52 Cameras: Camera 57 part 2.5 – Rolleicord III

Expired Lomo ISO 100 B&W that came with M’s Diana. I’m pretty sure it’s really Shanghai or Lucky. The emulsion and backing paper are really thin so longer exposures have the same problem I had with the Voigtlander (week 9). What looks like grain or a noisy scan is the texture (and sometimes the dots and numbers) of the backing paper showing on the negative.

A few shots came out OK. I’m really happy about that since this is the first roll I have ever processed. I used Diafine, because it’s pretty much idiot-proof, and Arista Universal Rapid fixer at ~ 70F.

Ghost bike on NM 502.

Ghost bike on NM 502.

Goober on the sun porch.

Goober on the sun porch.

We finally got some snow.

We finally got some snow.

Scanned on the Canon 9000f at 1200DPI. Straightened and cropped but no exposure tweaks.

52 Cameras: Camera 58 part 2 – Petri 2.8

Shot on Lomography ISO 100 color print film. There was no expiration on the box but I got it with the NOS Lomo LC-A (Week 19) so it’s pretty expired. Processing and scanning by The Camera Shop of Santa Fe.

Descanso on US 285 between Santa Fe and Española.

Descanso on US 285 between Santa Fe and Española.

My sweetie loves orange.

My sweetie loves orange.

My other sweetie *is* orange.

My other sweetie *is* orange.

Our rebuilt tree after the cats endo'd it and broke some ornaments.

Our rebuilt tree after the cats endo’d it and broke some ornaments.

Two of the culprits looking all cute in the window.

Two of the culprits looking all cute in the window.

MIT OCW Documentary Photography Class — Documentary Photo Project — Final

The assignment description from the course:

Documentary Photo Project
Each of you will be required to plan and carryout a documentary photo project. You may select your own subject – subject to my approval, but I would urge that you not take on anything too grandiose. I would suggest that you begin looking for a subject close to home, considering, for instance:

Life on your dorm floor
A fraternity weekend, or life in a fraternity
A day-week-month in a local laundromat
The work of a scientist, or lab
The activities of a campus group or organization
On the other hand, you may push the envelop as far as you dare – If you can gain access to a group of people, or an organization, whose lives or functioning we normally never see, go for it. But remember, to paraphrase Susan Meiselas:

“Faraway is not a place.”

And even more important, remember that there is one thing that you owe your subjects, be they your roommates or a group of developmentally disabled adults –

Honesty: Honesty in your vision; honesty in what you tell your subjects about your project and its purpose; honesty in your approach to your subject; and honesty in what you present to your viewers.

Your finished project will consist of 15-30 photographs, and 1500-2000 words of explanatory text. The text and photographs should, together, present the uninitiated with an understandable, engaging, ‘picture’ of your subject, but the writing and the photos should each stand on their own.



Ghost Bikes in the Santa Fe Area

The origin of the “ghost bike” is unknown. It may have come from Provo, a Dutch counterculture and anarchist movement in the mid-1960s. The name is derived from the Dutch word provoceren, meaning to provoke, based on their non-violent provocation of police to violent reaction. The political wing of the Provos developed White Plans to address social problems in Amsterdam. One such plan, the White Bicycle Plan, was introduced to the Municipal Council of the City of Amsterdam in 1967 by social inventor, industrial designer, entrepreneur, and politician Luud Schimmelpennink, but it failed to get the needed political support.

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

The Provos forged ahead any way and provided about 50, free to use, specially painted white bikes which they scattered around the city of Amsterdam. Many were stolen or tossed into the canals and the police impounded the rest as they violated a law forbidding citizens to leave bikes unlocked. After the bikes were released, the Provos equipped them with combination locks and painted the combinations on the bicycles, similar to the name, birth date, and the date of the accident or death painted on the frames of contemporary ghost bikes. (1)

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

Another theory about ghost bike origins is that it stems from a project by San Francisco artist Jo Slota. His project focused on the ghosts of bikes, those still locked but stripped of any useful parts, often with only the frame and maybe a single rim remaining. In 2002, he began painting them white and posting photographs on his website, ghostbike.net. As he puts it, “I see them as ‘dead bikes’ and paint their skeletal remains to emphasize their ghostlike quality.” (2)

Scott Dwane Lane, 1956-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Scott Dwane Lane, 1956-2012, Albuquerque, NM

