Cameras for Iraq

Discussion in 'Member Organized Functions' started by keithwms, Apr 6, 2008.

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  1. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I have an idea to send some inexpensive cameras (like XAs) loaded with film to Iraq. The idea would be to send over a reasonable quantity through as many diverse channels as possible.... media orgs, military, red cross/crescent, random mailings, whatever. The cameras would be used and then rounded up and returned for processing.

    If successful, these cameras would reach people who would then do some street-style photography of their situation. So, obviously this is an attempt to get around the limits of the normal news sources. My feeling is that the cameras and film should be written off- assume they won't come back- but whatever does come back could be quite insightful.

    So my questions are:

    (1) Good idea/bad idea? Why

    (2) Which camera platform would be best? A newer one, like a Fuji instax mini? I personally would prefer an original XA but this may be too much to ask if the recipient has no experience at all. So I was thinking to use an inexpensive p&s style camera, maybe an XA2 or similar. It would need to be a mass produced camera from some time ago, for affordability and durability. I don't think the current throwaways would cut it but am open to suggestions. Maybe there are some new Fuji p&s cameras that would be appropriate.

    (3) Which film would be best?

    (4) Do you know of similar projects? Am I duplicating what has been done before? Surely I am. But I googled around and found nothing this ambitious.

    (5) How best to organize this? I was thinking to start a website to organize it. Comments/suggestions/assistance appreciated.

    Important: I don't have any particular policy axe to grind here- please refrain from any comments about the politics of the war itself. This is about people... just an attempt to get some real views from the situation.
     
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  2. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I think disposable cameras might be a better option. Maybe the Ilford HP5+ disposables.

    [​IMG]
     
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  3. tommy5c

    tommy5c Member

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    what about sending holga's. they are inexpencive, they shoot a larger negative, and they are not one use camera's. send some Velvia, Tri-X , and Delta 100. then all that would need to be shipped back is the film. if a camera gets damaged you only lose 25 bucks.
     
  4. Ray Rogers

    Ray Rogers Member

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    Sorry, I know nothing much about this and I am just making a frivolus comment, perhaps, but if there is no restriction on entering the country, why don't you visit?

    One visit might be worth a thousand Pictures!

    While I don't think you plan is bad, (I just glanced at it- and I do not know where you are comming from with this desire, but) I know that in war when the victor helps the defeated country get back on their feet, they can grow to be friends much sooner than when they ignore their suffering.

    I used to listen to VOA as well as Radio Beijin or something like that... it was interesting... Years ago, When I first visited China, I had a strong apprehension that the people there would be anti-American and worried a bit for my safety.

    Well, I had numerous revealations and some of them I will never forget.

    While riding on a train I found a picture button of Mao... (dont know the spelling so I will leave it at that) I put it on... (no particular reason, more of fashion than anything else, like the way some young people wear the cross or the swasticka etc.etc.) (Well, who knows, perhaps I thought I might blend in better...) anyway, as I walked down the ailse in the train, people began to speak to me and they asked about the button... I shrugged and said "no reason" Someone pulled it off of me and threw it on the floor... Another person asked me where I was from, I replied hesitantly, the US, and there was a slight round of applause... someone gave me the thumbs up sign and said "GOOD COUNTRY!"

    I was totally blown away.
    Listening to the governments continous anti-American comments had convinced me the Chinese did not like Americans... that was not the truth.

    But the Chinese government wasen't telling me that.
    I learned to listen to the people.
    I had a lot interesting experiences after that, with different people in different parts of the country.

    My point of all this is that nothing substitutes for the truth.

    If you go forward with your idea, I hope to see the pictures!
    I also hope the pictures speak the truth.

    Good luck with your project, if you get some interesting images, I would not mind helping to print them up!

    Ray
     
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  5. walter23

    walter23 Member

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    And if the camera doesn't get damaged, all you get is a bunch of muddy light-leaky images with extreme overlap between frames :smile:
     
  6. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    You could get Kurt from LightCafe to distribute the cameras once he gets over there. Best to steer clear of any NGOs etc as they will just make sure the photos support their particular message. I like the idea of using disposable cameras.
     
  7. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Ray, if it were up to me, I absolutely would go. But I have a family that would literally fall to pieces, I couldn't do it to them. We are so close, we literally sense each other's thoughts even when we're apart. And they know all too well what sorts of risks I will take if I see a shot I want!

    Also, if I went over, it would be an enjoyable adventure for me, but... perhaps I might merely impose with my photography what sorts of (mis)conceptions I have in my head. I know that I do have a tendency to "front-load" my photography and overthink things. So frankly, in this case, I'd rather see shots from people who have their own native perspective.

