lea meilandt – the maguires

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Lea Meilandt

The Maguires

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The number of poor families in the United States is growing rapidly these years. Unemployment and expensive housing makes it almost impossible for families all over the country to make ends meet and create a stable and safe everyday life.

The Maguire family from Boston is one of those families. They know what it is like to lose everything. For nearly a year Katie, Bill and their five kids lived in a shelter, after Bill lost his job and the family could no longer afford the expensive housing in the city. Now aided by the state of Massachusetts, the Maguires live in a small house in Medford, just outside Boston. But the family’s financial situation is still far from good. Bill’s new job barely pays for rent and food, and day care, with its extremely high cost, is out of the question. This means that Katie has to stay home all day with the kids, unable to work. The vulnerability of the economic situation has enormous impact on the Maguires. Katie and Bill are exhausted, they worry about loosing the house and they both suffer from low self esteem and anxiety. There is very little energy left for the children. Keeping the family happy and healthy seems an insurmountable challenge.

Portraying the Maguires is an ongoing project; the aim is to document the life of the family as it evolves over the years.
The project won a second prize in Danish POY and a third place in Winephoto 2010.


Lea Meilandt was born in Denmark in 1982. She studied photojournalism at the Danish School of Journalism and graduated in 2009. Since then she has worked as a freelance photographer based in Copenhagen – primarily working with long term projects on social issues.

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Lea Meilandt

219 Responses to “lea meilandt – the maguires”

  • Snapshot photography, despite the access. I think you could have found a more sympathetic family to photograph. Five kids. On purpose. Hmmmm.

  • short & straight to the point…flash frozen everything..no emotions…hmmm…
    u know what? i think i like it , coz it doesnt force me to take sides, there’s no hidden message..nice and simple:)

  • No emotions? Don’t agree.. works for me as a first chapter, eager to see how it evolves over time, the family as a whole, the situation..

  • I don’t like to comment on essays this early, so for now I won’t.

    And I don’t like to comment on other peoples’ comments so much either, but Jim is just so wrong on so many levels that I just can’t help it.

    1. Why would anyone want to see a sympathetic family? If we’re doing fund raising, fine, but presumably this is something more akin to photojournalism, where we should be wanting to see a real family, warts and deviations from the stereotype and all.

    and 2. If you can’t find it in your heart to have any sympathy for that family, you may just have a problem. Even if you can’t bring yourself to feel anything for adults who make poor life choices, you are aware that when a couple has five children that there are five children involved?

  • Seriously?

    “I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don’t care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the center.

    Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don’t get it. They respect their work because they are told by respectable institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious.

    The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word ‘snapshot’. Ignorance can always be covered by ‘snapshot’. The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious.”

    -William Eggleston

  • As much as it pains me to admit it… Jim is right.

    What I want to know is just how long mediocre SNAPSHOTS are going to be considered art or photojournalism or whatever label someone wants to put on it. There is nothing here that anyone with a point and shoot could not have taken.

    I do not mean to slam Lea or any other photographers that produce this kind of work. If they are offering up here and leave the comments open, I assume that they want to hear both sides, the good and the bad, whether they agree or not. And of course they don’t have to.

    I do mean to slam the glorification of what I and I am sure many other find as amateurish and snapshotty. I respect DAH and his ability to find something of value in whatever he is looking at. I saw it in his workshops. No matter how bad something that one of his students may had shot, he tries to find something good in it. And I am not necessarily saying that there is nothing good about this. But sometimes there needs to be some tough love.

    There are those who would say that there should be no rules and that there is no such thing as “too loose.” Personally I think that is the last refuge of the truly untalented.

    Just my opinion though. I am sure others will love it, calling it raw and undisciplined and Bob Black or someone will put together some epic and extended appreciation about how this reminds them of whatever.

    I will say this though… It certainly hit an emotional chord.

  • Haha, it’s always fun to see the range of comments on Burn work. And I’m sure this one will continue to get even more interesting, but I’ll chip in now with my thoughts (I need a break from website tweaking).

    First up, does it tell the story? Well, yeah, it does. All the “stock shots” are there. I mean no offence here, just you have the standard images of a poor family, landscape image of their surroundings, etc. That needs to be done to tell the story. So the basic job is done. I’m not sure image 7 is needed for this. It’s a nice image, it just doesn’t really add anything to the story.

    But I think the essay is ridiculously thin on images. And this costs the story-telling involved. With so few images, the most that can be done is the stock shots and a couple of others that dig a little deeper. I’m not averse to large sets of images and, I’m not gonna say everything should be 180-page photobook length, but the fewer the images, the more likely they are to become cliched. I know why there had to be a “surroundings image” in here, but it did nothing for me that my imagination wasn’t already doing from reading the text. I’m not a big fan of people chasing the notion of “that one image that says everything about the subject” – damn, we’re either gonna be photographing some pretty vacuous subjects then, or doing a very cliched job of it with far more complex and interesting ones. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more visual digging to be done into this essay’s subjects (in the wider sense – the phenomenon of economic crises, not just these specific people), and I’m also pretty sure that it’s gonna take a longer essay than this to achieve that, regardless of who the photographer is (pretty much).

    I know, I know, it’s a work in progress, but I do wonder why it was posted so early, and with so few images in it so far. Makes it hard to give feedback in a constructive way. A lot of the criticism I have is that it isn’t complete. There’s not a great deal to offer beyond that.

    But I have to say that images 6 and 8 slam it. Particularly so with Image 8. Image 6 reminds me of so many childhood moments in friends’ houses. The naked torsos and dirty socks say it all. Much more powerful than the portrait shots. Image 8 just works on so many levels. I love the shoe being there, being almost the same size as the kid’s body – like a nod to the cycle continuing in the future (and as we all know, economic cycles mean the next recession is only a matter of time away…). And the kid sleeping/lying down on the dirty clothes – speaks both to poverty of the situation and the sense of the kid finding a place to relax in a commercialised world. There’s something about that image that just does everything it needs to do. And it looks relaxed and uncontrived.

    Deffo keep those two images, but I’d be looking to can as many of the other images as possible during the course of continuing this project – may just be my tastes, but I find them too cliche and this topic goes much much deeper than that.

    As for the technique of the essay? The flash and “snapshot aesthetic”? I have no qualms with it in general. I’m sure there are places where it not only works but makes the piece – Shore’s project springs to mind. But here I’m getting nothing from it – it neither adds nor detracts. It’s just there. If I wanted to reach and also be cynical, I’d consider if Lea used it to “blend in” with their surroundings, give the impression that she is part of the surroundings she’s photographing. I don’t think so, though. If I did, I doubt I’d be impressed with it as a technique. Those connotations have been broken by it being taken up by the “art world”.

    On the whole, what I’ve seen feels quite detached from the family being photographed. But at times that really works, Images 6 & 8 are really more poetic and don’t need that strong connection. I am having a hard time judging the series given how few images there are; I need more in this series for it to work.

  • Snapshots?

    These are not “snapshots.” On the surface, they have the technical aura of snapshots, but each photo makes a strong statement about the subject. As to the technical aura, it is just an aura that one might imagine could be found in the subjects’ own scrapbooks, but looks a great deal deeper into them than their own snapshots would likely do.

    As to “snapshots,” I have spent a significant amount of time paging through the scrapbooks of people who have hosted me in my travels and among those snapshots I have found some photographic gems.

  • Lea
    Congratulations on being published here.

    Good work, good vision, good access, biting my tongue along with the others here. OK then, whew..

  • The 2 eldest kids are juts gorgeous children (not that the babies may not be in time too). I hope these kids will learn something from the dire straits life they’ve been dealt with,and if they do, this is one the best country to lift yourself up, as long as you figure out fate is just another 4 letter word.

    I have to say the few pictures here do introduce and depict this family, Lea’s subject that is, very well. If only mere snapshots can do that enough, then I see no problem with it.

  • Pete,

    Six paragraphs and you didn’t actually say anything about the photography except that you agree with Jim.

    “Too loose.” I’d love to hear what too loose is, especially in regards to the essay. They seem pretty deliberately framed in my opinion. You know, like snapshots, the most deliberately composed pictures made. Is it the aesthetic that bothers you, or something else? Confused.

  • Jared, actually 7 paragraphs…lol…

  • Pete, now really, why u being so mean??? with the essay here? tough love? cmon man, thats cop talk :(

  • and i stated my statement above under the knowledge that i might be accused if not for being Bellicose, but..but being Jingoistic? well the latter, for sure :(

  • And I apologise if any of my earlier post sounded blunt – it wasn’t meant to be, but I really was on respite from website tweaking and was trying to comment while not over-running my break too much. I may also be in hyper-critical mode right now for that same reason. But I stand by all I said, if not quite how I said it.

  • And I apologise if any of my earlier post sounded blunt –
    Framers Intent
    no no…u always sound cool, dont worry..keep on keeping on..;)

  • This sorta fills in blanks about stuff we already know………….. maybe photography should strive to go beyond just that.

  • Sorry, what does ‘tough love’ mean? I do know the two words, but not the meaning of the expression as a whole..

  • Eva, tough love is being cruel to be kind e.g. when Pete says that David in his workshops “No matter how bad something that one of his students may had shot, he tries to find something good in it. And I am not necessarily saying that there is nothing good about this.” – the opposite of what David does could be considered tough love.


  • some quotes from the net
    tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run. The phrase was evidently coined by Bill Milliken when he wrote the book Tough Love in 1968 and has been used by numerous authors since then.

    The use of strict disciplinary measures and limitations on freedoms or privileges, as by a parent or guardian, as a means of fostering responsibility and expressing care or concern.

  • Mike, Imants.. thanks!

  • Lea, firstly congrats for being published.
    With your essay, you took up a very difficult topic. You can see it on television quite often, at least in Germany, there are some books already about similar stories. This means the bar is quite high already.
    You say, the story continues. This is good. You are at the beginning.
    In my mind come essays/books like “Tell it like it is” by David Alan Harvey, “Dorcester Days” by Eugene Richards, “Tulsa” by Larry Clark, which have similar themes.
    Actually, try to get beyond what already exists. That makes it really difficult, but I am sure you can make it. Find those pictures which go beyond the expectations, find those which are really symbolic.

    You have a good start.

  • has the look of wapplingtons ‘living room’, yet without (so far) the deep love and sheer fun expressed by that family and caught by nick..

    does this respect the family? go beyond the obvious? help them in any way shape or form?

  • i mean to say – sleeping.. dirty feet.. yawning.. yes – it tells me the family is tired..
    the house is a mess..
    it’s a busy life

    the thing is that there are contradictions here which make me feel uncomfortable.. not least the fact you only have nine photo thus far and are already throwing the tired / lazy / poor / dirty family around the photo-world competitions..

  • “Even if you can’t bring yourself to feel anything for adults who make poor life choices, you are aware that when a couple has five children that there are five children involved?”

    Well, it’s certainly easier to find people who make poor life choices that in up in this families situation than those who make good ones.

    As for the children…I’m sick to death of hearing the phrase “do it for the children.” In Texas, making babies is the ticket to welfare, medicaid and the WIC program. It’s a life strategy for millions of people here. I’ve done a number of stories on this over the years. You need another baby every couple of years to really keep the money benefits flowing. There are women who run informal classes in their homes teaching teenage girls how to work the system, provide them with the paperwork, teach them how to space out the kids (you must not marry the father or it messes things up), to keep maximum benefits flowing.

    Any time someone uses the phrase, “do it for the kids,” it means they want to raise my taxes to support someone else’s children. I chose not to have kids and I don’t want to pay women to reproduce.

    It would be much more interesting to see an essay on a family who made all the right choices and ended up in this situation than this essay. It’s easy to screw up your life making bad choices.

  • the whole “snapshot” conversation is a distraction and irrelevant.. talking about the window frame rather than whats through the window..
    stylistically the technique is fine..
    i want to see the content expand to the point it surprises me.. and hopefully that’s going to happen..

    good luck.

  • jim – your perspective is one held by many.. my parents used to speak similarly of the benefit system in the uk.. of course some people work it.

    one of the contradictions i mentioned which makes me uncomfortable relates in a way to what you are saying..
    the work invites us to judge.. the text tells us one thing, and then the photos try to back that up, while also giving us an “unspoken” opportunity to judge – which none of us, not even you jim, have the right to… it makes me concerned with the photographers real perspective, once the text has been angled towards “innocent victims”.

    wapplingtons family in the UK is very busy.. very poor.. tired.. hard working.. all the things many families are – yet his work is marked out for the utter LOVE and connectivity between the subjects.. it surprizes us because it elevates the subject above the obvious perspective – which respectfully i see as your perspective jim.. and as i mentioned.. with this edit i can understand why you express it jim..
    perhaps the photos invite it..

    anyway.. one of my fav wapplington shots.

  • In six months time I will post a question asking ‘who are the maguires?’
    99.9% of you will not remember. Its just another bunch of pictures about another family, to be consumed.
    meanwhile words like ‘care’ are bandied about. Do you really care? enough to get off your backside and go do something about it? Or just saying that you do, telling yourself you do, makes you feel better about YOURSELF?. Better about vouyering in on someone elses hard times.

    “Well what about you john?”…….Well, I dont give a rats arse about them. Dont care one bit. Because the things that I care about I do something about. All thats in my power. They need it and I got it, they get it. Simple. I dont spray the word around as an abstract. And I dont use words that have no meaning if they are just SAID.


  • “Because the things that I care about I do something about.”

    you do john g – no question.

  • As much as I enjoy this essay as misanthrope bait, I find it terribly lacking as photojournalism. It tells us next to nothing about poverty in America in general and even less about the Maguires in particular. And the snapshot aesthetic gives it more the look of a field trip to the zoo than any serious journalistic attempt to bring knowledge and understanding about peoples’ lives or the societal forces that help shape them.

    I think it’s great that non-Americans are interested in this kind of socio-anthropolical work on our shores, but it needs to be significantly deeper than this to make an impact, either visually in the short term or policy-wise in the big picture. That’s unfortunate because there is so much there to be understood.