The earliest known ghost bike, in the current sense of an accident marker or memorial, was placed in St. Louis, Missouri in October 2003 by Patrick Van Der Tuin. He saw a motorist strike a bicyclist in the bike lane on Holly Hills Boulevard and placed a white-painted bicycle at the accident location with a sign reading “Cyclist Struck Here”. After seeing the change in drivers’ behavior he and friends placed 15 more ghost bikes where cyclists had recently been hit by automobiles. The idea caught on and spread to other cities in the United States in the mid 2000s. It has since become a global phenomenon in dozens of countries from Austria to Uruguay. (3)

Michael Ryan, 1953-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Michael Ryan, 1953-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Until recently, I was only aware of ghost bikes in a general way. I had noticed one exiting onto Lomas Boulevard From I-25 in Albuquerque, but I hadn’t really considered them as distinct from the hundreds of other descansos one might see on the side of the road in northern New Mexico.

Scott Dwane Lane, 1956-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Scott Dwane Lane, 1956-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Historically, a descanso is a place where bearers in a funeral procession pause to rest and put down their burden between the church and the cemetery. This spot was often marked as a “descanso”; literally, a “resting place”. Later, its meaning changed to mean a marker or memorial placed at the site of a death on a road or highway. In this way, a ghost bike is a form of descanso – a subset specific to bicyclists.

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

My first real encounter with a ghost bike was Amy Marie Jobe’s memorial in Pojoaque, NM during the last week of March 2014. I was pressed for time and looking for anything visually interesting for the 52 Cameras Project. I spotted a bicycle near a shuttered Allsups on U.S. Route 285/84 on my way to Los Alamos from Santa Fe. I exited onto the frontage road, stopped, and pulled out the camera of the week, an old Polaroid (a scan of the negative is the first photo in this essay). The bike was pretty spartan as roadside memorials go, but it was definitely a ghost bike.

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Amy Jobe was only 16 when she was hit while crossing the road to use the pay phone at the Allsups. The driver was not charged in the accident. I wasn’t there so that’s not a judgement, just a statement of fact. Since the accident in 1999, there have been safety improvements in the area. The former highway lane is now a frontage road; separated from the new highway by concrete barriers. (4)

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Amy Marie Jobe, 1983-1999, Pojoaque, NM

Some time between April and December of 2014, the bike was spruced up with new paint or a good cleaning, the replacement of flowers, and the addition of some jewelry. It’s as pretty as the photos I’ve seen from the dedication ceremony. Weeds and grass had grown up around it again by the fall so it will require a little maintenance in the spring. Her bike has been a photographic subject for me twice and my research has shown me a face and a young life lost. It’s more than just a ghost bike as a photographic subject to me now. I’ll stop by and pull some weeds.

Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

As I’ve researched, it seems to me that ghost bikes serve several purposes. First, like a descanso, they are a memorial to a friend or loved one who has died. From what I’ve seen, photos are rare but this one at Matt Trujillo’s memorial is nice. Not everyone has the time or inclination to do their own research into a specific memorial. A picture humanizes the ghost bike. It’s no longer “somebody died here” but “Matt Trujillo, a human being known and loved by other human beings, died here”.

Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

Next, they are a way of focusing motorists’ attention on sharing the road with bicyclists. I hate to put it in this trite form but I can’t think of a better way: Nothing can bring Paula Higgins back but if her memorial makes one person slow down and look around, maybe her death can benefit others. The city of Albuquerque did make the bicycle crossing symbols larger and more visible, even if they did it on the cheap and left the previous symbols underneath.

Michael Ryan, 1953-2012, Albuquerque, NM

Michael Ryan, 1953-2012, Albuquerque, NM

In a similar way, they also remind cyclists to be aware and ride defensively.

Stencil street art, San Francisco, CA

Stencil street art, San Francisco, CA

Lastly, I think ghost bikes bring a cultural awareness that far too many people die needlessly on the road. Hopefully, this awareness can be expanded to encompass pedestrians as well. “Right of Way | Direct Action Street Justice” has done this with their stencil art (5) and the ghost bikes of “The NYC Street Memorial Project”. This stencil is in San Francisco, CA.

Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

Based on a do-it-yourself guide in the NYC Street Memorial Project’s 2014 press kit (6), a WikiHow article on painting a bike frame (7), and my own experience repainting bicycles, the actual construction of a ghost bike is fairly straightforward:

  • Strip the bike of non-essential parts (grips or tape, cables, brakes) and reuse or recycle them. This makes the bike easier to paint and less attractive to thieves.
  • Degrease and clean the bike.
  • Apply primer, at least two coats of flat, white paint, and maybe a clear coat or two of lacquer. You want your memorial to last and be able to endure the weather.
  • Depending on the location, you may need a lock or a chain and some rebar or other support if there isn’t a rail or a post to secure the bike.
  • If the information about the person isn’t painted directly on the bike, you’ll also need a well-secured sign or placard.
David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

The purple stickers on the bikes placed by the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation are a nice touch to let people know who put the effort into constructing the memorial. If you aren’t a close friend or relative, perhaps it’s best to leave placement of flowers, mementos, and personal items to those who are. A dedication ceremony helps – for closure, for publicity, and to give the community a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Roy Sekreta, 1964-2008, Albuquerque, NM

Roy Sekreta, 1964-2008, Albuquerque, NM

Dealing with local authorities about placing a bike can be another matter entirely. The ghost bike memorializing Roy Sekreta on Comanche Boulevard in Albuquerque disappeared shortly after it was installed in 2008. As reported by KOAT news, a city spokesman said officials decided to take the ghost bike down due to safety concerns. (8) According to ghostbikes.org, the current ghost bike is the third one, the previous two having been removed by the city. (9)

Roy Sekreta, 1964-2008, Albuquerque, NM

Roy Sekreta, 1964-2008, Albuquerque, NM

Like New York City, Albuquerque can be a slow moving entity but at least there is a wide bike lane on Comanche Blvd. and there are now clear, bright signs marking the area where the trail crosses the street. Moving the memorial from the median to the south side of the street next to the bike trail seems to have been acceptable to the city and it hasn’t been disturbed again.

David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

North of Albuquerque, there is a longer tradition of roadside memorials and thankfully, there are fewer ghost bikes. David Sciera’s ghost bike is in the median of New Mexico 599 (Veterans’ Memorial Highway), the bypass around Santa Fe, and there have been no complaints that I’m aware of, no vandalism, and no removal.

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

Traffic safety is less of a concern with the location of Forrest Fukushima’s ghost bike. It is well off the road at Totavi on NM 502 between Pojoaque and Los Alamos and if you blink during the commute, you might miss it.

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

Forrest S. Fukushima, 1966-1986, Totavi, NM

He was 20 and training for an “Iron Horse” competition in 1986 when he died. Alex Naranjo, her blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit of .08 percent (.18), had a blowout and struck him with her car. Over fifty of his friends and relatives gathered to remember him in 2014 when his ghost bike was dedicated. Alex Naranjo is now a municipal judge in Española, NM. (10)

Chris Ore, 1958-1999, Albuquerque, NM

Chris Ore, 1958-1999, Albuquerque, NM

The NYC Street Memorial Project’s mission statement (6) is a good summation of the cultural awareness that needs to be fostered. It also shows how governments sometimes have to be forced into doing the right thing and just how much work remains to be done.

NYC Street Memorial Project’s mission statement:

WHAT DO WE WANT?

Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

We want a change in culture.

  • To encourage mutual respect among all street users.
  • To instill in each person the responsibility we share to look out for each other.
Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

Matt Trujillo, 1974-2011, Albuquerque, NM

We want to incite more humanity in this city.

  • To assure that every person is remembered.
  • To build solidarity among non-drivers and create a space for mourning and support.
  • To acknowledge each death as a tragic, but not isolated, event.
  • To recognize the ripple effect that one person’s death has on their family, neighborhood, and community, and to acknowledge that the loss of one life affects us all.
Multi-use trail near Roy Sekreta's memorial on Comanche Boulevard in Albuquerque, NM

Multi-use trail near Roy Sekreta’s memorial on Comanche Boulevard in Albuquerque, NM

We want improvements in policy.

  • To make the City follow through on necessary improvements in engineering, enforcement, and public education.
  • To compel the City to conduct full investigations of crashes and their causes and to take action to improve safety.
Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

Paula L. Higgins, 1959-2006, Albuquerque, NM

We want outrage that makes a lasting difference.

  • To encourage the media to report on all deaths in a sensitive, educated manner.
  • To hold the City accountable for street safety issues and to force each agency to respond to these preventable tragedies.
  • To inspire all New Yorkers to be grieved and angered when someone is killed.
David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

David Sciera, 1971-1998, Santa Fe, NM

We want to stop having to do this.



