Photography students from Syracuse University visited "Dispatches" and wrote blogs responding to various works featured in the show.
Dispatches Blog Post
Junior, Syracuse University
RE: Ron Haviv, Glimpses of the Fall of Tripoli and Glimpses of the Spring
From political activism to the environmental effects of climate change, Dispatches addresses and reveals many of our world's issues through a literal lens; a camera's lens. The perspectives that the featured artists inhabit are quite unique, considering that they are working as both artists and journalists. Bending the Frame (Fred Ritchin)addresses this inimitable relationship through analyzing photographic techniques and unraveling their contextual foundations. As I moved through the exhibition space, I came across the work of photojournalist Ron Haviv. Glimpses of the Fall of Tripoli and Glimpses of the Spring had very unusual aesthetics values; seeing they were projects focused around war and war violence.
Unlike most war photographers, Haviv accented his work styles with distinctive visual components. Many war photographers are known for capturing frames resembling hope or peace while Haviv challenges this address. Instead, he seizes the glorification of such war scenes and the horror of such scenes. The interesting part is how he glamorizes these scenes. In the photo grid, Haviv uses a bluish grey filter on all of the photos to add a cooling, subtle effect. Usually we associate fiery colors with war; deep reds and sunny yellows to go hand-in-hand with the extremity and hotness of battle. Haviv's choice of the colors brought the tone of the images to a much less harsh interpretation. The overwhelming tones of grey reminded me of post-war smoke and the mood of the people who may have experienced the effects of war. The days become drearier and start to blend. Considering this, I think it was a wise decision to present the photographs in a grid; somewhat like a war calendar.
Some of the questions Ritchin surfaces in Bending the Frame when talking about war photography are as follows:
- What does a photographer do in terms of new tactics to engage the public, particularly if the national news media do not cover such critical conflicts sufficiently?
- Besides dramatic pictures of the battlefront, what other kinds of images are being made?
- Is there an emerging set of strategies that can approach the coverage of war in ways that will stress its importance even to disaffected viewers?
If you have the chance to watch Haviv's video Glimpses of the Spring take note of how his style compliments cinematic qualities and not documentary film qualities. His fast cuts and scene jumps almost makes watching the video exciting; like you're playing a video game racing to finish a mission. In a very strong sense, he is glorifying war. He makes the viewer want to get involved and venture about these places and spaces. The film draws the viewer into the landscape of war scenes and holds them visually captive, especially by his use of filters, flashes, overlays and montage. This tactic of glorification, I believe, is very effective in engaging the audience. Another tactic Haviv uses throughout the film is the still shot. In the middle of a clip, the video will pause on a certain frame. Usually these frames are beautifully composited and allows the reader to take in a breath of what it might be like to be involved in such a physical space and remembering a particular moment in the midst of chaos.
Aerial Photography's Role in Social and Ecological Justice
Dispatches, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art
There were many works in Dispatches that stood out to me; a few of which displayed photographs from a perspective less commonly seen in both art and journalism. The curiosity of 'bird's eye' images in their ability to suggest notions of surveillance and to defamiliarize the viewers with scale of our surroundings struck me as an effective way to document both ecological narratives and to question the role of surveillance in post 9/11 conflict.
The three works in Dispatches I narrowed my focus to were:
A Despoliation of Water: From the Housatonic to the Monongahela River (1930-2013) (2013) by Latoya Ruby Frazier
Water Gold Soil: The American River (2016) by The Canary Project (Sayler / Morris)
Blue Sky Days (2015) by Tomas Van Houtryve
While the first two pieces utilized aerial photographs to give a sense of space in a specific environment in regards to ecological injustices in the United States, I would suggest that although the latter (Blue Sky Days) isn't directly commenting on ecological issues, it still holds true a statement on the environment we live in. All three of these works, broadly, are creating statements on the place we inhabit and utilize a visual tone of an omniscient being to do so.
These works live under the category of 'Slow Journalism;' as suggested in Bending the Frame: Photojournalism,
Documentary, and the Citizen by Fred Ritchin, artists are "redefining their roles" through this context and "experimenting with new narratives and strategies of dissemination." Slow Journalism is a movement of work that is less focused on the mainstream news and seeks to engage the reader differently, using strategies that "may be more arcane and are often more complex" (40).
This omniscient presence in the work is not something that can be attained quickly or utilized in mainstream journalism, and each of the concepts these works explore are ones that require time and research to assemble an effective critique or questioning on each of their respective focus.
