Blog post 1- 6th October 2019
Some of the photojournalistic images on display as part of the exhibition by Magnum Photos, ‘Protest!’ at Milk Gallery in New York, explored the relationship of photography to protest, and featured many images that have taken on a totemic value in popular culture. Famous because of the dramatic, world-altering moments that they depict, where the photographers themselves were caught up in the action, such as Bruno Barbey’s documentation of the Paris riots (as above, May 1968) or David Hurn’s shots of a anti-Vietnam protest that took a violent turn outside the London flat he was living in.
Portraits of leaders were also presented highlighting the importance of figureheads to protest movements. And while the decades-spanning exhibition presented a history of protest photography, it also brought it up to date with photographs taken as recently as 2017 such as Christopher Anderson’s pictures of the Women’s March on Washington a testament to the ongoing work Magnum photographers are doing to document the current history movements of resistance.
Blog post 2- 8th January 2020
Whose Streets, Our Streets
A group of photographers born between 1950 and 1970 committed themselves to documenting the struggles of social change which were unfolding on the streets of New York. Their pictures captured the changing history of the city from 1980-2000, including the marches of the 80’s and 90’s when residents “marched, demonstrated, and rioted in response to social changes in their city as well as national and international developments.”
As with many cities around the world, New York during the 1980’s was feeling the effects of a immensely unequal economic recovery. The recovery was highly dependent upon investment banking and high-end real estate development and it led to bitter challenges over space and city services. Housing activists were opposed gentrification raising concerns about the plight of thousands of homeless New Yorkers. Immigration made New York City much more diverse, but a significant proportion of white New Yorkers opposed civil rights and acted to maintain racial segregation.
Attempts to combat high crime rates during the 1970s and early 1980s heightened concerns about police brutality, as many innocent black and Latino New Yorkers died at the hands of the police. The culture wars wracking the nation had particular resonance in New York, a center of avant-garde art as well as of gay and lesbian and feminist activism, on the one hand, and home of the Vatican’s spokesman in the U.S., Cardinal John O’Connor, and a significant culturally conservative Roman Catholic population on the other.
MEG HANDLER IRAQ WAR PHOTO 1991
“A picture of someone holding a sign, at that time, felt very cliché and easy. But when looking at 25-year-old pictures the signage becomes much more important.”
This quote resonated as a lot of the pictures I have taken focus on the message or the banner. For me the signage is also an important document of what people are feeling.
Many of the photographers making work were both progressive and independent, publishing work in alternative press such as The Village Voice or through the cooperative photo agency Impact Visuals, dedicated to social documentary photography. Their photographs had never been shown as a collection until 2017 when an exhibition was staged at the Bronx Documentary centre
A website ‘Whose Streets’ showing the work, exhibition dates and information about the photographers can be found here
Blog post 3- 19th January 2020
Max Dondyuk: Culture of the Confrontation
Maxim Dondyuk is a documentary photographer who captured a range of images of the Euromaidan protests; 3 months of demonstration against the government in Ukraine, which was characterised as “an event of major political symbolism for the European Union”.
Hundreds of people crowded into the city of Ukraine, wearing helmets and holding flags. Dondyuk’s photographs show fires breaking out, a person wearing white gloves wiping the blood off the face of a young man, police lining up with their bulletproof shields: one stands on the bonnet of a van preparing to fire his rifle.
“At the very beginning, this project was a real challenge for me,” says Dondyuk. “I was surrounded by hundreds of photographers, and I knew I needed to find a unique way to document the revolution”
His photographs were then inspired by battle paintings rather than historical themes within photojournalism. He examined the visual language and images resulting in a series of images that captures abstract themes such as light and shadow, black and white, good and evil – although it is never clear which side is which. This is due to the fact that Dondyuk, wanted to show that both sides were important. “I was totally on the protestors’ side, of course, but it was also necessary to understand what was going on from the other side of the barricades,” he says. “I didn’t try to show a good side and a bad side; I tried to show the confrontation of two different world views.”
Dondyuk witnessed riot police beating the press and confiscating their cameras, so he avoided telling people he was a journalist, unless it was a matter of access or safety. The Ukrainian native recalls that he was hit several times with rubber bullets during the revolution – once in the head and once in the leg with a grenade – which resulted in a fragmentation wound. Despite his injuries, he went back with his camera the following day, with protestors helping him climb the barricades. “I had no idea how to stop documenting this event – I couldn’t,” he says. “The camera is my weapon and my mouthpiece.