  • “And the snapshot aesthetic gives it more the look of a field trip to the zoo”

    Yes! That’s what this reminds me of. Good observation. Snapshots in a zoo.

  • “I think it’s great that non-Americans are interested in this kind of socio-anthropolical work on our shores,”

    get used to it..
    africa and india are passe’ for contemporary upstarts..
    next up – male circumcision and religious fundamentalism.. teen sacrifices to the god of “freedom”..
    corruption, the far right and civil unrest.. and povertypovertypoverty.

  • @LEA: Love last shot (or snapshot). Powerful! even the liitle baby is watching the stupid box…

  • get used to it..

    Oh, I wasn’t being snarky. Can’t tell you how much I’d like to see an Amazonian tribesperson’s take on wealth and poverty in America.

  • not sure about the no money for food part

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    This is the first work I’ve seen on burn that made me curious to wonder what the subjects themselves would think of the way they were portrayed.

    Just curious, Lea, have you shown them any of your photographs? And if you have, could you share any reactions?


  • Life in the United States as seen through the eyes of a visitor, very interesting.

    I seem to recall a gentleman from Switzerland coming to the States in the 1950s and photographing his view. A lot of Americans didn’t like the way he looked at life in the USA back then either. His views were a bit too frank for their liking.

  • Well I find the whole story very sad. Try living in a shelter for a year with five kids… it’s difficult enough living at home with two. How many of us have ever experienced “job barely pays for rent and food” that can’t be a very nice either…
    Well the snapshot aesthetic doesn’t bother me at all as long as it get’s the point across, which it does seem to. I just hope Lea keeps on with this and manages to produce a good essay.
    But John Gladdy is totally and utterly right…

  • I’m left wondering if it has ever happened to any of you that after having seen an essay online, a docu on TV, heard a story on the radio, have taken action and done something…

  • I was too pissed off last night to post a reply, which is probably a good thing. Writing While Ballistic, I channel my dad’s Hungarian temper and it’s hard to find the off switch. Honestly, I don’t know what I think of the essay, other than it’s a good start to a work in progress. Whether you give a crap about the Maguires or not, Lea is creating a personal vignette with this family, giving us a window into the drab lives of the American poor: those permanently relegated to the cul-du-sac of Foreclosed America. Life is dismal. People make poor choices. Diets are rich in carbs and trans fatty acids. Paychecks barely cover rent, let alone body hair removal. Children seem condemned to repeat the pattern. Some like to point out that the story is cliché. In a world where the photographer-to-issue ratio is 500 to 1, what isn’t a cliché at this point? What subject, theme or issue hasn’t been examined or Kickstarted? Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue, plus 500 photographers. Others complain about the light – the use of on-camera flash, making the photos look like snapshots. Now y’all, take a five minute break and jump on Facebook. Mouse around your non-photo friends photos: crime scene lighting, person or people grinning into the camera holding beers or sitting around a table, eating, or out on the street wearing bat hoodies. Aside from the point-and-shoot bad light generated Pop Tart photos, there is the shared attitude of snap shot takers and subjects that the camera is a gadget for which one performs. Yes, Lea is using on-camera flash. There is a balance between ambient and flash that is less harsh, less Gilden-Fink-Weege-like than the previous essay. It gives the photos a washed out, deadpan look that helps create mood and matches the shellshocked look of the Maguires-as if they are eternally puzzling out how to exit this state of purgatory, or find their way from Textiles to Marketplace in an Ikea where the yellow lines have been obliterated and the restaurant is out of Lingonberries. Either way, to me, it’s obvious that the on-camera flash was a conscious aesthetic decision on Lea’s part. labeling them as “snapshots” is dismissive and syllogistic (on-camera flash + subjet = snapshot). I don’t know if Lea plans on sticking with the Maguires or moving on to something else. If the entire take got whittled down to image number 2, it would be worth the time Lea’s invested in the project. It’s a beautiful picture. It might not win an NPPA clip contest (half the girl’s face would need to be covered in acid burn scars, or something dramatic in order to register). But it is subtle and poignant, conveying a world of hurt with a measure of disturbing sensuality. Pete, you toss around words like “mediocrity” and “untalented” like rice at a wedding – a bit too casually, and from what I’ve seen of your work, without ANY authority. Have you ever participated in one of David’s workshops or submitted your own stories to Burn?

  • “How many of us have ever experienced “job barely pays for rent and food” that can’t be a very nice either…”

    .. probably quite a few :o)

  • Congratulations Lea on being published!

    photograph #2 just broke my heart, especially when paired with #7…..

    my only ‘need’ as a viewer is to see more of this story, as 9 pics just ‘opens the door’ and maybe my need (our collective need) is to be invited to sit down, but that is always more of our own selfish, implacable need to ‘get more intimate/have more’….so, that caveat always comes with reservation….i promise to write more later tonight

    as for jim/pete

    yea, i do have lots to say Pete, but i’m so shocked at what you have written that I’m afraid that what I have to say will be a distraction on the focus on the work…..and by the way, if you think for 1 moment that anything i’ve contributed here in the last 2 1/2 years is simply about being nice for nice sake or simply an aggrandizing sense of meriting work on it’s conjuring up other work, you’re sadly mistaken…

    need some air, so will simply say this:



  • There are so many hot button issues here I’m not sure I can even count them all and Lea is juggling them like daggers. Can’t wait to see the completed project. Congratulations.

  • Lea,

    Good start on what I am sure is a difficult project. 2, 7, and 9 really work for me. I think you should try for a stronger backyard shot, however. That to me seems the weakest of the bunch. But important to show.

    Good luck.

  • Oh, come on Monkeypoint. Millions of Americans bought houses they knew they could not afford for no money down and then used them as piggybanks. They had kids they knew they couldn’t afford believing that food stamps and medicaid would always be there to fill the gaps. They bought cars and boats and big screen TV’s on credit, knowing that with those house notes they couldn’t afford they could never pay back those credit cards. And they believed their jobs would never go away and they would get big raises every year.

    Then it all went to crap and they ended up on the street. Your expressions of righteousness indignation are pretty hollow. What reaction would you expect still another photo essay on bad choices to illicit? Do you advocate socialism? The welfare system “saved” this family.

  • David Bowen:
    my parents used to speak similarly of the benefit system in the uk..
    Everyone in any western country, knowing that they basically work not just for their own family, but also a couple others, think alike, David.

    Incidentally, my Mom would think (like me) of the children first, because no one asks to be put in that kind of environment (amd you are right that the essay could put the parents in problem, they call child protecting services in SF for a lot less than that mess the baby is crawling around), and when I once lamented about some people having been dealt an unlucky fate, she said “how come some work their way out of it, then, while the others don’t”.

    See, my Mom starved during WW2, had to deal with danger, german curfew, to go get food, so sometimes, despite all the traveling I have done, the top education, Mother knows best. Mind you, still the way it works around the world. India, Burma, Cambodia, even Thailand, if you expect someone else to pick up your burden, solve your problems (even those not of your own making), you die. As simple as that.

  • I keep forgetting Jim Powers is from Texas. Explains soooo much! Haha.

  • Kurt:
    A lot of Americans
    Out on a limb: not that many. it was published in France first. And the literary critics establishment (elite?) does not represent “a lot of” americans. Though it is interesting to ask ourselves how americans looked at pictures with an uneasy reading, society wise, back then. Would/did they really have identified, individually, with anything in the frame? Would/did they give a fuck? Just a bunch of pictures (as Lea’s dad would say!)?

  • Dont mess with Texas please:)

    on a funny note:)
    irrelevant…worst viral video ever?

  • The welfare system “saved” this family.
    from a more abject “fate”, absolutely. and it will always do. Might even save the children from their parents, though I must not read in the pictures what I am afraid to read. That the parents may not be that much older, in truth, than their children to be able to raise some. I know, I am a child and therefore, I have none! :-)

  • David found the right essays to keep BURN, the inside BURN, going while being absent. I was not so sure of it when he flew to Rio…. Kudos!

  • To be clear. The subject matter of this project IS worthy and this can be a good story. The CONTENT of the images are also fine. Yes it is hard not to be moved by the content. But what ever happened to actually crafting a photograph instead of just looking through the viewfinder and pressing the shutter. I am sorry, the approach of “this moves me, so i will record it” is not enough. Photography, like writing or painting, is definitely something that anyone can do. But not everyone can do it well.

    I want to take a minute here to say that I am NOT implying that Lea is not talented. She may very well be. I am just not seeing it in this work. Unfortunately there is no more work on her site to look at.

    The images here are all dead center in the frame and hit with flash, except of course the backyard shot – which again is just a snapshot. Make it interesting, put someone or something in the foreground, shoot it out of a dirty window or something. There also needs to some attempt at composing. Again, everything is in the center. Use the frame and observe.


    “if you think for 1 moment that anything i’ve contributed here in the last 2 1/2 years is simply about being nice for nice sake or simply an aggrandizing sense of meriting work on it’s conjuring up other work, you’re sadly mistaken…”

    No Bob that is not what I think of your essays.


    Being familiar with your work, I would think you could recognize a “snapshot” when you saw one.

    “Either way, to me, it’s obvious that the on-camera flash was a conscious aesthetic decision on Lea’s part.”

    How do you know this? There is no other work on her site to help you come to this conclusion. All you have is what you see. How do you know that it is not just inexperience? And that is not a bad word. We were all there at some point.

    As for my “authority” to critique a photographer’s work, I would say that 20+ years of being a working photojournalist for newspapers, magazines and wire services as well as the somewhat questionable value in 100+ photography awards might make my opinion worth something. Maybe not, but if that is the case, probably neither is yours.

    We all have opinions and likes and dislikes when it comes to styles. I never said that Lea or anyone else here was supposed to agree. Maybe she will take something from all this and maybe not. It may not even matter.

    Maybe she WILL be another Weegee or Fink (the difference with her style and what makes Fink’s images “work” is that his images are actually composed.), maybe not. Besides, does anyone actually want to be another Weegee or Fink? Do we need another?


    “As much as I enjoy this essay as misanthrope bait, I find it TERRIBLY LACKING AS PHOTOJOURNALISM It tells us next to nothing about poverty in America in general and even less about the Maguires in particular. And the SNAPSHOT AESTHETIC gives it more the LOOK OF A FIELD TRIP TO THE ZOO THAN ANY SERIOUS JOUNALISTIC ATTEMPT to bring knowledge and understanding about peoples’ lives or the societal forces that help shape them.” (CAPS ARE MINE FOR EMPHASIS)

    This is a prefect example of how some can and some can’t. Michael was much more eloquent and articulate that I was. This is why I am not a writer, of which my wife continually reminds me.

    And in closing, I just saw Jim’s last comment. And I do want to say again for the record that I do NOT agree with him on the subject matter. I am only talking about technique. The story is a good one, and I hope Lea continues. It is just my opinion. It is her vision.

  • Herve..

    “India, Burma, Cambodia, even Thailand, if you expect someone else to pick up your burden, solve your problems (even those not of your own making), you die. As simple as that.”

    Most probably.. but Western countries lack something that in other countries still works (granted, not everywhere, not for everyone), that’s family. Not only parents and kids, but more extended family, as a very small society within society.

  • “Millions of Americans bought houses they knew they could not afford for no money down and then used them as piggybanks. They had kids they knew they couldn’t afford believing that food stamps and medicaid would always be there to fill the gaps. They bought cars and boats and big screen TV’s on credit, knowing that with those house notes they couldn’t afford they could never pay back those credit cards.”

    Haha! Yeah, right.

    Working class, lower income folks, uneducated or poorly educated, knowing little about finance, the economy, mortgages, etc… they are taken advantage of, encouraged/suckered into buying houses at insanely inflated prices with no money down by sociopathic lenders who did know better. Yeah, it’s all they’re fault. Such an empathetic person you are, Jim.

  • …lower income folks, uneducated or poorly educated…encouraged/suckered into buying houses at insanely inflated prices with no money down by sociopathic lenders who did know better

    very very very very true:(
    (lenders knew..oh yes they did know;(

  • Exactly thank you very very much Michael Kircher!
    Can anyone imagine Jim Powers working on Suicide Hotline!

  • Can anyone imagine Jim Powers working on Suicide Hotline!

    Eva, absolutely true, in a way, the welfare system replaces at times the family around here. though I still find France (Europe) still quite family-centric, compared to USA.

    In Thailand, this past winter, they were starting to have op-eds discussion/articles about Thailand becoming a, vade retro Satanas!, nanny state, like some timid welfare schemes (hand-outs, for cons) for people who make ONLY 2 or 300$ a month (not much, even in thailand)…

  • “Yeah, it’s all they’re fault. Such an empathetic person you are, Jim.”

    Yeah, we’re all victims and the government owes us a living. Good luck with that.

  • Also, Eva, even with families around, a lot of people do run deep in debt when something like the Fall-out the Maguirres (why do I think we are about to hear from them here?) experience, happens. Sickness of a member, especially, has a lot of direct kins going into the (deep) red. Not to mention, numbers hard to pinpoint, daughters/mothers (some sons even) becoming prostitutes to raise cash, or simply make do.

  • Good luck with that.
    Been working so far! :-)))

  • Straw man, Jim. That made no sense whatsoever. But then again, you make no sense regularly.

    Blame the weak and the poor for all societies ills, (not to mention, deep down, your own problems)… the default position for white conservatives throughout the U.S. The powerful, wealthy, sociopathic, laissez faire capitalist douche-bags who actually can and do effect the economy with their actions? Nah… man, they’re good! Don’t beat up on them! Right?!

  • Herve.. true, esp. in a country with a healthcare system like the US (am not that well informed, but know it’s completely different from Italy’s).. and education plays a huge role also. To live in poverty, when you have nothing and nothing is available is different than being poor but having a credit/debit card and not knowing how to handle it.. also wouldn’t be surprised depression is at play here, in this specific case.. could be wrong though..