(1) 2 January 2015. “Provo (movement)”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(2) Slota, Jo (July 2005). “Ghost Bike – An art chronicle by Jo Slota”. http://ghostbike.net/. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(3) 4 December 2014. “Ghost bike”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(4) Khal (21 February 2011). “Traffic Justice, Two Views”. Los Alamos Bikes. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(5) 2 January 2015. “Right of Way | Direct Action Street Justice”. rightofway.org. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(6) 2 January 2015. “The New York City Street Memorial Project”. The New York City Street Memorial Project. Retrieved 17 January 2015. (Link is to a PDF file).

(7) 5 January 2015. “How to Paint a Bike: 13 Steps – wikiHow”. wikiHow. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(8) 28 February 2010. “Ghost Bike Memorials Vanishing From Roadways”. KOAT. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(9) “Roy Sekreta | ghost bikes”. ghostbikes.org. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

(10) DeRoma, Tris (19 July 2014). “Remembering Forrest”. Los Alamos Monitor. Retrieved 17 January 2015.


Dave notes:

None of the example projects have citations and I can’t ask an instructor so I’ll explain here. My bachelor’s is from a liberal arts college so I’m used to using MLA. Proper citation uses too much space in a blog format so I used a wiki-style numbering scheme instead of a full Author, Title, Print Version, Electronic Version, Access Information format.

I didn’t count quoting the NYC Street Memorial Project‘s mission statement toward the assignment’s required word count.

MIT OCW Documentary Photography Class — Writing Assignment 4

“Shooters – When Is The Photojournalist A Voyeur, Rather Than A Reporter With A Camera”
Using examples from Requiem, consider whether a photojournalist, covering genuine news – as opposed to celebrity stalking – can go too far? Are there some things that should not be photographed? Are there areas of privacy in the most public of arenas? Where does the photographer cease being a photographer, and start being a human being?


These are very broad questions to answer using examples from Requiem. It only covers the topic of war and only the Vietnam war.

Can a photojournalist go too far? From a personal risk standpoint, I don’t think so as long as the person understands the risks. The photo of Dickey Chapelle receiving last rites by Henri Huet says it best. She understood the risks — she had been working as a photojournalist covering war since Iwo Jima — and accepted them.

U.S. Marine Corps chaplain John Monamara of Boston administers the last rites to war correspondent Dickey Chapelle.  HENRI HUET, Chu Lai, Vietnam, 1965 -- AP

U.S. Marine Corps chaplain John Monamara of Boston administers the last rites to war correspondent Dickey Chapelle. HENRI HUET, Chu Lai, Vietnam, 1965 — AP


Can a photojournalist go too far with regard to the content of his or her images? Again, I don’t think so. An editor can decide what photos are suitable for publication depending on the audience but should stop short of censorship. The armed forces, at least in the United States, had careful control over the media until Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, people were able to see for themselves how ugly, cruel, and wasteful war is and it made the difference in turning popular support away from the war. The military-industrial-congressional complex learned its lesson from Vietnam and reasserted control over information flowing from conflicts. There are a few, but how many of us have seen combat photographs from Grenada, Panama, or the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, even after NATO became involved?

Encouraged by the success of tight press control in Grenada and Panama, the military “pooled” journalists into specific units under the watchful eyes of Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) during the 1991 Gulf War. One of the few non-video-game-style photos to make it out is an image of an incinerated Iraqi soldier by Kenneth Jarecke. It was refused by Time and the Associated Press, not because of military pressure, but for editorial reasons. It was published by the Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France but wasn’t seen in the United States until American Photo ran it months after it might have made an impact.

The same tactics were used in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by “embedding” journalists in specific units. This is a stark contrast to a photographer being able to hop a ride on a Huey to the action in Vietnam.

Three things have made military control of the press less successful in recent conflicts: the long durations of both wars, the ubiquity of inexpensive, high quality cameras, and the internet. People get tired and make mistakes and the longer a conflict lasts, the more photos there are to leak to the public. Not counting military cameras, there is probably one camera for every US soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Phones and point-and-shoot digital cameras are everywhere — the sheer number of images guarantees that some will make it past military censorship. Not every access point, satellite uplink, or cellular connection can be controlled by the military; pop a memory card into a PC in a cybercafe in Kabul and a photo is on social media, viewable globally, in seconds.

A photojournalist cannot go too far. The military will try to censor him, someone with a camera phone will scoop him, right-wing media will demonize him, and liberal media will be too afraid of losing access to run the photo. Self-censorship by photojournalists is redundant.

