mustafah abdulaziz – obama

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Mustafah Abdulaziz

The Inauguration Of Barack Obama

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On January 20, 2009, the world’s attention turned to Washington D.C.

Visitors, young and old, black and white, American and foreign, descended upon the nations capital en masse, braving the frigid cold to stand witness to history: Barack Obama, former junior senator of Illinois, inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.

Related links

The Wall Street Journal on 01/20/09

Mustafah Abdulaziz



74 Responses to “mustafah abdulaziz – obama”

  • david and all,

    i admit there was a sort of provocation in my post, maybe as a reaction to all the flattering flickr-style comments i was reading. This doesnt mean i didn’t like Mustafah’s work (i wrote i did), but i’m happy i raised some discussions here. Let’s put it this way: “easy” situations, situations that offer a lot of material, as the one we are talking about, dont guarantee automatic good pictures. I think we all agree on that. In fact i didnt dare saying that Mustafah had an easy task. Probably all situations are equally difficult when you have to shoot a good picture, and maybe those situations where you have plenty of choice and are not suspicious or menacing for your subjects are even more difficult for having good photos than when you are in a situation where you are not necessarily perceived as “friendly” (think of Panos’ Venice). I probably just meant that in such a situation you didn’t have to be as good as HCB and be like a fly to work unnoticed, as i’m sure the least thought those 2 million people may have was feeling bothered by a camera pointed at them. I was also probably thinking, as to an opposite condition, to what you said about the frustration you experienced when on assignment to photograph Andrew Wyeth; or when you shot your hip-hop musicians for Living proof: you did not just go there and start shooting (in that case it’d be probably you…to be shot). You had to find access, gain their trust and so on…an extra and no less important job beside taking your pictures.
    But, in the end, i agree on “no excuses”, a photograph, an essay, is either good or not, indipentently from the harsh/easy situation.


  • BOB,
    couldnt agree more. When Eggleston had his first solo show at Moma, he had terrible reviews, and the main point was that his were ordinary photos everybody could take in the backyard. It was possibly a time when only exotic places or situations were considered extraordinary and so worth being documented (I recently read what HCB once said: “the world is on fire and Adams and Weston take photographs of rocks!).
    Also Ghirri’s photographs were considered ordinary and obvious for a long time..
    However the risk nowadays is going the opposite extreme: sanctify every photographer who takes obvious (and badly shot) pictures.

  • guido :)))

    indeed, Eggleston is a hero! :)))))..a perfect case in point…his Memphis and south is eternal! :))…and what are his photographs really about? ;)))))))


  • BYRON,

    I think Bob has already answered your question very eloquently but for what it is worth, let me tell you that I used to think exactly in the way as you are thinking right now, that I would be able to make extraordinary photographs as well if only I was able to go to Somalia, Irak, Lebanon or far far away. I certainly still believe that subject matters and there are parts of the world, dramatic situations, wars or whatever that tend to immediately bring some weight to a story and in this way, may facilitate taking a “good” photograph that generates an emotion… In some part of the world, access is also easier as people living there do not mind being photographed as much as the average person on the street in our Western countries so I have been keen myself to go to these places and whenever I have an occasion to travel, I jump on it… Having said this, I have really come around this idea that I need to go somewhere else to take a good photograph… If anything, staying in your own environment may be even better to develop your own vision… It forces you sometimes to look beyond the obvious…. when the situation is easy, you can become complascent…. Looking at the everyday situation can be far more difficult but also lead to more personal work. Look at the work of Patricia, Anton, Panos, Audrey, Erica all done right where they live…. For me, I used to think that I could not ever do anything with my photography in Cincinnati in Ohio where I live. Trust me that that city can be very boring with, at the first glance, nothing remotely interesing to photograph… yet, I have found couple of subjects that matter to me that I am working and that I may not have been able to do had I lived anywhere else… so, go beyond the surface and trust that what is around you is interesting and think about what you want to say…

    Good luck with the story you want to do.


  • bob,

    and what can you say about luigi ghirri?

