michelle frankfurter – destino

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Michelle Frankfurter


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Drawn to the frontier edginess and melancholy of the region, I began photographing along the U.S. – Mexico border in 2000, shortly after reading Cormac McCarthy’s, The Crossing. The novel begins with a boy finding a wolf caught in a trap on his family’s Arizona ranch. He treks across the Sierra Madres into Mexico to return the wolf to her native land. The story has every narrative element that’s captivated my imagination since I was about ten years old: a cast of characters that includes sinners, saints, and pariahs, an epic journey across a hostile wilderness, a bond between boy and dog, a multitude of dangers, themes of salvation and redemption.

My project, Destino focuses on undocumented Central American migrants traveling through Mexico in an attempt to reach the United Sates. In many ways they resemble the protagonists of adventure novels and epic tales. In an odyssey of wandering, they travel on foot, often relying on a network of freight trains lurching across Mexico. With their small backpacks filled with essential belongings, they leave behind homes and families to exist in a land of nomadic purgatory. Many are in their teens. Spirited as yearlings, they often appear oblivious to the harsh realities that accompany this journey.

In 2009, the worst economic recession in decades made work scarce for undocumented immigrants living within the United States. As in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are currently plagued by drug and gang related violence and a high incidence of domestic abuse. Crippling trade policies have further exacerbated the situation for the poor of these nations. Central American migration, while slowing down has not stopped entirely.

In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, these undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a host of dangers: the police who routinely rob and beat them, immigration officials who detain and deport them, and bandits and gang members who prey on them along the train route. Many have been injured or killed falling off moving trains. More recently, Los Zetas, a renegade battalion of a military unit initially deployed to combat drug trafficking, now operating as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, has established a kidnapping ring targeting Central American migrants. From these adversities, migrants find respite in a loose system of shelters run by Catholic priests and through the benevolence of sympathetic Mexicans in the towns and villages along the way.



Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Michelle Frankfurter is a documentary photographer who lives in Takoma Park, MD just outside of the District of Columbia. She graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduating, she worked for three years as a staff photographer for daily newspapers: The Herald – Journal and Post Standard in Syracuse, New York. Before settling in the Washington, DC area, Frankfurter spent three years living in Nicaragua where she worked as a stringer for the British news agency, Reuters and with the human rights organization Witness For Peace documenting the effects of the contra war on civilians. In 1995, a long-term project on Haiti earned her two World Press Photo awards. She has worked for a number of editorial publications, including The Guardian of London, The Washington Post Magazine, Ms., Time, and Life Magazine. Her personal documentary work has been featured in juried exhibitions at The Washington Project For the Arts, the Arlington Arts Center, Shots Magazine, and the Photo Place Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. For the past ten years, her personal work has focused on themes of migration and life along the border region between the United States and Mexico.


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Michelle Frankfurter


135 Responses to “michelle frankfurter – destino”

  • Michelle,

    *LOVE* this essay. It appears to me, photographically speaking to be of a classic documentary style, probably at it’s finest. The lack of colour, the tones, the grain, all work with appropriate impact. The subject matter is juxtaposed with wonderful photojournalism expression. A photographic essay should stand without words and this certainly does. Congrats on burn publication. Most worthy.


  • This is a good story and there are some very fine images here. But, I feel it is incomplete and in need of a tighter edit. Where are the images of the immigrants encounters with the police or immigration? I feel the concept of the long journey, but I don’t get a real feel for the danger.

    Sarah Voisin of the Washington Post did a story on this subject in 2007 that incorporated some of these types of images. http://bop.nppa.org/2007/still_photography/winners/NAA/94874/173843.html

    As for editing, I would lose image 6 since it is the same girl as in image 5 and 5 is a better frame. The bush growing in the courtyard has nothing to do with the story.

    I looked at your website and there if “The Migrants” is part of this story, you left a couple of really nice images out of this presentation.

    This is a great start, but it feels lacking in some respects. Please keep working on this.

    ALSO – Your essay “The Island” on your website is excellent!

  • Pete,
    Sarah is a good friend and my next door neighbor! I am very familiar with her work, which I hold in high esteem. We have a polar opposite approach. I shoot with a two and a quarter Bronica and along with that equipment choice comes a conscious decision on my part to concentrate on some things while ignoring others. Much of photojournalism feels weighted by the need to stick to a script where the telling of the entire story rests on a linear storyline incorporating every component. Since I photograph weddings for a living, I see similarities in people’s expectations of what should be included in a presentation. After a while, certain images become visual clichés or iconic to the point of being desktop icons. Most essays, this one included could benefit from a tighter edit. I agree. As far as police chasing migrants, it’s one of those elements I have no interest in pursuing.

