Archive for the 'Interview' Category

Interview: Ashley Gilbertson’s “Bedrooms of the Fallen”

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson

Ashley Gilbertson never set out to be a combat photographer. But he did spend six years in Iraq, mostly for the New York Times, documenting the war and daily life of the country. Then he switched gears, feeling frustrated and disenchanted with war coverage, and wanting a new way to look at war. In his project, “Bedrooms of the Fallen,” Gilbertson photographs the empty, intact rooms of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – rooms that are filled with emotion, sorrow and promise. (Last week he won a National Magazine Award for “The Shrine Down the Hall,” an essay published in the Times Magazine.) Here, he talked with us about the project.

How did you first come upon the idea of “Bedrooms of the Fallen”?
It was my wife’s idea. I’d been working a lot on issues about fallen soldiers and about death. We were sitting together one day and she said, “You need to shoot their bedrooms.” And, as usual, she was right.

How do you find the bedrooms?
Searching the Washington Post’s faces of the fallen, local newspapers, White Pages, Facebook. And then it’s just a question of speaking to each family.

Is it difficult to make the initial phone call to the families? What has been the reaction overall?
It changes from day to day. And is it difficult? Of course, but I see it as a minor difficulty. Every time, I just imagine the intense pain and grief that family is going through.

Do you get a sense the families will ever change the bedrooms, or will they be shrines forever?
Again, it changes from family to family. I have a sense some of these rooms will be shrines forever, yes, and I know others have been boxed up.

You were able to get the final funding for the project through Kickstarter. More and more photographers are turning to it, from Tomas can Houtryve to Bruce Gilden. What are your thoughts on it as a new model for funding photojournalism?
I think it’s totally inspiring to work with our audience so directly. I hope it’s something which is sustainable, but we’ll see.

Do any of the bedrooms you’ve photographed belong to soldiers you met or traveled with in Iraq or Afghanistan?
Yes, Kirk Bosselman. I knew him from Falluja.

Why did you choose to do the series in black and white?
So that the viewer had an even playing field to explore the objects in the room. I didn’t want colours to lead you away from things in their bedrooms that might connect with a viewer.

Can one be anything but a pessimist when covering war?
Yes. I always have faith in the human spirit.

You’ve said you had PTSD after working in Iraq. Has that subsided over time, or do you think that will be with you always?  
I think PTSD is something you’ll always have, but you learn how to carry.

Is it essential to have colleagues with similar experience that you can talk with?
Yes, it helps a lot, as does seeing a shrink.

Despite the obvious dangers in the job, the recent deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were still very shocking. Do combat photographers feel the risk every day, do they ignore it, how does that work?
If you don’t feel the risk involved, or ignore it, you’re not doing your job properly. One needs to be very aware of everything happening around him at any given time.

Do you ever get burnt out, and how do you deal with that?
Of course I get burnt out. The greatest thing in my life is that I have a wonderful wife and son. I come home to them after an assignment, or a long day, and I can unwind and recharge. And of course, sometimes we take a holiday.

What is your work process like — do you operate on instincts or careful planning?
It’s all a mix of planning and instinct. You need to have done your research about any story you immerse yourself into. I’ll find out who/what/where, etc., before embarking on any trip, but once there, you have to trust your instincts to ensure you find a powerful image.

What is next for you?
More PTSD, suicide and other issues of war on the home front.

Culture Mob Interviews Music Photographer Danny Clinch

Born in New Jersey, Danny Clinch went to the New England School of Photography and eventually landed an internship with Annie Leibovitz, famed Rolling Stone photographer. Since then, he has toured with The Police, filmed Ben Harper, and still finds time to play the harmonica.

To read the full interview check out Culture Mob.

To see more of Clinch’s work head to his website.

An Interview with Tom Stoddart

He doesn’t seem to get the same attention that many other accomplished photographers receive, but Tom Stoddart is certainly one of photojournalism’s greatest talents. And with less than 800 views (at the time of this posting), this modestly shot interview with Tom is worth any aspiring photojournalist’s time.

To see more of Stoddart’s work check out his website.

Documentary Photography: Still Possible


From the Downtown East Side series. Photograph by Claire Martin

We interviewed photographer Claire Martin last year as part of our occasional Found on Flickr series, and now she’s won one of Magnum’s Inge Morath awards, which not only serves as a nice bit of recognition, it will also give her $5,000 to put toward one of her projects.

About the award, Claire says:

Documentary work is so difficult to publish and very hard to create without funds. Often it seems like only an idiot would try to pursue this path in the real world, and I am sure when I explain myself to most people they see me that way. So awards like the Inge Morath make you believe it is possible. Even if you don’t win it, knowing that there is an industry that supports it, no matter how small is encouraging.

Read her whole interview with the British Journal of Photography here.

Talking to…Photographer Daniele Tamagni

Milan-based photographer Daniele Tamagni’s book “Gentlemen of Bacongo” features the pageantry of Congalese sapeurs, or dandies – a subculture of men who pay extreme attention to, and take great pride in, their appearance and sartorial style.