  • Lea, congratulations on being published here. I hope you continue to follow your own heart on this work, and not let the debates sour your vision. If you believe it, then it is yours and yours alone, and that I think is often the hardest to achieve. But I suspect you already know all this. Rock on. :))

  • Jim: actually, I wasn’t having a liberal outburst (I save those for Facebook :) ). My comments weren’t based on Let’s Breast Feed the World sentiment. I’m not advocating for a welfare state (not here), or god forbid-how about condoms in every elementary school vending machine, or drive-through abortion clinics where you can get your oil changed while that unwanted pregnancy is elegantly terminated, or the funding of an education system acknowledging that dinosaurs roamed the earth more than a couple hundred years ago, or Federally-funded Intervention clinics for people whose minds have undergone the corrosive effects of mega church Evangelical Christianity. The Maguires is like watching an episode of Intervention: you get to be a voyeur to lives unraveling. The style is straight-forward and not emotionally manipulative. Still, every once in a while, beyond the purely voyeuristic appeal, there are moments in which it’s impossible not to feel some empathy for the people involved. I think Lea’s use of on-camera flash is deliberate. It creates a sense of detachment and presents us with a bleak, unsentimental portrait. And yet, that first picture, in spite of the flat light and the back fat and bad tattoos and the paunch of the hirsute dad and the doomed lives and poor choices the poor make, it is a tender image – more so because Lea isn’t strong-arming us into rooting for them.

    When non-photographers show me their photos – two-dimensional facsimiles of people with objects and props, I assume they used their Sureshot in auto mode and blasted flash when the camera sensed low light. Also because in amateur photography with the point-and-shoot cameras set at f/8, there is the telltale 20 stop difference between ambient and flash. I attribute this to inexperience. With a professional photographer, or even a student photographer, I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they know the difference between good light and bad, but have decided to use that look for affect. This reminds me somewhat of the discussion about the use of the Hipstamatic app for the essay on Libya, where a bunch of people had their knickers in a twist over the cliché aspect and the overuse of the app. Yes, everybody is shooting everything with that app, relying on schtick to compensate for lack of originality. Does that invalidate its use entirely or can it also be true that once in a blue moon, despite the overuse or misuse, it actually works? You can marry the subject matter to the look. The two are inextricably linked. I think the story and content ARE up for debate, or at the very least, up for discussion. It is valid to ask, do we need to see another study in misery and poverty degradation? Did the snapshot aesthetic, as Mike Webster called it work or not? This is different from dismissing the pictures as snapshots, describing the work as mediocre and calling the photographer untalented. This may be your idea of tough love, but not what I would imagine to be a very successful mentorship business model (see drill sergeant -turned therapist Geiko commercial). Then you suggest she shoot through a dirty window or something, to make the composition more interesting-exactly the advice you would give to a newspaper photographer tasked with five bangers a day. How to run in and out of that school council hearing and work the shadow of the podium into the frame, taking something utterly meaningless and making it visually striking – all of it delivered with the authority of an escaped NPPA Grand Puba ombudsman from a Flying Northern Shortcourse convention.

  • Maybe the Monkey has a point valid? well that’s up for debate

  • The positive is that the debate overpowers the photos which have run their use by date.

  • Michelle

    There is no balance between the ambient light and the flash. It is all flash. It is lighting up the whole damn room and overpowering the ambient light.

    The advice to make the image more interesting was to include more of a sense of place. I would like to see more complex composition here. Layering.

    This has nothing to do with newspaper photography. This has to do with photojournalism. This has to do with creating images. That is what we do.

    And as I said in the second post. I am NOT calling the photographer untalented. Obviously some people here are only reading what they want to read. The exact quote was…

    “I want to take a minute here to say that I am NOT implying that Lea is not talented. She may very well be. I am just not seeing it in this work. Unfortunately there is no more work on her site to look at.”

    And remembering our last conversation on BURN, it seem you have some seriously unresolved issues with newspapers and the NPPA.

    My goal is to comment on the pictures not the photographer. I know nothing about them except what I see presented to me in their work. I make no assumptions about who they are. If I do not like the work, this is my prerogative just as it is yours to feel the way you will about it.

    In the grand scheme, there probably is no right or wrong way to feel about it. It is all personal opinion. It is up to Lea to decide how she feels about what is being said and take what she will from it and move forward. I assume she left the comments open to hear what people would say. If she or anyone who is published here with comments open and only expects to hear “Congratulations for being published here,” or “wonderful work” then that is a waste of an opportunity to learn.

    I was not personally attacking her. If it came across that way, I do apologize to her. It is beyond me why you are personally attacking me.

  • I went back to look at the conversation that I had with you when your essay was published here. Specifically the part about your meeting with an editor at the Washington Post. The meeting where he said that you would not be happy there because of the way you like to shoot.

    Now I understand that he did not hate your work, and was not confrontational (at least from what I understood). But he was telling you it probably would not work. I thought that was a bit sad since I think your style could fit in a newspaper world.

    Anyway, your response back was:

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

    Now granted my delivery is different from his, but I am just being honest about what I think.

  • Sorry, that last post was directed at Michelle.

  • Pete, you backpedaled in your second comment. It was fairly clear in your first comment that you thought the photos were mediocre snapshots. The last refuge of the untalented.

    You’re probably right though. I have unresolved issues or PTSD or something. I came out of that NPPA background-a product of the journalism school model, confusing indoctrination with education. I underwent a mental colonic and now I tend to overreact, like someone who having spent a number of years in a cult, goes a little berserk after they’ve left the compound.

    OK, truce and peace out. I have a mountain of non-peak action negatives to scan.

  • Maybe I am speaking a foreign language or maybe I am just not articulating properly….

    I do not mean to suggest that Lea is not talented. I cannot, and nobody else should, make that determination from 9 images on the same subject. Maybe it is not anyones place to say that.

    BUT. YES I did say and I maintain that I think those images are mediocre snapshots.

  • Few topics arouse as much controversy on Burn as this one — the poor. Why do we hate the poor?


    AMEN, my friend….


    indupitably! :))

    promise to weigh in sometime….somehow, today, i wish instead to talk about something other than pictures, so winging on the words of preston, some poetry….something, which to me, must replace a fuel-scamper of a comment (yea, been drinking while watching tsai ming-liang) with a man who understood this blossom of life, this wilding of death, this precious life, including the luminous ache of the poor, the same ache that fuels your tv-scattered, podium-pricked up eyes…

    so this, then

    for The Macguires…and each of y’all….


    I was only a young man
    In those days. On that evening
    The cold was so God damned
    Bitter there was nothing.
    Nothing. I was in trouble
    With a woman, and there was nothing
    There but me and dead snow.

    I stood on the street corner
    In Minneapolis, lashed
    This way and that.
    Wind rose from some pit,
    Hunting me.
    Another bus to Saint Paul
    Would arrive in three hours,
    If I was lucky.

    Then the young Sioux
    Loomed beside me, his scars
    Were just my age.

    Ain’t got no bus here
    A long time, he said.
    You got enough money
    To get home on?

    What did they do
    To your hand? I answered.
    He raised up his hook into the terrible starlight
    And slashed the wind.

    Oh, that? he said.
    I had a bad time with a woman. Here,
    You take this.

    Did you ever feel a man hold
    Sixty-five cents
    In a hook,
    And place it
    In your freezing hand?

    I took it.
    It wasn’t the money I needed.
    But I took it.

    –James Wright

  • Why do we hate the poor?

    because we’ d hate to be, ourselves? ;-)

    PS: not that I hate the poor myself, and come to think of it, probably no one here would raise in defense of the filthy rich if an essay was featured here, about it/them. IMO

  • “Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.” – Garry Winogrand

    There doesn’t exist for us in nature any time where light illuminating an object comes from ourselves. At the very best when we are between the light source and the object of our viewing consideration, a protective shadow is cast. Can it be no wonder then, that when we view an image made with light coming straight – or at least as close as dammit – from the camera, the distortion of reality it causes creates an anxiety on viewing the camera plane? And, if we accept this to be the case, then can we not use this anxiety producing technique as part of a photographic story-telling? In this particular essay, would we view it with such discontent as is exhibited, if the lighting was done any…other…way?

    Let’s ask Martin Parr.

  • I see a TV remote on the table in the last photo, a printer in the background (I assume that means they have a computer). That’s only “poor” by US standards.

  • Happy family, gorgeous kids, it seems parents eat well… even in the pictures you can see their stomachs are full of food… they are a little bit sad, because their neighbor has better car and better paid job… OK, who cares outside of their house about this poorly photographed mediocre family and their daily routine… well, it seems some people do:)… With big respect to all the people involved in this “art” project…

  • Jeff

    ” then can we not use this anxiety producing technique as part of a photographic story-telling?”

    Your post brought a thought to mind. Speaking entirely from a photojournalistic standpoint, where we as photojournalists are not supposed to alter or affect the scene, does using light such as this become an ethical question?

    I am not talking about using flash to light a scene that otherwise could not be shot, although with the current technology and the ability to shoot at 25,000 iso, this may not be as much an issue. I am taking about using as a tool of producing the anxiety you mention.

    Just thinking out loud. Sounds like a discussion best suited for a bunch of people around a table with a shitload of wine….

  • Pete (OK I’ve had some wine)

    Yes, these days flash is an aesthetic choice. Kinda grim and un-sympathetic. Yes, while it implies snapshot..an un-sophisticated direct and naive view, this is not an un-sophisticated look.

    Being poor in America means you drive an old car, eat a lot of junk food, and watch a lot of TV. You likely also smoke and drink. Not the same as being poor in Bangladesh.
    My far left wing hippy wife looked at this essay, and listened to me read some of the comments, and I gotta tell ya she identified more with Jim Powers comments than the rest. C’mon, five kids? Hey, we know what causes pregnacy and there is technology to prevent it. Too easy to blame it all on the corperate elite than utter stupidity.

    The pictures? Powerful. The message?..

  • Pete:

    Maybe wine IS needed for this discussion. If so, it should be held at party centre under “Dialogue”. Debate under these essays – like the Canadian Senate – should be held befitting the decorum of the chambers of sober second thought! ;)

    I know there are strict guidelines regarding the manipulation of photographs for journalistic media; the general principle that what could be done with film is only that which can be done with digital for instance. Dodging and burning, yes; masking and cloning, no. Since flash was used before, it can be used now.

    But I think you are discussing the use of technique as a way to editorialize, right? Have you read Ken Light’s “Witness In Our Time”? He has several photojournalists write about their experiences, and in all of them there is a strong personal vision and viewpoint pervading their work and approach. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to put your mark on your effort. However, the other issue is how, or if, one’s slant is acceptable to the media masters that one serves, and it then has more to do with the photojournalist’s relationship with the particular media organization, the media in general, and the relationship with the editors. Turning it all around, the editors may utilize specific photographers for specific work, dependent for the most part on the PJs particular style. I guess these are considerations for freelance work only, and not for staff.

  • This is a wonderful and important project! I consider it as a story about inner poverty. It is extremely difficult to make a project and show poverty in western countries. Most people have a computer, a television and a home even when they are poor. So how do you as a photographer show the poverty of mind? I think Lea Meilandt is showing exactly that in all her pictures. She shows a family who simply has given up on society on and life in general.
    Again, I think it is a VERY important project showing that even “rich” western people can be extremely poor in mind, soul and society.

  • Geez Pete, thanks for trying to divert the hounds in my direction. But as Michelle noted, I was careful to make a distinction between a snapshot aesthetic and a snapshot and criticize the (lack of) content rather than the photographer.

    So there are two things going on here, at least if you don’t count the wingnut hatefest (you know, these nutcases screaming about their hard earned taxes going to undeserving scum could easily recoup their loses by picking up stray pennies off the street, cause that’s about the portion of the budget that goes to welfare cheats (meanwhile the U.S. has spent about $1 billion murdering Libyans in what? a little under a week)).

    First the question of the snapshot aesthetic. Of course if something works, it works. My fear is that this look that is so suddenly au courant is little more than a fad and that those who have gotten fantastic access to wonderful stories will regret not making the very best photographs they possibly could. Of course I could be wrong about that.

    Second, I’m sorry but I am very disappointed by the content of this essay. Poverty in the U.S. is a complex, fascinating subject but I get no sense that the photographer has any kind of deep understanding of it. All she’s done is document a few, very few, symptoms–nothing of the disease–and the right wing hatefest reaction is the predicable result. And deeper, I suspect that a lot of those symptoms are being edited out in order to not make the subjects even less sympathetic than they already appear to so many.

    These photographs raise a lot of questions but provide no answers. And yea, I know, sometimes that’s okay, but not in a case like this where so many already have superficial, mostly wrong-headed answers at the ready.

  • Just to take one question raised by this essay for example: Why does this couple have 5 kids? For some, the knee jerk reaction is that they use children as a welfare scam. But given their last name and location, it’s possible that they are Catholics following church teaching on birth control. Or some other kind of Christian sect, since so many are opposed to birth control these days. Or are they so poorly educated that they have no understanding of birth control? Is it the fault of the schools? Or maybe they couldn’t afford it? Was abortion an option? Or do they just love children and want as many as possible? Or something else entirely?

    I don’t know the answers and I don’t care whether they would best serve one political point of view or another. But whatever the answers to the questions raised by this essay are or are not, I’m sure they would prove both interesting and enlightening. Let’s see the whole truth and let the glass shatter where it may…

  • The un-sophisticated use of flash in a home setting is common to this and Sara Katz pics of her dad. I’m not sure why David chose show these together, but the contrast between the two is interesting.

    This series perhaps uses the technique to imply that these are simple snaps, and therefore an honest and un-biased presentation of these lives.

    The effect however is the opposite. The more I view this series, the more powerful I realize it is. The first photograph…what can you say. It’s.. Photo #2, nine year old Cassady, breaks your heart. I see dead, defeated, angry eyes. Henry sleeps amid chaos, dirty laundry and garbage, there are no sheets on the bed. You just know the place smells bad.

    In the end, I need to ask myself, what does Lea want us to feel here? Simple technique aside, she has chosen exactly what she wants to show us. Is this a sympathetic view?