In the case of A Despoliation of Water (2013) by Latoya Ruby Frazier, she presents the effect of industrialization of her neighborhood in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The three images from the project exhibited in Dispatches show a white house on a small plot of land and the industry that surrounds it from three vantage points. As we're looking at the photographs, each perspective gets farther and farther away, informing the viewer of the true scale of the industrialization. As the house and domestic space become smaller, the invasion of industry becomes more apparent. I saw the sequence not only depicting the current view of the neighborhood but also suggesting the way in which the industry expanded and took over through the passage of time. There was a sense of enactment in the experience of looking at the photographs, trying to distill what the focus of the photographs should be uncovers the way in which low-income property is often overlooked and considered dispensable by big business and industry.
Water Gold Soil (2015) by The Canary Project (Sayler / Morris) uses not only aerial images, but also a map and archival imagery to investigate a water source in California from its origin point to its final destination and extraction for big agriculture. The pieces selected for Dispatches were only a segment of the complete project; but the information exhibited was still an effective study of the process of commodification of water in the United States. As with Frazier's work, the information and complexity of the issue unfolds within the distilled imagery. The aerial imagery used to follow the tributary gives the viewer a sense of the change in landscape through its travel, from an organic source to a resource, a "product" used by humans. The landscape reflects this; becoming more flat and barren as the water becomes less a natural occurrence and more a product harvested for human consumption.
Blue Sky Days (2015) by Tomas Van Houtryve focuses on a domestic space and human activity and questions the role of drones and surveillance in post 9/11 conflict. The perspective of the drone captures intimate human moments from a distance, viewer becomes voyeur, and the disparity between 'domestic' and 'foreign' land is diminished. It is through the omniscient perspective that we see scenes of human rites of passage, such as a burial and a wedding, that are human events connecting and relating each of us regardless of culture or country. This perspective is unifying, and effective in drawing parallels between countries in which drones are used to survey human activity and furthermore in targeting 'enemies' and civilians. The United State's drone activity is a controversial and often underreported, which adds to the captivation the viewer feels when understanding the drive of the work. To see such clear images of people, unknowingly, opens a dialogue on the ethics of surveillance and the use of drones.
All three of these works utilize displacement of perspective to create a discourse on a number of issues including, water usage in California, industrialization in impoverished neighborhoods, and the ethics of drone usage. All of these issues, while pertinent, require extensive research and resources to create work that is wholly representative of the topics at hand, and do not necessarily live under a headline or in an article. These three pieces are examples of the importance of slow journalism and artist's involvement in current events.
Dispatches & Ritchen Reflection
Sim Chi Yin- "Dying to Breathe"
The question I seek to address in relation to SECCA's Dispatches exhibition originates from Fred Richtin's discussion of conflict photography and its often exploitative and reactionary nature. He asks the reader, "Why do we rarely know much about these people before they're at war?" (Richtin 62). Sim Chi Yin, a Chinese photographer based in Beijing, provides an answer to this question in her project, "Dying to Breathe." Through years of working with migrant farmers turned miners, she has explored the ecological effects of the disease silicosis on these miners. Without proper respirators and protection, these miners blast rock in the hopes of striking gold and thus they inhale this dust which in turn slowly calcifies their lungs. In essence, they slowly suffocate. Silicosis is China's leading occupational disease and is treatable but unfortunately these migrant workers are under the radar. They don't have proper paperwork to tie them to the mining companies employing them and no financial means of seeking help on their own. Chinese migrant gold miners are fighting a silent war against this disease and Sim Chi Yin seeks to share their stories. Victims of silicosis range in age from 60 to 30 and leave behind wives and children after their demises. What I find fascinating about Yin's presentation of this project is her stylistic choices, both in the process and end product. Yin didn't just decide to execute this project on a whim and complete it in a day or even a few weeks or months. For one family in particular she worked with them for years as she watched one of the workers slowly fade away. She sat beside the family during hospital visits and was there until the end of his life. The end project, then, is just that: the end. The photographs exhibited in Dispatches were stylistic portraits of four dead men, their faces juxtaposed with x-rays of their diseased lungs. The viewer of the exhibit is forced to face the harsh reality and toxicity of this disease despite its treatability. Although it cannot be cured it is manageable with medication. This begs the question, why didn't Sim Chi Yin intervene?
A deeper reading into Yin's photo series aligns with another question that arises in Ritchen's Bending the Frame, when do we remain objective as photographers? When do we put down the camera and intervene? Yin worked with a man in the Shaanxi province named He Quangui for four years. She watched the transition from second stage silicosis with minor pain progress to his inability to walk. Sim Chi Yin was given the opportunity to photograph the Quangui family and could've chosen not to interfere further. What she decided to do was use her photographs to create exposure around the issue of widespread silicosis in Chinese miners as well as raise money for He to receive more treatments for his condition. She allowed him a platform to share his thoughts in a video message meant for the President so that he could air his grievances and ask that attention and care be given to migrant workers such as himself.