So, in a country ravaged by war, instability and poverty, these men go all out: three-piece suits, kilts, silk ties, polished leather wing tips, bowler hats, shockingly bright colors. The fashion sense is amazing in itself, but in the context of the Republic of the Congo, even more so.

Just before the opening of his exhibit at Michael Hoppen Contemporary in London (May 7-June 7), we talked to Daniele about this singular project.

How did you first come across the sapeurs and Le SAPE? How long did you spend in Brazzaville, and was there a process you had to go through to gain your subjects’ trust?
I first went to Congo in 2006 and I was delighted to see such elegant people but surprised at the same time of their style that was unique. I didn’t see [anything like this] before. At this period I didn’t know anything about sapeurs, but after I came back to London I did some research and I found in a library inside an anthology of African photography a page written by a Franck Bitemo: “The dreams of Arca Sapeur de Brazzaville.”

It was a sort of comic with pictures and captions. I was fascinated [and wanted] to do a project about the sapeurs. When I went in 2007, in Brazzaville I met Arca (who unfortunately died a few months after I met him; this is why I dedicate the book to him). After that I met sapeurs leaders like Hassan Salvador and KVV Mouzieto that taught me a lot about the meaning of the SAPE and so on. In this way I then continued to do my project with different gentlemen in different situations. I continued in 2008, and this year I interviewed sapeurs living in Paris and London. It’s important to spend time with them in order to gain the subject’s trust.

What drew you to this project?
I am a street photographer and I am interested in urban style worldwide. With sapeurs there is something more than an ephemeral phenomenon of style. I have always had a fascination with African culture; this is why I am undertaking specific projects related to music, fashion, and before, African religion in Africa, but also in Cuba, London and Milan.

Moreover, I have a lot of African and Caribbean friends with whom I share music and cultural interests. Although I am Italian I guess I have been a little bit “Africanised” in the last few years and this has influenced my style and subject choices. [I am] producing portfolios which might generate a critical reflection about the identity of these people who consider elegance their main reason for existence inside a social reality so different and distant from our society. My aim was to explore African communities beyond the stereotypes. “Gentlemen of Bakongo” explores a social aspect extremely related to a specific cultural context, the “sapeurs” of Brazzaville Congo. I usually collaborate for an Italian bimonthly magazine called “Africa.”

Do you hope your photos convey a message, or do you leave it up to the viewer?
The pictures have to speak themselves, but producing these images, I would like that people don’t see them just as a phenomenon of style, of an African urban subculture. There is something more. It might generate a critical reflection about the identity of these people. Congo reflects the paradox of our society. It juxtaposes symbols of excess and conspicuous consumption amidst some of the most agonizing scenes of urban poverty. This contrast between the perfection of sapeurs and the urban background context is amazing.

And what’s your personal take on the message or statement of the sapeur culture?
If we consider SAPE just as a symbol of consumerism and excessive hedonism we don’t understand it completely. The sapeurs dedicate all their attention to clothes because it is a passion, so they afford many sacrifices to be able to get clothes. The clothes, brands, taste of elegance and glamorous looks are a key to understanding the inspiration. People like sapeurs because they bring positivity and hope. I learned also that Congolese are very gentle and friendly. For a real sapeur, gentleness and refinement and manners have to be as important as the labels they wear.

What was your biggest challenge in photographing the sapeurs?
Patience. To be patient. Sapeurs are unpredictable. They’re vain and prideful and sometimes they can change ideas easily.

I’d imagine the sapeurs are naturals in front of the camera. Is it easier, or more fun, to photograph subjects that have so much style and attitude?
It depends. Sometimes it can be easier, but sometimes you would like them to be more natural. Some of them tend to have funny poses that look grotesque or ridiculous. I don’t want to give this impression. But sapeurs are actors, and the performances with outfits and accessories are important aspects.

Continue reading ‘Talking to…Photographer Daniele Tamagni’

Facing Jail: Q&A With Photographer Jonas Lara

Photo courtesy Jonas Lara

Photographer Jonas Lara is looking at a year in prison if things don’t go his way, and with only a public defender who doesn’t want to consider First Amendment issues, things are not looking good.

The facts: In February Jonas was arrested in Los Angeles while photographing two graffiti artists as part of a long-term project. He was charged with felony vandalism, which was later reduced to aiding and abetting vandals, and his court date is next Tuesday, May 11. His cameras, lenses and memory cards were  confiscated and they still haven’t been returned. He’s currently soliciting donations to his legal defense fund so that he can hire a private lawyer to argue his case.

You can show your support and donate on Jonas’ Facebook page. Here, we talk to Jonas about the situation.

Is this the first time you’ve had a problem with the authorities while photographing?
This is the first time I’ve ever been arrested but not the first time being hassled. Back in 2007 I was working on a freeway series and I was confronted by a police officer who asked why I was taking pictures of bridges and which terrorist organization I was a part of. I explained that I was working on an art project, and after showing my student ID and checking my name on his computer he said I was free to leave.

Did you try to explain you were just documenting the scene?
For the most part I kept my mouth shut, but I did mention that I was a student working on a documentary project.

