Favorite Photos Essays
Just got a nice copy of Life Magazine, April 16, 1965, my reason being to take a look again at the Photo Essay by Larry Burrows on "One Ride with Yankee Papa 13". IMHO it is one of the most effective Photo Essays ever published (full range of emotion, informative, and begging the question then as it should be now, "Good copters (read military equipment), but bum tactics?" and again IMHO represents a lost art/skill.
Would like to hear what others view as the most effective Photo Essays they have ever come across and, have we lost the ability to do this as photographers? Yes, we do single shots well, yes, we do portfolios well, yes, we see fine examples of books, but the photo essay per se???? Would like to hear some thoughts.
I am a big fan of W. Eugene Smith's 1951 photoessay about Maude Callen, the midwife.
Here is the last interview with Smith - he has some thoughts about the photoessay....
When the photoessay appeared in Life, readers raised $30,000 and got Maude Callen
her own clinic....
We still have them, just in different forms. I find Jack Dykinga's book "Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley" to be an excellent essay on the Mojave desert landscape. There is also Joe Cornish's "Scotland's Coast: A photographer's journey."
With the possible exception of National Geographic, there are very few magazines willing to give photo essays the space they need. And woefully few page layout designers who can effectively organize the photographs.
I think there are photographers out there who are very good at photo essays, but there are very few outlets for them. Stella Johnson's work comes to mind... Salgado certainly, though his work is so epic that it's really more portfolios. Though within the context of the book "Workers", for example, are some wonderful essays.
Keep an eye out in local and regional newspapers. There can be some surprisingly good essays found here. I saw a photographer speak, several years ago who was based in Indiana, I believe. His name escapes me right now, but he had done a very touching essay on a pair of 90 something year old brothers' still running their farm.
In my opinion Gene Smith is the master. Everyone of his, that i have seen, are truely touching. Out side of this there is only one that I saw, and it was done by a grad student in a folklore class I was taking, that has moved me. It was simple but by the end of the manuscript I felt I knew the old lady it was about.
I agree with Suzanne, I don't think most magazines are willing to put the time effort or space into them.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004
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I consider Alec Sloth's book "Sleeping by the Mississippi", as a photo essay. Very interesting besides the fact it was all shot with an 8x10.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
Davi Levi Strauss "Between the eyes", everything from Robert Adams.
Currently reading "The ongoing moment" by Geoff Dyer.
I think we're distinguishing between an essay ABOUT photography and a photoessay ( and differing from reportage & photojournalism ).... Barthes,Robt Adams and AD Coleman on one hand, Gene Smith, Capa, and Burrows on the other.
Originally Posted by Juba
The problem is that the genre is regrettably dead. Publishers are more interested in selling advertising and making profits, and it is unsettling to advertisers to be funding essays that unsettle the moneyed classes. And, no thank, I'm not a marxist.
Maybe it's been 20 years ? National Geographic is storytelling, but more like Disney sometimes. Managed, organised, and well presented. A product.
No more Minimata stories ( which is the apogee of the photo essay ). There could have been countless stories from... many places... but would have hurt the subjects. For the publishers, it has become more profitable to print celebrity pictures.
On second thought 'apogee' is inappropriate, for we can't really describe an orbit. More like a parabola, at the peak.
All that passes for a 'photoessay' today is editorial stage management, fed daily by digital images from the field and arranged artfully by the media client. That is the downward acceleration of what remains of photojournalism.
There still can exist privately published essays, as many old school photographers are doing. Like Gilles Peress, who described his post-essay existence:
" I work much more like a forensic photographer in a certain way, collecting evidence. I've started to take more still lifes, like a police photographer, collecting evidence as a witness. I've started to borrow a different strategy than that of the classic photojournalist. The work is much more factual and much less about good photography. I don't care that much anymore about "good photography." I'm gathering evidence for history, so that we remember."
– Gilles Peress, U.S. News, October 6, 1997
I think the future of the photo essay is in the small scale, privately funded and published story.
"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"
Whilst there hopefully isn't another Minimata out there, I find that local newspapers still use their photographers to do a photo essay on a story they are working on, with a slant towards the story.
While this isn't in the same league as a straight out photo essay, I think it is quite close.
Last year one of our national papers had a four page photo spread about the Murray river and the degradation that has occured due to taking water out all along it's course. There was, relatively speaking, little text, which allowed the pictures, which were quite powerful, to tell the story. It was quite effective.
Whilst in Germany over Christmas and New Year, there was the unfortunate incident of a sports hall collapsing and injuring/killing quite a few people.
My German isn't that great but a few days after this unfortunate event, I was walking around taking photos in a provincial town and came across a small stand with an 8 page A4 leaflet on offer to anyone willing to pick it up.
I looked, those 8 pages were a photo essay on engineering defects that had seemingly contributed to either the collapse, or the partial collapse of some impressive structures. I got the complete gist of the story without having to read the text. This was obviously a privately funded excercise, and, very effective.
For those outside of Australia, the Murray river is our biggest river.
Thanks for passing that along. One of my long term projects is to photograph the Murray River. I've followed most of its length, but I am not satisfied with the images I have.
Originally Posted by Mick Fagan