  • BYRON…

    for your personal work, the work with which you want to be identified, choose wisely…there are some subjects with which you might identify, but where the photographs just do not come…many photographers think that because a subject is important or their are worthwhile ramifications that they should be able to make it work…this is not always the case….a good professional photographer should be able to make a good photograph anywhere..but, an impassioned photographer working in an area he/she loves and feels something about will make for the strongest photographs…

    now , this is a different issue than the professionalism Mustafah showed at the inauguration..i doubt he would consider this his personal project…he just did a really nice job of covering the inauguration…if he takes this talent to a personal project , then we will really really see something….maybe!! not all “professionals” are able to do the translation…some need the event…need something happening…as per Guido’s reflection…

    all of this is quite complicated…..HCB and Eggleston need NOTHING going on, but they do “bear witness”…their vision IS the photograph, but the photograph comes from what is going on around them….other greats like Nachtwey or Griffiths need action, conflict or something dramatic happening….Crewdson or Sherman work totally out of their own imagination…

    so, every photographer must discern carefully between professionalism/personal and between subject matter that resonates…the “subject matter” could be in their head or in front of does not matter…you should nurture the fire in you…figure out what actually motivates YOU…your spirit, your heart…if you must earn a living taking pictures, do not ever ever sacrifice “the fire in your gut”…your best work will be what comes naturally…sounds easy, but this is where most photographers lose their way…they forget what they really think..what they really care about..who they really ARE…becoming an adult in society tends to strip away the inner person…somehow, some way, you must learn to speak “correctly” and yet still feel free to actually say what you small task…but, you must win this war….

    cheers, david

  • GUIDO…

    of course i understand you completely and i never did think you did not “get it”….you just gave us a chance for a healthy discussion, that’s all…you gave us a little “opener”…

    my whole body of work is totally based on absolutely nothing going on of an obvious nature…as a teenager my heroes in photography were Frank and HCB who were able to make sublime photographs from ordinary situations…this i could relate to, because nothing was happening in my little town!! i could see early on that war photographers needed a war, and fashion photographers needed a model, and Ansel needed Yosemite, and sports photographers needed a game…but HCB and Robert did not need ANYTHING….except their own vision….


  • just a note to say hello and introduce myself. from the posts i’ve read (both on this work and the work of steve mccurry), this blog seems like a great community and i look forward to participating.

    all the best.

  • Welcome Joeg. Yes, this is a special place and well-worth a visit. I have my Internet preferences set to open on Burn homepage! Look forward to hearing from you.

    Good light,


  • Byron,

    Bob and David put it as well as I’ve ever heard on this subject. The old cliche that it’s most difficult to photograph your own backyard is too true. But it’s also the place that can make for some of the most rewarding work and can even lead you out of it. If you don’t know where to start, then just start where you are at. For example if the artisan bread making inspires you then photograph it. If that experience and those photos are succesful, maybe then you can seek out more breadmakers elsewhere – all it involves is a plane ticket and a few emails/phone calls.

    For example, I started my last book on breakdancers by going to the local clubs here in Seattle for several years. Then when I thought I had exhausted that I went to some large events in NY and LA, etc. Stayed on friends couches, etc. But I think without the shooting first in Seattle the NY and LA experiences wouldn’t have been as successful as they were. It would seem that if one wanted to do a book on the contemporary breakdance scene one would have to start in NY but it turns out there are scenes in every city/town in the world. So just start where you are. The most important thing is to start, though, and not just dream. Does this make sense (sorry it’s still early here on the West coast)?


  • JOEQ

    you are welcomed…by me and the other regular contributors…

    cheers, david

  • Interesting discussion. I don’t think the photographer should be faulted for working in a target-rich environment. Parades, rallies, protests, and festivals are always over-photographed, the results tend to look the same, and the photos often have no real staying power beyond nostalgia for the event. That is, a photo taken at the Obama inauguration will always seem more resonant than one taken at Bush’s second swearing-in ceremony.

    So, even though Mustafa was working in an “easy” environment, his task is all the more difficult in trying to get his work to stand out from the thousands of images produced that day and to be seen on its own merits. But the historical nature of the event will always overwhelm the images.

    Years from now, Mustafa’s set will either show a hopeful nation looking forward to the promise of change or an unsettled country looking toward the future on the eve of its great collapse. So Mustafa’s images are either straight or ironic, and we won’t know for years. ;>)

  • Thank you guys. Those were very inspirational comments and I will definitely take them to heart.

    Hopefully my work will make its way here sometime.

  • Someone brought up a good point about the plethora of subject matter at the inauguration; I found this to be quite true. But just because there was a lot to photograph meant I photographed the right stuff.Preston struck a chord with me when he mentioned how these images might be received later on. It’s my hope that time will tell and maybe–just maybe–somewhere down the line, one of our children will see a picture, mine or others, and feel what it was like to be at the fulcrum of a great shift in our country.

