November 1st, 2014

PPE 2014: Leading The Revolution in Smartphone Photography

At a panel held at PhotoPlus Expo on Thursday, October 30, panelists discussed the various ways smartphone photography is affecting visual communication and the photography industry.

The talk, titled “Leading the Revolution in Smartphone Photography,” featured TIME magazine Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise, Kira Pollack; photographer Benjamin Lowy; visual communication strategist Stephen Mayes; and Andrew Delaney, Head of Content for Getty Images. The talk was moderated by consultant and educator Patrick Donehue.

Pollack prefaced her portion of the talk by saying that 99.9 percent of the images published by TIME in print and online were made using professional cameras. Pollack emphasized smartphones as communication platforms, noting that they are as important for consuming images as they are making them.

She described TIME‘s coverage of Hurricane Sandy in New York. TIME picture editors gave five photographers, Lowy among them, “the keys” to TIME’s social media channels and they uploaded the images they made immediately. It was an instance when the photo editors of TIME were watching the story develop “in real time,” she said. One of Lowy’s images landed on the cover of the magazine. It was the first time a smartphone image ever made the cover.

Pollack also noted that she uses Instagram to keep track of where photographers are traveling, because they often post images that alert their followers to where they are, making Instagram a tool for editors to find photographers if an assignment comes up.

She also said that TIME had recently begun working with a technology called Capture, which allows users to search for images based on date, time and location. As an example, Pollack showed a screen grab of the search she had done that identified images made in the neighborhood of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s apartment in New York City’s West Village during a two-hour stretch on the night he died.

Lowy, who has photographed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere,s said using smartphone freed him from the need to carry his larger camera with him everywhere, which was liberating.

In conflict zones, smartphone cameras allowed him to move and make pictures less conspicuously. During Hurricane Sandy, as other photojournalists stayed onshore, he was able to wade out into the water with his smartphone, protected in a plastic zipper bag, and make pictures others wouldn’t for fear of ruining their gear.

Lowy also noted, however, that using smartphones in war zones can be dangerous because of the information they transmit. Bashar Al-Assad’s forced were thought to have targeted photojournalist Remi Ochlik and British journalist Marie Colvin in Homs, Syria, by locking in on their satellite phone transmissions. The journalists were killed by artillery.  (The Committee to Protect Journalists has published a report, titled Information Security, that includes safety advice.)

Getty Images’ Andrew Delaney said smartphones are allowing people to capture slice of life imagery, with unique perspectives, that advertising, corporate and editorial clients are interested in. He noted that, with the proliferation of smartphones, Getty is getting a wider and more demographically diverse view of the world from its contributors. Delaney said advertisers need “localized communication and localized imagery,” and that smartphone images are feeding some of that need. He also noted that amateurs are really “leading the charge” when it comes to capturing smartphone imagery that is selling to stock photography clients. A lot of the images of people are unusable, however, because the images aren’t model released.

During his portion of the talk, Mayes pointed out that smartphones have increased the ability of the general public to look at and understand images in a more sophisticated way, a growing sentiment among image makers that I heard quite a few times during this year’s PhotoPlus conference. Photographers “now communicate with people who get what we’re trying to tell them,” Mayes says.

Furthering the “visual language” analogy, Mayes compared images to spoken and written language, pointing out that not all language is precious, and a majority of the billions of images being made are equally expendable.

Mayes also argued that an image today often acts as a “husk for a data package.” For example, an image you make of your child in your yard can, when plugged into search engines, yield information about the child’s location, education, socioeconomic status and so on. Striking an ominous-if-realistic note, Mayes argued that we might be headed for a future in which we’re all digital serfs serving information, through our phones, to a master we don’t even know.

Photographers, if they can master the ways these digital systems work, “can become the masters,” Mayes said, and argued that smartphones had opened a “doorway into a rich area of image-making and communication with a power beyond anything we can imagine at this point.” Stay tuned.

 

October 29th, 2013

Gilles Peress’s Post-Sandy Book Tests “Generosity-Based” Publishing

© Concord Free Press/photo by Gilles Peress/Magnum

© Concord Free Press/photo by Gilles Peress/Magnum

Starting tomorrow, the day after the anniversary of when Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the U.S., the publishing house Concord Free Press is giving away copies of The Rockaways, a new book which features Gilles Peress’s images of the storm’s devastation in one of the hardest hit areas of New York City and essays by high school students and other residents of the neighborhood. All 4,000 numbered copies of the book are free, but in exchange, everyone who receives a copy is asked to make a donation to a charity of their choosing or to a person in need, and to pass along the book so the giving continues. The Rockaways is the eighth book published by Concord Free Press, which co-founder Stona Fitch calls an experiment in “generosity-based publishing.”

