Newseum – The Pullitzer Prize Gallery

I was in Washington DC a couple of days ago looking for the National Gallery and the Harry Callahan exhibition and came across the Newseum!  As soon as I spotted their exhibition of Pullitzer Prize winning photographs I knew that I would have to go in to take a look.

The Pullitzer prizes cover 21 categories and winners receives $10,000 and a medal.  The awards were first given 1917 having been established from the estate of Joseph Pullitzer, a wealthy Newspaper owner.  The categories featured were for Spot Photography (Breaking News) and Feature Photography.

The Newseum gallery features the largest collection of Pullitzer prize winning photographs ever assembled and includes video interviews with many of the photographers.

The Newseum itself has 7 levels of galleries and is a stunning glass and stone museum featuring the text of the 1st amendment, that is devoted to current and historical aspects of news and the media.

All around the front of the building are the front pages of daily papers taken from all around America, reminding us of the vast number of publications that are being produced.  They are of great interest to the passing public and always seemed to attract a line of readers taking a look at what was occurring around their country.

The Pullitzer prize gallery was a delightful mix of new, fascinating photographs and old friends that I have seen many times.  I spent much longer than I expected reading the stories behind the photos and watching interviews with the photographers.There were 158 pictures covering the years between 1942 and 2010 and I would love to mention every one but all I am able to cover are those which had a real impact on me.

During the Islamic Revolution that swept Ayatollah Khomeini to power the Revolutionary Guard dispensed their view of ‘justice’ in mock trials.  The sentences passed were quick and brutal.  This photograph was taken by an ‘Unknown’ Iranian news photographer but was released by a UPI staffer and went world wide.  It wasn’t until  2006 did Jahangir Razmi feel safe enough to reveal his name.  Observing the moment of death, particularly when seeing the image in a newspaper on your kitchen table has a shocking effect on us all.  The emotions that they generate have often been the catalyst that brings about change which is why they are often considered so important… right back to the image of the falling soldier taken by Capa in 1936 during the Spanish civil war.

Putting these two images of the flag, ‘Old Glory’ together is deliberate.  The juxtaposition is easy to see with one flag being honoured and cherished, and the other being used as a weapon in an attack of racial hatred.

I think the story of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima is fairly well known although not everyone will realise that it was the second time the task was performed and that the battle for the island continued on for another 31 days.  Thirty two years later Stanley Foreman captured the second image of the flag being used as a weapon by demonstrators in Boston protesting against plans to  bus black children to integrate white schools.  The innocent black man who just happened to be passing was a business man on his way to City Hall.

The emotions that pictures of this quality can evoke is amazing… for me it is one of the enduring merits of still photography.  Whist a motion picture comes and goes, the lasting visual impact of a single image can endure for a lifetime.  Here, both from 1973, the moment of child birth captured by Brian Lanker is contrasted by the well known photograph of ‘Nick’ Ut showing the aftermath of a US napalm attack on a Vietnamese village.  The naked girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, whose clothes have been burned from her body runs screaming towards the photographer… she survives and to this day she and the photographer have stayed in touch.  The battered Leica that Nick Ut used that day is also part of the exhibition.

1991 sees Greg Marinovicvh in Soweto, South Africa when he stumbles on a gun fight between supporters of the ANC.  A Zulu man is accused of being an Inkatha spy and is murdered during a brutal attack and Marinovich captures the awful event.  I find the task faced by news photographers in situations like this to be too enormous to imagine.  How to keep your wits about yourself when all rules of humanity have been suspended is a remarkable thing.

A much more introspective image taken by Paul Vathis shows Kennedy and Eisenhower deep in thought as they confer following the disastrous attempted invasion of Cuba by the USA, the Bay of Pigs.  The press photographers had been told to stop working but Vathis grabbed this image through the legs of a Secret Service man.  The image is beautifully composed despite being taken on the fly.

Watching the linesmen repair high voltage cables after a failure, Rocco Morabito sees one of them fall after being electrocuted.  His friend attempts to resuscitate him whilst he hangs from his harness.  Morabito takes a couple of frames and then dashes off to phone an ambulance.  When he returns he takes the winning shot and prays for the injured man.  The shout comes down, “He’s breathing!”