    My reactions? I feel sorry for this family. I feel sorry for the parents, and their dis-function and life choices. I feel especially sorry for the children, knowing that in all likelyhood their lives will follow the same pattern. I feel sorry for society.
    On the other hand, at least they are together, and appear to be doing the best they can.

    These photographs have made me feel, made me think, made me react.

  • I’ve thought a lot about this essay since it was first posted. I’ve looked at the photos and read the statement several times. I’ve also read the comments and won’t comment on them except to say that I’m not surprised by the range of reactions to this essay both technically and contentwise.

    My background is in social work and I’ve lived in and around the city of Detroit for 46 years. I’ve had clients who were poor, but more importantly I’ve had friends who were poor. I’ve also been an on-the-streets activist for issues involving the poor, especially the Detroit Water Board’s decision to shut off water to thousands of homes during frigidly cold winters. I say all this not to pat myself on the back but to say that I have some knowledge of poverty and the people it affects. Not firsthand but a close secondhand.

    My intial response to the cover photo of this essay was that the photographer would have been hardput to find less appealing subjects to tell the story of poverty. Not that our subjects need to be attractive but I’m afraid that the Maguires, as seen in these nine photos, feed into the stereotypes that many people in our country have of the poor as slovenly, obese and working the system by having lots of kids. This is probably not the reality of their lives but that is what this particular edit leads one to believe.

    If Lea’s purpose is to engender empathy in the viewer, she will need to find facets of their lives that break the stereotypes rather than perpetuate them. As it is, except for the children, the Maguires are hard to empathize with. Pity maybe, but not empathy. Wikipedia — not the best source, I admit — defines empathy as “the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another semi-sentient being.” It is too easy to see these folks as “other,” and that does nothing to help us understand and share their feelings.

    I hope Lea will dig much deeper and find the truth of the Maguires’ lives that will give viewers the opportunity to see the poor as worthy of our respect, empathy and concern. If we simply see and judge them according to our longheld assumptions, nothing wil change. And change is what we need.

  • yes gordon…..but so would a cheeseburger.

  • I don’t care about the poor of America as a whole. I want to know about the Maguire family. Mom, dad and the kids. What happened, how their life was before, and how it is today, how it will be.

    I can’t care about all the poor, but I can about a single family. I come back again and again to look at the first image, the mom’s finger lightly on the boy’s head, and him caressing his sister’s hand, awake,soft touch, repeating his mom’s on him.

    Five kids.. I can see how the reaction is like sheesh, what were they thinking? But they’re a family, have made it through one year at a shelter together, still are a family. Others break up over less.

    I want to know.

  • RE poverty and empathy:

    Poverty is ugly. This is a fact. The poor are often unsympathetic subjects – they live in squalor, they make bad choices, they eat poorly, they watch too much television. Their economic lot seems to be their own fault, since we Americans tend to believe that the poor have every opportunity to better themselves and are thus responsible for their condition. We have political-media language for these freeloaders who suck up government services and burn through our tax dollars that could be spent on the more deserving. We despise these welfare queens, the drug users and the mentally ill, those in and out of prisons, people who just can’t keep a job or take responsibility for the children they can’t seem to stop producing.

    It’s nice to think that there are sympathetic poor people to be photographed, those who don’t fit the stereotypes. But the problem is the stereotype itself. We own it, and we love it. It absolves us not just from taking any action against poverty but from believing that our political and economic system creates an underclass. We tell ourselves that the poor don’t have to be poor – they choose their lot. But we never think that we voters, we sophisticated consumers, we good liberals and conservatives, bear some responsibility for people like the Maguires. In fact, we love the Maguires. They are so ugly that we don’t have to look at them. They are unsympathetic. They confirm our prejudices and therefore make us feel better about ourselves. We love to hate to hate them.

    Any honest photographic treatment of poverty needs to own up to the fact that poverty is ugly. It’s hard to photograph an unsympathetic subject in a way that does not seem judgmental or moralizing. We are trained to respond to sympathy in photography, but not every “concerned photographer” seeks to ennoble his or her subjects. Some things, like poverty, are just so ugly that they should be seen as ugly.

    If Lea had photographed a beautiful poor family, trying hard to pull themselves up, keeping a clean house, preparing healthy meals for their children — and bounced the flash off the ceiling — we would all congratulate her on a job well done.

    But how much more real and honest are these pictures of the Maguires — so honest that we don’t want to look at them?

  • Too me this is a glimpse into a pervasive mental illness that is endemic in America. Not the raving manic bipolar kind, but the depressive giving up kind. The key is the phrase “low self esteem” which can have disastrous consequences. One seeks to fill that void in oneself, in their case maybe one more child will make them happier, one more cheap pizza instead of exercising or cooking right (who has the time with five children!), and so on. It’s a vicious downward cycle. Very sad. Humans are the only animal that will live in filth by choice, and this has to do with the complexity of our brain, and it’s ability to go haywire (or just shut down).

    They certainly aren’t welfare cases – we’ll leave that to GE and other corporations. If regular people got breaks like they did then our society would be much better off. As it is, they become scapegoats because they are perceived to buck the system for basic survival vs billions in profit. How twisted is that?

    Of course this type of work is tricky – are we voyeurs with a case of schadenfruede (photographer and/or audience) or is this really telling us something new and important. The photography isn’t that engaging (sorry) and yes to me there seems a bit of a disconnect between the photographer and the subject. It feels shot in a day (or less). The bar for this type of photography and subject was set by Richard Billingham’s “Ray’s A Laugh” many years ago. Best to check it out.

  • John G

    mmmm cheeesburger. I’m salivating.

    Good points from everyone. This has been a good discussion. Like I keep saying, this series is more powerful, provocative, and sophisticated than it appears on the surface.

  • Photography that changed full and satisfying Maguires life… poorly photographed but still good stuff and creative use of flash technique…

  • The key is the phrase “low self esteem”
    You got that right, Charles. To me, since I know much poorer in this world than the Maguirres, this IS where lies the real poverty in our lives. It seems that people have been riveted (everyone of us) by what the pictures 2-dimentionally show us, ie. concrete facts/items/bodies/used technique. While ready to admit that the photographer’s design always manipulates these facts, want it or not. If you (at least us americans) can’t recognize here people you have seen before, in your life, you are bound to be stuck analysing what the pictures say or don’t. Me, I think the Maguirres do say/show a lot of them in these shots already. I think Lea did it the right way.

    snapshots vs snapshot esthetics
    8 snapshots from anyone, put on the wall IS snapshot esthetics. Once more, i recommend anyone to check that book “history of the american snapshot”. I thought I’ d never read or get bored by the text, and it turned out to be one of the most enthralling prose on Photography. IMO.

  • errata:
    The Maguirres say/show a lot about (not of) them(selves)…..

  • Herve: by whom? Can’t find anything.. unless it’s ‘The Art of the American Snapshot’ or ‘Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America’?

  • You are poor not when you have little, but when you aren’t satisfied what you have…

  • yes, Eva, the Art of….. Sorry, I should have been more thorough in my recollecting of the title. Borrowed it from the library. I think I am the only one who ever did…. Just a bunch of snapshots, after all…. ;-)

  • Gordon, John G – I’m starving!
    Preston Merchant – EXACTLY! Well, almost exactly. It’s an NGO policy approach to find an attractive poor family to represent the face of poverty – maybe the hollow, haunted look of a Dorothea Lange migrant farm family with high cheekbones. But the fact is, obesity in America, as Preston mentioned is all about class and education. I don’t necessarily think the Maguires need to be sympathetic, but they need to be interesting in some way in order to be visually, emotionally and intellectually palatable. Think of HBO dramatic series like The Wire or The Sopranos. If the characters were all stupid and brutish, wallowing in squalor, neither drama would hold our attention for very long. Is Tony Soprano sympathetic? Sometimes he is. Other times he’s repulsive. But as a character, he’s fascinating because of the contradictions he embodies. He has self-awareness and is at constant odds with himself. How interesting would The Sopranos have been if, say Sil had been the main character?

    Anthony R.Z. – Opulence, the Maguires has it. Look, in left corner of frame, near coffee table, I sees pile of Lap Giraffe poops.

    Michael W – I think you had a visceral reaction to the photos, as in, ‘if I see one more squalor essay with people photographed like road kill in high beams, I’m going to go batshit’. When I was a student at SU, they had this PJ class – a semester abroad in London. It was pedaled as a way of improving your eye or broadening your horizons or some other horse shit. Anyway, the students would come back at the end of the semester, for the most part with identical portfolios: The stoic Bobbies with their fuzzy boom mike cover hats, the saturated red phone booths, the toothless sheep herder with flock of fuzzy sheep slightly out of focus in the background – a bunch of stock images, many of which were taken in group situations. If stoic Bobbies, red phone booths, and bucolic charm are iconic of England in the minds of American PJ students, then maybe the overweight, hirsute American living in squalor is what Danish PJ students come away with. With only 9 images, there is still an opportunity to go home with something more substantive. I’m not ready to flush the whole project down the toilet. Isn’t that the whole point of feedback? See what you have and figure out where to go? I like picture number 1 a lot. I like it despite the fact that The Maguires don’t fulfill our aesthetic expectations of body type befitting the iconic Ennobled Poor. There is a subtle tenderness in this photo. That and the aforementioned number 2 suggests there is something more complex and nuanced going on.

  • Herve.. thanks, reading the synopsis did the trick.. guess I’m in for ‘a bunch of snapshots’.. :)

  • MW:

    ” I was careful to make a distinction between a snapshot aesthetic and a snapshot”

    I say “tom A to” you say (tom (ah) to) or better yet if it looks like a snapshot or had the aesthetic of a snapshot… well you get the point.

    And for the last time, I did not attack Lea I attacked the style.


    ” Like I keep saying, this series is more powerful, provocative, and sophisticated than it appears on the surface.”

    Not the series… the subject matter. That is what is the most polarizing. The snapshot/hard flash is a creative choice and probably in the long run does not matter. It is like a writer choosing to tell a story in the first person or third. The people that are discussing the subject, poverty, probably could not care less how it was shot.


    “I’m going to go batshit’” —- I love that word!

    “I’m not ready to flush the whole project down the toilet. Isn’t that the whole point of feedback? See what you have and figure out where to go?” —— I agree

    And I do like the first shot. Just not the light… but we have been there already.

  • Michelle, no that wasn’t my reaction at all. Contentwise, I haven’t really seen other squalor photo essays like this, though the scenes themselves are familiar from real life. What Lea has showed so far just strikes me as superficial and I find that unfortunate because there is so much more beneath that surface. I wouldn’t suggest scrapping the project. On the contrary, I think it could be something that matters.

    Pete, why you’re angry at me is a mystery since I’m at least in ballpark agreement with you. It never occurred to me that you attacked Lea. The difference between a snapshot and a photograph with a snapshot aesthetic is of course one of skill and intent. A photographer chooses to make a photograph look something like a snapshot. For most people it just comes natural.

  • I seems we got back to the usual scenario the “haves” writing about and photographing the “have nots” via middle class orientated values.

  • MW, ah OK – I get it.
    I’m the one who implied that Pete attacked Lea. He doesn’t sound angry. LOL. He sounds like he’s agreeing with you being in agreement. NOW it’s time to get the wine!

  • I am not angry. Just thought you were being polite. LOL AH wine……

  • What Preston said.

    And in other news…

    8 snapshots on a wall is NOT a snapshot aesthetic.

    From what I remember, the snapshot aesthetic is basically a lazy term for critics to refer to the Robert Franks and Garry Winogrands of the world, where they can’t seem to figure out why something that looks haphazard has so much… in it. Why something banal seems so interesting. Could be slightly askew, use a pop-up flash, be composed differently, whatever.

    I can’t dig up the interview with Garry Winogrand at the moment, but I remember him blasting the use of the term, and I see why. What a lazy ass critique it is. “Looks like a snapshot.” What does that tell us about what you think of the photos. Nothing. It’s like saying something is big. In relation to what? The word doesn’t mean anything.

    Anyway, I border on the love these pictures, for the pictures themselves. Staying out of this so-called ethical argument (I mean, they are grown-ups who allowed a photograpgher in their home, no?). I love the compositions, the color, the neutrality. I sincerely hope that advice like shoot it through a dirty window falls on deaf ears. Don’t we have enough of that type of photography?

  • Snapshot aesthetic is not a term I normally throw around, but it does have meaning for me. I would have to put the last two works in progress in that category. This style is in stark contrast to the kind of aesthetic typically associated with “good” photography. Beautiful composition, unusual angles, “decisive” moments, tension, edginess, wonderful use of light,etc etc.

    Here’s what a writer on wikipedia had to say about the snapshot aesthetic.

    “The term snapshot aesthetic refers to a trend within fine art photography in the USA from around 1963[citation needed]. The style typically features apparently banal everyday subject matter and off-centered framing. Subject matter is often presented without apparent link from image-to-image and relying instead on juxtaposition and disjunction between individual photographs. This tendency was promoted by John Szarkowski, who was head of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art from 1962 to 1991, and it became especially fashionable from the late 1970s until the mid 1980s[citation needed]. Notable practitioners include Garry Winogrand, Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Martin Parr, William Eggleston, and Terry Richardson. In contrast with photographers like W. Eugene Smith and Gordon Parks, these photographers aimed not “to reform life but to know it.” (John Szarkowski, Diane Arbus) Szarkowski brought to prominence the work of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand in his influential exhibition “New Documents” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967, in which he identified a new trend in photography: pictures that seemed to have a casual, snapshot-like look and had subject matter that seemed strikingly ordinary.