Are there some things that should not be photographed? First, specific tactics or strategies should not be photographed or at least not published immediately. If an enemy has a specific vulnerability, that information should not be published until after the end of hostilities. Conversely, if a photographer has an image that shows a vulnerability in our methods or equipment, it should remain unpublished to afford an opportunity to fix it. This has worked well in the cyber-security realm; release information to the software maker first. A deadline for public release of a hack puts pressure on them to do something.

Second is classified information. Many things, as we’ve learned via Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, were classified because they are illegal or embarrassing and not because they contain national security information. Photographers Dana Stone and Sean Flynn disappeared in Cambodia on 6 April 1970, three weeks before President Nixon announced expansion of the war into Cambodia. A week before the announcement, Secretary of State Rogers told congress, “We recognize that if we escalate and get involved in Cambodia with our ground troops that our whole program is defeated.” Documents declassified in 2000 show that there were bombings in Laos and Cambodia as early as 1965. Who knows what Stone and Flynn might have been able to reveal had they made it back.

Are there areas of privacy in the most public of arenas? There are, or at least, there should be. A celebrity showing that the carpet matches the drapes while getting out of a limousine at a public event is different from a bombing victim lying in the street with her dress up around her waist. A photojournalist needs to get the shot but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cropped or strategically blurred. Going back to Huet’s shot of Chapelle, it shows that one can get the shot while being sensitive to the emotional impact of the moment.

Where does the photographer cease being a photographer, and start being a human being? Hopefully, a photographer is always human. Larry Burrows’ sequence covering Marine helicopter Yankee Papa 13 wouldn’t have been so moving without his humanity. He had no way of knowing how it would turn out when he started following Crew Chief James Farley. The first photos, from the briefing to touchdown are all business; even macho. The desperate race to try and save the crew of another Marine helicopter erodes the tough facade. The sequence ends with Farley alone in a supply shack, ashamed of his tears but unable to stop them.

Yankee Papa 13 crew chief James Farley carries M-60 machine guns to the helicopter.  LARRY BURROWS, Near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1965  -- Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Yankee Papa 13 crew chief James Farley carries M-60 machine guns to the helicopter. LARRY BURROWS, Near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1965 — Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

In a supply shack, hands covering his face, an exhausted, worn James Farley gives way to grief.  LARRY BURROWS, Near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1965 -- Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

In a supply shack, hands covering his face, an exhausted, worn James Farley gives way to grief. LARRY BURROWS, Near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1965 — Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images




The book: Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina
Up to 10% of Amazon purchases made with this link go to MIT OpenCourseWare.
Course link
Wikipedia entries for Dickey Chapelle, Henri Huet, and Larry Burrows.
The full sequence of “ONE RIDE WITH YANKEE PAPA 13″ from Life Magazine.
The War Photo No One Would Publish by The Atlantic on Kenneth Jarecke’s photo.

MIT OCW Documentary Photography Class — Writing Assignment 3

“Objectivity – Myth, Reality, or Ultimate Goal”
Consider Cole’s view of objectivity and the biases of the documentarian, and explain whether a documentary photographer can – or should – be objective, and what part objectivity, or lack of it, plays in the value of the photographers work


To be objective, one has to have a working definition of the concept. To have that, we first need to look at “objective reality” and see if that exists. That is the reference point. Without some standard of reality, how can I, or you, decide that I have represented it as it is (objectively), with no coloring from my (conscious or unconscious) needs, wants, or biases

Within a certain framework (like assuming an experiment is performed at STP — a standard temperature of 0º Celsius and a pressure of 1 atmosphere) we can agree that some object exists in a photograph. That framework may be “common knowledge” or some other reference point the photographer and the viewer share. If you have seen a cat and I hand you a photograph of a cat and ask you what it is, you will, in all likelihood, answer, “A cat.” If you know of a cat in a general way, we share only a broader reference and you might not be as convinced that what I’m showing you is a cat. By applying what you know about a cat, four legs, pointy ears, fur, and a tail (I showed you a plain old cat, not a Manx or a Sphynx) you may deduce that it is a cat but you had to meet me more than half way.

As long as we have a common reference, objectivity is not a myth. Depending on the quality of that reference, what we call “objectivity” can be a pretty subjective subject.