With 158 remarkable images to view I could have written so much more but all I have room for is a few of those which caught my eye and my imagination.  I left this exhibition with a mix of emotions, horror, excitement, awe and sober introspection.  I hugely admire the professional and amateur photographers who have managed to capture the moment that defines a year by winning this prestigious award… let alone those who win it twice!  The quality of the photographs, often taken in very arduous and emotional circumstances is quite remarkable and I am truly humbled.

There is so much more to see in this museum, I look forward to an opportunity to visit again.

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Vivian Maier

I wrote about this remarkable photographer,  the amazing story of her life and subsequent discovery in my TAoP blog here – Vivian Maier.  Her popularity has continued to grow and, like many photographers interested in street photography, I continue to look out for examples of her work.

The discoverer of her negatives, John Maloof, has published a selection of her work in a volume which is reviewed in foto8 here.  The first print was out in November and was sold out very quickly, copies going for several hundred US$.  Although still an expensive hardback I can’t wait to get a chance to look through a copy and will be keeping my eyes open for one the next time I get to New York.

Exposure explained

I have recently been a little vocal about some of the limitations of our study notes but there is no point floundering in ignorance.  I have discovered Michael Freeman’s book Perfect Exposure which amplifies and makes clear the concepts and exercises that I have been puzzling over.  I was a little disappointed that this book wasn’t listed in the Reading and Resource Appendix of our notes as a suggestion for further reading as it would appear that it is the basis for some of our notes.  Certainly, the book describes in much more detail the technical and practical aspects of exposure, noise, hightlight clipping, rolloff and scene dynamic range than the course material does.

With everything that I was previously dismissing as ‘too hard’ now explained, I realise that many of the limitations of our course notes are down to the efforts made to précis them from a much clearer and more detailed source.  The same was true of parts of The Art of Photography where I and several other students found that reading Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye gave us the understanding we needed to get past areas of the course notes that were far from clear.

I think that any conscientious student, keen to learn and fill in the gaps in their understanding would be happy to resort to extra curricular reading but not in order to make sense of core knowledge.  In this area, our course study material should be adequate… its not like we have them as a back up to a lecture or class where we can listen to and question a tutor.  They are the bedrock of our efforts to comprehend and learn and should fulfil all our needs.  In this respect they are, at the moment, lacking.

So, what of Perfect Exposure?  The book is brilliant.  Far from being too deep or technical, I am finding that it is really hitting the spot to satisfy my need for a full and clear explanation of the problems associated with digital imaging.  I would go as far as to suggest that it becomes required reading for any student of DPP.  The only drawback I have found is that having purchased it as a Kindle digital ebook I would have been better off waiting for a paper copy which has many advantages over the iPad version… quicker to access, find sections, leaf through etc.

Fujifilm X10

I will soon be headed off on a visit to Australia to see my aged father and I always cringe at the thought of trying to pack for a long visit whilst trying to include my camera gear.  Which body and lenses, will I need filters, what flash, which tripod.  Inevitably I end up with way too much and arguing with the check-in staff that my 10 Ton kit bag is hand luggage.  This time I am trying a different tack.  I have invested in the Fuji X10 and will limit myself to that, a couple of data cards and batteries with charger and perhaps an external flash.

The X10 is the latest in a series of modern ‘range finder’ camera’s that hark back to the days when photographers wanted a sophisticated camera but not an SLR.  Leica seem to have kicked this trend off with a revival of some of their iconic cameras, now digital.  Fujifilm have jumped onto the bandwagon and their latest is the single lens version of their expensive X100.

This isn’t a replacement for an SLR… but it is much more than a point a press!  Firstly, with only 12 megapixels (and only 6 in some modes) the file size isn’t going to impress most people but that is what you have to expect with only a 2/3 size sensor.  At full resolution the limitations of a little sensor are evident… its a bit noisy and not very sharp but then I am used to my Canon 5DII.  These limitations don’t worry me in the least as I have no intention of making monster sized prints.  The X10’s performance improves considerably in the EXR setting which can be selected to give additional resolution, dynamic range, high ISO/low noise or automatically do its own thing.  The drawback is that now the sensor effectively becomes only 6 megapixels as the other 6 million are off doing clever things to sort out the photo.  The lens has a handy manual zoom and opens up to a great f2.0 at 28mm to a useful f2.5 at 112mm.  At the other end of the aperture range as f11 seems to be the best it can do… however, from what I know of compact camera systems, getting large depths of field is not an issue.