So what does the examination of Sim Chi Yin's photo series at Dispatches within the scope of Bending the Frame reveal? Fred Ritchen's discussion of both sensationalism and objectivity are present in "Dying to Breathe" in a unique way. Rather than simply exhibiting photographs of these workers struggling financially and physically, she chose to create portraits of these workers in a way that wasn't sensationalistic, but thought-provoking. Yin's complete body of work on this project doesn't just consist of these portraits, yet the decision to include only four of these juxtaposed images in the Dispatches exhibit truly show her desire to be simultaneously intriguing and intrusive on complacency. The photographs draw you in with the use of lightboxes and upon closer inspection you can distinguish the shapes in the x-rays. Yin's unrelenting work on this topic further solidifies her desire to avoid being exploitative on behalf of her subjects and their present situations. Her drive to create social awareness and improve their situation through healthcare shows that Sim Chi Yin is far from being objective, however, her proactive campaigning goes hand in hand with exposing the issue of widespread silicosis so it doesn't compromise her credibility as a photographer or her work.
Fault Lines Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier
Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier are VII photographers that work in an extensive array of fields throughout photography. Their work that was commissioned for the Dispatches exhibition at SECCA, South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art, gives the viewers a different and almost eerie look at the 2016 US Presidential election campaign. It attempts to show the US Presidential election for what it truly is. It features scenes from different events including the early campaign trail, the Iowa Caucus, and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The selection of photographs is also accompanied by slogans used daily by the candidates that tend to give the viewer a sense of the corruption and lies that are all too often associated with politicians. All photographers have the power to tell the story that they want. By sequencing together selected images, they are able to convey the thoughts that they want the viewer to experience. Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier had a specific thought process behind this work that was exhibited in SECCA. All of the photographs paint this picture of Donald Trump as a false god that most believe to be real.
Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier show Trump to be this false 'higher power' while also accompanying the images with his standard slogans such as, "I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me. Believe me." When you take in and process the images shown and then read Trump's 'great wall' slogan, you feel a moment of apprehension in wanting to believe him.
As your eyes travel down the column of photographs, the photographs begin to change in style. They grow in number and less in size, while also conveying a message of problematic deception. One photograph shows a hand reaching out of a metal door, almost looking like a scene from a horror movie. This photograph is right above a different one that uses American flags to cut off the faces of the candidates. As I said before, Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier made this work with a specific thought process in mind. By intricately dissecting the photographs and the position in relation to each other you can begin to understand what Ron and Danny's message was.
The entire work shows the public to be this easily-swaying mind that follows their candidate relentlessly. One quote used on the work from Donald Trump says, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn't lose votes." At the bottom of the column of photographs where this quote was placed the photographs are now spilling out in a deranged way across the floor.
In the book Bending the Frame by Fred Ritchin, he talks extensively about how photographers have great troubles photographing the underlying complexities behind an issue. In regard to this, Ron Haviv and Danny Wilcox Frazier did an astounding job with representing the US Presidential election campaign for what it truly is. Their photographs produce this sense of eeriness and distress, and that is exactly what the election campaign is. They place subliminal messages all throughout their work, which are central to the underlying complexities behind the issues that are not at first recognizable, and this is what truly makes a work powerful.
Public Sentiment for an Invisible Beast
by Lauren Harper
If the works of art duo Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris do any one thing best, it is the distillation of complex subject matter into digestible and beautiful representations. Doing so, while maintaining the sense of emotionality and scale that is imperative to justly represent such material, is no simple feat. In their essay The Pensive Photograph as Agent: What Can
Non-Illustrative Images Do to Galvanize Public Support for Climate Change Action?, the term public sentiment is often repeated, as it is the duo's primary means to overcome what they identify as the main barrier to climate action: "a fundamental disbelief in the potential trauma." (Sayler Morris, 299)
When an artist works with subjects as abstract as climate change or drought, the challenge is in presenting them without simply focusing on the obvious harms and aftermath. Images that do just this no doubt have a place and are necessary as evidence. Where these images fall short, however, is in leaving room for interpretation. They jump directly to, and show, the very end of the story. When faced with such rational imagery there is hardly any room left for the mind to enter a pensive state—a state in which it, faced with the challenge of something non conclusive, makes connections and realizations in an attempt to understand. It is within this freedom of pensivity that the space for an arrival to belief is created.
