. What we now bring to those photographs has changed. I wonder how this plays in radio: memory & experience.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.24.01

    World Trade Center, 1991

    World Trade Center, 1991

  • Jay Allison

    9.25.01

    silence
  • Jay Allison

    9.25.01

    stories into pictures

    Susan’s comments on Joel’s perspective make sense to me. Much of his work, his landscape work, is like still life to me. Literally. Still. Life. Perhaps that’s what protects it from our projections (like Susan’s quirk which I bet many of us share). His images hold an internal peace.

    I have been thinking about how sound and story reside in memory, how they linger differently from images. Interestingly, I think some stories abide as pictures. We make the translation internally. The story becomes image.

    I think of a 75 year-old TV repairman I once interviewed. He told me how he still likes to climb up on rooftops to fix antennas because of the way the wind feels blowing his pants legs. I remember the enthusiasm in his voice when he said this, but mostly, it’s as if I actually saw him up there on a windy day, which I didn’t.

    We hear the story and we make the picture. It’s like Robin’s pictures-we-didn’t-see, which we all must have in recent days.

  • Susan Jenkins

    9.26.01

    Deeper into photographs, not so deeply into radio

    "most people relate to photographs in terms of memory….in family pictures, personal events and so on. Photography is good at this."

    The view that I remember best of the towers was the New Jersey Turnpike/Train view—the appearance of the towers in the distance meant being close to New York—as a teenager traveling to the big city, that view was anticipation of a place I didn’t know but desired all the same, as a resident it meant I was close to home. The other view that I remember from personal experience was being down between the towers a couple of months ago, looking for the Borders bookstore and marveling at my smallness, at everyone’s smallness relative to them. And their darkness against the white of the plaza. That plaza seems fantastically white in my memory.

    Joel’s view from his 19th Street studio was never one with which I grew acquainted in the way that I am intimately acquainted with the view of the Hudson and water towers outside his current studio. It was before my time. I saw it once, a week before, when he returned to what is now a book publisher to make one last image for the show. It was a beautiful pink-gold early autumn sunset glow, the kind of basking color you rarely notice from the ground, and I yet was hardly taking notice of the towers so much as reminiscing about the studio that once was, and what a cool office it had become.

    So to say that I relate to the photographs in terms of memory would be inaccurate. My memory is not of that view, or the myriad views from Jersey City, Brooklyn Heights, the water, etc. that we all have seen in photographs. I relate to them the way I would relate to a photograph of the back of my neck—I know it’s me, but I don’t really have a memory of how it looks that I connect to the image. I know those towers, but I don’t connect to those particular views through my experience of those views…I connect to them through my other experiences of their subject—the connection is indirect, or less direct. When we say that we relate to photographs in terms of memory, I think there are different relationships at work, depending on how the image relates to personal experience.

    "Photography is also good at describing someone’s experience of a subject because they (experience & photography) both happen in the present….meaning they both happen now, now, now, now, now, etc."

    I’m not sure that photographs "describe" experience well. They seem more a result of experience, but as your missionary example above shows, we cannot really know the experience of either the photographer or the people in the image without some help, either in a text, or in another narrative created by placing several images together, or accompanying an image with sound. The photograph only stands alone as an object. As a photographer I often feel my whole life’s experience goes into each photograph I make as my "eye" reacts to things I have become subconsciously predisposed to see and coordinate into the image. So while each image refers to our experience, it doesn’t necessarily describe it very well.

    Thus photographs always refer to the past, even if it is the immediate past. They always hum ‘then, then, then’ rather than ‘now, now, now;’ however, our experience of the photograph is like our experience of anything, it is just ‘now’. Even when we experience memory, we experience ‘now.’ Usually these hums are quietly running in the background, or else we would never see a photograph as an object, a "something." The tension between the now-ness and then-ness becomes too distracting.

    Maybe we’re saying the same thing different ways.

