The World’s Most Powerful Images

1963 — Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself ablaze in protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (Malcolm W. Browne)

World Press Photo, a non-profit organization dedicated to generating “public interest in and appreciation for the work of photographers,” has held a contest every year since 1955 to highlight the best images created by photojournalists that year. Think of a single image capturing any of the biggest (mostly horrific) events of the last 55+ years, and chances are that image won the World Press Photo contest. Chances also are that you know about that photo (at least in part) because of that contest.

The fine folks at Buzzfeed have published on one page every winning photo from 1955 to 2011. (Yes, the same folks who gave rise to the new Beyoncé meme . . . I’ll wait while you go check that out . . . go on, you know you want to . . .OK, now where were we . . .)

Scrolling through all these images in one place is a bit overwhelming. I found it interesting how the passage of time makes it easier to discount the horrific act being photographed, as if the past has a monopoly on evil. Scrolling past images of more recent events was a powerful reminder of how life (and death) marches on, and how grateful I am that there are very brave people who have chosen to document these things for all the world to see. And thanks to World Press Photo for making these images visible well beyond the news cycle in which they originally appeared.

Go check out the images now. If it’s too much, there will always be the Beyoncé photos to brighten your day.

It’s shocking how little of this image is Photoshopped!

A Lighter Shade of Green — Home Grown Art

I write to you today, after an embarrassingly extended absence (What can I say, I’ve been busy and creatively uninspired — by which I do not mean uninspired in a creative way, but just plain uninspired), to talk a bit about lawn care.  And art.  And artful lawn care.

I have a lawn that is varying shades of green, yellow and brown.  I would prefer that my lawn be one vivid shade of grassy green, but my inability to pay attention to any lawn care activity for more than five minutes renders me completely incapable of producing anything vaguely reminiscent of that.  I suspect this inability to focus and my profound respect for those who are less distracted by shiny objects has a lot to do with the art I’m attracted to. (Yes, I know that should say, “. . .the art to which I am attracted,” but can we agree that’s a bit too stuffy for a blog?)

Earlier I wrote about Cecilia Paredes and Alexa Meade, two artists whose lawns are probably the exactly perfect shade of green.  And today, I would like to introduce you to Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, formally known as Ackroyd and Harvey (that name is a bit on the nose, wouldn’t you say).  In addition to making art that demonstrates an attention span outstripping my own by several lightyears (OK, I’m not sure what unit of measure is appropriate for attention spans, but I’m fairly certain lightyears isn’t it given that it’s a unit of length, but I’m being lazy here, so just go with it), Ackroyd and Harvey (seriously, it’s a horribly boring name for an art duo) have a certain knack for lawn care that I find enviable.

One Grassy Portrait

Admittedly, at first blush this image is unremarkable until you realize that it was created using photosynthesis.  Yes, the same photosynthesis you learned about in high school.  Or was it grade school?  (Sadly, the only thing that comes to mind when I think of photosynthesis is Adam Sandler bellowing, “Chlorophyll?  More like borophyll!” in Billy Madison.)  In the words of Ackroyd and Harvey, “We are exploring the capacity of grass to record complex photographic images through the production of chlorophyll. The equivalent of the tonal range in a black-and-white photograph is produced in the yellow and green shades of living grass. Although these organic “photographs” are exhibited in a fresh state for a short time, excessive light or lack of it eventually corrupts the visibility of the image.”

The artists created a technique that involves a custom negative, bright lights and specially engineered grass.  Evidently, the yellow does not come from the over-zealous use of fertilizer as it does with my lawn.  However, seeing what Ackroyd and Harvey have created leaves me with hope that my landscaping failures may somehow produce something worthwhile if not a nice, green lawn.

If any of you have seen any of Ackroyd and Harvey’s work in person, leave a comment.  Something tells me these images are much cooler in person.

Alexa Meade: Paintographer?

Here’s another in the series tentatively entitled “Artists That Inspire” (or possibly “Artists That Paint People Then Photograph Them”). Alexa Meade is an artist working in Washington D.C. who is part painter, part photographer, part performance artist and completely awesome.  Her series of three dimensional paintings/photographs is super cool.  Given my recent post about Cecilia Paredes, clearly I am drawn to artists that mix genres (or maybe I just like people that paint their models, I’m not sure), but check out these videos, I think you’ll like them too.