The camera LCD is large, bright and clear and thankfully the menus are easy to navigate.  Without that handy LCD panel on the top of the camera that I am so used to I find myself referring to the back a fair amount.  I am not really a fan of shooting with a live view so, although limited, the optical viewfinder is great.  What it lacks is any data whatsoever… its just for looking through and although it does zoom with the lens it covers only 85% of the image so you get a little extra on the sides and chunk below the bottom.  That’s easy to cope with in landscape but a bit harder in portrait.  When you zoom back the lens also appears in the viewfinder but I didn’t find this a problem.  What I would have liked is a central dot to help me find the autofocus point and although I can see the focus ‘OK’ light out of the corner of my eye, it would have been great to have put it into the viewfinder.  The auto focus is quick and reliable which is a good job as the manual focus is slow and difficult… nay, impossible to use!

What I love are the controls.  Most of us could just pick this up and use it off the bat.  The front has a simple Auto Focus selector, the top has a mode selector with all the recognisable functions like Program, Aperture and Shutter priority and fully Manual. It has a couple of Custom setup selections for your favourite combinations and the usual point and press settings for when you hand it to someone else to take a shot for you.  The shutter release has a screw thread for a lovely old fashioned cable release and an easy to use exposure compensation knob that allows ±2 stops.  There are also dedicated White Balance, Focus and Exposure lock, RAW shot selection and an extra function button that I have set to control the ISO.  Its a very hands-on camera.  To finish off this lovely set of buttons there is a full hot shoe for an external flash.

The camera is dinky… almost too small for my big hands but not so small that you are going to forget which pocket you crammed it into.  Mind you, why you would want to put it away I have no idea!  The leather case is extra but worth it as the X10 has a magnesium frame and is quite weighty for its size and needs a little protection from knocks.  A couple of interesting design points is the ON selection which is made by twisting the zoom from OFF to the 28mm point.  This isn’t a problem and the camera fires up nice and quickly but a couple of times I have zoomed the wrong way and turned it off by accident… grrrr.  The other little problem might be battery life.  It isn’t great especially if you use the back display all the time but I have found it Ok so far.

A couple of unexpected extras are the film simulation selections where I can set the camera to replicate several film types with my beloved Velvia amongst them.  The camera can also soot in RAW which is a great option for one in its price range and it will even have a go at HD movies.  For picture quality I have taken a few and put them below… if you click on them they get a bit bigger.

Normal Program shot at full resolution.

Normal Program shot at full resolution.

EXR shot which uses 6 megapixels, set to High Dynamic range setting.

EXR shot which uses 6 megapixels set to Resolution Priority mode.

To sum up… although the price of this camera has dropped considerably, at around £400 it isn’t a cheap option.  Neither is it the sort of camera that will produce truly professional results.  What it can do is provide the sort of lovely ‘day out with the family’ images that a photographic enthusiast wants.  It has all the bells and whistles that any good SLR has, allowing full freedom to set up just about any kind of shot that you want.  What it can’t produce is the quality and resolution of an expensive SLR.  However, it is very retro stylish, fun to use and certainly isn’t going to get dusty in a corner like my last attempt at getting an everyday camera.

The Australian Centre of Photography

I was back in Sydney for a day on my last trip so fought the jet lag to get down and look at what was on at the Australian Centre of Photography.  I was last there in August and wrote up my visit in my TAoP blog here.

On this visit I was lucky enough to indulge my eyes on the work of Murray Fredericks but more of that in a moment.  The first exhibition on show was a collection of 100 press photographs in the 2011 Nikon-Walkey Press Photo Exhibition.  Australia has had a reputation for being a little parochial with the news more orientated to very local events rather than the world stage but despite that the images encompassed a wide variety of subjects.