    In recent years young contemporary photographers, such as Hiromix, Ryan McGinley, Miko Lim, and Arnis Balcus have gained international recognition thanks to the snapshot aesthetic. From the early nineties the style became the predominant mode in fashion photography, especially within youth fashion magazines such as The Face – photography from this era is often associated with the so-called ‘heroin chic’ look (a look often seen as having been influenced particularly by Nan Goldin)

    The term arose from the fascination of artists with the ‘classic’ black & white vernacular snapshot, the characteristics of which were: 1) they were made with a hand held camera on which the viewfinder could not easily ‘see’ the edges of the frame, unlike modern cheap digital cameras with electronic viewfinder, and so the subject had to be centred; and 2) they were made by ordinary people recording the ceremonies of their lives and the places that they lived and visited.

    An early theorist of snapshot aesthetic was the Austrian architectural critic, Joseph August Lux, who in 1908 wrote a book called Künsterlische Kodakgeheimnisse (Artistic Secrets of the Kodak) in which he championed the use of Kodak cameras like the Brownie. Guided by a position that was influenced by the Catholic critique of modernity, he argued that the ease of use of the camera meant that people could photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce, what he hoped, was a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world. [1]”

    What has been illustrated here, and in Sara Katz series, is the raw power of images, and of the snapshot aesthetic. Love it, hate it, or indiferent to it, no-one can deny the impact of these last two essays.

  • this, alas, seems to me like the conversation that weeds my heart….torn over the last 2 days to write, i’m felt an heart-sick tug by much of what has been written above….not, mind you, the argument over the aesthetics (important discussion) or even the ‘tough love’ bit or the animals-in-a-zoo metaphor (MW, surely you of all folk could have done much better)….there is so much i wish to write, about both the profound tenderness and heart-break i feel when looking at the first photograph, the ache of #2 and #7, the frustration i feel that these pics were entered into that Italian Photo Wine contest, that has turned toward journalism (see LS) for it’s entrants, all the profoundly disturbing judgments and pronouncements pissed and shat out over this family (mediocre, irresponsible, lazy, etc)–shame on your for that, each of you who has taken something as superficial as photography as a platform for your grotesque castigation toward a family you know nothing about…..i think some of the conversation above (vis-a-vis journalism/documentary/photographing the poor) is important and necessary….actually, i wonder, still, why it is we get all worked up about pictures (including myself)….these people are real, the photographs are not, not ever…pictures simply as a gesture….they confirm some of your prejudices and some of your ills, they confirm some of the wild stereotypes (especially with regard to overweight hirsute Americans, slovenly kept homes, battered walls and sweat-tatto’d mattresses) and they challenge to our need for others to be seen ‘compassionately’, when in truth pictures always a lie, lies and gestures that more likely say more about the shooter than the shot, why the world runs around clipping, to feel themselves with pics, for innumerable reasons….and while there is lots of room and reason to argue about the role of documentary work in it’s relationship to framing the lives of others, of The Other, it still amazes me how so much venom comes looping down the mountain side like a stage in heat after his fawn, from pictures, pictures that so many so quickly have decided that either are bad because 1) they do an injustice to the family/journalism/photography or 2) they don’t meet the standards of what pictures/story (and it’s length) should be dealing with such a complex problem as family/living/poverty, etc or 3) the entire thing just sucks because it makes us feel lousy and we have to feel better by understanding that we don’t suck, ’cause we feel lousy, but either the photographer sucks or did a sucky job or this family sucks to begin with and should be helped or treated better or well just serves up as an example of how those other families really do suck, and thank god i don’t suck half as bad raising my family, etc…

    it all just depresses the shit out of me….i don’t even have the head or heart of write a long, tedious lyric filled comment….it just depresses me….so, after WRight, i’ll leave this instead…

    though many think Let Us Know Praise Famous Men sucked/sucks as a book, and particularly sucked/sucks as a depiction of the poor, but it is still the greatest and most singularly sucked-up piece or prose/photography to ever be stupid enough to write profoundly and lovingly about what it means to be a family….a poor family bewildered by the wealth of this american dream….i’d say read the fucking book already and know the photographs, but i would feel stupid saying that to a group that should already know the book, have read it and know the pictures….

    so, i’ll say this: #2 reminds me of Evan’s picture, here:

    this is from the book…and is she not as #2


    (and no Pete, i’m not comparing to uplift this work, just to show that work unites itself over the ages when we have the patience to remember, if we remember wide enough)

    Maybe it was that Agee’s tumult of language allowed for both the lives of these familys to escape both the beautiful but stiff beauty that Evan’s had contrived, or maybe it was his undisciplined love of the drink, in whiskey-gallon size, of this life that allowed him….

    but, i’d rather just leave his words stand in place for my pasty and weak ones…..it is time to return to the work at hand, and not be distracted anymore….

    time for a break from blogs scuttled and scraping…

    “In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again: and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward human life; toward the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of terror, and of God.”-agee, let us now praise famous men

  • Bob Black

    Bob, you are clearly a very sensitive soul, I always respect your input. You judge us, and admonish us not to judge. This work invites judgement, comment, soul-searching. Tell us what you think of the work, and the issues it raises.
    This work is illiciting the reaction it is intended to.

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    At this point it would be great to have the author herself weigh in on the discussion and address a few of these ideas brought up here.

    And I reiterate my previous thought – I still wonder what the subjects themselves would think of their portrayal in these several images?

  • Thankyou Jamie, you’ve been reading my mind.

  • Well, Jared, if I may, saying “8 snapshots is snapshot aesthetic” was just a way for me to shoot down the whole snapshot aesthetic argument. I do agree with what you are saying, and what Winogrand also said too.

    Bob, we’re just talking, I am always at loss why you have to “suffer” so much about just talking. Why not just enjoy it, it is something to celebrate that people have this passion about photography that make them come on BURN to share it, warts and all. It matters little to me that the comments are this or that, against my own, along my own, approximate or stereotyped. No one here is living their photographic passion just to blabber out stereotypes. Don’t you see the words mean little, and that we are sharing our passion. what is so hurtful about that?

  • Well said, Herve.

    Obviously Lea’s project has done what it should — it has gotten us thinking, discussing, disagreeing, agreeing, etc., etc. Each of us sees these images and the story they tell through the lens of our unique professional and life experiences. For some of us, it is the photographic technique that gets our juices stirring. For others, it is the subject of poverty and/or the Maguires themselves. Isn’t this what we want our photography to do? To hit people where they live and shake them up?

    Good job, Lea. There is no apathy among the viewers here, at least not among those who have joined the discussion. We are all engaged. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    My personal sense is that far more discussion has been generated than these fairly mediocre images warrant. The aesthetic is not a considered one; it is random. It is the discussion that is considered. In the absence of the author’s voice here, next essay please.

  • And in the absence of the author’s voice here, how do you know it’s random and unconsidered?

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    I believe, Jared, I prefaced by saying ‘My personal sense….’ I dont actually know anything. Thanks.

  • Thank you everyone for your comments! It’s very interesting for me to read the different point of views and follow the discussion!!

    The project is shot with a Contax T3, so the simple and trashy snapshot style is very much intended. I chose a point and shoot film camera because I wanted to simplify the working process and the pictures. First of all I want to let go of the digital control, just raise the camera, flash on or off and shoot. No interpretation..
    My hope is that it will help the pictures to be honest, simple and spontaneous. I guess I am actually trying to distance myself from shooting (as someone suggests) through shattered glass and over composing.
    Second I want to blend in and try to create a more diary-ish look, and not let all the digital gear get in the way of me meeting the family.

    Whether is an important story or not – well, its very important to me at least.
    With these pictures I am trying to understand what its like to be given up on. And what it’s like to give up on your self. There are so many truths in this family. But as someone writes, poor is ugly and sad, and I still have’nt figured everything out.
    But again, I am very thankful for your words, they make me think ☺

  • i do think, as with all essays, that it would be fascinating hear SOMETHING from the author..

    of course no one has to spell out their motives – although with all thats been said might it be negligent to not stand by the work, (meaning – the family), and help the discussion reach some semblance of a conclusion?

  • boring photos usually bring the best of chatter

  • Then I can go three houses down the street and chat with my neighbor and see the same scenario just the Australian version.

  • Lea.. hi.. and thanks for the additional pictures!

  • “The project is shot with a Contax T3, so the simple and trashy snapshot style is very much intended. I chose a point and shoot film camera because I wanted to simplify the working process and the pictures.”

    The problem for the photographer with anti-technique efforts is that they end up provoking a discussion of your technique. Available light or fill flash with a digital camera would likely have achieved your stated goal better than using a film P&S with it’s built in flash. But using old film P&S cameras with direct flash seems to be a growing affectation these days.

  • Your technique shouts, “look at this photograph.” But I’m not interested when I view a photo essay in seeing photographs.

  • But I’m not interested when I view a photo essay in seeing photographs

  • But using old film P&S cameras with direct flash seems to be a growing affectation these days.
    ………… well it is more real than real because it isn’t digital…….. it’s the old I shoot just as ma and pa did

  • I’ve read some of the comments and I was in equal measure flabbergasted and fascinated.

    The piece itself I thought was very powerful indeed. This family, these parents need serious help, obviously. And we all know there are so many people like this who are simply overwhelmed by circumstance.

    I think the direct flash approach actually works very well in this piece by stripping away any potential filter of aesthetic that might otherwise dilute the hardcore journalistic intent.

    In essays like this too much is often said of the aesthetic or lack thereof, which seems to me to be missing the point. Photography doesn’t always have to look nice. As a communicative tool of journalism, such as in this case, aesthetic often serves little purpose.

  • Number 8 saddens me greatly. I just want to pick up the youngster, put him in a nice cosy bed and then clean up the mess. It screams neglect to me. But I’m not angry at the parents as they too seem so utterly at sea in a raging hurricane.

  • “But I’m not interested when I view a photo essay in seeing photographs”
    Everyone is entitled to say ridiculous things, but some abuse the privilege.


    No need to egg on Bob Black… LOL


    “Your technique shouts, “look at this photograph.” But I’m not interested when I view a photo essay in seeing photographs.”

    Actually I disagree. I think is shouts “look at the photographer.” I think there is a time and place for that, but documentary work is not it. I look at the photos and the first thing I see is the photographer’s hands all over it. It distracts from the subject for me.

    Herve and Paul:

    I think I understand what Jim is trying to say here: “But I’m not interested when I view a photo essay in seeing photographs.” And Jim forgive me if I misunderstand, but I think he is saying that when it comes to photo stories or documentary work, the best images, make you forget you are looking at photographs. You do not see the technique or the photographer, the paper it is printed on or the frame it is in… you see the story that the photographer is presenting. You are transported into it.

  • …actually, i wonder, still, why it is we get all worked up about pictures (including myself)….these people are real, the photographs are not, not ever…pictures simply as a gesture….they confirm some of your prejudices and some of your ills, they confirm some of the wild stereotypes… and they challenge to our need for others to be seen ‘compassionately’, when in truth pictures always a lie, lies and gestures that more likely say more about the shooter than the shot, why the world runs around clipping, to feel themselves with pics, for innumerable reasons…

    Great stuff Bob. You’ve got the kernel of what could be a fantastic essay there. But I agree with those who suggest you chill a bit, not let it get to you so much. I know it can be difficult though.

    And yes, the snapshots of animals in the zoo analogy was embarrassingly weak. Fortunately, everyone, or regular commenters at least, recognized that I was not calling the Maguires animals, but mostly using a cliche to communicate the idea of images that tell us next to nothing about the subjects. But true, and you probably recognized this; it was a double edged cliche that questioned the photographer’s intent. As I said, I very much like the idea of outsiders documenting American culture, partly as payback for all the documenting of other cultures we’ve done, but more for the potentially fresh perspective. I don’t see that this work has provided any fresh perspective. That’s what the dirty socks photo tells me. That’s what the quip about tv in the morning says to me. It is the other seeing only the superficial in the other. The good thing is that it can be a longer term project and presumably there is time to go much deeper. The story merits great attention.

    I’m afraid Lea’s explanation of her aesthetic intent and actual technique intensify my fears about that kind of thing. It just seems so over thought. More an academic exercise than honest exploration of the lives of the subjects and their relationship to larger forces. No interpretation? Then what’s the point?

    Want a hint? If you haven’t already done so, ask about the story behind those tattoos. Odds are very good what you hear will be substantial.

    When it comes to most things technical, I am pretty shallow and unobservant. You all will no doubt snicker, but I thought it was shot with a digital point and shoot and I was guessing some kind of Lumix because the colors look so much like the Panasonics. All this shooting with old gear or using apps to make it look like something was shot with old gear — just seems to me like a fad that will pass like so many velvet Elvis’s. You know, the people who originally shot with that old gear, for the most part, were just trying to make the best photographs they could with the best technology they had available to them. That’s not a bad approach, imo.

  • MW

    “No interpretation? Then what’s the point?”

    Agreed. I will say that this, for me at least, had to be learned. In a nod to DAH and Michelle who obviously have a slight disdain for nppa style newspaper photography, when I was learning (and still am) to shoot, we were encouraged to be neutral. Record what you see, but you can’t have an opinion. At least that was the feeling I was getting.

    Of course first this is nonsense, because really it is impossible to do. But even if one can divorce themselves from their feelings about a story, you would do the work a disservice. If you want the photographs to me moving, you have to be moved and you have to be willing to show it in your work.

    I don’t remember who posted the DAH quote recently: “don’t show me what you see, show me what you feel”, but that is spot on.

    ALSO “You know, the people who originally shot with that old gear, for the most part, were just trying to make the best photographs they could with the best technology they had available to them. That’s not a bad approach, imo.”

    Another excellent point. Weegee used what was available at the time. Do you think he could have shot that way if he had a D3 that can shoot at over 25,000 iso with better ambient light at night on the streets as we do now? Probably not.

  • We photographers are strange capricious creatures, of course Lea and Sarah’s choice of camera and style is for aesthetic reasons but I’m sure Weegee and others in his time would probably given an arm and leg to have the equipment we have now.

  • Pete…
    Yes thanks for the clarification I see what you mean…just maybe we are asking too much from a work in progress.
    Smiling, DAH has slight disdain for NPPA style photography?…stoking the bonfire a bit!