The installation of their most recent project, Water Gold Soil: American River, as part of the South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art exhibition titled Dispatches: Live News through Art, is an excellent place to observe the argument in action for the place of "pensive photography as agent." Pensive art might be a more useful phrase here, as this installation (as well as many of the works of Sayler and Morris) is not strictly photographic.
The combination of materials you're presented with when approaching this installation is deceptively simple: a spiral binder, a photograph of a hand over a map, a column of aerial images of water, a nervous system-like map of a river's path, and a large, dense, nearly black print of four Native Americans and three white men posed sternly for the camera. It's inviting in its simplicity, and perhaps somewhat unassuming. Yet upon closer inspection the story starts to appear: the gold leaf on the map that appears traced by the hovering white male hand, the poetry overlaid on the aerial photographs, the river's path defying the laws of physics, as well as four faces in the final image of a race all but disappeared as a result of similar scrambles for resources in this very region. And the binder, which contains all of the research and data.
Despite being so deeply grounded in facts, Sayler and Morris were able to execute this project, as they've done with many others, in a way that allows the viewer to evaluate many aspects of the story, and to draw connections between them, without being prematurely fed the punchline. This is a risk, of course: the artist cannot foresee nor determine what someone will take away from such an experience. To be honest, as a viewer, I came away quite disheartened after spending time with Water Gold Soil. I'm not sure whether this reaction is productive or was intended. But I was still thinking about the project the next day, and I continue to still, which would suggest that the piece "worked" in the sense that is prevented passivity. In stimulating public sentiment, perhaps that is the ultimate goal.
If the primary barrier to change is denial about the potential of trauma, pensive work may walk a fine line: avoiding shocking viewers with images of catastrophe, which may engage in the short term but overwhelm and thus create disheartened disengagement long-term, while simultaneously directly confronting environmental issues in a way that makes viewers think. Pensivity not passivity; thoughtful engagement over time, not temporary outrage.
Morris & Sayler, The Pensive Photograph as Agent: What Can Non-Illustrative Images Do to Galvanize Public Support for Climate Change Action?, 2014, 299
Contemporary Art and Journalism
The Empathy in Protest Images
On August 9th, 2014, Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. The circumstances under which the shooting occurred ha
s been contested, and sparked protest across the nation. Since his killing the "Black Lives Matter" began to gain significant traction. The term was first used in response to the death of Trayvon Martin, a teenager in Sanford Florida, at the hands of a selfproclaimed neighborhood watchman. However, the Black Lives Matter movement gained national momentum after the death of Michael Brown.
The city of Ferguson, Missouri was relatively unknown up until the shooting, despite a history of racial bias toward its African-American residents.
A 2015 U.S. Justice Department , found that "Ferguson's police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes." When the communit ies frustrations turned so did the protests, going from peaceful demonstrations to violent. When this switch happenedphotographers from all over the country w here there to cover it.
While covering these events is essential they only scratch the surface. In Fred Ritchin's book, Bending the Frame, Ritchin states, "Images that might provoke new thinking, or that might aid in the search for
an even a partial solution to societal problems, tend to be displaced by those that are more vividly exotic and render problems as somewhat remote, concerning 'others'. Compare, for example, the intense interest in covering demonstrations by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street — especially those involving police brutality — but the very few visual explorations of the underlying economic, and political issues that give rise to those demonstrations." Ron Haviv's photographs of Ferguson do just that — scratch the surface but never touch on the underlying reasons why people were protesting. The death of Michael Brown was just the straw that broke the camel's back in Ferguson. And not just in Ferguson. The same can be said for the majority of photographs that have come out of demonstrations in Oakland and New York for example.
The same can be said most recently from the images of the demonstrations at the pipeline in Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The situation got so bad with photographers going there for the sole reason of photographing that a member of the Native community put out a statement saying, "Standing Rock is not a place to put on your resume or portfolio." Photographers and the mainstream media ignored the situation at Standing Rock until the police violently turned against the Water Protectors.
In the show Dispatches, Ron Haviv had three bodies of work on display: Ferguson, the 2016 election and refugees. The way the election and refugee work was setup was different than how photojournalism work is usually displayed. The placement of the photos, especially for the refugee work, was thought out to evoke a specific feeling from the viewer — empathy and a sense of trying to understand how the 2016 election resulted the way they did. The Ferguson work was displayed just like any other body of work in a gallery, minus the frames. It was not given the same consideration that the other two were given. Just like the images themselves, it just scratched the surface and missed an opportunity to add more to it
's feeling and go beyond just being protest work.
Since the protests against the death of Michael Brown spread throughout the country, we continue to see protest
s images and images of demonstrators with signs saying Black Lives Matter. But we have hardly seen images of black lives actually mattering. But there are photographers out there doing just that, and more and more they are being recognized.