Sunday, 27 November 2011

Photography's Dark(room) Days

I just read an interesting article by Peter Turnley about a printer to the greats in Paris named Voja Mitrovic and while it was enjoyable it also made me think about how our industry has changed through technology.

The art of print making may be slowly disappearing but we are also losing the great art of photo editing. Every photographer can benefit from the critical eye of a talented photo editor. Today's photographers rarely ever have another eye looking over their work, finding the frame within the frame, or the elusive moment missed by the first edit.

While I personally do miss spending time in the darkroom, like many I'm sure, I don't yearn for those days.

New technologies have helped the process of making images by photojournalists, and I guess specifically by those of us working for newspapers, but we are paying the price for speed and immediacy in other ways; good editing being the greatest of these IMHO.

While we are now able to shoot and deliver our images more quickly, our ability to do so means that editors want to see more, sooner, and more often; for the blog, the tweet, the web, the gallery, ....and of course to appease the query, "do you have any other good ones you could send?" We all need to be reminded that quality, not quantity should be our goal.

It's rush, rush, rush now for many of us, especially if you want to capture a few jerky seconds of video as well, and throw it together quickly back at the office, so it can be posted, clicked on, and clicked off just as quickly. We are in a reckless rush toward mediocrity that needs to be examined more critically.

While we are all expected to do more, in less time, staffing issues, expanded use of photos, and a broader field to search for photos in, means that most photo editors have much more demands on their time as well. It would be nice to say that we should all have a photo editor oversee our work more often, but could you imagine how many of them would react to a small staff of people sending them hard drives full of images to edit? This would sadly be an overwhelming situation in most cases, if possible to do at all.

The path our industry has taken through changes in technology has been an interesting one to say the least. There have been  many positives, but also many negatives - the loss of the negative certainly being one.

I don't wish for a moment to go back in time. I love what I do, and I love the immediacy of it now. But I also love that I have had many years to experience the process of developing negatives, and producing prints in the darkroom. There is a certain Zen quality to time spent working on a print that all photographers would enjoy I'm sure.

If you haven't yet had the darkroom printing experience I would encourage you to seek out the opportunity. Shooting on film, editing from a strip or a selection of square negatives, and painstakingly producing a print in a darkroom will give you an enriched appreciation for the art of what we do, and the value of the single, solitary, perfect moment that we all seek.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Photographing Death and Hope in Somalia

Note: This blog entry was originally published here on globeandmail.com 

Stepping off the aircraft in Mogadishu, Somalia, I recognized the wall of oppressive heat that I’d first felt there in 2006. This time I was there to work with The Globe and Mail’s Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, and the situation would be dramatically different from each of our own previous experiences there.

Every assignment I’ve ever accepted that involves some level of risk has always been accompanied by a series of emotions. Packing and waiting to get on with the job is an anxious time. I find foreign assignments to be more difficult as my children grow older. Now teenagers, their understanding of the world and the places I am sometimes asked to work in adds to their own anxiety. As hard as it used to be to leave behind two small children, I found it more difficult knowing how worried they were while I was away this time. Unfolding events in Mogadishu didn’t make this any easier to deal with.

As I passed through security at Pearson airport, I received sad news from Geoff that a Malaysian cameraman had just been killed in Mogadishu. At the time details were sketchy, but it was still a very blunt reminder of the place I was about to visit and the need for constant vigilance. I hoped my teenagers wouldn’t see that report in the news.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Words of Cartier-Bresson

I just had to post this before heading out on the road today. I found it through Duckrabbit on Twitter. As he says, "Listen and Learn." This video - the voice and images of one of the great masters of photography - "Henri Cartier-Bresson - Life is Once Forever" by bt645 on Vimeo is well worth your time.

While Mr. Bresson denies he is a photojournalist, there is no doubt he set the  bar as far as composition and timing are concerned. He insists that facts are boring, and facts without interpretation are meaningless.

As photojournalists we are presented with the "facts" on a daily basis, and I submit that while we all attempt to portray events accurately, our personal interpretations of the events, and how we elect to capture them in images, is indeed photojournalism. Try as we might, we cannot escape our own vision.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

RIP Leo Nangmalik

Several weeks have past now since we ran a story about the death of Leo Nangmalik in Repulse Bay, Nunavut. Patrick White, who wrote the original article "The Trials of Nunavut" which ran the previous Saturday, provided an update - an obit of you will, a post script - which was a sad but poignant reminder of the reasons we went to Nunavut last November to investigate crime in Canada's north.

