The Digest – June 10th, 2012


Arthur Rothstein – ‘A Historic Photo Archive Re-Emerges at the New York Public Library’ [LENS Blog]

I spoke too soon about the release of Issue 4. The text always seems to get you one way or another. I think we’ve corrected the problems so hopefully we’ll be able release it this week.

I’m always fairly active on Twitter and Tumblr (sometimes Facebook) if you want to keep up with what I’m up to during the week.

The Photograph Censored by Big Coal

Last week, Wayne Bremser wrote a post about how a photograph by Katie Falkenberg was censored from activist Maria Gunnoe’s  testimony to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. The photograph in question shows a couple bathing their five  year old daughter in “contaminated water that is the color of tea.”

The details on who prevented her and why she was not allowed to use the photograph are not clear, but one blog mentions that the photograph was considered “inappropriate.” Aaron Bady at the New Inquiry has a more specific story – Republican members of the subcommittee alerted the capitol police that the photograph might be considered “child pornography.”

In the post Wayne included the photograph. Naturally since this is bullshit, I reblogged it. I saw the story start to appear a few others places but I think it remained relatively under the radar. Jeff Goodall of Rolling Stone talked to Gunnoe about the controversy, in an article appropriately titled ‘Big Coals Sleazy War.’ Gunnoe states:

I had prepared written testimony, as well as a slide show, for the hearing.  I did not include  the photo of the little girl in the bathtub in the slide show because I did not have permission from the girl’s parents when I had completed the slide show.  But then at 7:30 on the morning of my testimony, I got permission from the parents to use the photo.  I sent it on to the committee and asked them to display it for the five minutes that I was speaking – just this one shot, this one photo.

Then just before the hearing, a couple of staff members, including one who worked for Rep. Doug Lamborn [the Colorado Republican who chairs the committee], told me they were not going to show the photo because they felt it was “inappropriate.”  I debated with them a little bit, told them that thousands of people had seen this photograph with innocent eyes and didn’t see anything inappropriate about it.  Then I just let it go. I knew that the fact that they censored it would make people want to see it.

But right after I testified, a special agent with the U.S. Capitol Police grabbed me by the arm and marched me into the back room.  He told me that the committee had reported the photograph to him as child pornography, and that he had an obligation to investigate it.  I told him this picture had been in circulation for three years – that thousands of people had seen it.   He asked me my name, where I was from, what kind of work I had done. He also asked me the name of the parents of the child in the photo, and the name of the photographer. The questioning lasted about 45 minutes, then they let me go.

You will have to hunt down the photograph yourself. Katie Falkenberg contacted me a couple of days ago asking that I remove it from my Tumblr because “the family has declined media request to use the photo.” She also contacted Wayne. We both obliged and removed the photo. I can’t speak for Wayne, but I will publicly say that I don’t agree with Katie’s decision. I understand the copyright issues and that a photographer has every right to control where their work appears for whatever reasons. But in this case the photograph has become newsworthy and I believe Wayne would have a strong fair use case since he was using the photograph as apart of his commentary and criticism.

I don’t want to turn this into a critique against Katie’s decision though. I can only speculate on her motivations. I believe what she told me about it be. But I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here and it’s despicable. Sadly though, it’s not something that will really shock many people. I don’t want to get overly political but I think photographers and the rest of us need to do what we can to speak out against this type of censorship.

Please take a look at Katie’s series ‘The Human Toll: Mountaintop Mining Removal.’

You will notice that the photograph has been removed there as well. This is not about child pornography. This about big coal and their cronies in the government covering up the disastrous environmental impact their activities are having on the the people in those communities.


©Jacob Aue Sobol

Links of Note

‘Arrivals and Departures’: Jacob Aue Sobol is demonstrating how photographers can work in real time on the web. Check out his wonderful series on The Leica Blog which is a perfect example of how to serialize work online.

On this journey I will visit three cities, where I have never been before:  Moscow, Ulan Batar, and Beijing. The train will bring me from the Russian forests to the Mongolian desert and finally through the mountains to Beijing. The train will be the red thread connecting these capitals. From the window I will follow the change of landscape and the change of mood.

‘Interview with Susan Meiselas’: An excellent conversation with David Alan Harvey on Burn.

But you know the fact is that it’s a very complicated and shifting environment. And the few last standing small agencies or communities could all go under. Three strong forces surround us all, a declining economic model, a culture of free exchange and an expanding circle of image-makers — anyone with an iphone, etc.

 ’Stephen Shore: The Book of Books’: I was not aware of this project but I’m intrigued. Shore shares some of his thoughts in a short interview on NOWNESS.

There are a couple of different ways to structure a book. One is to collect pictures together––for example, pictures that I have taken over the last ten years. Or there is another way, which is to photograph with the book in mind. That’s what these were. As I was photographing, I was thinking about how the pictures would relate to each other in a book and about how what I was photographing at one moment related to what I had photographed ten minutes before.

 ’Girl from AP’s Vietnam napalm photo finds peace with her role in history’: Great piece in The Guardian about what happened after the iconic photograph was published.

She worked hard and was accepted into medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But all that ended once the new communist leaders realized the propaganda value of the “napalm girl” in the photo. She was forced to quit college and return to her home province, where she was trotted out to meet foreign journalists. The visits were monitored and controlled, her words scripted. She smiled and played her role, but the rage inside began to build and consume her. “I wanted to escape that picture,” she said. “I got burned by napalm, and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.

‘ERRATA EDITIONS’: AN INTERVIEW WITH JEFFREY LADD’: A nice interview on Urbanautica.

I feel there are too many collector’s items out there already. In the case of the books we choose for inclusion in the ‘Books on Books’ series, those are titles that the original artist has said that they won’t reprint or re-release, so those books are essentially lost to history. The first question I ask any artist when considering their book is “would you reprint a new or facsimile edition of the original?.” If they, or the estate, say “no” then I introduce the idea of inclusion of their book in the Books on Books series.

‘Notes from Look3: Stanley Greene’s Fallujah Bridge Photo’: Rather gripping account from Greene about a horrific event. A good example of how an economy of words can add more context to a photograph.

Greene described how he went to Fallujah because he wanted to cover the insurgents, “otherwise know as ‘POI’s’ (pissed off Iraqis)”.  Upon getting more familiar with his driver, the man indicated Greene needn’t look very far. “In the day time, I keep you alive,” he told Greene, and “at night I go kill Americans.” Green described the irony of becoming privy to this information after “turning him on to ‘Rage Against the Machine’ and Red Bull.”


Joseph Rodriguez – Joseph Rodriguez: Twenty Years of Portraits from Another [New Yorker]

Etc.,