    Thanks for looking!


    i was going to jump in and say that comparing Sarah’s work with Michelle’s was an apples/oranges comparison…Sarah the photojournalist and Michelle the more deliberate chronicler…where are all these rules coming from Pete?? even while both of you are calling for a tighter edit, i just do not agree…tighter edit for what?? for what reason? 5 and 6 go PERFECTLY together..same woman, so what?? Pete, you are thinking print space i am sure, and Michelle if you are to do a book, you need more pictures not less….i looked at this essay carefully…IF i were in a limited magazine or newspaper space, then yes the obligatory tight edit would be employed…but, i am not..so why take out perfectly good pictures? nobody has the extra 20 seconds it takes to look at 4 more pictures? i would not want to publish gratuitous work…and i edit tight tight tight in the long run for books etc….but this is a great essay…far greater work than the aforementioned other newspaper style essay in my opinion…another whole level of photography…essays like this are rare…so when i see one, i want to give it air…..room to breathe……

    Pete, mi amigo, always trying to loosen you up a bit…just a bit…has nothing to do with what i think of you as a friend and colleague…again, come down and we can chat about it…Michelle come too…as you both know, my doors are open…would love to host you both…and you both are close by…

    abrazos, david

  • Waiting always… and hope for a better life … beautiful… thanks for sharing.

    Best, audrey

  • DAH

    I am NOT thinking of print space. I could not give a shit where it is published. Those two images are redundant and one is better. Filling a book with more images that are not advancing a story IS “gratuitous” and useless. Yes, if you do a book you would need more images not less. But that is not the point. You ask “why take out a perfectly good picture?” Well, I never said it was not a good photo, I just said it is just not needed. Just because you have the space to run a bunch of photos, is no reason to dilute the impact of the essay.

    And what makes the Sarah Voisin essay “newspaper style.” Exactly? I would love to hear what that actually means and how it applies to her essay. That essay could have easily run in a magazine. For someone that came from a newspaper background, sometimes it seems that you have a real disdain for the profession.


    I hope you did not think I was making a direct comparison to Sarah’s work. I was just using it as an example of what I think is a more complete story about these people. It is obvious that there are two different styles here and I do enjoy both approaches. I was mainly talking about “story.” I hear what you are saying, but again, for me something is missing. And the photo of them crossing the river should be in this edit.

    Not saying I am right. I know some may agree and some disagree. That is fine. Just my opinion.

  • DAH

    OH, and who said anything about “rules.” I didn’t. I simply gave my opinion of an essay. I never said it HAD to be done a certain way. What I said was how I felt about it. How I interpreted it. In other words, MY OPINION.

    It does not seem fair to minimize an opinion to “rules” just because you may disagree with it.

    You know I admire your work and I respect your opinion. I am certainly not always right, but neither are you. (or anyone else for that matter)

    I would hope that anyone who has work critiqued here, or anywhere else for that matter, listens to it all and then decides for themselves, what if any of the advice to take.

  • Pete, Sarah’s story is newspaper style because she shoots for the Washington Post, and as such, she is bound by certain editorial constraints. There’s an editor riding a desk in DC with a set of expectations. Sometimes the expectations are based on some version of on-the-ground reality that exists only in the mind of the editor. Often it’s based on what is being published by a competing publication. More often it’s defined by the urgency of a breaking news situation-something whose relevance is fleeting but not lasting in a way that is interesting or compelling (to me). I mention this because I saw it come up countless times the year I spent photographing in Haiti in the mid-1990’s. Every photographer working in Haiti, (except for me) got a shot of Raul Cedras giving the finger to the media from the balcony of the Presidential Palace. It was the finger seen around the world. Today, does anyone give a shit? Does anyone even remember who Raul Cedras was? What enduring themes or lessons about Haiti does that image evoke? When you shoot for a publication, especially when you’re on staff, you never lose the “they’re going to want to see shots of XYZ” gnawing feeling. It’s like having a little imp on your shoulder.