“Like everybody else, I was really moved by the distress of many of the people affected, especially the poorest part of the population in the Rockaways,” says Peress. “I think of all of us felt on some level: How can we help?” Hamilton Fish, former publisher of The Nation and a member of the Concord Free Press advisory board, edited The Rockaways and approached  Peress about donating images to the effort. “It was a no-brainer. I said yes after the first sentence,” Peress says. He adds, “It’s up to you and your conscience and your wallet to donate to what you think is a worthwhile cause–hopefully dealing with the Rockaways and hopefully dealing with income disparity.”

“We’re about linking art and activism,” Fitch says. Concord Free Press’s other seven books have each raised $50,000 to $60,000 in charitable donations. Designers, writers and publicists donate their time; Kodak provided digital printing for The Rockaways and for Concord Free Press’s previous book, Round Mountain, a collection of short stories set in a small town in Vermont, which was released after Hurricane Irene caused massing flooding in the state. The Rockaways is the publisher’s first photo book. Fitch calls Peress’s images of the ravaged working-class neighborhood  “powerful.” He says, “When you’re given something so beautiful and powerful for free, it has a great effect for inspiring generosity.” By stirring donations, Fitch says, the book can “help address the problem that was being photographed.” He acknowledges that people might be reluctant to pass The Rockaways along, “because Gilles’s book is so beautiful.”
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November 14th, 2012

The Failure in Crowd-Sourcing News Photos

© Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

At a time of cost cutting for media budgets, lots of news organizations imagine that user-generated content can fill the void. But the recent failure of crowd-sourced news photos of Hurricane Sandy, and the shortage of coverage of other climate change-fueled disasters around the world, demonstrate how far we are from truly democratizing the medium of photography. Photographers worry that the lowering of technological barriers means “everyone’s a photographer now,” but in fact, the number of people who can take and share news photos is still limited by economics, infrastructure and geography.

Now that news organizations have quit crowd-sourcing instantaneous images of the approaching storm, we are seeing enterprising professional photojournalists who are focused less on flooded tunnels and wrecked cars, and have been seeking out the less obvious stories behind the slow process of rebuilding, rehousing the displaced, and supporting those underserved by relief efforts. (The New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson’s November 2 coverage of people coping without power, elevators, heat or  a sense of security on the upper floors of public housing projects is one example.)

Among the critics of the media’s immediate response to the storm, photographer Kenneth Jarecke  and Prison Photography’s Pete Brook  (who gathered a round-up of storm coverage) seem most irked by the poor quality of many of the images editors chose to publish (by professionals commissioned to shoot on iPhones and by amateurs).  “Most of the photographs are REALLY bad,” Jarecke wrote. “It’s history. It changes people’s lives. You’re not allowed to make excuses or drop the ball, but sadly most of you did.”

As a New Yorker who was seeking up-to-date information about friends and loved ones the day after the storm made landfall, I’ll forgive esthetic lapses in favor of timely and useful information. The problem was, amateur photographers don’t seem to know how to write captions, and they lack  journalistic instincts.

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November 2nd, 2012

Can Flood Damaged Prints Be Saved?

Hurricane Sandy caused flooding of gallery storage areas in New York and elsewhere earlier this week. Paul Messier, a Boston-based expert on the conservation of photographs and works on paper, has worked as a consultant to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other institutions. He also assisted museums and historical societies in the Gulf Coast area with restoration efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

PDN: Have you been getting calls from New York galleries?
Paul Messier: Honestly, no. I know there was a lot of devastation in the Chelsea area. I’ve heard from other conservators about individual salvage projects. But I have not been contacted yet, which is not surprising because the electricity is still off.

PDN: What’s the prognosis for recovering flood-damaged photographic prints?
PM: It’s highly dependent upon the photo process. Some photographic processes or more resilient than others. It’s also highly dependent upon the duration of the exposure to water, and it’s highly dependent upon the response. For example, things moved into freezer storage while still wet would have a much better prognosis for successful outcome. (more…)