    I didn’t want to rely on “crowd” shots to tell the entire story, which is why I included images like the people on cell phones trying to connect with family/friends caught in the tide of the crowd. Sure, it could’ve been taken any day. But it wasn’t and it was this day, and so it’s a small slice of what it was like to have been there.

    I photographed this as a “day in the life” instead of a step-by-step picture story, which I’m sure was done and done well. I was just one voice in a sea of voices, hoping to give a different perspective.

    Hope everyone enjoyed. Thanks to David and Bob for getting this out there.

  • Byron,

    Preston just brought up another point which came to mind right after finishing my last post. And that is, shoot for the future. We have no idea how things might change and what our photos might be worth someday (and I’m not talking monetary per se). Fashion, sentiments, politics, cultures, etc change. It might take twenty years, but so what. So shoot for the now, but keep in mind the future. When I was younger I didn’t do that enough (not to mention film was expensive!) and am kicking myself now. With the imminent birth any day of my first baby this has been on my mind a lot.

    Best of luck,


  • Mustafa,

    I was just checking the MAGNUM site and saw the photographs taken of the inauguration. Let me tell you that you did well, even when compared with the best photographers out there… My own take… you did better than all of them!!!!



  • I just wanted to chime in here. I think that saying Mustafa’s situation was easy is wrong. Infact Id say its one of the toughest. While the photos do present themselves, how do you go about claiming this subject when there are thousands of photographers shooting it too? I dont think you need dramatic events to make dramatic photos, or interesting photos. Infact, as Winogrand said, making a photo of a dramatic even is tough because how do you beat the subject’s inherent drama (or something like that). Take a look at the work of Eggleston or Shore. Here are legends who made a whole body of work about oridnary, uninteresting places. Eggleston once said “theres nothing beautiful here, what can I shoot?” to which his friend replied “shoot the ugly stuff”. Well, if theres nothing dramatic going on, shoot the boring stuff. Off the top of my head, I could name several Magnum guys who shoot things that are right there around them. Or stuff that isnt dramatic. Alec Soth is one.Jacob aue Sobol’s beautiful Sabine work. Theres even a guy like Larry Towell with his latest book about his own family. Mark Power. None of this is protests, inaugurations, etc. But its still giant work. Theres so much you could do in the place where you live, where anyone lives because theres always meaningful work to be done.

  • And you, Rafal, do that SO WELL. I can’t wait to see your photo essay of you, your wife and young son at home. You make the most ordinary situation compelling. I can still see the portrait of your glasses sitting beside your wife’s on the ledge. So simple yet it says EVERYTHING.


  • Thanks Patricia, very nice of you to say that. We will see of others share your sentiments.
    One more thing, theres no such thing as a boring object or situation, just boring photographs. One of the most iconic images of the past century was Eggleston’s image of the tricycle. A simple thing, a child’s tricycle yet the image has undeniable power and depth.

  • RAFAL,

    I think that “the situation was easy” in this case means that the access to the location was easy, the people are quite ok to have their picture taken (and more because there are thousands of other photogs around), the pictures are excellent though… It is a little more difficult sometimes to get access to some other situations…

  • Mustafah :)))

    It was my pleasure to help get this story up and seen here at Burn. I stand by what I wrote originally and what has only come to pass: at this point, this is my absolute favorite coverage/story about the inauguration. Not only because i love the photographs (the opening shot with Obama hat sprinkled in starry silver and her face, like the orpahn from 400 blows, but the helicopter shot (c morris would love that) the reflection on the subway, the obama on the jumbotron, the newspaper shot at the end, and all those faces…a story not of a moment, but of a feeling in time, collective)….

    as David knows, my investment and help in burn is as much a fan of good photography and good stories as it is as a working photographer…..

    my hope is that because of this story, more people will know and call upon you for work…

    people helping people…it’s all we have


  • Dear Mustafah,

    I enjoyed your essay which did in time vey well.
    And hope the world peacefull.
    I worry the world is getting warholic…
    Thank you very much.

  • Mustafah,
    Thank you for your essay. I had hoped to be there to photograph–had a MARC train ticket–but was unable to go. A great disappointment. But your images give me a sense more than others I have seen of what it was like to be there–the sense of power and drama–the masses–and the individual hearts and stories that combined into a totality of tremendous proportions. Your photographs are beautiful–I am still so sad I was not there, but I’m glad you were! Rosemary

  • Interesting use of words Mikko, ‘sick,’ you don’t talk like that in real life.

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