    “I would love to hear what that actually means and how it applies to her essay.”
    When I first moved to DC in the early 1990’s, I dropped a portfolio off at the Post. Later, when I swung by to pick it up, the photo editor had my prints spread out on the table in little piles. He told me that most of my pictures were too subtle, too quiet, and that judging by the way I liked to shoot, I wouldn’t be very happy there. He pointed to three photos that he felt had impact, that were, as he put it-loud. I think one of them was of a policeman’s widow receiving a flag at the fallen officer’s funeral. Totally simplistic image, but easily readable. It was clear that there was no room for subtlety or nuance. This made perfect sense: a newspaper isn’t a venue for artistic expression or allegory. It’s purpose is to communicate, to deliver a clear message to a wide audience. There’s no room for ambiguity. Fiction, on the other hand is allegory-driven. Ambiguity is often woven into the narrative because the author’s intent isn’t to lecture or inform, but rather to convey or evoke. It’s the the cousin of journalistic writing but basically the polar opposite because it doesn’t cast a wide net. It’s not trying to appeal to a mass audience, but to a smaller demographic, where it’s assumed that said audience is sophisticated enough to extrapolate. I started off as an English major and I think of photography like writing, in terms of a historically based, but fictionalized narrative. Having worked full time at a newspaper as well as a freelance editorial photographer, to me, there is a huge difference in approach and in the content.

  • Love it. So human. The portraits are stunning. The spaces photographed tell their own story. I only felt like I needed to read the caption on one–the man whose foot was cut in half. This is the best story I have seen on the migration from Mexico to America. Congrats on being chosen Michelle. The one photo of the woman stepping up on the train followed by her portrait evoked an emotional response for her from a deep place in me. I am always surprised at the desire to come to America. Not that I don’t know all the reasons why, but just the trials and dangers people are willing to risk to make it to the promised land. The woman’s face stepping onto the train really showed this.

  • “Sarah’s story is newspaper style because she shoots for the Washington Post”

    I think that is crap. If that essay had appeared without “The Washington Post” after it, I would be surprised if anyone would have called it “newspaper style.” It could have run in any major news magazine. Now it it pure photojournalism? I would say yes. Is your essay? Maybe not.

    “she is bound by certain editorial constraints.” — Having to make sure that you get certain images that editors may expect is not a constraint, just extra work. It does not “constrain” someone from shooting the stuff they want to shoot.

    “you never lose the “they’re going to want to see shots of XYZ” gnawing feeling. It’s like having a little imp on your shoulder.” — Maybe I was just lucky that everywhere I worked I was surrounded by people who understood that I was the one there and I shot the assignment to the best of my ability. I was always trusted and not second guessed. Sure there where times when I may not have the great moment that the other photographer for the other publication or wire service got. That happens. You can’t be everywhere. Every great photojournalist will tell you that if you want to make great pictures, see where everyone else is and go somewhere else. Sure this is not always possible, but for the most part it is true. And unfortunately when doing so you will miss something. But if you stop and dwell on that you will probably miss something else.

    Your account of your meeting at The Washington Post seems a bit sad to me. I have worked for newspapers as a photographer and I ran a newspaper photo department. There certainly are times for for quiet subtle photos in news stories as well as feature stories in newspapers. Obviously not all the time. Some of Michael Williamson’s best work is quite and subtle. Melina Mara definitely has a quiet approach to much of her work. Of course the early 1990 is a while ago and just like “hand of god” burning and dodging was popular a while ago, times have changed. I would bet you would not get the same response today if you showed your recent work.

    I am not sure what you are getting at in the rest of that paragraph. Is your essay supposed to be ambiguous? What does fiction have to do with what we are talking about. You are documenting a true story. I am not sure how “fictionalized narrative” fits into a story on “undocumented Central American migrants traveling through Mexico in an attempt to reach the United States.

  • Pete, it was actually a very happy meeting, with an extremely honest editor and one that saved me from years of misery.

  • The essay is clean somewhat clinical in nature and lacks authority. Essays that are controversial or uncoordinated always sit better than a middle of the road essay such as the one presented here. It is a good essay but not an interesting essay with the audience left with little to do but view and accept.

  • Regarding left with little to do but view and accept I have to ask: and? Other than go down to the border and actually work hands on with this issue there is little to do but view and accept and in doing that enjoy and get a sense of what it really means to be in this position in life. You never know when this essay will come in handy to help us understand a situation. So yes I view and accept.

    I can’t understand Imants how you can say it lacks authority. What does that mean exactly? And it is anything but clinical. Clean yes. Clinical no.