    I think I'd have a lot of fun helping to prepare a book of prints from a project like this.

    Kurt will certainly be one of the distributors, we have already spoken about it. But he's in the green zone and as such, knows what the limits are on his ability to get a fair sampling.

    What I might do is start this small scale and work out the kinks, and slowly build up. There are so many issues.

    Ther possible venues for htis type of project would be Afghanistan and North Korea. Places many of us would love to go with a camera in hand, but simply cannot freely roam.
     
  8. edz

    edz Member

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    Its Iraq 2008 and not Afghanistan1978 (ok, Kabul had LOADS of cameras). Large numbers of people today have cellular telephones and these include cameras. Few people in Iraq are interested in analog cameras. Its considered "old fashioned".

    There are LOADS of cameras in Iraq. Iraq is not Saudi Arabia. Many people studied abroad and the middle and educated classes tended to have a very good standard of living to European and American standards.
    You go into the shanty towns and poor city areas? If the cameras have any value they'd vanish f-a-s-t into odd channels. Is just how things work and NOT JUST in Iraq. Same in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria etc. If the cameras don't have any value (and value is about perceived value) then nobody will be interested.
    I would also like to point out that Iraq is not a vacuum. Many artists and intellectuals are already doing their most to try to photo document daily life.

    Its a bad idea . Digital cameras, digital video, cameras on cell phones (and many include these days video functionality) are already quite widespread in Iraq. By even conservative estimates there are over 10 million cellular telephone subscribers (and growing).

    Throughout the middle east and north Africa there is absolutely NO shortage of cameras and infrastructure for communication. There is a shortage of the freedom to speak out.
     
  9. Matthijs

    Matthijs Subscriber

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    (4) Do you know of similar projects? Am I duplicating what has been done before? Surely I am. But I googled around and found nothing this ambitious.

    This idea reminds me of a similar project of Dutch photographer Geert van Kesteren who collected photographs of random Iraqis, made with their mobile phones. See http://www.baghdadcalling.com/index.html for more info.
     
  10. walter23

    walter23 Member

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    Too late Eric, he's already there.
     
  11. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I accept your opinion that it's a bad idea, but sorry, I don't accept your reasoning :rolleyes:

    So what if everybody in Iraq has a cell phone and an internet uplink? I have those things and... I shoot film. I would expect far better average image quality from an hp5+ throwaway or such. And phones and digitals do invite theft.

    Using something like instax instant-print cameras might be a nice way to get people to take their shots, see the prints in real time, and write a few words on them. Could be like a massive instant print exchange.

    One ethical concern I have is that people might risk life and limb to take their photos. Is it fair for me to pass that risk on to someone else?

    It's not too late, I can get stuff to him there. I just don't think these things should come entirely from the green zone.
     
  12. tommy5c

    tommy5c Member

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    It sounds like you have either never shot a holga, or could not figure out the focus. I find that my holga produces great pictures. given the fact that it only cost me 25 bucks and it works is enough for me. anything is better than the digi snaps and cell phone shots that you see from Iraq.


     
  13. vet173

    vet173 Member

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    Film does not like 130 degrees. If someone gave me a camera like that in Vietnam they would never see or hear from it again. What are you going to do shoot me? I got a gun too and I have permission to use it. If you were in the herd you got enough practice to get real good at it. Google hill 875 and you'll get my story. With few exceptions they have no interest in film, most have never even bought a roll. Hell a TV with only three channels and a knob, is beyond their comprehension. I'm not saying it as a put down, it's just a different generation. I compare it to sending a reel to reel to get audio diaries. I saw my first 35mm camera in Vietnam. I just had to have one, not so much for the pictures, but it had knobs and levers and all kinds of things. How could it not be a guy thing. In Vietnam if you wanted pictures it was film only. I shot a roll and it sat in a container for 4 months till I could get out of the jungle. The mold made for some nice black spots on the prints. They get pikchurs that meet their needs and can send them home with no film hassles at all. We Americans are a convenience driven bunch. The shots would be mostly from REMF's, line doggies are to busy keeping their ass alive to look at the world for you thru a viewfinder. I would have no expectation of a Salgado shot coming back. All that said, I would in no way dis wade you from sending cameras. Even if only a couple get the film bug, it would add to the collective joy we all experience. Send them with the frame of mind as it would be with a care package, not for what YOU might get out of it. To do otherwise will set you up for a certain amount of disappointment. I remind you again of the 130 degrees in the summer time. Pick a time of the year that would give the film at least a chance. Just the ramblings of a been there, killed that.
     