How did they not believe you even after seeing your work and looking into your background?
The funny thing is that they did believe me and seemed very understanding; they were conducting their investigation on the site while I sat in the patrol car for about two hours. I figured they were going to let me go once they finished, but instead they said I was going to jail and never said what they were charging me with, nor did they ever read me my rights. It wasn’t until after spending six hours in the holding cell and being transferred to the jail cell that I was informed that I was being charged with vandalism. At that point it was felony vandalism. I asked how I could be charged with vandalism for simply taking pictures and they said to take it up with the judge.

What has been happening in your life since this happened?
Well, I haven’t had most of my gear so I’ve been borrowing from other photographer friends or using my point and shoot and vintage cameras to shoot projects.

Are you under a lot of stress?
I have been under a great deal of stress; I have been trying to continue to make work during this process. I’ve been doing some painting and mixed media work to keep me busy since I don’t have my usual photo equipment.

Is it just a whirlwind of lawyers and court appearances?
Yeah well, the only experience I have in the courtroom is watching “Law and Order” so it was unreal being there trying to defend myself with a public defender who didn’t even want to entertain the idea of bringing up 1st Amendment rights or photographers’ rights or anything along those lines.

How likely is that you will be convicted — have you been able to get a feel for what’s going to happen to you?
The thing is, up until this point, I don’t think the court has any sense of who I am (my background, education, credentials). My public defender was only concerned with getting me a plea with a lower sentence, so I’m not sure to be honest. After asking me whether I wanted to take a plea of one month in jail plus drivers license suspended and [me] refusing, he said if I go to trial and lose I could face up to a year in jail, which translates into 180 days. I’m supposed to move to New York in August to start graduate school in September at School of Visual Arts, so if I’m convicted I can forget about grad school.

Are you able to still do photography?
Well, like I stated before, I’ve been using my point and shoot cameras, Polaroid camera and borrowing cameras and lenses, but it’s definitely put a dent in my ability to produce photographic work.

Will this affect how you approach further assignments or projects?
Most definitely; I will be more cautious.

Looking back, what if anything would you have done differently?
Well, if I understood my rights better I would have stated that I had a right to be there and that I’m not obligated to prevent or report a crime because I’m a journalist. Being that it was my first time dealing with this type of thing I didn’t know how to properly navigate the situation.

Found on Flickr: Kolored

This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.

This week we feature kolored.

Give us your quick bio.
My name is Paul Birman. I’m a full-time visual artist, currently residing in Manhattan with my wife, a cat and two turtles. I was born in Moscow, Russia in ’81, immigrated to Chicago in ’95, and moved to New York City on Halloween ’08.

Smith Magazine does this cool project called the six-word memoir. What’s yours?
Hmm…can’t really think of anything.

You grew up in Moscow. How does that affect your point of view in your work, if at all?
Russian society has this unique nihilistic take on everything. But at the same time, Russians are able to achieve amazing feats. I think it translates into my work in a lot of ways, mostly coming from my subconscious. I’m interested in things that are gritty, dirty, dysfunctional, yet beautiful and inspiring.

I read in the Bloginity.com interview you said you got over your trepidation of doing close-up street photography when you moved to New York. What made the difference?
I went to this huge anti-Israel rally in Times Square. The crowd was very intimidating and at times things got pretty violent. I’ve never experienced a demonstration so volatile.  It was very inspiring to be able to capture the emotion and in some cases even hatred. After you stick your camera into the face of someone who is screaming “death to Israel” and waving a Hamas flag, you can pretty much take a photo of anyone.

You seem to take a lot of photos of pretty girls. Is that intentional?
I try to take photos of anyone or anything that I find inspiring or unique. I’ve noticed the trend with pretty girls, but I haven’t been able to explain it. Perhaps it’s just instinctual.

Do you ever get photographer’s block, when the inspiration just isn’t there? What do you do in those times?
Definitely. When that happens, it means that I’ve reached the end of a certain chapter, if you will. It means that I’m ready to explore a different style, take my work into a slightly different direction. Of course I can’t help being a little bummed out for a while, but I know that whatever happens next will be bigger, better, and I get pretty excited since I have no idea what it will be.

Do you remember the first photo you took where you actually felt, “Now, that was good”?
I do.  I took a self-portrait with a little Canon A40 point-and-shoot.  It was the first camera I ever used that had a “manual” setting on it. I took a table light, and pointed it at my face at an angle, so that only a part of my face was exposed.  That was totally an “…oooh, OK, I get it” moment.

How do you know when you’ve taken a good photo?
When I have to change my underwear.

Having lived in New York myself, I would imagine people on the streets can be either blasé or aggressive in the face of a photographer taking their photo. What’s the reaction like?
I try not to leave a lot of time for a reaction. Some street photographers like to get into confrontations; I don’t. I like to get what I need to get and move on. I have techniques to avoid interaction with people.  But I have gotten stares, lectures, smiles, winks, dirty looks and even a couple of bitch-outs. Nothing physically violent yet.

Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: Kolored’



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