  • PETE…

    of course…your opinions are always valued here…..welcomed…did i say otherwise???…you gave an opinion, i disagree with that opinion, and neither one of us is right or wrong…damn dude, i don’t ever really recall anyone telling me i was right about anything..ever!! still waiting :)

    you got the red face, not me :) get that blood pressure down…not good for a man of your age

    by the way, i think Michelle is currently killing your argument unless you present better…..to present your case better, and you do have a case for the work, get away from making a case for a now totally dead medium…at least on any significant international communication level….while their integrity is rarely questioned, old newspaper standards for the aesthetics of photography are over….and you of all people should rejoice!!

    cheers, david

  • Congrats on your publication Michelle! I very much like this essay, there’s a lot of subtlety. I’ve spent significant time in Central America, so maybe I am biased towards the subject matter… Viewing this is a completely different experience than viewing the previous essay on eastern Congo – but equally captivating, at least to me. Very evocative, makes me want to ask lots of questions, leaves me wondering (in a good way!)… Oh and it reminded me of the movie “Sin Nombre” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1127715/) I’m sure you must have seen it?

  • Deeply felt and moving imagery. Personal and universal all at the same time. Wonderful, wonderful work.

  • Michelle,

    You have some very nice images. But honestly I don’t know more about the plight of these migrants.

    -“In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, these undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a host of dangers.” A powerful statement, but not illustrated in your essay (or at least to my satisfaction).

    -“More recently, Los Zetas, a renegade battalion of a military unit initially deployed to combat drug trafficking, now operating as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, has established a kidnapping ring targeting Central American migrants” Yikes! I’m sorry to pick on two pieces of your statement, but they DO create visual anticipation.

    I want to see more! Your written words are so rich. I read such a passionate story but see only the tip of this very compelling narrative.

    The tough part of being published on BURN is taking the input of strangers. Keep emerging and thank you for sharing your work.

  • Michelle…

    Love this essay, really nice work. Your portraits are heartfelt and beautiful and I agree with David, I love the two photos of Blanca together one after the other, each one is gorgeous for its own reasons, the first one makes you curious about her and then the next one we really connect with her. Really important and beautiful work.

  • DAH

    No red face here. And my blood pressure is fine. Why is it whenever I say something in disagreement here it is taken as I am upset or angry? From now on please read my comments in a clear, quiet and calm voice since that is the intent. Maybe we can try that here….

    I am not making a case for a dead medium. I am not making a case for newspapers or any other medium. YOU said this essay was a “far greater work than the aforementioned other newspaper style essay.”

    My point is that Sarah’s essay (the aforementioned) could have appeared in any major news magazine and I doubt that anyone looking at it would say, “it is ok but it belongs in a newspaper.” Or “why is a newspaper photographer published in a magazine?” I don’t even know what “newspaper style” is. Sarah’s essay was shot in HER style not a newspaper style.

    “old newspaper standards for the aesthetics of photography are over.” — what does that mean?

    Actually it is not even important, since I do not subscribe to any particular standards of aesthetics. Why do I have to? I simply have my opinion of what I like based on a 25 year career of shooting, editing and looking at all types of work. I am a photojournalist. Not a newspaper, or magazine, or web site photojournalist. Just a photojournalist.

    And this is not even an argument. Even Michelle agreed that this essay “could benefit from a tighter edit.” My only suggestion was that something seemed to be missing. After reading Imants and pomara’s comments, I think they might be articulating my point better.

    Ultimately it is up to the photographer to decide if something is complete. If it is even really possible for a photographer to feel that way. I think most feel in the back of their mind that there is more…

  • Michelle, it was great talking with you at OBX, a highlight of my trip. This work, as I told you, just blew me away when I picked up your book. I rudely elbowed Chris Bickford in my enthusiasm. Now I’ve hopped a couple freights but not in Mexico and I didn’t ride on the top holding on with one hand and loading film with the other in a 40 mph wind. I do hope you continue to listen to the advice of your rail friends, stay safe, jump when advised, and please put two books aside for me when you are done.