The Supremely Talented Cecilia Paredes

Every now and then you come across an artist producing works that just make you scratch your head. (In a good way — as in, “How does she do that?” or “Why does she do that?” or “Why am I so remarkably untalented?”) Cecilia Paredes is one of those artists for me. Check out her series of camouflage self portraits and note the part of the linked article that says Paredes “paints her own body” for these images. Taking the photos would be an accomplishment. Painting the model would be astonishing. Painting, posing and photographing yourself? Crazy! I cannot imagine the time and patience (not to mention the talent) it takes to complete any one of these images. Check her out!


Cecilia Paredes “Siren in the Sea of Roses” 2011

Watch This Now . . .

This behind the scenes video of  a commercial shoot for Canon Pixma printers is nothing short of stunning.  It is amazing what they did with a super high speed camera outfitted with a macro lens.  Did I mention one of the guys in the video has the title “Biochemist / Photography?”  I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but I think it’s kinda cool.  It’s three-and-a-half minutes I think you’ll find was well spent if you are at all into photography.  Or cool stuff.  Or “ink explosions.”  Or spinning cameras.  If none of that floats your boat, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.

Mourning the Loss of a Loved One

OK, so “mourning” may not be entirely accurate here, and the “loss of a loved one” bit is a bit melodramatic given the circumstances.  But the news of Eastman Kodak’s bankruptcy has caused me to reflect on many of the recent changes in the photography world.  Specifically, it is the symbolism of the bankruptcy – the near literal death of film photography – that weighs on my mind.  I know it’s odd to mourn the loss of an (almost) antiquated technology, but film photography will always be near and dear to me.

Near and dear in an idealized, romantic sense, mind you, but not in a practical sense, given I, like most other photographers, haven’t purchased a roll of film in years.  The end of film photography for me can be traced to the day I gave my wife a digital SLR for Christmas three years ago.  To be clear, I had no intention of ever shooting with that camera.  I had only put one roll of film through my new Canon Elan 7E (a 35mm film SLR) and had my beautiful Mamiya RZ67 (a medium format film camera) for when a 35mm just wouldn’t do.  The thought of switching was still out of the question, despite the fact that most of the world had already embraced digital cameras.  To be sure, digital was flourishing and film was already gasping for air, but somehow the romantic notion of remaining a “film guy” had taken root.

Now, while it is true that I had no intention of using my wife’s new camera, I knew I would need to shoot with it just to show her how it works.  It also happened that the gift I received from my wife that year was a Canon 580EXII flash.  Being a “natural light” guy myself (for some reason I seem to label myself when it comes to photography — something I don’t tend to do in other areas of my life), I had spent very little time shooting with a flash.  And so, without really thinking much about it, I snatched my wife’s new camera out of her hands to “show her how it works” practically before the packaging came to a rest on the the heap of discarded wrapping paper that was passing for our family room floor.  That first tutorial lasted a few hours, my wife being absent for a good many of them.  I shot my daughter opening her gifts.  I shot my daughter playing with her gifts.  I shot my daughter’s gifts as they lay on the floor, abandoned for the next new toy.  I shot the floor. The tree.  That heap of discarded wrapping paper.  The Christmas dinner.  The Christmas dinner dishes.  I haven’t shot a frame with my film cameras since.

And that, after all, is the beauty of a digital camera — you can shoot with reckless abandon, because it doesn’t cost you a penny.  Just pure, free, instant photographic gratification, and you don’t even have to do the Polaroid shake.  No doubt digital photography has made me a better photographer.  The ability to instantly see what a change in aperture has done for an image or how a change in lighting impacts the mood of that image is invaluable.  But that is also the curse of digital photography.  There is no need to think anymore — no need to plan — because you can just shoot, and shoot, and shoot until your image looks right.  I always hated keeping the log of images and settings — a process that inevitably detracted from the image-making process — and it was torture waiting for the film to be processed (hoping and praying all the while that those 36 images would turn out like I imagined they would).  But that process made me a more thoughtful photographer.  The notion that I had a mere 36 chances to get it right – to capture that decisive moment – made me think.  It made me plan.  It made me visualize.

I understand that “good photographers’ do all of those things whether they are shooting digital or film.  But today I chimp more than I visualize (I know I’m not alone), and I don’t think there will be as many “good photographers” in the digital age.  That’s not to say there won’t be lots of photographers making great images, but too many of those images (IMHO) will be luck of the draw.  I suppose if the net effect of the digital revolution is that there are more great images in the world, we’re better off regardless of how they’re made.  I’m just hoping that despite all the bad habits I’ve picked up — or in spite of the discipline I’ve shed — I can some day become a “good photographer.” It just saddens me to know that I’m unlikely to have Kodak film to fall back on if I decide to shake the dust off those film cameras and actually put some thought into photography again.