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  15. edz

    edz Member

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    Reason against cultural arrogance is bitter.

    Bravo!
    Image quality is not about resolution, gray scales or sharpness. Most of the significant news photographs of the past century were not technically very good and many not even properly processed or handled. Cell phone cameras are a liberation from having to develop film in the rough. Most of the experienced photo journalists--- who know how to deal with film--- are moving away to digital for very good reasons. Even film dinos guys like Nachtwey are shooting more and more digital. Its not about art.

    Most of the global news organizations (among them BBC and CNN) have established (global village TV inspired) infrastructures for "ordinary" people to upload their pictures and stories. Its already fully part of the battlefield used by all sides for propaganda and disinformation. Truth is seeing what you want and expect to see?

    People already have them. Theft of phones is probably more a problem in New York, Chicago or Washington DC then it is in Iraq.
     
  16. mmcclellan

    mmcclellan Subscriber

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    Just spent a year in Iraq, so I'll try to add my two cents worth. :smile:

    What's the point of this? Who is going to get the cameras? Is someone going to pass them out to Iraqis, ask them to take photos (possibly at great personal risk) and then return them to the giver so he/she can somehow mail them back out of the country? It is possible for people to get film processed there, but most people are going with digital because it's just easier and less hassle with "infrastructure" (labs, chemicals, film supply, etc.).

    The Iraqi people have plenty of digital cameras (and film cameras) and there's no problem getting all the "snaps" they want, but if you're looking for political/security images of some kind, it's not worth the risk.

    Frankly, I just can't see this idea going anywhere useful. There are lots of images out there already of Iraqi daily life, weddings, people in cafes, kids at school, etc., along with all the usual news photos, so what's missing?

    FWIW. . . .
     
  17. Ray Rogers

    Ray Rogers Member

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    I don't get how they can have all those digital cameras and phones taking all those pictures you mentioned, and yet suddenly risk their life to use a throway film camera?

    Am I missing something?

    Ray
     
  18. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    If I were you, I would gather a bunch of crappy 3 or 4M pixel digi P&S that people have thrown away and/or 1CCD low-quality miniDV camecorders to do the project. I have seen similar projects using movie and still cameras but NOT necessarily in the war zone like Iraq. They are usually urban school projects where students get those cheap cameras, go home with them, take the pics of their families, etc to document the everyday life within their communities. It is an essential way to have their voices heard by giving them the media tools, and yeah I think it is a good idea if you can do it also. But how are you going to actually run it if you don't physically get wherever you need to get? I don't think it's too hard to think that you have to be there and meet them first, and let them decide to do it or not. Don't just dump everything on them and let them do the work for you. You have be involved.

    Or maybe you might want to plan to run a small workshop for them in the near future about photography, and start from there.
     
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  19. frdrx

    frdrx Member

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    I am sure the Americans would do a lot to stop this.
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    What troubles me is that you said in your earlier post that you can't go to Iraq because of your family, etc, but you expect something from the people you don't even know and/or are not going to meet at all? You don't think that they have the same concerns and priorities as you do?

    I'm not trying to discourage you or anything, but it's just that you probably have to do a lot of research and other preparation before starting to ask others for help. I really think it's a good idea and I hope you will make it happen.
     
  21. mmcclellan

    mmcclellan Subscriber

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    Ray,

    The issue is getting film developed, then connecting with the person who's going to send the film/pictures/cameras out of the country (the mail is still very poor there), and so on. Taking the picture is only the first of several steps that involve moving around town, meeting with foreigners, and otherwise exposing oneself -- especially if they're outside of Baghdad.

    That's the part that is worrisome. Even with throwaways, someone has to hand them to the people and collect them afterwards and if the photographers want to see what they shot, then they have to get the film developed first -- and that's not going to be cheap, either.

    There are just issues in war zone that don't affect the rest of us.
     
  22. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Just to clarify.... the whole reason for doing this one film is that it would be a way to have everybody shooting the same way, using the exact same medium, the exact same camera. Yes I know there are p&s cameras and cell phone digicams, but you see, then the apparent "quality" of the image (which we see in publication or on web) is determined by the financial position of the person and their skill level with that equipment. In some sense, a simple film p&s or holga could be a great equalizer.

    Imagine, for example, an Iraqi kid and a parliamentarian and foreign soldier all using the same camera. That places them all, in a sense, at the same level in terms of what they capture and how they capture it. Then the only variable is their individual perspective. the idea is to do everyhting I can to make their perspective the major determinant of what they capture- not social level, education... number of f&@#ing megapixels....