  • Carsten, I STILL haven’t seen Sin Nombre because I worry that I won’t have the cojones to ride La Bestia if I see it. But almost all the migrants I’ve traveled with have seen it. They’re always incredulous that I’m doing this by myself, so I tell them that my movie is called Sin Hombre.
    Pomara, thanks, that’s a great question. What does happen to these vulnerable people, whose lives in their home countries are a living hell, who run this gauntlet of adversity only to run smack into the most hostile political climate in recent U.S. history. It’s a conversation starter. Pete, you’re right about Sarah’s essay and when I refer to newspaper style, I include magazines as well. It sounds like we’ve been shooting for about the same amount of time. You are clearly a photojournalist and comfortable in that world. I’m not. I haven’t photo-journaled in over 15 years. I started shooting weddings about 15 years ago in order to mark a clear delineation between what I do to pay bills and remain independent and what I do to fulfill my own personal curiosity and make my own very personal statement. For me, photography has been a long process of sorting out what feels right. For a time, I shot for a human rights organization, but realized that I wasn’t an activist in a stand on the Mall and protest sort of way. I’ll admit-soy egoista as they say in Spanish. I’m self centered. I’m interested in some things, bored by others. Being a photojournalist just wasn’t a good fit anymore. I felt conflicted. Come to Slideluck Potshow on Friday. The river photo is in that edit. The project isn’t complete. Pomara, yes, we all have fragile egos, especially when it comes to the personal work, which is, well-personal. But you’re right. It’s part of the process. Otherwise, I’d stick to my previous plan of the past 10 years of making prints, throwing them in boxes that keep piling up in the basement. So thanks!
    DAH!!!!! So great to hear from you!! I’m planning two more trips this winter: the first in January, I’m thinking to the northern part of Mexico, and then one last trip down to Chiapas. I’ll bring you back a bottle of tequila!

  • Michelle

    Wish I could make the pot luck, but I have plans. I will drop you an email next time my wife and I are in the city and maybe we can get a beer.

    Guess I owe you an apology for insinuating you were a photojournalist. (grin) It looks like photojournalism to me so I made the assumption. But I still like the work!

  • PETE…

    “aesthetics of newspaper photography”…what do i mean?? well, just look at the NPPA standard for “coverage” and the general look…you are so much a part of it, you just do not see it Pete….things “missing” from a coverage??…”incomplete” coverages??…what about what is THERE??? the “i wish i could see this” aspect of critique is so so pedantic and predictable……sometimes valid, yet sometimes just words or creed learned by rote and applied to sometimes brilliant work unfairly…..Robert Frank, HCB, William Klein, Garry Winogrand etc NEVER woulda made it in the NPPA…..THAT is what i mean Pete….. yea, as if there SHOULD be this and or SHOULD be that in order to complete an essay…you have been listening to this rationale forever…your own tastes are colored by the tastes of a newspaper pandering to an audience that is being pandered to by a set of advertisers..yes amigo, advertisers…and bless them for sure in one way, because without them there would be no newspaper…i totally get that too and there is no evil intent..there is good intent…..but , the downside is a particular aesthetic that is literally built , perhaps subconsciously, for these readers……loosely known as “photojournalism” (a,b,c, d 1,2,3,4 photojournalism, specifically American ONLY), which is in and of itself up for redefinition aesthetically….again, make no mistake, i am NOT talking about the integrity of newspaper journalism…that part is fine….and yes Pomara,newspaper guy (mirrors your thinking) and Imants (for a totally different reason) would agree with you this essay lacking a i would/do disagree with them as well…however, better look here at the commentators here who just “feel” the essay which is still a very “straight’ but strong essay after all…….well Pete, we have been having this same chat for a couple of years..ain’t gonna change…..and very sadly my friend this is why there is really no legacy for newspaper photographers in general….who besides Weegee actually?…..some really great photographers with no historic reference , including the so called “winners” of the day….however, all my respect to you amigo ( remember, i am a former NPPA newspaper guy too, but from the revolutionary wing of course, we had red shirts and black beanies, smiling)…anyway, sorry if i interpreted you as being angry/upset…..my mistake….

    cheers, david

  • All sounds just a bit elitist to me.

    “as if there SHOULD be this and or SHOULD be that in order to complete an essay…you have been listening to this rationale forever”

    I actually never listen to this rationale. I put in an essay what I feel should be in it. Yes, advice from others I respect, but definitely not some “newspaper” formula that you are referring to. And only once in my career did I have a photo held from publication due to content. When I was director of photography of a very liberal staff in a very conservative area at a paper run by conservatives, every photo I turned in for publication, with that one exception, was published. Advertisers never had an effect on my images being published.

    And correct me if I am wrong since I certainly do know every photo you have ever shot, but what pictures (other than ones showing something along the lines of nudity) that could not be published in a newspaper? Your not a war photographer so there is no blood and guts or famine in your work that I remember. Just trying to see how far the “revolutionary” in you has gone. (grin)

  • Ok everybody, just put the keyboards down and get back in your neat little boxes.