As one would expect from professional press photographers the quality of the images were stunning but some in particular caught my eye.

The work of Brian Cassey and Dean Lewins were single images of great impact.  I was particularly taken with the brave lady who, despite her horrendous burns, agreed to pose for a portrait.  I was immediately drawn into her lovely blue eyes that remain the only unaffected part of her face.  This, contrasted with the bright red lipstick makes for a striking and even beautiful photograph.

In contrast, Dean Lewins had captured a single moment as Lady Gaga stepped from her car.  This is a true Henry C-B decisive moment as for a fraction of a second the photographer has the stars full attention and he took full advantage. His shot has separated the celebrity from the crowd of paparazzi and  pubic and seems to isolate her from the furore, placing her in a moment of calm.

A couple of photographers from the 2011 World Swimming Championships were chosen for recognition and their collections of work showed what can be achieved with a fresh approach to a well photographed subject. Amongst Quinn Rooney‘s selection was this image of two swimmers launching themselves.  It is the isolation of the subject within a band of light that makes the photo so stunning… I wonder if the light is natural or it was done post production.  Regardless, it is a great shot.

Adam Pretty’s work showing divers silhouetted against the sky was only one of a number of great photos from his set.  A renown sports action photographer, Adam has many well deserved international awards for his work.  For me, it is not just his ability to shoot images of remarkable clarity, focus and sharpness but the way he can do this whilst considering the light and the overall effect it will have on his subject.  He is very skilled at picking the angles that will isolate his subject against the dark or perhaps a puddle of light.

Jason Edwards’ series of photographs from the Circus Olympia were a result of spending time with this fascinating family of circus performers. Colourful and joyful, they were a great example of a narrative picture essay of the type we practised in The Art of Photography

This was more the type of photographs I expected from this exhibition, something dealing with local events such as the Queensland floods.  However, the devastating nature of this disaster gave this subject a great deal of importance and the heart rending images that Stuart Mc Evoy took in the ravaged communities were quite excellent.

The treatment of the Aboriginal natives of Australia has long been a bone of contention with the Aboriginals and a matter of shame for the colonialists who moved to the country.  The fact that bones were robbed from the ancestral graves of these native people and held by American scientists has finally been righted.  The process of returning these remains to the burial grounds of Amhem Land was recorded by Glenn Campbell.  His sensitive treatment of the process and the respect that he displayed in his work resulted in a remarkable set of images that tell the story with poignancy and feeling.

Although I enjoyed the press photo exhibition it was Murray Frederick’s the SALT project 2003-2010 that really inspired me.

Fredericks has turned my idea of a landscape on its head and I have learned so much from seeing his exhibition.  I have yet to do a landscape project of any kind but what little I know has been turned on its head by seeing this work.  Fredericks chose to work on a salt lake in central Australia, Lake Eyre, for over 8 years.  His visits were often for weeks if not months at a time so that he could capture the stunning changes that the lake undergoes over time.  His work is so admired it is also on view in the National Geographic web site.

The thing that surprised me was the nature of the lake and his views of it.  In the main the lake is a completely featureless expanse without a hill, valley, tree, shrub or grass blade in view.  The only image I saw with something in it was the title image showing his mountain bike and tent!  The horizon is at infinity and is a straight as a pencil line.  Yet Fredericks finds images of surreal beauty within this stark landscape.  His main tool is the sky which provides him with stunning colours, immense cloudscapes, star streaks and reflections on the rare occasions when rain has fallen.  The ground plays its part, changing from crackled red with salt encrusted edges to a gleaming mirror of such purity it is hard to tell where sky and earth meet.

He has taken many images with an 8x10in view camera, but others by stitching together digital images.  On display in the gallery were huge prints, some 4 by 6 feet or larger and when seen in such scale the quality of the images is awesome.

To accompany the exhibition there was a video production, a bit like a diary, of Fredericks on location talking about his photography.  He seemed a little over dramatic but there was no denying his passion for his work and the hardships he had to overcome to get these images.  A truly remarkable talent and an inspiring photographer.