Monthly Archive for March, 2007


i just returned from jail…..a 6 hour bureaucratic nightmare to visit "uptown" (see march 23 post )…yes, "uptown" is in the maximum security section at Rikers Island Correctional Facility here in new york….he committed  a parole violation and is paying with 6 months of his 31 year old life….one third of his life has already been spent in "blockdown"…

(see natgeo hip hop video link below)

for the first three months of his incarceration, i had no idea where "uptown" was…i had "lost" him….he usually called me at least twice a week…..i feared the worst…and jail was not the worst i feared….the last time i had seen him he showed up at my loft with four men i had never seen before…never met in the "hood where i had done so much of my work with him and his world…i could tell immediately he was running with the wrong crowd….these guys were different….tougher….a lot tougher…..

usually when "uptown" and "ruckus" and "double r"  visited me at home, we ordered out burgers and hung out and looked at pictures etc etc…this time, we made sort of uncomfortable conversation and they left quickly….all of us, marie and luis montolio (my friend from spain) and i felt an ominous discomfort with these new guys….and now  we know why "uptown" disappeared….at least, at Rikers Island he is more or less "safe"…

"uptown" will miss the show….the opening of my exhibition on Hip Hop…he is the key to everything i photographed on this project….i wanted him to perform for the opening…it would have been a seminal moment for him…i can just see it, but it is not to be….he will not be released until mid-july , a full month after the show….we had both imagined such a moment where he would get a "break" as the poet and rapper that he is….

"With every difficulty comes ease in this pain afflicting saga

called life sometimes you might find me asking, "why should i bother?"

times is harder, streets is wise, visions broader,

i did years in them penses, tinted lenses, somebody’s father

lower desire struct, conscience stuck

man i done lucked up…

mental abuse beating yourself daily, calling a truce

past time of your ghetto lifestyle, shaking it loose

time to produce, i rather think big and choose

trying to find the truth…

Am i really born to lose???"

From:  "The Struggle" by Yushanda Durant (Uptown)

(copyright 2006 Yushanda Durant…..South Bronx , New York)

benjamin and a bad day

stick around me long enough and you will find that i end up with some really bad bad days…..since starting my little online diary, i have described trips to mexico, thailand and hanging out with my students and well known photographer buddies….you could imagine some kind of fantasy lifestyle where trips to exotic places and only seeing good light and going to gallery openings and running into koudelka by accident were the things that make up my life…wrong, wrong and wrong….truth is, like all of you, most of it is a struggle for some kind of emotional if not physical survival….most of this week has been one disaster after another…i will not bore you with the details, but will somebody please send me some good news???

when things go down down down, you have to look around for something uplifting….for me, it happened on the subway….late at night and dark and dreary…..a really unlikely place to see a smile or to meet a stranger who makes you think twice about anything….

but there was benjamin….playing his trumpet for money and for money sounding a lot like luis armstrong….well, i said it was late!!  i dropped a few bucks into benjamin’s trumpet case and he huffed and he puffed and he cranked out a pretty good rendition of…yes, you guessed it, "what a wonderful world"

where in the world are the trains late at night?  who knows, but benjamin norris scott put down his trumpet,  asked for a piece of paper,  and started writing feverishly…..politeness prevailed…i let a train go by…benjamin was writing his whole philosophy…the philosophy of a recovering alcoholic who is trying to do good….he is (as per written on the paper): "the chief organizer for the Institute for Saving Our Sons and Daughters" treatment for 12-21 year olds…mentoring objectives: to assist youth in moving forward through all eventualities: academic, economic, psychological" …there was more, but you get the idea..

another train was coming….we quickly exchanged phone numbers….i dropped in another five….benjamin called me at home last night ….he wondered where i was….he wished me a good day…..what a wonderful world….


a place in history

if you live in new york , you know that this is the biggest small town in the world….i run into people on the streets all the time who are old friends…..i do not say "howdy" to everyone i meet on the street, but this town is small enough that you really can’t get away with anything!!!