  • PETE…

    haven’t we done this a few times before??..laughing…

    elitist? oh Pete please….yea, i know we Magnum photogs are elitist…..do you not think we have heard that before?? …yawning…….at the same time that we “elitists” are fighting for photographers rights, doing more humanistic work than anyone and challenging the norms on a daily basis…..you know me…seem elitist to you??

    holding high standards that are found often unacceptable by the the established norm is not elitism, but representative of an acceptance of “fine work” that just might not be “establishment” work….not elitist, simply democratic….hence Burn…why i am here….and what does blood, guts, famine,etc have to do with anything we are discussing? we are discussing aesthetics ..and i wd not expect you to know my “blood, guts” work in Cambodia, Vietnam etc :) but the revolutionary part comes in the picture choices , the sequences , and the general vision of exactly what pictures are supposed to do from a variety of content…anyway, a longer discussion…

    but the point is back to your original comparison of one photog to another…and their respective styles and influences…look longer please…….again, Sarah’s work is really really good American style newspaper photojournalism…i think any contemporary international editor would say the same….and while you are looking longer , also please check out Krisanne Johnson below…

    i think i have told you i was on the Richmond Times Dispatch bowling team..got first place…have trophy to prove it…now THAT is elitist!!!

    cheers, david

  • MW…

    on my way…smiling…

    ahhhhh yes…nice n quiet in here….goodnight

    peace, david

  • ALL,

    please take a good look at this: http://www.magnumfoundation.org/emergencyfund and mostly see this,
    Krisanne Johnson’s “I Love You Real Fast” : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1611920404/i-love-you-real-fast

    please know that any support you give through the Magnum Cultural Foundation is always something that spins back to you…starting with the Inge Morath Award, our own Burn Emerging Photographer Fund, and linked above the Emergency Fund created and vigorously maintained by Susan Meiselas, the driving force behind the MCF…while Magnum is indeed a business set up to represent photographers to publishers, magazines, galleries etc., the MCF is really set up as Magnum’s truly altruistic wing…

    we raise funds because of our tax free status and in return we give those funds to photographers who have projects most deserving..these are photographers represented by any agency or perhaps with no agency…Magnum photographers care about legacy more than anything…and a clear part of our legacy will always be, and has always been, to help support the next generation in a variety of ways..particularly with a humanitarian cause….in any case, please look at this proposal …lots of small donations from here could put this over the top…one dollar from each of you would do it…no joke…be fun to see if we could make that happen…

    and please, the MCF website is still in beta, we welcome your ideas for improvement.


  • Good essay. I’m too tired to say more than that. Too tired to join the argument. Maybe because it is that time of year when the sun retreats so rapidly to the south. Just too tired to join the argument.

    Also, it inspired me. Inspired me to want to push myself harder, to do better, no matter how tired I grow, no matter how deep the darkness gets, no matter how the years pile on.

    Michelle, seeing what you did here has inspired me! Congratulations. You take big chances and convert them into something powerful and good. I hope to see more.

  • Why is there an explicit content message beneath the essay? I don’t recall having seen such. If it’s regarding the mother and child image, then it’s unfortunate that someone felt it should be there.

    Powerful work. And sad. What a tough existence these people must endure.

  • Thanks Paul. Like others, I too thought something was missing in this essay but planned to just keep quiet since I was unable to articulate it. But now I think I understand. This essay is all explicit content. What’s missing is implicit content.

  • PAUL…

    my mistake…forgot to remove the warning now removed…

    MW.. :)


    good argument…you made the case…

  • And yea, that’s me speaking from my neat little box. When it comes down to it, the lack of implicit content is my primary critique of just about all the quality photography that I find lacking. And I hate to go into the thorns, but it might be possible to generalize that the lack of implicit content is a distinguishing quality of newspaper photojournalism and that’s why I too saw this essay as a work in that genre. But I do realize that implicit content is the kind of thing most easy to miss so I hope it’s there and I’m just not seeing it. But even if that’s the case in this instance, it seems to me that too many photographers shoot as though they are working in a two dimensional medium, which need not be the case.

    And David, I’m sorry to contradict you but I think you are probably the most elitist person I’ve ever met in real life. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that I note when choosing essays to publish or students for your workshops, you don’t say you are looking for the common photographs or the common photographers. No, you are looking for the great ones. The elite.

    Unfortunately, due to crass political manipulators, the word “elitism” is now to often portrayed as synonymous with “snobbery.” That’s a pity. Their meanings are different. You are most certainly not a snob.