  • He probably wont actually admit it… but you can hear it in his voice…. GRIN

  • I don’t remember who posted the DAH quote recently: “don’t show me what you see, show me what you feel”, but that is spot on


    heyhey, Pete, of course, I see the point in Jim’s statement, not looking at photographs.
    It is just that it was written here on BURN, land of Ph. afficionados, where eventually, if only by revisiting an essay(1), we do look at photographs, whatever the shape they are presented to us.

    Though, most of the time, what we sense from Jim is that he wished he had not looked at all…. :-))))

    (1) which differentiates us from the oft-mentionned general public who will indeed look once (…is enough) and see only the subject, poverty, lack of planned parenthood, welfare-scammming, etc… in the US

  • So now any camera not a d700000 or Mark 2 XYZ is an affectation. A passing fad. So glad to hear such sweeping generalizations.

    Quick, run and tell Sally Mann to stop her artistic affectation with that bullshit colloidal glass plate nonsense. It’s soooo much more real, Sally!

    The T3 is a great little camera by the way, great autofocus and quick as hell. Course you wouldn’t know that if you never used one and simply wanted to deride a photographers choices to make a silly point.
    It’s really comparable to the GF1 and some of the other smallish digitals that some people here use.

  • Jared…
    My sweeping generalization was not a critisism towards Lori’s or Sarah’s essay… I don’t care if it is snapshot or a posed shot, it works for me. I just found it funny how however much technology is developed we never forget the old stuff. That’s all nothing else. Hey I use an 8×10 camera when I’m not on crutches and got enough money to pay for film. BTW don’t know if you read it but DAH anounced in Dec he would probably bring Sally Mann over to Burn in June…artist interview.

  • Freelance photographers are like the unemployed they have a lot of time on their hands to create a world of their own.


    in my comment last night, i wrote:

    “the frustration i feel that these pics were entered into that Italian Photo Wine contest, that has turned toward journalism (see LS) for it’s entrants”..

    I wish to clarify that. To begin with, I fully support Winephoto Contest. It is a very strong, interesting and professional organization. In it’s first year, I encouraged several friends to submit work (shit, i thought the idea of wine as a Prize was the BEST idea ever for a photography contest), one of whom (from Moscow) was awarded one of the prizes in the first year, and received another prize for his work 2 years later. I support Winephoto and congratulate them on not only the development of their organization and contest but also the body of work that they have recognized over the last 3 (4?) years. Their jury is outstanding and the photographers’ work that they have celebrated is top notch and inspired.

    My poorly worded comment was a frustration that I felt about submitting work to a competition that involves an attempt at awareness of the plight of others’ lives. In this sense, I found it (again, only my personal ethic) odd and uncomfortable that a project that had at it’s heart an attempt to understand, document and raise awareness about a family’s struggle with poverty, child rearing and daily struggle, would be entered in a photo competition. Then again, i don’t like the WPP or any photo competition that deals ‘winners.’ I celebrate those who do like this or do participate in them and of course I support grants (a form of competition too, i recognize). Grants, like David’s/MAGNUM EPF grant, seem to support the project, the work and the future effort to accomplish the project/story. Also, most art grants are awarded to a number of applicants. So, I just felt it seemed a bit odd to shoot this family and then submit it for a photocontest. But, that is my issue, my hang up, my problem.

    Those who wish to enter photographs in competitions, you would be hard pressed to find a more well run and well juried competition than Winephoto. My apologies to Winephoto and anyone else out there who I may have offended.


    my beef is NOT about people arguing about photography (aaaa, that’d really be the b.black pot calling the kettle b.black), nor about language about this work is boring or sucks or this is just snapshot or whether or not this is good/responsible/whatever…jesus…i don’t suffer over BURN arguments…..i do have a family, a life and a photographic life outside of burn….what i suffered over, and i cann’t see how y’all don’t either, is the language and the description that has come down toward these people….and maybe that is what i had wanted to write initially…as michelle as stated, lots of folk here have a lot of ideas about not only what photography should be (photography should be whatever the hell a photographer wants it to be) but what compassionate/ethical/responsible/documentary/journalism should be…and you know what, i don’t know if there is an answer, because photographs are LIES, they are not the people in this story, but representations, just gestures…the author attempted to tell a story that was meaningful to her, one important to her, born of her background and shot it and researched it and offered it in the way she wished best…the funny thing, as anyone thought for a moment of her background, that as a european trained photogrpaher, her insight and aeshetic and working plan might just be profoundly different, including how ‘intimate documentary’ work is offered….to me, when i saw it, i thought: european photographer (before i read her bio), …different sensibilities, and all that…same to with the viewer….and of course, i didn’t suffer all that debate/argument…that’s all good (herve, since when have i ever asked for silence at BURN, but to the contrary)…

    what i found distasteful, and yes, it has changed my feelings about writing here, is the ideas and language that came up here with regard to the Real family in these photographs….the pictures can and should be both praised and defamed in the hot kettle of discussion…burn all bridges with tongues of fire…but it seems that borders have been crossed….as passionate as i am a photographer and writer and lover of photography, pictures are not that important enough to criticize the people being photogrpaphed…and if you think it was Lea’s intent for you to question yourself and your own judgments (i’m of that school on this essay too) then it makes me feel more depressed…..we’re judging 2 parents on images…and who says they made poor life decisions…my parents had 4 kids…lost almost everything they had, financially, when i was 15….who knows what happened to them….and yes, in these pictures are ‘cliches’ but also there are visual things, that are up to each person to interpret as pictures…not as facts….what left me feeling sad and bereft now here is that the ideas here were not about pictures, but about the people outside the pictures……something we all do, of course….but why stick around and participate over that…

    i can’t be egg’d on ;))>…

    i’m tired….

    all the best

  • Paul

    I wasn’t writing about you (or anyone in particular really, but a string of comments).

  • …..we’re judging 2 parents on images…and who says they made poor life decisions…

  • sorry, damn, i’m not making sense…

    the short of it: criticize the pictures, criticize the photographer, whatever, all good, all good for fodder, for praise, for argument….it’s all part of the fun and the life of photography and of publishing and of learning (BURN’S main, for me, purpose). but i cannot understand whatsoever, how this family get’s judged and criticized based SOLEY on photographs…not a single one of us knows them, their story, etc…who says they made bad decisions…maybe, just maybe, they had 5 kids, lost the job, and the roof collapse…and it is damn hard to recover…i know, family/personal experience…if that intent was for this story to question our own judgements about them and this issue (which i feel it does and should) and this family, i am left depressed by the fact that with the exception of Michelle, i haven’t heard another commentator question their own judgments about this family….i mean, some ugly things were written about this family particularly (read above all lthe comments) and families like this in the abstraction….i wouldn’t at all felt upset (or rather, not this kind of upset) if it were merely the normal photo-debate that is a daily blessing here and elsewhere….but, i do feel that we have been made quick to make statements about them and this group solely on pictures….at this stage in photogrpahy, i thought we’d gotten a bit more aware and self-reflective than that…anyway….i’m sorry for soap-box preaching…i shall not happen for a while, again….

    i’d love for someone to walk up to these kids and tell them your mom and dad are mediocre…lazy….bilking the system. etc….ok…enough of my stupid ass self-righteousness….

    pics to finish

  • …not a single one of us knows them, their story, etc…who says they made bad decisions…
    again, very true….no sarcasm whatsoeva!

  • bob…..u might think u r cool… but u r full of shiT,,,,SERVING SOMEBODY….Even feel u r FREE

    You may be an ambassador to England or France,
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
    You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
    You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
    They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
    You may be the head of some big TV network,
    You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
    You may be living in another country under another name

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a construction worker working on a home,
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
    You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
    You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
    You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
    You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
    Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
    You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
    You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
    You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
    You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
    You may call me anything but no matter what you say

    You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

  • BELLICOSE AND JIONGOISTIC?????????????????

  • bellicose and jingoistic

    u r the def of an Asshole

  • bellicose and jingoistic
    fuck youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
    u r the def of an Asshole…………….fr

  • Bob

    Your “not for us to judge” stance always puzzles me. Why are we looking at these photographs at all? Are we just to comment on technique and other photo issues and not discuss the content and issues raised?

    Let’s just start simply. Look at photo #8, Henry napping and tell me what you see. Do you really have no opinion wether is is OK or not for a child to live like this?

  • Bob.. one thing if I may.. words tell more about the one who writes them than about the one they’re written about..

  • a bit cliché………or a “I will throw this in your face” type of line.

  • PANOS:

    i have no idea what is up with you, but that insult is enough to say this: i am now done as a commentator. period. sell out? i’ve supported more people, publically and privately, at burn than anyone else outside of the crew (david/anton/annamarie/diego themselves), with money, time, editing, encouragement, etc….how dare you say that crap to me…..if you are all upset about my support of Winephoto, than you are even more confused, is that what this ‘sell out’ is all about?….maybe you’d better talk to dah to find out more before you go on public, foul rants. calling me a filthy fuck in an email and a bitch at facebook and now this….Winephoto is a great outfit and just because it is not for me in no way means it isn’t a top notch organization and i just wanted to make sure readers understood the problem was mine about not them, period. adios

    eva: yes, always. of course. the writers words, the photographers pictures, and yet still some come off.

    gordon; i’ll just say this. i have friends with young kids (i once had a young kid too) who if you walked into their home, or their kids home, on a day of the week that hadn’t been cleaned, you might think the same. it IS part of OUR responsibility not to interpret others lives based on pictures, but allow pictures to start our own process. but, the sugar is gone for me…..sorry. y’all can keep on. my support continues in the way of encouraging photographers and being a burn donor, but i’ve had my fill.



    do you two guys have each other’s skype contact? My feeling is it’s all a misunderstanding/misinterpretation, born elsewhere, not here under this essay, but related to the Libya discussion.. best to sort it out between the two of you, no?! Please :)


    just catching the tail end of what appears to be an ugly dialogue….let me go back and read…sounds like a misunderstanding to me knowing both parties and friends with both…i hate this kind of thing….let me see what is up and back soonest…..

  • Bob…

    I’ll be genuinely sad if you do decide to give up commentating on Burn. As far as I’m concerned you are big part of this magical playground sure will miss reading and most of all learning from your thoughts.

  • I’ve been watching this entire thread and have no idea what Panos is shouting about. ?


    i am way behind in the comments here, but am catching up and will jump in the middle of old conversations…can’t think of any other way to do it…do i have a “slight disdain for NPPA style of photography”? i think it would be really unfair to categorize or make minimal under one umbrella all of the fine photography that has been supported over the years by the NPPA…the NPPA has traditionally been the organization for American newspaper photographers where they could turn for information, rights issues, and a place to hang their hat….plus for many years had “the contest” that all newspaper and magazine photographers entered..i was in fact a winner in both NPPA college photog of year and mag photog of year contests…both very big breaks in my early career…..what does happen with the NPPA , or any organization representing a particular brand of photography (i.e. American newspapers, mags), is that a very narrow vision of photography in general just naturally becomes the “norm”…

    for example, Europeans grow into photography professionally very different from Americans therefore producing an totally different “look” and feel that often escapes the American photographers…and vice versa…..American photojournalists traditionally have worked for newspapers as either a lifetime of work or more likely as a stepping stone into magazines and agencies , whereas as our European counterparts usually start with an agency and maybe have newspapers as a client…rarely do serious European photographers work for a newspaper in the way Americans have done which is normally to be on the staff, as employee….the NPPA quite simply does its job by representing these staff photographers at American newspapers (and videographers as well)…this does lead to an all American aesthetic …not bad…just one way of looking at things, but surely not the only way…the American news photographer tends to ignore European and Asian influence and the art world is almost considered the “enemy of the people” (no Pete, you do not think this)….

    the Americans have rules and codes for photographic conduct…remember, i am American, learned all these “rules” and was a newspaper photographer, but thank goodness i had studied Euro photogs and painters long before i went to work for a newspaper and always rebelled against what i felt was a rather tight aesthetic regime…. anything outside of this, according to these “rules” becomes unpublishable or somehow “wrong”…these rules are set up with good intent of course…like all rules…good intentions…the good intention is to tell “the truth”…to be “fair”…to be “unbiased”…to be “democratic”….we all know the net effect of a dictum….worse cause and effect: the winners of these NPPA awards of course become emulated the next year…same problem with WPA too actually…

    anyway, an aesthetic develops that is just not all inclusive to many types of work that do not fall into the category of immediately publishable in an American newspaper ….frankly, some amazing and great photography and stories are in fact published in American newspapers….i often defend American papers…yet, they are not the ONLY way to see pictures, nor should those aesthetics or rules or mantras be the measure in any way for publishable material…i do have great respect for the intent and integrity of most of these newspapers….still we must admit it is a narrow window of a type of information that is indeed acceptable to the advertisers who are paying for these stories and photographs…generally falling into the category of socially acceptable to the particular community…

    Diane Arbus was not shooting for the Des Moines Register nor was Bruce Davidson working for the L.A. Times nor was Robert Frank published in the New Orleans Times Picayune nor Eugene Smith for the Pittsburgh Gazette…nor their equivalents today….we fling the doors wide open here on Burn for these reasons….this causes some dissent, but i hope brings in some fresh air as well….the long and short of it, i do not knock the NPPA ..it is what it is…i just do not want the NPPA fans to knock on all other truly interesting and introspective styles that just might not fit into a newspaper mold…..fair enough?

    cheers, david

  • BOB..

    again, i have to go back and read…i just do not know what happened…in any case, as the Editor of Burn, i would be truly sad to lose you as a commentator…you are and always have been at the heart of commentary here…not as the only voice or authority, but as a strong voice and yes a caring voice and perhaps most importantly you have discovered and supported some truly great talent….

    so chill for a time…let’s see what went wrong….back to you soonest..

    cheers, david

  • David…

    Hey nothing to do with Paul! I only pointed it out knowing and laughing Pete was in a playful mood and wanted to pull you into the debate!