So, is objectivity a reality? Really, by answering that it is not a myth, I am saying that it is a reality because they are mutually exclusive. In this idealized laboratory, if something is A or B and we know it is not A, then it has to be B. Expanding the previous example, suppose I hand you a photo of a cat and the fur is purple. If you know cats, you know I altered the image or dyed a cat. If you know of cats, you may believe it or you may not. Other mammals you might have direct experience with don’t come in purple. At an abstract level, it is still a cat, the same as a child’s drawing of a cat is a cat — not anatomically accurate but recognizable.

As in answering the question posed by reading On Photography, “Do photographs tell the truth?”, intent matters. Why did I show you a photograph of a purple cat? Am I just a smart aleck seeing how far I can get you to go along? Am I genetically engineering designer-color pets and want to convince you that it is ethically OK? Am I trying to sell you pet dye? Maybe I learned that you have never seen a cat and the only photograph available to show you is the purple cat. If that is the case, I need to tell you that cats don’t naturally come in purple to balance the distortion introduced by the color. Purple gives reality a half-twist to the left. In order not to introduce bias, to be objective, I have to give you information that gives it a half-twist to the right.

All I’ve done so far is to decide for myself (your mileage may vary) that there is such a thing as objective reality and that I can represent it to you in a photograph if we share a common reference. This experiment is at STP and probably not reproducible in the real world and ignores larger existential questions completely. I can show you a picture of a cat and within that idealized framework, a perfect common reference, we can agree that it is a cat.

After that prolix introduction, I can get to the heart of the question: Can a photographer, or a documentarian in general, be objective? I don’t think Coles really answered the question in Doing Documentary Work. There are different types of documentary work and I think of them in the same categories given for speeches: informative, instructive, persuasive, and entertaining (narrative storytelling). These categories speak to the intent and not just the content but an article or photo essay must also be entertaining or it will never see the light of day to inform, instruct, or persuade.

Think of the humble aluminum can, which can be documented in various ways (from most objective and least interesting/entertaining to least objective and most interesting/entertaining in my subjective opinion):

Informative: This is a can made of aluminum. It can hold liquids.

Instructive: This is a photographic essay about how cans are made from bauxite ore or recycled aluminum, how they are used, and how they can be recycled or thrown away.

Persuasive: Here are the benefits of using an aluminum can and I will show you why it is preferable to a glass bottle.

Entertaining: A day in the life of those wacky kids at the bottling plant.

Coles focuses exclusively on persuasive documentary work; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), and others trying to effect policy change. This is documentary with an agenda, “I believe there is a question of fact, value, or policy and I intend to persuade you that my view is the correct view.”

The FSA photographers Coles writes about didn’t just inform, “this is a migrant worker”, or instruct, “she moves from place to place picking crops in exchange for money or other items of value”, they persuaded, “she has almost nothing, her children are hungry, she makes very little from toiling under cruel farm bosses, this is wrong, and we need to help her and others like her”.

By assembling and editing, the photographs became stories although the intent was still to persuade. To tell the stories, the photographs went through each type of documentary, becoming less objective in an absolute sense even as they became a more cohesive, persuasive, and ultimately influential narrative.

Pure objectivity is so rare in practice that for any real purpose, it is a myth. It is theoretically possible, but if achieved solely for the sake of objective purity, “this is a cat”, “this is a can”, the subject has to be so isolated from context it is almost meaningless. Should objectivity be the ultimate goal? If I’m photographing some never-seen-before type of cat, yes. Its existence is a complete statement. If I want to say anything about it, I have to choose a way to describe it or its actions. “The cat is ___.” “The cat does ___.” I choose how to fill in the blanks and in choosing, I have made a subjective decision.



Wikipedia entry on Robert Coles.
Course link

MIT OCW Documentary Photography Class — Writing Assignment 2 — results

“Richards and Salgado – Two Documentary Visions”
While Gene Richards is considered one of the great, if not the greatest, American documentary photographers of his generation, he is hardly a photographic “artist” in the technical sense, depending as he does on the raw impact of his images, rather than their technical perfection or beauty. Sebastiao Salgado, on the other hand, produces rich, gorgeous, technically perfect photographic images of unimaginable suffering. Which of these approaches do you prefer, and why? Does either approach detract from the photographers work, or specifically add to it?