Dondyuk’s work can be seen on his website here
Blog post 4- The Politics of Documentary Photography: Three Theoretical Perspectives
Photographers are often inspired by politics but can they influence it? Drawing on the study of public policy and the history of photography, this article considers three ways in which documentary photographers enter the policy process. It considers the photographer as: a bureaucrat working within government networks to achieve individual and institutional aims; an advocate working with like-minded actors to advance shared political beliefs; an expert working within an epistemic community driven by a shared policy enterprise. These roles highlight the institutional channels through which photographers seek and sometimes secure political change and the contradictions and constraints they face in so doing. These contrasting perspectives are discussed with reference to the work of canonical and contemporary photographers engaged in national and international politics from 1890 to today.
Blog post 5- Gideon Mendel “Struggle photographer”
Picture from the Drowning World Series
Gideon Mendel is a photojournalist who began working as a photographer in 1984 in South Africa, he captured images in the worst days of Apartheid and this went on to define his approach to photography. He looked for ways to engage creatively with social and political issues.
His philosophy like many other photographer activists is that photography is both a beautiful art form and a tool for making a positive impact in the world.
With the passing of time, I have found that many of the images have begun to take on further meaning and relevance. This website is a contemporary reassessment of the work I consider to be most important to date, which sits somewhere between art, documentary photojournalism and activism. I have found that it works in a variety of contexts, from gallery walls, to magazine pages, to protest billboards.
Developing my projects over long periods of time, I have established an approach that is very personal. My intention has always been to challenge my viewers by pushing boundaries, translating issues of global concern into work that evokes a felt response.
His work can also be seen here where he talks about his work.
Blog post 6- David Hoffman; The Poll Tax Riots and social unrest UK
David Hoffman is a photojournalist working independently since the 1970’s.
He has always chosen his own subject matter and his photos are supplied to the media through his own photo library. He was driven to document the increasingly overt control of the state over our lives and his work sheds an unforgiving light across racial and social conflict, policing, drug use, poverty and social exclusion.
His website shows a variety of photographs of the poll tax riots and other social concerns in the UK
“Protest, and the violence that sometimes accompanies it, is a thread that has run through Hoffman’s work, gaining him a reputation as ‘the riot photographer’s riot photographer.’ The same determination and willingness to look uncomfortable realities in the eye are evident in his photographs of homeless people using open and unregulated shelters offering support and respite.
Often raw and uncomfortable, Hoffman’s work is both dispassionate documentary and steely social challenge. By engaging with the image, we are forced to recognise the world as others live it and to consider our own position. Working to document the reality of injustice, the frequent oppression of the state and the all too often tragic consequences, Hoffman’s photography has underpinned legal challenges, brought racist perpetrators to justice, and most importantly, reached wide audiences through mass media publication for more than 40 years.” Taken from his website
Blog post 7- Photographer as participant observer
He states that a camera can be many things;
“A tool, to produce an image.
A bridge, to start a conversation.
An observer, to record an event, or bear witness to something.
A shield, to distance and separate the photographer from the scene he or she is attempting to capture”
Thein, Ming, 2012, Observing V Participating behind the camera https://blog.mingthein.com/2012/03/20/observing-vs-participating-behind-the-camera/
Blog post 8- Activestills
The work with the greatest resonance for me is that of the Activestills collective, a group of photographers creating work around the area of Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea highlighting attacks on human rights and freedom within these borders. They share a strong conviction that photography is a vehicle for social and political change.
Established in 2005 the photographers were studying photojournalism at the Geographic Photography College in Tel Aviv. Kratsman, lecturer at the college, reported that he started to see a new strand of work developing when third year students began bringing in images taken at the Friday protests against the Israeli separation wall that were taking place in the West Bank Village of Bil’in. A relationship formed between the photographers and protestors redrawing the lines of photojournalism and challenging the power relations between themselves and the establishment.
In choosing to stand with the demonstrators rather than behind the police and military they were placing themselves at the centre of the action, possibly being more than simply an active participant. In this respect they challenge the opening concept of this essay that becoming part of the action, changes the action. The groups photographs are as powerful as Hoffman’s work in the 70’s, as honest and as challenging.
By exhibiting their photographs within the communities in which they work, in the public sphere, in in independent publications and at community events, conferences and at court hearings and allowing use by human rights agencies, it is more than elitist gallery fare; they are giving ownership to those whose struggles they documented on the street.