A Day, A Photo, Not Mine
Today I saw a lecture by Kristen Ashburn. She calls herself a “photojournalist,” and her work, mostly medium format film, reports on events overseas, ranging from Zimbabwe to Israel. I think what I was thinking about most during this lecture was whether I was being moved enough by the images to actually attempt to comprehend the problem, the situation, whether I was moved to action.
Even understanding some of these geo-political issues is a challenge. The photographs I want to see attempt to tell the story of the people affected, in detail and complexity. But I admit that I was discouraged to see photographs of lonely looking figures in forlorn rooms in some foreign land. These photographs elicit an emotional response, which I think is too often stifled by repetition, and a lack of context.
The context of the situation is the trickiest. I recently saw the documentary “Reporter,” which details the life of a New York Times op-ed world journalist, whose entire job revolves about making people care about these issues. Research states that the public is completely turned off by facts and figures about geo-political crisis. People will donate $5 to help the portrait of a little girl in Africa, but won’t donate to solve a massive human migration and decimation of a rural community… y’know?
But I think photographs that are just the portrait… they lack something. To me, that context is important. It can’t all be about feelings and sentiment, identifying or alienating ad infinitum. Life is just as much about educated decision making as it is about emotional stew-brewing.
Which is why I was truly excited to see her MediaStorm piece. Media Storm is a production house that assembles multi-media pieces for documentary photographers. Working with audio, video, animation and photos, these guys make the new generation of online content. I think the way this was done spoke for Ashburn’s photographs better than she did. Better than I did.
Particularly interesting to me was the way Ashburn used direct eye contact to simulate to the viewer a cry for help. For this reason, it reminds me of this video by Project Pat. I can’t say the effect is completely the same. But do you see what I mean?