  • “i am NOT talking about the integrity of newspaper journalism…that part is fine….and yes Pomara,newspaper guy (mirrors your thinking)”–DAH

    Ouch!(smiling) I figured that 18 years away from newspaper work was enough to clear my system. Interesting observation.

    I still stand with the notion that the power of Michelle’s words form a framework for her visual narrative. I think this is a wonderful collection of images.

    I come to the BURN playground to expand my horizons and this place never fails to disappoint.

  • Ooops correct that last sentence. I am never disappointed by what I learn here.

    Thank you

  • MW…

    in that semantic sense of the word “elitist”, yes you are totally correct…it is unfortunately just a bad word that rightly or wrongly is often associated with a “snobbery”…

    you might want to go back in this thread because i think you might have missed the main point that has Pete and i arm wrestling (again)…we were talking about two women…next door neighbors by coincidence who have done two different style essays on the same subject…Michelle featured here, and Sarah Voisin, a Washington Post photographer…


    love you dude, but those two pics work perfectly together for me and not gratuitous use if in a book imo…at least not in a book i would like…..i think you have been “taught” that two pics of same person are “redundant” and in print would occupy more than their fair share of space…i might see it the same way IF print space were limited…but we are not limited here….but, in all fairness to you, i do not think we would necessarily like the same books, so again we are back to apples and oranges….we just do not share the same values/aesthetic…..again, you are not “wrong”…we probably just buy different books, appreciate different photographers, have different camera bags, choose different wines..i do not know…but on this sort of thing , we are at odds….always have been….no matter…i like you….you are a terrific man with a great sense of humor (in real life) and Jenny, bless her heart, is your greatest asset…so all in perspective amigo, all in perspective….

    cheers, david


    hey, was not being critical of you..nor even critical of American newspaper photojournalism…i am simply trying to differentiate between that and other forms of valid photo documentary that for me go way beyond….

  • Yes, I devoted quite a bit of time to that last night. I’m just coming at it from a slightly different angle. What, if anything, do the images imply? Great art typically has many layers of meaning.

  • PETE…MW…

    i have to run to airport…i would like to discuss with both of you , and with everyone, the best way to actually have a serious dialogue here…whatever we do does not work so well because it all gets lost …folks get confused……this has been the struggle for me all along with Burn….comments…and how to do it better….please just give me a few days at home to chill..i have been on a 6 week marathon of sorts, so i just need a few days of watching birds fly by…know what i mean? then let’s put our heads together and see what we can come up with…Pete, i will be in D.C. soonest, so no reason we cannot all get together there and Michael, back to nyc soonest as well…or you guys just figure it out, and i will go along….moderated discussion? no comments under essays? on topic discussion with time limit? anyway, think about it….

    cheers, david

  • I guess I just feel that one should not have to stare at an essay or photo to try and determine its meaning or implications. I prefer it to be very clear from the first view. Thats just me. I don’t think the photographer’s intent needs to be a puzzle to solve. The subject of the photos can surely provoke more introspection and discussion, but I prefer the photographer’s vision to be clear. Otherwise it seems to tell me that they are not clear on their own intent.

    Maybe in book form with more text and the photography taking on more of an illustrative purpose instead of being the centerpiece this work would make more sense to me. But as a stand-alone essay, I maintain that it comes up short. For instance if you took Nachtwey’s work on famine in Africa and displayed it with simple text at the beginning saying it was shot in Africa between years xxxx-xxxx, his work would not leave you asking too many questions. Same with his TB work. For that matter, DAH, you could take all the text out of Divided Soul and again just giving a short synopsis, and it stands on its own.

    And DAH, you say “who have done two different style essays on the same subject.” The only thing I see different in the styles, other than the format and B&W vs color, is that I feel images are missing. Both essays have the same types of photos if you look at them again.

    Also, yes I did forget about your Cambodia work. Would love to see it again and more since I think I have only seen an image or two. As for the discussion about “picture choices , the sequences , and the general vision of exactly what pictures are supposed to do from a variety of content… ” that would be interesting. Lets do it.

    Now, concerning the most IMPORTANT statement in one of your last posts…. Jenny is ready to take you to the mat on the bowling thing…. she has her own ball and shoes! HA

    Damn I wish that was a pool trophy…..

  • Reading the discussion about what an essay should be: I ask that all of you remember these are emerging photographers and their work being displayed here gives them a chance to have their work looked at with objective eyes. Totally objective since most people don’t know the commentators except through Burn. It also teaches me and lots of folks from what I’ve heard, about putting good essays together.