It took four months of editing, writing, web development, scheduling delays, and other publishing conflicts before the piece was finally ready to be published in The Globe and Mail on April 2, 2011 and on www.globeandmail.com. Everyone involved in the story worked incredibly hard to combine the wealth of visual material, heart wrenching stories, and masses of facts and information into an efficient presentation. The story of Canada's newest territory and it's dysfunctional nature, lack of funding, huge cultural differences, and incredible challenges in a rapidly changing world is one we all felt deserved the time and space on our pages.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Portfolio Tips for Photojournalism Students

Yesterday I attended the Advisory Committee Meeting at Loyalist College Photojournalism program in Belleville, Ontario. Incidentally this is the same program I graduated from in 1989, in the second graduating class in the program.

As always it was great to meet with some old friends - fellow advisors and college staff - and it's a great opportunity to meet and speak with the current crop of enthusiastic (and scared stiff)  students. While a portion of the day is spent behind closed doors dealing with the business of running the program, its development, and its place in the changing landscape, the bulk of our time is spent meeting with the students, listening to their concerns, and providing them with feedback and critique on their portfolios. As always it was a long day, but worth the time, and the long drive in the fog.

There is plenty of good work being done by the students at Loyalist College.  (some published work in PDF format is available for viewing here.)

I don't think any of us were able to get to review every portfolio, but I'm certain that each student who showed enough interest to ask for critique went away with many helpful suggestions, encouragement, or motivation. While the level of ability demonstrated by the portfolios varies quite a bit a few general themes seem to arise from the bulk of the portfolios - the ones that I saw at least.

Many budding photojournalists are terrified to ask professionals to critique their portfolios. This is something you have to get over. Showing your work, and accepting critique will only assist in your development.

Here are a few thoughts for students when building their portfolios.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Friday, 11 February 2011

World Press Photo 2010 Results Announced

The much coveted World Press Photo Awards for images taken in 2010 were announced early this morning. The gallery of winning images is at


Congrats to all the winners and especially to the winner of World Press Photo of the Year by Jodi Bieber, South Africa, Institute for Artist Management/Goodman Gallery for Time magazine for a portrait of Bibi Aisha, disfigured as punishment for fleeing her husband's house, Kabul, Afghanistan. Apparently she has previously won eight (8) World Press Photo awards!

As always, and like every contest in existence there is sure to be some discussion about the merits of the winners, but overall I'd say the winning images are very strong. I'm sure the overall winner will get some discussion. The NY Times Lens Blog is already on it, with a title on the blog that asks "Is this the Best News Picture in the World?"


One Canadian photographer on the winner's list this year. Ed Ou, Reportage by Getty Images wins 1st prize stories: Contemporary Issues for Escape from Somalia.


I must be out of the loop but I didn't know Ed was Canadian until this week's story on The New Time's Lens Blog.


For the rest of us.....maybe next year.....

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pix between assignments

You know I just love this job for the variety.

I'm a newspaper photographer; photojournalist if you will. Many assignments we do can be routine or mundane, while others can be life altering.

I don't travel as much as I'd like perhaps, but just about as much as my family life can afford, and certainly more than some of my colleagues. I've been fortunate to have had many opportunities, and I've tried to make the best of them.

I'm not in Egypt right now, and yes, I'm somewhat disappointed about that. But since I'm not I try to please my masters here in Toronto with the best job I possibly can.

My job, over the past 24 hours, has included shooting Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at Massey Hall, a frustrating effort over the span of two songs, in poor light while Mr. Marsalis himself, practically hid at the back of the 15-piece band! My favorite pic from the night was taken from the front seat of my car however, while waiting to meet the PR guy at the stage door.

Today, during my 3pm shift, I was shooting Pee Wee hockey, trying to get a good body checking photo for yet another study on the impact of body checking on minor hockey players. Seems body checking is like wine....good for you one year, ....not so much the next. I love hockey. But Pee Wee hockey doesn't always provide the best hit-action. Anyway, it was a snow day here, so before the first game I thought I try and catch up with the rest of the staff and find a weather pic, so off to a few tried and true feature holes, and lo and behold.....I got lucky.

Like I said, I love this job for the variety.

Monday, 31 January 2011

The "HIGHS" to "LOWS" & Inspiration where you can get it

Two days ago I was asked if I would travel to Cairo to cover the ongoing street demonstrations there and the peoples' calls for Mubarik to step down. I have rarely ever said no to any request and this was no exception. Conversation in the office suggested that management would likely give the story a few more hours to decide which direction it might take, and how we might best use our resources to cover it for  our Canadian audience. What is often lost in journalist's desire to cover big stories overseas is the question of what our readers might want from this story.

Needless to say, I spent that evening speaking with my family, answering concerns from my teenagers, who are both old enough now to understand the risks that are sometimes involved with my profession, and preparing for a phone call to tell me which flight I was on.