and so it was yesterday afternoon….i was rushing to drop off a fedex box on the most beautiful spring day of the century ….sitting there in the late afternoon good light, perfectly positioned at the best corner table, was joseph koudelka and gilles peress and his wife alison…you do not meet joseph koudelka without getting a  big bear hug…..joseph always appears to be in good humor…when joseph walks into the magnum office he literally goes around and hugs everyone in the room….joseph is a lot of fun…but, joseph is also deadly serious…..

i sat down to join joseph , gilles and alison….whatever i was rushing to do suddenly became unimportant….i was now basking in the glow of the afternoon light with two of photography’s greats….i did not speak, i just listened…..gilles and joseph were in the middle of a conversation about a place in history and how you must control your work even after your death……

the discussion was based on the henri cartier-bresson exhibition currently at the International Center of Photography featuring 300 of henri’s  "scrapbook" photographs….photographs he never showed anyone…but photographs that show henri’s thinking process at an early age….they show his  evolution….show his life and what he cared about…but, not his "selects"…not the work that he showed the world….not the icons with which we are all familiar….

joseph was upset with this henri cartier-bresson collection at ICP….henri had often used joseph as an "editor"…someone he trusted to pick one picture over another……."i am sure henri never would have showed this work….he would be angry with this exhibition" joseph said…

gilles countered "well, all of this work is interesting for all of us…if you are going to show your  early evolutionary work or if you know it may someday be "found", then you have to publish it and control it before you die"….

i started wondering if leonardo da vinci would have liked the show at the Met of his early sketches….but, i stayed silent…..

gilles then offered to help joseph put together his early work in a book….a special book of the evolution of joseph…..gilles is a very special thinker…..he sees things in ways that few see….gilles can put a twist on something that makes you think about whatever it was you were going to edit in a whole new light….in my opinion, gilles would be an amazing editor for joseph…but my opinion does not count…only joseph can decide….

joseph is 70 years old….like everyone in magnum and everyone who has spent a lifetime dedicated to their work, he thinks about his "place in history"…certainly joseph already has a place….but he does not want to be misunderstood now and he does not want to be misunderstood after he is gone…..this was a heady conversation in the afternoon sun…i was soaking up every split second…..just feeling to be a little part of history sitting at the table with these guys even having this discussion….

it is something to think about….since none of us knows our departure point, at what point in time do you organize your work in such a way that nobody can mis-use it after your death??…..photographer control….."place in history"….this is what magnum is all about….

the afternoon sun was now hitting joseph square in the face and twinkled off of his glasses….gilles joked that joseph always kept up his "tan"….joseph would smile, laugh heartily,  and then suddenly he would look like the weight of the world was on his shoulders….

joseph is here in new york to make a presentation of his most recent book "Koudelka" (Aperture) at the Aperture Foundation next Thursday evening….suddenly our little cafe gathering broke up and gilles and alison went on their way…joseph and i walked alone up 7th avenue heading for magnum…we both remembered sharing chinese takeout right where we were walking now  several years before……joseph noticed i was limping a bit and asked about my leg…he said he had a bad leg too…..when you are with joseph you remember every little thing..


i asked joseph how he would present his book…joseph does not make speeches……he said " i will just show the work and then take questions only"…….the presentation at Aperture  will be packed……everyone in the room will know that THEY are part of history and that they will be witnessing a presentation by an icon in the world of photography whose place in art history is assured…..only joseph will be "concerned"  about his next book…

i hugged joseph goodbye at the office  and stepped back into springtime… the concrete jungle i saw a little dogwood blooming white….everything sparkled…..i felt heady and light…..i got the first cab i saw….even a friendly driver who did not mind taking me home to brooklyn…..i had to get back to my loft soonest to start organizing my work….i have a long long way to go……i really am concerned about my next book!!!