    The thing about radio programs that seems at first distinctly different from still photographs is that they are multi-media. The experience of a radio program is first of all one that unfolds over time in what seems to me a much more pronounced way than it does in the viewing of images. It also incorporates and layers discrete elements: a voice or voices, text/words, silences, sound effects, noises, and music. Each of these on their own have qualities that give them their "somethinghood." These voices, silences, sounds, and music can each trip memory, both of specific experiences and of general states of emotion. It amazes me to think of the possibilities given so many elements, both for making a huge mess as well as for making something as tight and seamless as a TAL program. Producing a program piece that uses one or two elements is like writing a song; producing one that uses most elements is like writing a symphony. In photography, I would suggest street photography is more akin to the symphony because there are so many elements you have to be aware of, and they’re constantly moving; whereas maybe still life would be on scale with songwriting. But enough of the oversimplified comparisons. It seems that a radio program is effective in its ability to orchestrate the experience of many listeners through the selection of elements and their deployment in a cohesive pattern (such as narrative) over time, within a time-frame.

    But analyzing radio this way takes all the life out of it. Blech.

  • Susan Jenkins

    9.26.01

    Radio is a visual medium

    Hi Jay. Your post reminds me of what Ira Glass says: "radio is our most visual medium." This quote was brought home for me two weeks ago, when at 10am having just learned of the disaster from my neighbor moments before, I was in a taxi on my way to work. The radio was on. A woman on 1010Wins was describing the scene. As we approached the first turn, she stopped abruptly, then, her voice cracking, said, "and, we have just, yes…the south tower has just collapsed." The sound of destruction bloomed in her subsequent silence.

    The image in my mind at that moment was in many ways far more devastating than anything I later saw on the television, or in print.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.26.01

    then, then, then, then

    Susan: You are wonderfully articulate. I love what you say and how you say it. For the most part we are saying the same thing in different ways. I have never considered the hum of "then" but the unconscious process of "now". Perhaps they are the same. In either case, it is this process which distinguishes photography from other media, making it more immediately self reflective than others.

    In terms of experience, my choice of the word "describe" is less accurate than to say that photographs can "reflect" a photographer’s experience of a subject. If you read above the section "A Voice To Call Your Own", the story of Sara is a compelling example of this. (I am making a distinction here between photographers and people who use photography.)

  • Jay Allison

    9.26.01

    Inside. Outside

    >what Ira Glass says: "radio is our most visual medium."

    Susan, we in radio have many palliatives to reassure us in the face of television’s overarching power. Generally, their point is that in radio the pictures are better.

    Improvising a list of related aphorisms here, I’d say:

    The imagination trumps all the senses.

    Sound has a key to the imagination.

    The unlocked imagination creates an indelible realism in memory.

    Like the falling building on the radio.

    In my gig as curator in the NPR Lost & Found Sound series, I heard hundreds of people call up to tell us about their captured voices of the dead. Often they said of the bits of tape, "…it’s all I have left." It wasn’t, of course. They had photos and memorabilia, no doubt. But those were outside of them, objectifiable. The sound of the voice lives in the air, invisibly, like a ghost. You can’t hold it in your hand. But it’s real. It can surround you and be inside your mind simultaneously.

    There’s power in that, and a compelling reason to keep on working in public radio, one of the few places able and willing to explore that power in broadcast.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.27.01

    Imagination

    This is a bit trivial, but in our house, one of the on going discussions is whether to see the Harry Potter movies when they come out. Our 12 year old daughter, Abby, is a Harry Potter aficionado and was originally excited about it. We’ve read all five books, and she raised the question about whether we might lose the images we have of all the characters and places. Surprisingly, she’s decided not to fork over her imaginative view of the characters for Hollywood’s version of characters that are dear to her. This was affirmed the other day when a friend dropped off a copy of Vanity Fair which had beautifully produced photographs of the the main characters in the film. After seeing the first couple of pictures, she slammed the magazine closed and said: "They got it all wrong."

    It’s fascinating to me also that we’ve been discussion journalism–photo & radio journalism–and as documentarians, we all have a strong commitment to the imagination as well. Chris Lydon’s on another channel here at Transom.org and they’re talking about it there as well.

    Perhaps we’re entering a time when more of us understand that the price we pay even when we watch good television can be too high if price of admission is some or all of our imagination.

  • Anaheed Alani

    9.27.01

    Ahem.

    > all five books

    Ahem ahem. Do you know something I don’t?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.27.01

    Book Five

    You haven’t received your personalized copy of book five? Sorry about that.

  • Anaheed Alani

    9.27.01

    Argh.