  • PAUL

    oh yes, i know…and i have great respect for Pete and what he does and he knows it…this is just a discussion and the kind that will always evolve out of an essay like The Maguires…these discussions always are best in panel debates…doing it this way is so so slow and often ineffective…smiling…

  • DAH:

    HA! I knew if I made a comment as general as “DAH has slight disdain for NPPA style of photography” that you would not be able to overlook it and would have to comment…. sorry for the manipulation (Grin)

    Everything you said is well put.

    “i do not knock the NPPA ..it is what it is…i just do not want the NPPA fans to knock on all other truly interesting and introspective styles that just might not fit into a newspaper mold…..fair enough?”

    Just to be clear, when I comment on a photograph or set of photographs that I see here in the way that I did on this essay, I am not dismissing it because of it not fitting in the “newspaper mold.” There is a lot of photography that I like, as well as documentary styles that of course would not fit the newspaper mold. I make my comments because it is simply how I feel about the work. As I am sure you know there are a lot of “snapshots” that appear in small newspapers every day. Sometimes in the larger ones. I dislike those too and while they fit the newspaper mold, I still do not consider them good photography.

    As I stated before, it always amazes me, in a good way I guess, that you can be so diplomatic and always looking for something good when reviewing others work. Admirable I am sure. But sometimes a photo is just a bad photo. (this is a general remark about photography and not THIS essay)

    Glad your back. Let me know if you are passing though anytime soon. We need to do dinner…

    OH, and did you ever come across a copy of CUBA? Don’t make me hunt you down… LOL

  • David…

    “i have great respect for Pete”
    So do I, learnt a hell of a lot from both of you exchanging comments on michelle frankfurter’s – destino.

  • On another note the Maguires seem to love a romp in the cot………..

  • Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick! I checked the thread last night before going to bed. There was a gentle pitter-patter, back and forth smattering of exchange, like fireflies winking and then this morning, I wake up to rival factions and air strikes.

    Pete, as for having disdain for NPPA: I have disdain for the disdainful – for people who, as a group are dismissive and whose opinions are derived from a doctrinaire mentality created in a vacuum. It’s not NPPA I take issue with: it’s the institution of the American journalism school that indoctrinates rather than educates, churning out legions of worker drones with competing egos and identical portfolios, making up the rank and file of the corporations that they serve. Private corporations that make or break elections and shape policy. Tinkerers with college degrees and the arrogance that goes along with it. It’s a clubhouse mentality. I simply don’t have the time to cough up anecdotal support from the last 25 years of my life. But you can be damned sure I have it and I inherited the story-telling gene from my father. I was being polite and diplomatic in regard to the Washington Post editor. Of course, the world has changed entirely since then, and in many ways, for the better. Burn + the WWW have blown apart the Bastille walls. The classroom is everywhere.



    Never said you had disdain for the NPPA… said “NPPA STYLE Photography” But your clarification works for me…

    BUT: “it’s the institution of the American journalism school that indoctrinates rather than educates, churning out legions of worker drones with competing egos and identical portfolios, making up the rank and file of the corporations that they serve.”

    WOW… how very Orwellian of you.

    NOW, “Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick?” now that is funny. Hell, I would actually go back to church to see that… with a camera of course.

  • ALSO:

    Let me respond more to this: “it’s the institution of the American journalism school that indoctrinates rather than educates, churning out legions of worker drones with competing egos and identical portfolios”

    Yeah maybe, but who’s fault is it really that a photographer does not take what they are taught and then takes it further to create their own vision? The NPPA? Not buying that one.

    The reality is more probably that there are a lot of good photographers in the world but not so many exceptional ones. As I said before, as with any creative endeavor, some people can do this and some can’t.

    Maybe the ones that really follow the “Drones” as you put it, may never be exceptional. The ones that are will always find a way to excel and push the envelope.

  • i’d like to pick up on what bob mentioned about the competition – because, as i mentioned earlier it also made me feel uncomfortable.. and i think i understand you bob.

    it bemuses me when work intended to be exploratory of a theme, or exposing of a human condition, first and foremost ends up in a competition – in this case in it’s very early stages.

    with this project, because it is in it’s early stages i think the project has goaded and inadvertently invited some of the comments here.. again, as i mentioned earlier, the content is pretty superficial.. pretty expected.. and were jim to photograph an american family in poverty – this family – truely to his views, perhaps this is the work we would see from him?
    not to be disrespectful jim – your honesty is admirable, even if your opinion differs.. you encourage dialogue, albeit in sometimes controversial ways.

    the statement here says something about the photographers “wished-for” intentions.. yet i wonder if below the surface there is a personal struggle .. a photographers feelings rather than a photographers written statement of intent.

    entering work into a competition, never mind two, when it is in such early stages.. with rather banal observations of poverty which are by no means developed nor explored may betray a truer intention closer to imants pointedly one lined observations.

    bob and panos..
    libya is over where paper is hot.. or maybe it’s not.. you’re both beautifully passionate people one way or another..


  • Pete…
    In your opinion the diference between the good and the exceptional ones is that talent, effort, desire or a mix of everything?

  • i mean to say – i don’t know anyone well enough to judge them.. not really.. although my ego sometimes says otherwise..
    and i don’t judge this family.. have tried not to..
    although sadly, that is perhaps “despite” the photographs..


  • on photographers – pete and DAH..
    there are some that learn theory and technique through collage and some that learn it through practice..

    i wonder if the head-start lent to the collage taught soon becomes a ball and chain, as they find limits, (defined to them by tutors?), to which the self taught do not subscribe..??

    perhaps it is much easier to learn something than unlearn something..

    makes sence to me, and hopefully others.

  • Pete, not at all Orwellian. That would imply some omniscient grand master plan. It’s simply a mentality created by proxy-the institution being a bit like the military or a religious order, where independent, critical thought isn’t encouraged. I agree-there are few exceptional photographers. There are few exceptional anythings. And while there are many exceptionally talented photojournalists, some are exceptional within that context only. In the greater context of global dialogue, some of those exceptional photographers are irrelevant. Consider this: instead of photojournalism schools, why not a good liberal arts background: history, politics, religion, literature, music, art appreciation, writing, photography – a core discipline that would include learning the technical aspects of photography – something a Capuchin monkey could learn to do, combined with studies that promote critical thought. The exceptional students would be truly exceptional, in a universal way and maybe the mediocre ones would bugger off and do something else.

  • monkeypoint – if i understand you correctly, you will find exactally that kind of teaching in many uk schools now.. mostly darkrooms, i hear..
    i built my final schools DR in the art class cupboard 20 years ago.. they now have a full suite and students learn technical skills and a little basic theory.. it is commonplace.. par for the course (pun intended)..

    photography as a language, personal style and authorship and more may only come to a few – yet that is the definition of “exceptional”..

    i hope more and more learn photography, so that more and more may understand and appreciate it..


  • :) I mediocre one don’t want to bugger off…

  • “learning the technical aspects of photography – something a Capuchin monkey could learn to do”

    He (the monkey) may be able to learn to make a good photograph, but he wont be able to understand that it is one.

    “Consider this: instead of photojournalism schools, why not a good liberal arts background: history, politics, religion, literature, music, art appreciation, writing, photography – a core discipline that would include learning the technical aspects of photography”

    I don’t recall anyone forcing anyone else to go to PhotoJ-school. I for one never did.


    Does anyone know the answer to that? You tell me… What is the difference between David Allan Harvey and you? (this is an academic question, not a critique of your photography)

  • Bob, I see nothing unusual about Panos’s “insults”, as his stances go on BURN. Remember…Just talking (as you say, we all have a life where we ain’t just talking, and you know that for me, right now, there are some serious stuff happening to me in SF)!

    OK, if you have to, can you leave a little, but not entirely, like….Writing shorter sentences in as fewer paragraphs, does that sound like a good compromise? We lose the writer, but keep the essential Bob


  • “Writing shorter sentences in as fewer paragraphs,”


    Now that is funny!


  • Perhaps things have changed, but when I went to a very conservative, old school photojournalism program, it was anything but a place where critical thought was discouraged. It was just encouraged within the constricts of pretty well-defined professional standards. I’m sure we spent 10 hours trying to understand what a good photograph is for every on hour spent on technical aspects. Probably more like 40 to one.

    Although I didn’t exactly thrive in that environment — always experimenting, too artsy, hated film, chemicals, paper, etc) — I came out of it with great respect for the institution. The world would be a better place with less editorializing from those who are supposed to report the news. And ummmm, I don’t know about everyone else’s photojournalism schools, but at least the ones I and David attended had rich curricula in history, politics, religion, literature, arts, science, whatever. They’re called distribution requirements.

  • About the Maguirres essay. I don’t think I was one of the people who absolutely wants to see a bunch of irrsponsible slobs leeching off welfare. But since I have known families who resemble the “lies” in the picture (especially the room with the unsheeted mattress and baby on the floor, junkies live like that… Ok, laundry day, maybe…) I do understand that some people here find the subject might be abour being irresponsible and a culture of entitlements. You know, just talking again

    That is my main criticism and my first to Lea. She should know these pictures are going to have people talk opinionately and therefore should have provided us with a lot more facts about the Maguirres situation. Why do they have so many kids? Were they relatively well-off a few years ago and therefore really fell out? What job did/does the hubbie have?

    Also, why no picture of the guy at work? So,we get a bit of gray, agaisnt the balck and white of either pity or disdain. I suppose my questions show my interest in this essay is definitely not about photography but the people in the pictures.

  • Wow, this one has really got everybody’s knickers in a twist. :) Good thing I suppose…

    I’m actually quite surprised that DAH published this essay, as personally I don’t find it ready for prime time, at all. It’s not that it’s not an important subject, or that Lea isn’t capable…but I find there’s a lack of maturity or insight to the photos. In a lot of them it feels as if the photographer’s hovering over her subject, and not enough time was spent to come up with truly engaging or insightful moments (though some better images on her site than here -??). It feels artificial to me, as if the subject is a study in technique (small camera direct flash – how Terry Richardson) rather than humans with complex emotions and lifestyle. Probably the first photo is the best, but then where’s the dad after that??!!! Very incomplete… it feels as if the children were safe/easy subjects and not the parents bigger picture.

    I’m more than sure her intention was right about taking these photos, but they just don’t work (for me at least) and that’s where the problems begin. Nothing to do with the family and their choices and issues. If I was critiquing these photos in a class/workshop situation I would say, this and this works, here’s a start, now go take some more. But certainly not ready as an essay beyond that.

    And, oh pulled Waplington’s Living Room down off the shelf for the first time in probably 15 years. Forgot how intimate and engaging those photos are. Best to check it out if possible and learn something from that. Of course no photographer wants to imitate but I think there are some tools in there about how to make family photos more than just the sum of their parts.

    Yeah, tough love, but I do appreciate and applaud this photographer’s choice of tough subject and the need to tell these people’s story. But you need to get more down to their level (sometimes quite literally) and show the whole story.



  • MW
    “It was just encouraged within the constricts of pretty well-defined professional standards…”
    Precisely my point.

    “The world would be a better place with less editorializing from those who are supposed to report the news”
    Bullshit. Understanding complexity and putting things into historical context, for one thing isn’t the same as editorializing. Reducing everything to over-simplification and meaningless drivel under the pretext of neutrality is the theater of buffoons.

    “And ummmm, I don’t know about everyone else’s photojournalism schools, but at least the ones I and David attended had rich curricula in history, politics, religion, literature, arts, science, whatever”

    Yes, I was just waiting for either you or Pete to point out the required electives that everyone mostly blew off. I’m advocating for flipping the paradigm. Pete is right: no one is forcing the herd into the pen.

  • “I suppose my questions show my interest in this essay is definitely not about photography but the people in the pictures.”

    And shouldn’t it be just like that?

  • Let me just say at the outset here that I am not one of your typical Vampire State Upper West Side snooty elitists who thinks that they are better than everyone else and doesn’t mind who knows it. No, indeed, I stand foursquare and fourscore behind the premise that all men are created equal and that our Creator has endowed us all with inalienable rights, which has nothing to do with extraterrestrials or their rights or so people tell me, so I guess that we can treat them like crap if we feel like it, provided we would do something like that to an extraterrestrial before he/she/it/they blew us to hell in a hand basket with their trusty Acme patented disintegration ray gun. This always makes me wonder why Marvin the Martian’s stuff from Acme always seemed to work just fine, while Wile E. Coyote always wound up with the company’s defective equipment and not a customer service department 800 number anywhere in sight; did Acme just not like Wile E. Coyote or maybe they had no use for coyotes in general, in which case Wile E.’s can hit those guys with a first rate civil rights case on top of any product liability thing he might have going on now.

    But whether the government has a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of extraterrestrials is neither here nor there; all that matters here is that I support our system of government and I believe, in the words of Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others, and that you can solve all the problems of democracy with more democracy, to paraphrase Al Smith. And what is democracy? It is government of the people, for the people, and by the people, as Lincoln so eloquently put it. Our Constitution begins by announcing the sole legitimate source of all political power in this country: We the People of the United States. Yes, in this country the people are sovereign, the people and only the people. This is the beauty and greatness of democracy, this is why men fought and endured the hardships of the Revolution, why they froze at Valley Forge during that horrible winter, why they risked their lives and their sacred honor to found this our Great Republic.

    Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and it is almost always better not to look at some things too closely; a great many things, whether we would like to admit this or not, are better off in the abstract, and the people are one of these things. Even here in our happy little burg, where the smallest and grimiest ragamuffin in the streets can deliver a ten minute oral report on his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights worthy of publication in the Harvard Law Review at the drop of a policeman’s hat, once an editor removes the obscenities about the policeman’s mother, one sees any number of people whose very existence makes the impartial observer think that if these are the people whose liberty the soldiers of the Continental Army suffered through Valley Forge to secure then those guys froze their asses off for nothing. There is nothing like seeing some of the people up close and personal to make you wonder if universal suffrage is such a good idea. The people, after all, elected Jerry Springer mayor of Cincinnati, and I don’t know about you, but I find the very concept of Jerry Springer holding elective office anywhere in the United States to be utterly frightening, and all the more so since Cincinnati is in Ohio, which has always struck me as a fairly mature and sensible state, unlike Massachusetts, say, which freely allows known Red Sox fans to wander the streets of Boston engaging in their loathsome rituals before the stunned eyes of decent men, women, and children. That the Commonwealth of Massachusetts permits such public grotesqueries to go unpunished is a stain on that state’s otherwise pristine reputation for public probity.