Maniella, East New York, 1992 © Eugene Richards

Maniella, East New York, 1992 © Eugene Richards


I disagree that Eugene Richards is not a photographic “artist”. “Maniella”, probably his most recognizable photograph and the cover art for “Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue”, is masterfully executed. The shallow depth of field is perfectly focused on her eye. It shows us she will have that fix no matter what. Even if you couldn’t see her semi-toothless mouth holding a hypodermic needle, the crazed look in that single eye tells you everything you need to know about addiction.

There is no doubt that Sebastião Salgado is a brilliant photographer, rivaled perhaps only by Ansel Adams in the technical precision of his work. And Adams had a greater luxury of time. Most landscapes will hold still for you, at least for a while. Salgado also has an artist’s eye, in that his subject matter, while sometimes hard to look at, is captured in a beautiful way.

I think their work is much more similar than the question posed would lead one to believe. Scale is the real difference, or at least the major contrast, between the works of Richards and Salgado. The only way I can liken or differentiate the work of such different artists is to look at the scale in various ways and delve into their work within those scales.

Geographic scale: Salgado’s work covers a country (Brazil), a region (the Sahel), a continent (Africa), or the planet, sometimes within the context of a single project. Richards works almost exclusively in the United States, within a specific emergency room (Denver General), a specific neighborhood (Red Hook Housing Project in Brooklyn), or a specific city (Dorchester, MA). The geographic scale of Richards’ work ends where Salgado’s begins. This specificity continues in other aspects of their work.

Scale of issues: There are exceptions for both photographers but I think it holds true here as well. Richards focuses more narrowly: The cancer, treatment, and death of his wife Dorothea Lynch; the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City; a protest against the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant. Salgado’s works, understandably fewer in number, deal with larger questions. He has done projects on workers’ conditions across the world — “a visual archaeology of a time that history knows as the Industrial Revolution”, the 1984-1985 drought in the Sahel, the effects of colonization, economic, social, and environmental crises in Africa, and global migrations. In his own words, “Each of my stories is about globalization and economic liberalization: a sample of the human condition on the planet today.”

Temporal scale: Most of Richards’ books cover weeks or months. Salgado’s “Genesis” took eight years and “Africa” includes work done over a span of 30 years. Within individual projects, the time scale is different too. Richards looks at an event, people in his hometown, a drug fix, or a shooting victim specifically. This thing happened to this person at this time. Salgado looks at events from a historical perspective — the tide rather than the wave. The individuals will change but there were people digging for gold by hand in Brazil twenty years ago as well as today. Sadly, if there is any gold left, there will be people digging for gold (or the next rare earth needed by the newest generation of electronic gadgets) by hand twenty years from now.

Scale in the style of individual photographs: Many of Salgado’s photos are rich with the vivid detail of the surroundings of the subject. One can spend time browsing, almost like playing “find the [some object] in this picture”. His backgrounds are nearly always in focus, the depth of field echoing the grandeur of the project. Richards’ style, aside from requiring a wide aperture to capture a scene quickly in existing light, uses a shallow focal plane to bring the viewer to the unvarnished and unambiguous point of the photograph. His photos say, “this is the important thing in this image.”

Neither approach is better or more important than the other; it is the micro versus the macro view. Of the two approaches, I don’t have a preference. Each style fits within its scale. Some of Salgado’s more intimate work has a grittier feel. His photograph of Brazilian children playing with animal bones from “Other Americas”, my introduction to his work, could have been a shot by Richards. It is a softer-toned image, perhaps, than Richards might have captured, but not entirely alien. I haven’t seen a sweeping, grand-scale image by Eugene Richards so I can’t make the reverse comparison. Within their respective photographic genres, each artist’s style just “fits” and adds to the impact of the work.

Brazil, 1983 © Amazonas images

Brazil, 1983 © Amazonas images




Eugene Richards
Sebastião Salgado at Amazonas Images
Course link

52 Cameras: Camera 57 part 2 – Rolleicord III

This is a nice camera. The shutter and aperture controls are a bit stiff but they’re loosening up with use. The shutter speeds seem pretty close. It may be a couple of weeks but I’ll run another roll through it.

Kodak Ektar 100 film. Scanned on the Canoscan 9000f at 1200 DPI and resized for upload. A little cat hair cleanup in Photoshop but minimal exposure tweaks and no color correction for the bluish Ektar.

Tree tunnel.

Tree tunnel.

Grass on the bank of the Rio Grande.

Grass on the bank of the Rio Grande.

Old trucks near La Puebla, NM.

Old trucks near La Puebla, NM.

Hair flip.

Hair flip.