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Vision and Veracity

October 18, 2010

The Big E (detail) by Lindsay Gallant

My Photojournalism students are showing me their Eastern States Exposition photos. I am seeing a trend away from the veracity of the document and a move toward docu-art. Docu-art is a term Bill Burke coined when describing his photographs from Vietnam and elsewhere. The term is an admission of the fact that the photographer creates the picture. The subject of a photograph is only a stand in for what the photographer is really considering. In Bill Burke’s case, he has shown interest in opium dens and prostitutes, as well as the whole American legacy in Vietnam. Or is that America’s legacy in Vietnam?

Opium Den, by Bill Burke

The expanding self-awareness of the current documentary agenda isn’t just about what the photographer sees. It is also about what the photographer knows.

Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier

I found the above picture on the recent NYT Lens Blog about a group of documentary artists who are emulating the work of the Farm Security Administration of the 1930s. The group is called Facing Change and you can see more of their “old style” documentary work here.

There is new work from Gregory Crewdson that appears to go in the opposite direction from his old work. Below is an example from his previous visions. I chose this because it is a pleasure to see a guy wandering around in his underwear instead of the usual skinny model. (CORRECTION: Oops! My wife, Vivian, pointed out that it is a picture of a model wandering around in her underwear, or maybe it is a guy wearing a bra. I’m hoping that is the case.)

Picture by Gregory Crewdson

“Often criticized as a pseudo-filmmaker for his ostentatious photo productions, gargantuan crews, and carefully fabricated scenes of human drama, Crewdson deliberately uses his craft to blur the lines between fact and fantasy.” That’s a quote from Vanity Fair.

So, while my students are practicing the new vision of photojournalism with plastic cameras, panoramas and double exposures, Gregory Crewdson is going in the opposite direction.His new series cites an older documentary veracity. Coincidentally, it is his first experience using a digital camera.

Cinecitta Studio, Rome, by Gregory Crewdson

To quote Crewdson, “Black and white was essential to these photographs because I wanted to reference the great classical tradition of documentary photographers like Eugène Atget and Walker Evans. The other, almost paradoxical thing is that the sets look much more staged and more fake in color. Weirdly, the black and white makes them feel more real, as if they’re real ruins.” It is also curious that he describes his prints as small, only 24X30 inches.

Photo by Paulo Pellegrin, Magnum

I’m attracted to the above fashion photo from Magnum. It has a “look” that seems beyond time. For me it is a vision free of veracity. As usual, the model is required to perform some act which would be highly unlikely in the real world. In this case she is prancing through the brush in high heels. I guess that is better than her trying to run away with her skirt half buttoned.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 8:50 am

    Inspiring post!

  2. August 15, 2011 8:56 am

    Thanks, Bruce.

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