So, enough controversy for you this week? It’s been interesting watching the Pellegrin story evolve over the last couple of days, but as I sit here on Sunday evening I can’t help but think that it’s much ado about nothing. A few good points were raised and I think it’s good to ask these questions but this is something that will most likely blow over and be forgotten in a few days.
BagNewsNotes vs. Paolo Pellegrin
On Friday, BagNewsNotes published an article that claimed that the location and subject in one of Pellegrin’s POYi photos were misidentified. Furthermore, there was a plagiarism claim. While the claims were very serious, and I probably should have put more thought into them, I actually found myself most curious about Pellegrin’s process.
Paolo had first photographed me in my apartment with a plain white wall. He made some photographs of just Brett holding one of my pistols, which he can’t legally own in NY since he doesn’t have a NY pistol permit. Technically, he wasn’t even legally allowed to hold mine. After we were both photographed in my apartment, we went to my garage to leave for the shooting range. That’s when Paolo wanted to shoot a few more portraits of us down there. I’m assuming it was because it looked scarier down there and would go better with his story of “abandoned houses prone to become centers of drug sales and use.” As I recall, the photograph used was from when I came downstairs with my shotgun, as requested, but I think it was before he started shooting the portraits of me.
The caption bothers me even more than the photo itself, which says, “A former US Marine corps sniper with his weapon.” First, I was never a sniper and I never would have said that.
For any Marine who knows me and sees that image, are they going to believe the photographer and assume that I lied about my Military Occupational Specialty. That makes me look really bad and hurts my integrity. Second, the one line caption makes it sound like the weapon I’m holding is my sniper rifle, which it’s not. It isn’t even a rifle; It’s only a pump-action 12 gauge. And as a minor detail, the word “Corps” should have been capitalized.
Pelligrin responded, and again I was most interested in reading about his process:
“Shane also points out that I took his portrait. This is true, and his account of how we were introduced by Brett, who was assisting me, is also substantially accurate. I had been spending the majority of my time riding along with the Rochester police in the Crescent and otherwise interacting with the community there. I approached the work through a combination of reportage, portraiture, and even landscapes. I also realized that to tell more fully the story of gun violence in Rochester, as exemplified by what I was seeing in the Crescent, I wanted to make some portraits of gun aficionados. Like any journalist, I worked with my assistant to locate such people, and Shane was one of the people we located. I think his portrait, and even his reaction to it, add an interesting dimension to the story. Shane thinks he and his guns have nothing to do with the violence in the Crescent; I disagree. (For what it’s worth, there is no firm agreement in Rochester as to what constitutes the ‘Crescent;’ it sometimes seems to be a conceptual designation as much as a geographical one. I actually didn’t know where precisely Brett had driven me to meet Shane, which is one of the reasons I captioned the picture simply, ‘Rochester.’)
I started to lose interest in the story at this point. LENS has a good article that probably provides all the information that you need to know and think about. When I first read the story on Friday I thought about Daniel Shea’s quote from last week:
I fully embrace terms like “documentary fiction,” “post-documentary,” “expanded documentary,” etc. The thing that’s worth pointing out with these terms is that fiction is more of a frame than anything else. The problem with work that purports to have documentary intention is that the work adheres to unrealistic and slippery definitions, codes, ethics, and assumptions. Social documentary work tries to evade these adherences by foregrounding narrative and human qualities, the implication being that the emotional tenor helps expand what we might consider to be documentary.
It’s a tricky situation, and something documentary photographers need to think about. Or you can just stick to ‘fine art’ and leave the ethics debates to the photojournalists. Also, read Jim Johnson’s ‘Parachuting into Rochester.’
There was some question about why Bag published the article without contacting Pellegrin to get his side of the story. I think Michael and his team probably should have tried to contact him but I don’t think it was that big of a deal. They started the conversation. Was it a conversation worth having? I’ll let you decide.