koudelka at the magnum meeting in london 2006

pinhole journal

arming kids with cameras is not a new concept….it was a "new idea" 30 yrs. ago when jim hubbard created "shooting back" in washington d.c. as a creative response to a creaky art program in the school system of  our nations capital…everyone  loves children’s drawings , and everyone seems to love youngster’s photographs as well…so raw, so fresh, …

eniac martinez (see previous post) gave me a little book when we met in mexico…"Un Pueblo Toba" is a smallish handy softback book of photographs taken in the little village of Toba in Argentina….the "new" catch to this book is that the photographs were all taken with self-made pinhole cameras….so this is really down to basics….this unselfconscious work with the pinhole may be as close to authentic documentary as you  can get…



eniac and “camino real”

eniac was the name of the worlds first computer…..and mexico’s eniac martinez was born at about that time, so his mother thought she would give him a name that fit the times….eniac definitely fits the times, but in a very traditional way….his powerful black & white imagery hearkens to an age of classic documentary in the tradition of manuel alvarez bravo and yet moves us forward to see his vision of mexico today…

martinez has a new book….handsome and tactile……"camino real de tierra adentro" takes us on a modern day journey along the trade route that by 1598 stretched from veracruz to mexico city and then on up to santa fe , a distance of about 1500 miles….but, this is not a travel book….eniac uses the historical context of the "camino real" to give us rich imagery that digs deep into psyche of the "modern’ experience….

our warm neighbor mexico is almost unknown or misunderstood by most americans… know mexicans and mexico you must go…not to the border towns where the worst of our culture gets blended with the worst of theirs….drive  south and discover the "real mexico"…….mexicans may be the most self-effacing people on the planet…they have hope, they go to church and thank God for what they have , and then they move foreward in the best way they know how….

eniac martinez’ panoramic work sucks you into the frame and let’s you move around inside…..each photograph is a little adventure… never know where things begin and end….he does not tell the whole story…..he lets you invent the photograph’s  reason for being…..

try to find this book… mexico itself, so much work being done "south of the border", is unknown by americans…..human nature often dictates for us to look far away….the treasures of mexico and its artists are within easy reach…..thanks eniac, mi amigo, for your humility and your vision…




Continue reading ‘eniac and “camino real”’

new postings on all other blogs

ad shoots

as i mentioned in a previous post, i sometimes do advertising
photography…..i am in the middle of such a shoot right now in new
york and then on to brazil….this work quite simply pays my
bills….but, i must say, they are also usually quite
enjoyable…because no client is going to commission me for a studio
shot or for a "follow the sketch" photograph…they are usually looking
for me to reproduce pretty much what i do anyway….

as usual, i try to push even these clients who are paying me, to go
a little further than maybe what they had in mind….and i am always working "off the shoot" as in the photographs below….on most ad
shoots i usually photograph a little something special for myself…
little favorites are never actually used in the ad, but the day i stop
shooting for myself is the day i hang my cameras up forever…..




sister gemma and model releases

i have never asked anyone i ever photographed for a model release… is just not something i can do… ask someone to sign a legal document after taking a picture is just too hard for me to do….it is not in my genes…..

but, i do have model releases for pictures which i shoot for advertising… i have an assistant do it…now i am shooting in new york for a couple of days on the same ad campaign that takes me to brazil…..they want my freestyle street shooting and yet require a release…this is very difficult in new york where people are rushing and often suspicious…

santiago, chile 1989

more and more, publishers of all kinds are requiring model releases…we live in a litigious society….newspapers and general circulation magazines in the  united states  still are legally exempt from needing a release from someone who is photographed in the "public domain"….but, even these publications are starting to at least suggest getting a release..

for sure, you need to have written legal permission if you are going to publish work which would involve the selling/marketing of a product….if you have a picture that is published inside a magazine, that same picture would require a release if used on the cover and subsequently the cover  used to promote the magazine….