    That was just … heartless.

    (And, yes, I registered at Transom just to ask that question. Am dork. Thank you.)

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.27.01

    Anaheed

    What I meant is, I’m sorry for the mistake I made in my post. There are, as you say, only four books. However, there was a larger point to the post.

  • Ara Oshagan

    9.27.01

    Imagination and WTC

    I heard Gilles Peress on an interview on NPR where the reporter suggested there is a tremendous silence in his photos of the WTC aftermath. He seemed to agree and I thought that was very interesting. But seeing the photos later I feel they are about something a little different or perhaps larger than just silence. The overwhelming feeling I get from them is one of aloneness, not loneliness, but an almost existential aloness in face of tragedy and an absurd, massive and incomprehensible universe. Of man, by himself, up-against something much larger than himself. The image that I find most compelling is the first one on the New Yorker web site (but not printed in the magazine)–people coming out of the dust with no rhyme or reason, together but utterly separate from each other (in the Mag they printed the one of the woman with the flag). The other photos seems to add to that aloneness tenfold, especially the one of the two medics.

    Yes, perhaps, I am placing myself, my emotions, in his photos, but that is the only thing I can do, I think. I feel it in me and I feel it in his photos. And it is through his images that my imagination is moved to these feelings and not the airplane seconds before impact or the explosion afterwards. Horror overwhelms all other feelings while Peress’ photos ellicit something totally different.

    And, as Nubar has said here, there is poetry in that. There is poetry in my looking at scenes of destruction and horror and feeling something much larger, connecting to a larger human reality. And, as it has been said here before also, this is the power of photography.

    As Nubar mentioned, I also truely appreciated the fact that the photos and the text for that issue of the New Yorker stood together, but each on its own terms. Photos were NOT in an illustrative, secondary position or forced into some rigid chronology.

    ara

  • Jay Allison

    9.27.01

    then and now

    It’s encouraging to read these passionate, articulate notes about the pictures and stories being made. How desperately we want to craft meaning, poetry, order, peace.

  • Jay Allison

    9.27.01

    five books?

    I also like it that Anaheed was forced out into the open to correct a typo.

  • Susan Jenkins

    9.28.01

    Pictures vs. getting the picture

    >Perhaps we’re entering a time when more of us understand that the price we pay even when we watch good television can be too high if price of admission is some or all of our imagination. (Nubar)

    > we in radio have many palliatives to reassure us in the face of television’s overarching power. Generally, their point is that in radio the pictures are better. (Jay)

    It isn’t just imagination that’s lost. (By the way Nubar-Thanks for the kind words.) Consider this.

    The other night my roommate had her television on. I just wired the apartment for cable this week, and she was looking forward to being able to watch the news. She had on some news-based program reporting on the threat of chemical warfare. The program seemed more interested in titillating us with various scenarios ("visuals" of potential situations) interspersed with selected unresolved contradictory quotes that only get in the way of understanding our situation rather than illuminating it. I left the room in a hurry.

    (Is it me, or is television news programming some of the crummiest programming on the box? Despite the shock of this tragedy, for which we feel we’ll never be the same, a few days later they’re back to grabbing at our attention. I am frustrated by the stagnation in my ways of trying to learn about things, whether they be newspaper, television, lectures, or radio. It isn’t that the good stuff isn’t out there, or is being hampered by the existence of big media. I just expect it to be more accessible [I'm cranky that way]. And I realize this more and more as I try to ramp up this magazine I started, to collect alternative writing about art and creative experience. That we need more accessible alternatives to established ways of reporting, reviewing, criticizing, and analyzing events and experiences, and the people who seem to have the most success at breaking the molds are creative writers, artists, and novices [i.e., outsiders].

    Of course, Transom’s raison d’etre is also engaged with this alternative-seeking. Nice to know you’re here.

    Sorry for the long parenthetical comment.)

    Isn’t it interesting to think of imagination as the thing that helps intellect to process what’s happening. I bet if you ask a traditional journalist (news, tv, or otherwise) what role imagination has in his or her job, they’d be stumped.