Links of Note
Oh, there’s more. Christopher Anderson responded to John Edwin Mason’s article about the CNN ‘War and Fashion’ article:
I fully understand how CNN’s article is offensive to many. And I obviously agree that there is a debate to be had about the context through which we create, view and discuss images and the appropriateness of how to best do that. Like many other things, I think the internet is a flawed venue to have that extremely nuanced and sensitive discussion. Twitter even worse. But if it is to take place, I would just like to correct the record as a starting point: Magnum did not partner with CNN to create this article. Yes, I am solely responsible for giving permission for my images to be used, and yes I agreed to be interviewed. But contrary to the internet meme and the tone of this blog and its headline, this was NOT a “cobranding” partnership by Magnum with CNN. I assume that most readers do not usually hold the subject of an interview responsible for the opinions of the journalist who conducts the interview. I am not sure why the same logic was not applied in this case.
I’m primarily an enthusiast and thoroughly enjoy turning people on to the beauty that can be found in these books. I run the bookstore in a very old-fashioned way. My staff and I have personal relationships with most of the people who walk through the door. Hopefully, I can inspire them by introducing them to classic titles and little-known gems, as well as the best in contemporary titles. There are more and more books produced on photography each year, and my main job is in weeding out the strongest ones—it can be like panning for gold, but it means the collection I have built has integrity. My aim with the store was to build a community for artists, designers, people in fashion, film and advertising to develop a lasting relationship with photography and books—it’s not easy to get that from the internet!
We might have to redefine the activity of photographic image-making. Not just photographs, but photography as a whole is losing its traditional context. I think it’s important to consider that the line drawn around what makes a photograph, or a photographer, or a photographic practice, is sort of arbitrary. And so photography has the possibility to grow, perhaps beyond pre-defined criteria, and artists working with photography will grow along with it. I continue to find work that interests me, that engages photographic concerns in a variety of expressions. I don’t see an end to that. And maybe the lines delineating photographic work eventually won’t be as defined, and maybe it won’t continue to be such a topic of discussion.
The past few years, I have been doing what I call kitchen paintings. I get the little boards that they put between the bottles when you buy wine, and I make acrylic paintings. I wake up in the middle of the night and do one of these paintings while I’m heating the water for my coffee. I go into Starbucks, I have my camera with me. I look at certain things. I haven’t printed a lot of those things, though. I’ve done a whole series out of my window, in color and in black and white, and it could be a little book — if I were of the mind to do it.
For all the self-serving hoo-ha whipped up by press agents of interested companies like Sotheby’s or Magnum or the larger galleries or a certain number of publishers, and for all the ponderous and yet not very ambitious weight of our undergraduate teaching programmes, photography is not really, in the end, mainly controlled by photographers, nor mainly consumed by people interested in the photographic aspects of any question that it touches. This is a salutary enough thought that it ought to be engraved in scrolled poker work on every hard-drive.
The man behind (or rather, in the middle of) Donlon Books is Conor Donlon. After working for Wolfgang Tillmans for six years he started the venture, initially connected to Herald Street Gallery but then later in a beautiful old shop in North East London. Conor, although not wanting to alienate his customers, says he finds the photography world ‘very narrow in what it appreciates’ (a sentiment echoed by Brian) and that ‘ninety percent of the books that Steidl produce are just a little bit dull’. In a nice, if rather unexpected, synchronicity with another interview he even complains that the photo world is made up of 40-year-old men (notwithstanding his own proximity to that club).
The artist Karen Schiff proposed that we use the term “consideration” instead of “criticism” when discussing artwork. Consideration is “not just a kinder, gentler” form of criticism, she said. She noted the etymology of the word includes looking at the stars. A critic should be an “analyst” of art, she said, using artwork as a source of information instead of relying on supplementary text. “There’s always more to discover,” she said.
The daily encounter with reality, the fictions, the surrogates, the ambiguous, poetic or alienating aspects, all seem to preclude any way out of the labyrinth, the walls of which are ever more illusory… to the point at which we might merge with them… The meaning that I am trying to render through my work is a verification of how it is still possible to desire and face a path of knowledge, to be able finally to distinguish the precise identity of man, things, life, from the image of man, things, and life.’
I began to disregard some of my earlier feelings about photography, the way that photography worked and notions of documenting truth and representation, and having to take a new position of not caring so much about what was what and where it came from.
- Don Hudson: What Was He Thinking? [Blake Andrews]
- Interview: Doug DuBois, Part II [fototazo]
- Why Do Photo Contest Winners Look Like Movie Posters? [Petapixel]
- A studio visit with Asger Carlsen [All of this is rocket science]
- Canteen Magazine’s Naked Judging: Learning from Rejection, Part 1 [LENSCRATCH]