Please Won’t You Help?!?

On this, a day of new beginnings and hope, I am reaching out to the readers of MuchAdo to appeal to your charitable spirit.  Our lives are busy.  It’s all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and we often forget to take a moment to consider those in need.  Today, I would like to ask you to consider contributing to a worthy cause that has all but escaped the attention of the mainstream media.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen that SPCA commercial with Sara McLachlan where the one-eyed dog is eaten by some heartless dog-eating Republican (at least I think that’s what happens, but I don’t actually watch that commercial because it’s really, really a bummer).  Well, this is, believe it or not, a much more worthy cause.  No, it’s not starving children.  No, not disaster relief.  NOT UNICEF!  Stop guessing!  I started this post off by saying it “has all but escaped the attention of the mainstream media.”  Why would you think you could just guess.  As I was saying, this one is a doozy.  A real heart stomper.

[Note: this would be a good time to click on that link for the SPCA commercial, and let it play in another window while you read the next bit.  I would embed a stirring song here, but (a) I don’t really know how and (b) I’m pretty sure that would violate some sort of copyright, and who needs that mess.  (Whatever you do, do not watch that commercial, it will totally ruin your day.)]

It turns out, in a country that has everything (well, at least 1% of this country has everything, supposedly the other 99% have nothing but time and hacky sacks, but I must admit I didn’t follow the Occupy [Insert Name of Someplace Here] movement all that closely), there are photographers who lack access to the most basic, high-end technology.  What could be more disheartening than the thought of a photographer without the proper equipment?  I am certain there is a photographer in your life that is struggling to make images with substandard equipment.  I know in my heart that this is true.  Oh sure, he (I strongly suspect the photographer in your life is male) may actually have  an SLR.  And to the outside world, it may seem that his images are perfectly adequate.  But he knows that he is greatly in need of a new camera.  And that knowledge alone is too much for any photographer to bear.

So, what exactly is it that this photographer needs?  What he needs is the Canon 5D Mark III.  (Again, I am positive the needy photographer in your life is a man, and I am positive he is not shooting with Nikon.)  What’s that you say?  You are not familiar with the Canon 5D Mark III?  Well then, my friend, you are not a Canon enthusiast, for there are entire web pages devoted to the Canon 5D Mark III.   Why, the fine folks at Canon Rumors have a whole page with dozens and dozens of posts devoted to this camera.  Same for Keith Cooper over at Northlight Images.

Now, here’s where things get a little dodgy.  Sadly, the Canon 5D Mark III does not exactly, in a literal, non-fictional sort of way, exist.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it very much exists in the way that my four-year-old daughter’s stuffed bunny has been to college, lived in Mexico, Japan, various parts of Europe, California, and Chicago, has run a variety of successful businesses, and has magical powers, despite having been purchased by friends on what I have learned is a very ordinary, non-magical website shortly before my daughter’s birth.  That is to say that the Canon 5D Mark III exists in the minds of all those Canon enthusiasts I mentioned, but not in a physical, mass production sort of way.  And I . . . er, I mean . . . the poor, hard-working, saintly, deprived photographer in your life really, really wants the Canon 5D Mark III to exist — in a, “Hey, I think I’ll head over to my favorite photography shop/website and pick one up” kind of way, not a “Did I tell you about the time Bunny went to China on a flying dragon and ate won ton soup out of the holy grail” kind of way.

I know what you’re thinking. “But, what can I do?”  Let’s be clear, I don’t have all the answers.  I have identified the problem, now I am looking to you for help.  I, for one, plan to continue reading all of the rumor websites so I will know the second the Canon 5D Mark III is just days away from being announced (which, at last count, has happened 468 times in the last twelve months alone).  However, maybe you are close personal friends with Chuck Westfall (not to be confused with this guy) or someone else from the imaging group at Canon U.S.A. If so, for God’s sake, stop reading this right now and implore that person to release the Canon 5D Mark III (or better yet, get me . . . um, I mean your, oh, whatever . . . a test device — I’ll sign an NDA).   In the meantime, please start saving your pennies (by which I mean twenties or hundreds), because I am fairly certain that MuchAdo will be launching a Needy Photographer Fundraiser once this camera is released.  We are really going to need your help.