What transpired over the next twelve hours is not relevant to this conversation, but the result of it was that we would not be sending a photographer into the region.

Monday, 17 January 2011

A "Classic" non-assignment

It's rare for our photo staff at The Globe and Mail to shoot sports action.  The exception was the Winter Olympics in Vancouver which we had four staff photographers assigned to.

Although this wasn't an assignment, I did spend some time recently shooting hockey. The story and photographs appeared over two pages in The Globe and Mail on Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, as well as on the website.

I've been interested in photographing Mennonites for many years, but I've been waiting for a reason to do so. A short time ago, while watching the NHL's Winter Classic I got to thinking that other than the game being outside there really wasn't much "classic" about the game.

So where do you find hockey played in a true classic fashion, the way it might have been played in it's genesis? The answer, I discovered, is among people who choose to live a simpler life - the Mennonites.

I was able to get an "in" to meet with some members of the community in north Waterloo region, but I was fearful that my efforts to make images would be fruitless. The group I was sent to meet are some of the most strict of the Old Order - the David Martin Mennonites. My instructions from my Mennonite friend were to introduce myself, explain why I was there (the story I wanted to tell), and ask questions as I would anyone else I'd just met. But NEVER could I ask to photograph them. Due to their faith they are obligated to say no to photographs, and that would have been the end of that. Despite this they have, on occasion, been photographed in the past, so I was optimistic that I could work within their comfort level.

My hope was that they would allow me to spend time with them, and gradually I would begin to make photographs. The approach worked like a charm, although I felt as if every image I made would be my last of them. It became a game of sorts, with the boys tolerating my presence, my questions, and seemingly my camera, as long as I remained subtle. It wasn't easy to make photographs because it was difficult to bring the viewfinder up too long to study the subject and wait for moments. I only had one young man give me a sideways look while I pointed the lens at him, but I stopped and he carries on as if nothing had happened.

It was great shooting these boys playing a game I have always loved. The experience of being around them playing a game simply for the pleasure of it is one I'll not soon forget. Just before the game ended, I was sitting on one of the chairs, at the end of the "bench" so to speak, when one of the boys leaned out and spoke in my direction. "Did you get any good shots," he asked, with a smile on his face. I could only smile as I answered with a nod, and the words "I think so," which was as honest as I could possibly be.

The images have also been posted in a gallery at peterpower.ca.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Street Photography - Invisibility

Just to further the subject of street photography....thanks to the folks at duckrabbit for posting this video link with street photographer Matt Stuart.

His quote, "Invisibility would be my superpower," is excellent, but I think the key thing to learn here is the way he carries himself while photographing. His demeanour is unthreatening because he is confident that he is doing nothing wrong, and certainly no harm to anyone. I agree completely that people sense whether you can be trusted or not, and you have to project that they have nothing to fear from you.

I see so many young photographers trying to work, while being almost frozen with fear that someone might ask them what they are doing? Why are they photographing them? If you know in your heart that individuals have nothing to fear from what you are doing, it really isn't too difficult to explain yourself in a unthreatening manner.

I also can relate completely to his words about being among people on the street and sharing a moment with them, without them ever realizing it. We are very privileged in what we do because of all of the moments we get to experience - all of the emotions, both good and bad.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Street Photography-The Dance

I was just looking at a post by Rob Skeoch on the NPAC site that I found interesting about a documentary that has been done on street photographer Joel Meyerowitz. The video is shot by Cheryl Dunn and is part of documentary called "Everybody Street." The piece is here on the site of The New Yorker.com.

Two things that he mentions even in this short teaser struck a chord with me - things that I have tried to explain to people myself over the years.

The first is the way he speaks about moving with people in the street, even referring to Robert Frank being "balletic."

I've often described moving with people I'm photographing almost as if you are dancing with them, or around them. This helps me become a part of the flow of the situation, and somehow less intrusive. There are times when you want to stand back and remain apart from a moment, but more often than not, especially on the street, it is extremely productive to immerse yourself in the "flow" of what you are photographing.

This leads to the next point that Meyerowitz mentions which is the sensibility of the photographer. This is not just a sensibility of the people living life around you, but a sensibility for the energy, the life, the moments that are intertwining all about you.

In a related piece Mary Ellen Mark speaks about the subject "showing you what the picture is." Street photography, as challenging as it might be, is not about concepts, but about watching life. She goes on to speak about it being an advantage to be a woman because she is less threatening than a man, which, for the most part, I agree with, but as with any generalization, it doesn't hold true to all individuals. How threatening you are depends largely on your own personality and your approach to people.

A Yorkville, Toronto bicyclist sends pigeons scattering. (Photo by Peter Power)