    I didn’t read the bio on this really–just skimmed the first paragraph. I am finding I like the essays without the verbiage, allowing me to draw my own conclusions. This essay represented the subject matter very well.

  • Although I’ve lived in the U.S. most of my life, culturally, I still feel like I’m from someplace else. I think one of the reasons I’ve spent the past 23 years living in and traveling to Central America is that it feels familiar to me. I get a sense of home when I’m there on a most visceral level. One thing I’ve noticed about the United States is we are basically isolationists politically and culturally. When HCB talked about the Decisive Moment, I wonder if he meant that for any given theme, subject matter, or story there are a multitude of parallel decisive moments that are valid can happily coexist. I seem to see this more in the work of non-U.S. photographers. The American interpretation, in my opinion translates to many photographers jostling and elbowing to get the best version of the one Decisive Moment.

    I’m not a big fan of delivering an explicit message as I feel it’s like wielding a blunt instrument. The themes I choose to photograph always revolve around protagonists that I identify and empathize with. They are like tragic heroes, the underdogs that I cheer for. I was bullied for years growing up, and when I hear the racist attacks on undocumented immigrants in our country, it sounds like a lot of bullying. I take pictures because it’s my way of fighting back, and probably as a way of overcompensating for being a total wuss as a kid. Illegal immigration to the United States is a current and hot topic. But for me, the story is an epic adventure tale and I think the Biblical implications are conveyed. I hope to elicit empathy, especially now at a time when so many of our fellow countrymen use the cross as if it were a cudgel.

  • Monkeypoint, I had this whole comment ready to post then chickened out. Maybe I will later. But wanted you to know I am very interested in what you are saying about American interpretation, etc.

  • “Illegal immigration to the United States is a current and hot topic. But for me, the story is an epic adventure tale”

    That is well put and a insightful way to look at illegal immigration. I agree.

  • DAH

    Check your email when you get the chance.

  • Good work Michelle, you are covering one of the epic stories of our time and such work will become historic. I see this work and I think “historic document” – in the best possible sense.You say this is a work-in-progress and I wish you well. Pete mentions that he does not get a “real feel for the danger”. I’m sure that danger is there and indeed it has been reported elsewhere, so perhaps your photographs show an empathy for your subjects: they are certainly relaxed and trusting in your company. Congratulations Michelle.

    I feel that the story of migration from the South Americas to the United States has the potential to produce a body of work to rival Sebastiao Salgado’s “Workers”. I would love to see work that joins up all of the threads of this epic story and one which puts names to faces and follows people from source to destination. I want to see where people come from and where they end up and what happens to them and their families back home. For Americans of any latitude it is, I believe, The Story.

    As for Pete and DAHs posts, they raise some interesting insights. I come here just to see great photography and dislike labels. That said I have seen a lot of photographs, mainly delivered to me through books and magazines simply because books and magazines were the only vehicles available. Now we have the Internet and we are no-longer limited in what we see (and show) by page space or picture editor.

    On the topic of moderated discussion, one comment or no comment etc. – I like to read the comments and I like to read the bounce between commentators. Sometimes the comments take on a life of their own and deviate from the work of the photographer. Sometimes a photographers style can provoke a debate that goes beyond the initial work shown and beyond even the photographer. In these cases I think that a separate thread should be set up to reflect that the subject of the comments have moved away from the initiating essay and have become more general. If this isn’t done the comments can seem like an attack on the photographer and, from what I see, they usually are not.

  • I like this soft and gentle approach,
    to such a harsh reality…
    #21 speaks volumes to me…..
    the struggle,
    the hope……
    the dream……

  • Maybe some of you need to put the camera away for 12 months and get on with looking and listening without being tethered to a box

  • For extended periods it is of greater value to talk to a person than take a photograph

  • continued……… here is an example why

    Give yourself that chance to see what is around from another perspective and live within it opposed to observe and record…. Better still sell your cameras and don’t own one.
    I spent 7 odd years in a straight stretch without owning a camera , created stone scapes and participated in creating large scale landscapes………… never took a shot, there was never any need it was all of a transitory immediate nature………then even the dry stone walls crumble.
    Bought a point and shoot camera about “98, shot rarely……. bought a DSLR in 2005 and a couple more since ….. selling them in 2010. I now own a few point and shoots and rarely shoot but still create a extensive image bank……….back to building stone wall.
    The best part is that photos are no longer for the future just stuff for the present easily discarded, not precious they create their own space and lose it just as quickly.

    Here people seem to value their role or career as a photographer above the image created……………….

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