  • Viki Merrick

    9.29.01

    Nubar’s Tower

    out of touch here for a bit…but what brought me back was this:

    I walked into the "transom office" and saw an image straight in front of me on the screen. I wasn’t even sure from a distance what it was but it SUCKED me through the door, like a piece of lego into the vacuume hose…

    While it is true what Susan said so perfectly about the hum of then and now (our now is constantly updating, adding on to "then" – slightly changing the memory ) this photograph is astonishingly different. Joel’s vision makes me nostalgic, Gilles’ make me cough and crumble – Nubar’s tower takes my breath from me. the spiraling motion up through the "portal" is implicit if not prescient of the calamitous spiraling down. It is strong and weak, up and down, terrifyingly beautiful and horrifically monstrous. It is, like these days of late, exquisitely this and that.
    Where can I get one?

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.29.01

    Aha. Back to Then & Now

    Susan, the irony here is that imagination plays no part in the work of a photojournalist…not consciously. If imagination played a part in the process of "seeing" for me, it presupposes that I have an idea of what I’m looking for, or what I’m looking at. (It does play a small role in terms of intuition, which can affect where a photographer is and when.) This has everything to do with the process of taking pictures (now, now, now) vs having taken them (then, then, then) which can engage my intuition, but only after I’ve seen the images.

    Regarding television news, I agree. It’s unbelievably bad. It’s narcissitic to the point of being about them, not about us or even the events they try to describe. This is why public radio is so important to so many of us. I understand some of the difficulty independent producers have working with NPR. There are real concerns here. However, it’s the closest accessible alternative news will every get to a mainstream audience.

    To take this point a bit further, if you read the New York Times (I’m from Gloucester which compels me to spell out New York Times. If you say the Times here, everyone is referring to the Gloucester Daily Times, which is just one of the many reasons I love living here.) in my mind, there’s Frank Rich and then everyone else. Where the hell is everyone else? (I do like Maureen Dowd on occasion.) But he’s always writing about something directly, often telling me things I did not know and am glad to have learned. Or at least given me an interesting and sometimes important point of view to consider. Isn’t this what you’re talking about? We need more of this. Much more.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    9.29.01

    Trading Images

    Viki, first of all, you would make a terrific photographer. There’s not a linear thought in your mind. Secondly, are you trading in your winnings? Would you like to trade your copy of the Tern for a copy of the WTC? Either way is fine with me.

  • Susan Jenkins

    10.01.01

    Where the hell is everyone else?

    It *is* the kind of thing I’m talking about, although Frank Rich doesn’t go far enough away to get there. He steps out on stage naked but by the end of his piece this week he’s fully clothed in the standard editorial garb.

    I feel like that garb is hitting me over the head, like the laundry chore when you’re out of underwear.

    I don’t want to be hit over the head, I want suggestion and its responses to be the main sentiment of the dialogue between readers and writers and artists and everyone. One of the things that great narrative radio programs do really well (great photography, too, for that matter), is to step off the hard sell and just suggest ways of looking at things. Suggestion doesn’t preclude bias, but it provides avenues for acceptance that don’t feel cajoled and for rejection that don’t feel righteous.

    I listened to WNYC all day today. I am so thankful for Jonathan Schwartz, TAL, and The Next Big Thing, but especially for TAL. They have gotten so good at what they do. These last two weeks’ programs have been very satisfying. Everything else pales in comparison. Of course, what they do wouldn’t work if there wasn’t straight news. It’s hard to be an alternative if you don’t have a counterpoint.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    10.04.01

    digitaljournalist.org

    For anyone interested, the October issue of the digital journalist is up on the web and there are some amazing photographs from Sept. 11 in NYC. Some very fine photojournalists were covering the events of the day and the week that followed.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    10.20.01

    THE RETURN OF PHOTOJOURNALISM

    There is a very fine editorial at The Digital Journalist, which describes the effect the events of 9/11/-01 have had on photojournalism. An excerpt is below. You can read the entire piece by visiting http://www.digitaljournalist.org

    "A decade of budget cutting, downsizing, foreign bureau closings, assignment drought, and agency takeovers are coming home to roost. The aftermath of the terrorist strikes has exposed America’s shallow knowledge and understanding of today’s complex world in which we live. The media abdicated its responsibility to inform the public with insightful reportage, in-depth enterprise journalism, and hard news.
    Instead, they fed us softball lifestyle features that would "sell." We were entertained instead of educated. Luce, Sarnoff, and Paley did not abdicate their responsibilities to report the news to the American public while bringing healthy profits to the bottom line. Will today’s media barons step up to their responsibilities?"

