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Major Series: 2012

Major Series: 2012

Trope: The Well-Made Photograph. Stuck indoors in the the air-conditioning during the July 2012 heatwave in New York, I began to explore a set of issues I’d contemplated for several years: the stupefying similarity of much contemporary photography, especially certain endlessly reiterated image structures and project formats.

This series had its inception a few years back when a photo magazine invited me to join other contributors by sending in a short essay on the theme of “How to Photograph.” I’d consider it presumptuous of any critic to instruct artists on how to make their work, but it struck me as an occasion on which I could offer a few personal “musts to avoid.” So I sketched some notes toward an article titled “How Not to Photograph (If You Want My Attention).”

The deadline for that invitation passed, and the article fragments just lurked in my “In Progress” folder until I decided to develop the idea in this cluster of posts.

Election 2012: Image World. As if to demonstrate the ongoing centrality in global culture of the lens-derived image, still photographs and videos and photomontages and photocollages played a major role in the 2012 presidential election. The types of imagery involved range widely, from the photo IDs for voter authentication demanded by Republicans to secret recordings of Mitt Romney speaking to wealthy donors at a $50K-per-plate fundraiser, presumably made by an Obama supporter. Add to that the visual imagery projected by the party conventions, plus the images evoked by the candidates and their campaigns, and you have quite a rich mix. As a citizen, I’ve followed presidential campaigns for over half a century. But I’ve never tracked one in my professional role as a photography critic and commentator on new media. Better late than never, say I.

The Photographer as Citizen. On December 3, 2012, Naeem Davis, a 30-year-old mentally disturbed homeless immigrant from Sierra Leone, allegedly pushed to the subway tracks at the 49th St. station of the Q train in Manhattan a drunken 58-year-old Korean immigrant, Ki-Suck Han, who died seconds thereafter, crushed by an incoming train.

Han’s gruesome death kicked off a furious debate over the ethics of photographing crises, large and small, in which lives are immediately at stake, and the appropriateness of publishing the resulting images. This put the discussion in my bailiwick. So, in a short series of posts, I did my best to explicate some of the premises of press photography and photojournalism specifically and professional witnessing more generally.

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