    An outraged populace is a terrible thing to behold, a political fact that I became aware of only the other day, when a woman came into our egregious mold pit looking for a voter registration form. She was not happy and she let us know it in no uncertain terms. She was sick of seeing people on television whose gender she could not identify. She always wrote “biologically female” in the gender box, as if merely marking off female were not enough in and of itself. She railed against people with plastic breasts and other such deceptive practices; she was sick of it, she said, and she intended to vote for anyone who would put a stop to it. She left the building then, clutching her voter registration form in one hand, happy to be taking the first step in liberating this our Great Republic from the stultifying hands of the plastic surgeons.

    I may be wrong about this; I make no claims of omniscience and I am as clairvoyant as the next guy, assuming the next guy isn’t Nostradamus, and frankly I think old Nosty was full of toads’ gonads; but I do not believe that ending breast augmentation in this country has the necessary mass appeal an issue needs to make inroads into the American political consciousness. Certainly this decidedly different agenda will go nowhere in California, where the state’s famed beaches and those lying upon them are monuments to silica in all of its physical manifestations. But what of the deeper ramifications of this program on the American body politic, which, and this just my opinion, you understand, could use a little liposuction along the sides.

    It seems to me that our patron’s task is quixotic at best and potentially dangerous at worst. If we start eliminating such practices, where do we stop? If today we can stop breast augmentation, then tomorrow do we end root canals? Do we deprive citizens of their franchise simply because they’ve had a couple of cavities filled? Forbid it, Almighty God, I know not what course others may take, so long as it isn’t the special of the day because that always costs more and I am not paying for a glutton fest here, but as for me, give me rhinoplasty or give me death!!!

  • YES charles.. Living Room is just a wonderful, wonderful look at boisterous family life in nottingham.. i’ve met nick a couple of times and also heard him talk, when the book was released.
    he studied under one of my old tutors.. the excellent roger beecroft..
    people look at the book and think it’s about poverty.. the working class.. nottingham..
    it’s not – i think it’s all about the struggle for joy and LOVE.. the conditions and situation of the family are relevant, yet only as a context.. not the main focus, as with the work here..

    the most well worn critics of his work state that he *yawn* exploited the subjects, derides the “working class”, and blah-blah or just blah the blah of blah with blahhhh..
    the facts about WHO the family actually are and HOW nick became so close to them remain obscure for most people..
    you know..
    life n life n that.

    i’m trying to hang on to it – enjoy it more frequently..
    although it they get much more “valuable” i may have to forgo mine for a lens :o/


  • monkeypoint MW – re-read and realized the irrelevance of my interjection.

    carry on.. i’m no PJ.. don’t want to be a PJ.. respect only a handful of PJs.. and some of them are PJs by fault, rather than design..

  • Michelle, it sounds like you didn’t go to a very good university. Of course reducing everything to over-simplification and meaningless drivel under the pretext of neutrality is the theater of buffoons, but good j schools don’t teach that and good journalists don’t do that. In fact bad journalists are much more likely to indulge in over-simplification and meaningless drivel under the pretext of creativity or pushing their opinions on others than they would by following the precepts of classic journalism. Ever heard of Judith Miller?

  • David B – I LOVED Living Room. It was one of the first books I was shown after moving to DC by one of my best friends, Carl Bower who was lucky to have had John Gossage as an early mentor.

  • MW, yawn
    I’m fairly certain I went to one of those purported best journalism schools in the country with one of the best PJ programs that are all pretty much alike, although the student creed may be different as are the handshakes and class rings. I have heard of Judith Miller. And Valerie Plame.
    How about Sebastio Salgado or Sally Mann or Nan Goldin or Keith Carter? I don’t think they went to PJ school.

  • panos skoulidas
    March 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm
    to bob through FB

    Panos Skoulidas March 30 at 2:19pm

    listen i apologize for the name calling..its just i couldnt swallow that bellicose and jingo bullshit, Libya regarding… but no waay i should let myself go off and hurt u , calling u names etc…sorry & big hug

  • I’m sorry Michelle, but that’s not a logical argument. Do any of those people even pretend to be photojournalists? And if they sometimes take work in the field as I know Salgado did, who cares if they ever went to j school? What’s that got to do with anything previously discussed? Nobody forces anyone to be a news journalist. If someone doesn’t like the constraints of the profession, they should do something else. I’m in that category. I don’t like the constraints of the profession so I do something else. But I still respect the profession.

  • .if you are all upset about my support of Winephoto, than you are even more confused,
    no no no…nothing to do with Winephoto..i love them..i was part of their exhibition last may etc..blah blah…
    the only problem i have with u (and im sure u know that very well…. is that BELLICOSE & JINGOISTIC Insults u threw in my face over the Libya CMB essay)… to me apologize would fix things , just as i apologize by calling u an asshole…

  • And forgot to ask, so you think Judith Miller’s approach to journalism was a good thing?

  • mw
    March 30, 2011 at 7:53 am
    I’ve been watching this entire thread and have no idea what Panos is shouting about. ?
    u r right..Mike..this has nothing to do with this essay…it has to do with MCB essay , me being accused by bob as a MILITARY LOVER:( YIKES

  • to me apologize would fix things , just as i apologize by calling u an asshole
    TYPO..i meant to say, to me your apology would totally fix things just as i apologized to you for the name calling…(inappropriate especially after some Bushmills whiskey shots :)

  • Well, that explains everything. You gotta pour that vile stuff down the drain, Uncle P, and get yourself some Jameson.

  • I should pay more attention to what goes on around here, I guess. I’m still trying to picture Panos as a bellicose military-loving jingoist…my imagination isn’t that good. Well, the bellicose part I can imagine but the rest of it doesn’t really gel. That’s what happens when you have no imagination, I suppose.

  • Windup..
    true..very true…
    and as Akaky said: i have a very hard time getting identified as a MILITARY lover etc…All i was preaching for , is kick Gaddafi out before he kills more people…nothing more than that..btw im not the person that pushed the button or ordered the NATO bombings (as far as i remember at least;)
    And i have no problem Apologizing to Bob in public , especially if he didnt intend to offend me…maybe i got it wrong…i dont know…

  • MW, Judith Miller was a tool. And what you say about Salgado, Goldin, etc. is my point and yours, my friend: YOU’RE the one who seems to be critiquing based on the PJ criteria, lumping us all in together under the same umbrella and I’M saying that we don’t all think of ourselves as photojournalists, even while our projects are thematically-related. We aren’t all neutral (I’m not, ever). We don’t always consider our actions as they relate to the potential policy violations consequences of the corporation we represent.

  • David B,

    Are you familiar with Ray’s A Laugh? I think you must be… amazing thing about that is it’s of his own family, and was taken with a crappy p&s. Not sure about his interjection of birds in trees shots (an art school affectation imo) but I love the way you are both horrified and fascinated by his family – and after repeated viewings charmed, pissed off, love, hate, etc. That’s what makes it so good is the complexity of emotions it brings up.

    Waplington’s book reminds me of that show in England, Shameless, which alas they are going to try and duplicate in the States. Yeah, the photo of Dad eating peas and chips on the floor with his kids is priceless and warms my heart every time I see it….

  • 06 I do that to my socks as well

  • Michelle, I really don’t want to have a spat with you, it’s just interesting conversation, so no offense, but to some extent I think you are arguing with an imaginary mw. This is far from a classical pj site and I rarely, if ever, critique essays that aren’t presented as classic pj as such.

    Your point seems to be that classic precepts of pj suck and that j scoop sucks big time. My points are that tools like judith millet are what you get without those standards and that my j school experience couldn’t be much more radically different from what you describe as yours. As far as burn pj essays and what I was taught, nachtwey’s was a master’s example of how it can be done.

  • “We don’t always consider our actions as they relate to the potential policy violations consequences of the corporation we represent.”

    Never did that. I never changed the way I shot due to a policy. Now that does not mean that my photos were always published, but that is out of my hands. I just make photographs.

    I am sorry Michelle, but it seem to me that there is some serious anger, resentment, bitterness or something going on here.

  • Who’s spatting?! Of course, we’re just chatting. I’m waxing hyperbolic and generalizing for emphasis. :)

  • MW, Pete – I was brought up on vitriolic dialogue, sometimes with plates being tossed for emphasis. But let’s just promise each other that we won’t ever go to bed angry.

  • Actually thinking about it more…. it seems to me that the “anger” or whatever you are expressing toward NPPA, photojournalism schools, traditional newspaper photojournalists etc. should really be directed toward the publishers and publications. They are the ones that can be rightfully accused of sanitizing or censoring imagery that may to adhere to some “guidelines” they believe in following. They are the ones that are beholden to the advertisers that pay the bills.

    There are some amazing PHOTOJOURNALISTS that went to PHOTOJOURNALISM SCHOOL and they are out there producing amazing work.

    Mary Calvert – The Washington Times, Oakland Tribune.
    Andrea Bruce – The Washington Post, The Concord Monitor
    Lucian Perkins – The Washington Post
    James Nachtwey – The Albuquerque Journal
    Carolyn Cole – The Los Angeles Times

    All photojournalism school grads and I could go on and on.

  • Jim Nachtwey is one in a million. I met him in Haiti years ago. He’s as thoughtful and understated as anyone you’ll ever meet. But why were there 30 other photographers trying to be just like him? And why were so many of those photographers convinced that that was the ONLY way to be? If you scroll up to an earlier comment I made: There are a number of exceptional photojournalists; however, SOME of those are exceptional only within the narrow world of photojournalism photography.

  • My point was that if they could get through the “indoctrination” anyone with the drive and talent can also.

  • Pete, you hold up this list of photographers whose talents I’m not questioning. I’m not debating their skill especially when my accomplishments pale by comparison. But they don’t inspire me, at least not the way they seem to inspire you. And they are, as a group ambassadors of photojournalism – a style, an approach, a mentality I don’t really share. Why conclude that that makes me bitter or resentful? I’m neither. Opinionated, definitely, but as I’ve set my own goals and done everything in life that I’ve wanted to do without complaints, then I don’t understand why I would seem bitter. I just don’t agree with you. Sorry. Back to scanning, which is tedious but makes me insanely happy!

  • In the big picture it’s not so bad that a lot of people want to be like Nachetway, it’s the Judith miller wannabes that scare me. That, plus an establishment that increasingly prefers the latter to the former. But yea, on the individual level it’s kind of sad.


    Bear with me here a min. since I am confused…. I guess I am just not sure what your point is or where you are coming from….

    Your words:

    “it’s the institution of the American journalism school that indoctrinates rather than educates, churning out legions of worker drones with competing egos and identical portfolios, making up the rank and file of the corporations that they serve. ”

    “It’s simply a mentality created by proxy-the institution being a bit like the military or a religious order, where independent, critical thought isn’t encouraged.”

    Now, you say that exceptional photojournalists “are, as a group ambassadors of photojournalism – a style, an approach, a mentality I don’t really share.”

    This tells me that you are not considering yourself a photojournalist. And if you don’t consider yourself a photojournalist, or you don’t subscribe to that “style, an approach… or mentality”, then why do you care about what kind of photojournalists are coming out of photo-j schools?

    I don’t understand the animosity.

    And in reference to photo-j schools, sure there are going to be a lot of people that go through the the Photo-J system and not excel and just produce cookie cutter images. There are also many many others who go through the same system and manage to find their own voice and vision.

    Isn’t that what defines the difference between really talented and average?

  • monkeypoint – charles..
    yes – rays a laugh.. there are parallels with wapplingtons work, although nick shot (believe it or not) medium format.. a mamiya rb i believe..
    he lived with the family in nottingham while he studied at trent poly.. roger beecroft encouraged and encouraged.. just shoot.. keep shooting.. and finally when nick was “done” roger showed his work to avedon..

    and who were the family nick stayed with? what was his relationship?
    well – see the dedication in the book to his grandfather, without whom the work could not have happened :o)

    monkeypoint – carl is a good guy.. i met him last year at lookbetween.. please say “hi” when you see him.

  • David, I most certainly will the next time I talk to him. He moved to Denver about six months ago.

  • David B,

    I believe Waplington shot with a 6X9 camera of some sort – either Fuji’s or a Horseman (I think most likely if I recall).

    And it was Billingham who was discovered by Avedon… but maybe Nick too?


  • roger beecroft showed RA his work.. was sure he said an RB.. and that is what the equipment stores had.
    anyway – remarkable to see such work from such cumbersome equipment.

  • i mean showed avedon waplingtons work..

  • “living room” was published 1991 against “rays a laugh” in 1996..
    as i was led to believe, waplingtons book was proclaimed a “new direction” in documentary by avedon, and helped pave the way for acceptance of billingham.. and perhaps our lea exhibiting here on burn.

    the obvious difference is that both waplington and billinghams subjects were much more than “subjects”, which may account for the great depth of their work..

  • as an aside – nick began photographing in nottingham in 1982.. carried on for 3 or 4 years.. and spent as long in preparation for the book as he did shooting it.. finally publishing in 91.

    one of the issues i have with the work here is that it runs to only 9 photos, has already been around the “competitions”, and lacks a depth which cannot be made up for by free-access alone..

    everyone seems in such a rush these days..

  • David,

    It was definitely 6X9. Probably the same camera Depardon used in “Return To Vietnam” and I believe Mitch Epstein uses(d). Eggleston worked with the Fuji 6X9. 6X9 has a rectangle similar to 35, 6X7 (the RB) more like a 4X5 sheet film.

    And yes, people need to slow down, patience grasshoper.


  • apologies charles – you’re right .. it does seem to be a 6×9 rather than 6×7..
    will ask roger B what camera – it’s bugging me now :o)

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