    So wrote former Time magazine Picture Editor Arnold Drapkin in an email sent to us just days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. We could not agree more.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    10.20.01

    Nubar,
    two of your photographs, the soaring blue-sky World Trade Center and dark yellowing nazi pages, have been looming in my mind for weeks now… expanding and crushing…

    I hope more people get to see the World Trade Center photo.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    10.22.01

    WTC Photo

    Thanks. There are many fine images of the WTC making their way into peoples’ psyches these days.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    10.22.01

    The phrase that comes to mind is "for one brief shining moment" (we were on top of the world).

    Yours is the only photograph I’ve seen that gives me the experience of what it was like to be there, awed in a day-to-day way. It reminds me of looking up at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, coming up the metro subway escalator, especially when it is lit up at night.

    Did you hear the artist on Morning Edition today who compared entering the World Trade Center to being taken by aliens? One morning you’re on the regular street, the next there are blinking lights, you go UP and there’s the view…then at the end you’re spit out again…

    I have avoided television and newspapers. I haven’t been paying for nightmares… But now I was ready to look at the images you pointed us to at digital journalist. The most heart-wrenching, to me, was the one of the people hanging out of the windows together, straining to get an idea of what was happening, what their chances of escape were. Unlike the falling people, theirs were recognizable gestures and poses. It is too easy to imagine what that time was like for them. And moments later they were gone.

    It’s not a total escape to go back to your soaring "before" photo. In doing so, I don’t forget that wrenching hour and the aftermath, but it is soothing to leave behind fear and horror for sadness and a daily grandeur where the victims spent many more hours.
    (On another level this is total bull, as I really have so little understanding of anything.)

  • Nubar Alexanian

    10.24.01

    WTC

    Nanette. I have always looked at this image of the WTC as a corporate photograph, perhaps because it’s color; that I shot it on a corporate gig, and the form overwhelms the content. Talk about meaning having much to do with what we bring to a piece of work….this image has changed because of the attack. I love this image now. It describes a moment where someone….a figure..is running up into the building. Freely. On a mission. In safety. That seems important now.

    When I look at this picture, I also think of the firemen who rushed up the stairwells as people were going the other way, trying to get out, never imagining what would happen.

    I think photographers have done a very good job covering this story. I was particularly happy to hear that Joel Meyeorwitz has been given complete access to the site. We couldn’t have a better photographer documenting what’s going on there. He knows when to bring his vast experience into play and when to leave something alone.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    11.07.01

    The Short Version of a Long Journey

    Back in 1984, Rebecca and I lived in Seattle for three years. How we got there and why is the long version. She started her first therapy practice after finishing grad school. I had had the career every photographer dreams of, travelling all over the world for great magazines. But I was unhappy with the work I was doing. I decided I didn’t know who I was without my cameras. So I put them down for a year and a half while seeing a Jungian therapist once a week (everyone who saw this wise man had to travel 5 hours round trip….drive to the ferry….take the ferry and drive some more. It was like being in therapy all day). We started with my dreams. After a year or so I brought in new photographs I was taking, which replaced my dreams as the subject of our work together. Convinced that my career in photography was over (no flair for the dramatic here) I ended up selling everything except my two Leicas. This included my entire library of photography books. I love poetry books, especially because you can carry them with you ((unlike photography books). Besides, I needed the money. I sold all but twelve books, which I couldn’t part with. Perhaps that makes them the most influential photography books in my career. These books are listed below in no particular order.

    Travelog by Charles Harbutt
    The Americans by Robert Frank
    Gypsies by Josef Koudelka
    Growing Up Female by Abigail Heyman
    Dorchester Days by Eugene Richards
    Falkan Road by Mary Ellen Mark
    Public Relations by Garry Winogrand
    Fifty Years of Photography by Cartier Bresson
    The Photographer’s Eye, by John Szarkowski
    Solos by Linda Connor
    Edward Weston Monograph, Aperture Books
    Landscapes by Paul Caponigro *

    *This books remains one of my favorite books of all time.