    So, I understand fully that people do have cell phones and digital cams etc., but again, the point is to create a "day in the life" project in which people have equal opportunity to represent their perspective.

    Well, presumably a native knows more about their security situation than I do. Frankly, if I went over and walk down Main Street Baghdad with my cameras I would (a) be a sitting duck and (b) wouldn't necessarily find a perspective that is any more original than every other journalist on the ground there. I exude westerness, I can't help it :wink: As for the safety/ethics issue, I was merely musing that this project would, in essence, pass the buck on to those people who do the actual photography. So there is some fundamental ethics in play, but I would not be forcing anyone to do photography. My role, ethically, would be to arrange as equal access to the cameras as possible, to collect the output, and to try not to filter the images I receive from them, but rather to try to see them published as a whole entity (misexposed frames notwithstanding!). I also think that the idea of a roll of film being their individual story is attractive. With digital imges, that story has no well defined beginning and end.

    C'mon fellas, don't make me have to defend film in this thread, the advantages should be obvious to all of you :wink:

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

    P.S. Look, I grew up in war zone in Africa, I know very well, firsthand, how one-sided news reporting can be and how many different perspectives there can be of one event. Just for the record, the world is only just now starting to see the issues in Zimbabwe that I grew up around and understood intimately. My neighbors were killed by the "freedom fighters" for chrisakes, where was that in the media in 1980? Anyway... I suppose that experience is what motivates me here, pure and simple: see what others can see, let them take us places that we cannot [yet] go.
     
  23. donbga

    donbga Member

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    I'm in agreement with Ed.

    Don Bryant
     
  24. edz

    edz Member

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    Spy and secret agents are the guys with Minox cameras! :smile:

    If you want to take pictures and not stick out these days you use a cell phone. Minox subminiature cameras are for getting noticed striking up conversations.

    One of the more interesting (quirkier) cameras that the East German secret police used (for crowd surveillance) was a TLR (Meopta Flexarette) with a silenced Robot 50 hidden inside. A Robot as an usual camera would have been noticed. An old TLR was nothing to take notice of--- especially closed in its case.

    Throughout most the world today (especially Middle East) cameras stick out as their middle classes, for the most part, consider them old stuff and obsolete. On development projects (research) with Middle East and Mediterranean partners when I pull out one of my cameras its always greeted with curiosity (and considered a bit freakish). Alongside everyone's cell phones with cameras nearly all also have a newish digital camera (sometimes purchased just before a conference).

    Sometimes its not the act of taking a picture that presents a problem but the "performance". During the cold war visiting East Berlin, the not-so secret police accepted that people had ordinary cameras but if someone was to pull out an Arriflex they'd be in deep !@# as an unauthorized TV journalist as **all** 16mm cine cameras required a special authorization. Its about perception and not logic. I was once stopped at the East/West crosspoint with my Bolex but (luckily) the police just laughed at the funny old fashioned wind-up camera.

    What do you think would happen if I stood across the road (in front of the park) from the White House or the Pentagon with a 1000mm Astro Berlin telephoto attached to a 1940s camera (the state of the early 1940s art)? You bet someone with a pod-in-their-ear would come over to have a lookie....
     
  25. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Reminds of a Japanese journalist who has just returned from Iraq after staying there for 9 months or so by smuggling and working in a kitchen as a cook. He said in his blog he was literally spying on the mercenaries and the outside scenes and sometimes going out with his camera phone and took pics. But it turned out the quality of the photos was so poor, I guess in low light it was useless, and he only got pretty poor audio of bomb explosion, etc. But he's a good writer and has been writing about it ever since, so I guess he didn't lose much...
     
  26. ny_photog

    ny_photog Member

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    I'm surprised the OP believes there is a dearth of photos flowing out of Iraq for all the world to see from all sorts of "shooters" revealing all aspects of society.

    A more untold story, IMHO, is that of the 4 million displaced Iraqi refugees scattered around the ME - particularly in Syria and Jordan. There's a photojournalist story looking to be shot.

    Not to mention the juxtaposition of the relatively peaceful Kurdish north of Iraq. Which just "motors away" toward de facto independence under watchful US eyes (provided they don't piss off Turkey by aligning with the PK) even as the Sunnis and Shiites slaughter each other down south.

    And besides, isn't this whole war a 24/7 internet special?

    Where's the need for this kind of film project in Iraq 2008?
     
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