  • Michael Joly

    11.07.01

    Twelve, Not Ten?

    Nubar,

    I was wondering how you arrived at the final twelve and if the number twelve had any intentional symbolic significance or was merely accidental. (as if happy accidents don’t count!)

    thanks for the reading/looking list.

  • Nubar Alexanian

    11.08.01

    No Significance Whatsoever

    I think I tried to get it down to ten and couldn’t.

  • Jay Allison

    11.08.01

    Thanks

    I hope Nubar will continue to hang out here as he sees fit. His friends too.

    This discussion about story and image occurring in the midst of the most devastating stories and images of our time has been helpful in organizing thought and action, and confirming the need and purpose of documentary evidence.

    Carol Wasserman sent this note after editing Nubar’s issue of The Transom Review which will appear soon:

    >I am working on the posts of September 10. Did you realize the extent to which our little virtual community was a miniature version of American culture? Did you remember that before September 11 we were fascinated by celebrity and celebrity gossip? That what we wanted most from our Special Guest was "more asshole stories"?

    >Then everything changed.

    >And we found ourselves in the ruins. Bereft of narrative. Clinging to image.

    Finally, here’s an image I like. It’s from the Spring, before September 11th, taken with my foggy-lensed 110 cartridge camera. It’s Nubar with a striped bass and a cigar in my wooden skiff off Naushon. He’d like the fish to be bigger, I know. There’s always next Spring.

    Nubar/Fish
    Nubar and Fish
  • Mary McGrath

    11.29.01

    Hey there Nubar

    Nubar,
    Mary McGrath here, Chris Lydon’s producer. Chris told me about your
    Gloucester book. He said it’s fabulous. I’ve been admiring your work on the web. Where around Boston does one find your new book?

  • Jay Allison

    11.30.01

    Book, and also a Photo

    Mary, in case Nubar doesn’t wander by any time soon, I know you can order the book from his Walker Creek Press site: http://www.walkercreekpress.com

    Also, he has donated his WTC photograph from this topic that many people were interested in. You can now download and print it from here on Transom at http://www.transom.org/how/wtc.html
    In return, he asks that people consider a donation to the 9/11 Fund to support Joel Meyerowitz’s photographic work documenting Ground Zero. Details are at the page.

  • nubar

    12.02.01

    Walker Creek Press

    Mary, I started Walker Creek Press on a wim a couple of years ago. Now it’s turning into a place where I offer my books and those of my friends. It’s difficult for publishers to break even, let alone make money, on photography books, unless there are celebrities involved ( Shocking, isn’t it?). So many of the books I think are worth while get remaindered quickly. So photographers end up buying the remaindered copies and sleep on them. Literally. I know photographers who put their mattress over boxes of books. Very comfortable and somewhat practical.

    I hope Walker Creek Press will become on online book store where people interested in buying hard-to-find documentary books can find them.

    On another note, I walked through my exhibit with Chris last weekend when he was here in Gloucester. Had a great time talking about image as metaphor, improvisation in jazz and photography. Great fun. If you come this way, please give a call. We can do the same.

  • Mary McGrath

    12.06.01

    Exhibit

    I’ve just ordered the book as a gift. Thanks for responding. Is there an exhibit up in Gloucester as well?

  • Nubar

    3.05.02

    An Open Letter To Frank Rich

    Freedom From The Press Indeed

    An Open Letter to Frank Rich

    Dear Mr. Rich:

    I always look forward to reading your column and cannot, for the life of me, understand why other journalists seem so unwilling or unable to press important issues as directly as you do. Your column is regularly steeped in facts (along with an attitude) that are helpful to many of us who are trying to make sense of the world we live in.

    Where I live, far from the power centers of New York & Washington, whenever your column appears on the editorial page of the New York Times, there’s always a flurry of voice and email messages in my neighborhood and among my colleagues around the country. The messages are always the same: "Don’t miss Frank Rich today. " Yours is a powerful and effective voice in the world.

    With this in mind, I’d like to bring your attention to last Sunday’s editorial page of your newspaper (2/02/02), specifically to the advertisement purchased by The American Jewish Committee. I mention this because, as you will see, not only do I believe this kind of advertisement compromises your important work, but, in the end, endangers the lives of journalists working in the field. As a photojournalist who has worked all over the world, from Peru to Jerusalem, I am concerned that this advertisement may have put a brave young photographer in jeopardy. I believe that you, as someone who has eloquently defended journalists doing their jobs in far-off places–be they Danny Pearl or anyone else–will share this concern. I’ve attached two photographs to this document.

    Let’s look at the first photograph that accompanied The American Jewish Committee’s advertisement. After making an understandable case against suicide bombers, the advertisement closes by saying: "Take another look at the picture. Which of the masked suicide bombers is the father, and what kind of future is he planning for his son." For their purposes, the photograph is highly effective. It is ominous and frightening. It’s also a lie.

    Courtney Kealey - Hamas 1

    This becomes clear in the second photograph, which was not published, but was readily available at GettyNewsImages.com. It’s tragic enough that Palestinian children dress up like suicide bombers much the same way that children in the US dress up like firemen (which I believe is the real intent of the photographer.) But there are no fathers indoctrinating sons here. And this is not a terrorist training camp. They are not wearing real bombs, nor are they holding real weapons. The captions that accompany each of these photographs on the Getty site make all of this perfectly clear. These are children living in a refugee camp who just finished marching in a small parade in support of Hamas in December, 2001. Frightening, yes. But terrorists, no!

    Courtney Kealey - Hamas 2

    Please understand that I’m not taking sides in the Middle East conflict here. Rather, I’m deeply troubled by the collapse of journalistic standards which not only misinform but can create serious potential danger.

    What about the photographer? Here we have a young, smart, hungry photojournalist, working in the Middle East who has worked hard over time to gain the trust of Hamas and Hizbollah. Based in Beirut and paying her dues every day in the field, she has used her access time and again to shoot pictures for publications like the New York Times and her agency, Getty Images. If Danny Pearl was believed to be a spy by his captors, what do you think Hamas and Hizbollah think about Courtney Kealy after this debacle?

    Not only was her name displayed prominently next to the image, identifying her as the photographer for the world to see, but her photograph was used, not toward journalistic ends, but as propaganda for one side against the other in an already inflamed conflict. And this, on the editorial page of the newspaper of record around the world! Can anyone at the Times explain this? Perhaps the American Jewish Committee or Getty Images has an explanation. I’m anxious to hear it, because a simple apology will not do. This courageous young woman and everything she has worked for has already been compromised.

    Who would be to blame if something terrible happened to Courtney Kealy? Would Getty Images be to blame for selling a documentary photograph used as propaganda and allowing the use of the photographer’s name? Would the New York Times accept any responsibility for allowing this kind of unexamined propaganda on its editorial page? What about the American Jewish Committee?

    So why am I writing an open letter to you, Mr. Rich? Because I hope you will raise this issue with your colleagues and that a public discussion will engage picture agencies and editors alike to make sure this never happens again. You’ve written very eloquently about Danny Pearl, honoring his courage and integrity as a journalist. How ironic that the very next day your very words were undermined on the same page. Let’s not put another journalist further in harm’s way than her work already demands.

    There is no acceptable solution to the problem already created here. Only a lesson or two about truth, integrity, honesty and maintaining the highest achievable standards in journalism.

    With Respect
    Nubar Alexanian
    Photographer

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    3.07.02

    scary world, indeed

    thanks for posting this here. I trust you’ll let us know any response…

  • Susan Jenkins

    3.07.02

    Thank you Nubar

    I too was moved by the piece Frank Rich wrote…it was one of his best. Your equally eloquent letter should be published as an editorial in and of itself. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I wonder if it isn’t also long past time for there to be broader discussion of stock agency business practices. Perhaps you should share this with ASMP. Although in the republican economic environment such a discussion may be purely academic.

    I hope you’re well, otherwise.

  • Nubar

    3.08.02

    Responses to date

    I haven’t received a response from Frank Rich (I did get an automated response letting me know it was received) but I have received quite a few individual responses from photographers, friends and colleagues. However, to my surprise, no one is willing to post their responses. It seems everyone wants to be careful around issues that involve the possibility of biting the hand that feeds them. This is speculation on my part. More on this later. Nice to hear from you Susan. I am otherwise well. Thanks