yesterday, while out shooting for this ad campaign, i shot a random picture of a Catholic nun who was walking through the park..i was riding from one of those horse carriages for tourists and the picture was an interesting juxtaposition of the driver and the horse’s head and the nun dressed in white…"stop this carriage!!"…marie ( read about marie in "student work") jumps off and runs to get this release signed…i cannot even look….the driver tells me he cannot stop in the middle of the street like this…marie comes running back with the nun who, as it turns out , was walking with her non-nun sister…

i said, "hey, we have to move"…i looked down at the smiling nun….i said," why don’t you come with us"….she smiled even more….i reached down, grabbed her hand, and pulled her and her sister up into the horse carriage… we went…..

Sister Gemma and i shake hands and she introduced me to her family sister Rhonda who was visiting from Kansas…Sister Gemma resides in new york along with 50 other "sisters" in a convent ….can’t remember which one….anyway, we start talking about Kansas….i used to live there…my first job as a photographer out of grad school was at the Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal….when i told Sister Gemma and her non-nun sister Rhonda that i used to be a photographer in Kansas, their smiles got bigger!!! but, i could not help but think they had to have some doubt…some suspicion…i mean, here is this man in Central Park with a camera riding around in a horse carriage and asking them (or marie is asking them) to sign a legal document!!! 

well, as it turns out Sister Gemma wants to take better pictures….she shoots sometimes for the Catholic publication of her convent….which camera is best?? you know the conversation..i gave her my business card and the link to this site..we chatted for awhile and had a very pleasant ride through the park…neither marie nor i had ever taken one of these horse carriages before….i mean, if you live in new york,  this just does not happen!!!

Sister Gemma said she could not sign a model release…she would need permission from Sister Superior from her convent….we exchanged phone numbers etc….

so, there you have it…i do not have a model release…..this picture cannot be used in this campaign….was i disappointed??  not at all….the warm eyes and the sincere conversation i had with Gemma and Rhonda made my day…..

it started to rain as we said goodbye….warm handshakes….Sister Gemma and Rhonda, i hope you read this….it was a pleasure to meet you…..

“uptown” and “ruckus”



when i started the hip hop story for National Geographic Magazine two years ago, i really did not know where to begin….i was lost…there was not one single rap cd on my shelf….i mean, i was pretty much from the  bob dylan, stones, doors, jerry garcia generation….if it was not for my two sons , bryan and erin, i would not even have a clue as to what followed….even then, i was pretty much locked into radiohead,  phish,  u2, rem, jack johnson and still bob dylan!!

i mean, i knew the "mainstream" rappers…snoop, nelly, 50 cent, diddy, jay-z, eminem and i had tracked the life and art of tupac just because he just always seemed so interesting to me….but, that was really about it…and i had not really listened….i felt the  beat yes, but i could not always understand the words….so i downloaded all of their lyrics…and i read, read, read, and read…that was when i realized this was a story about WORDS….what these guys had to say, was what the story would be…

i ended up in the south bronx projects…where kool herc, afrika bambaata, grand master flash and a whole slew of others , in the early 80’s, took nothing but what they had to say and some beat up turntables and created an art form that vibrates  and shakes concrete around the world….

one day i met "uptown" and "ruckus" (above)…they had both been childhood buddies….their mothers were friends…..they both went to jail when they were 18 or so and they both got out about 10 years later….while they were "inside" they wrote about their lives….when i met them they were living the life in the "’hood"…mostly journalists find out what is going on by asking questions…i built my rapport with these guys by NOT asking any questions….listening works…

i brought them my books …i took a few snapshots and brought them back the next day…and new pictures everyday thereafter…i let them take me where they wanted to go and do what they wanted to do…i let the lyrics i had downloaded and the lyrics that "uptown" and "ruckus" wrote sink deep into the recesses of my brain….i knew i was on to something special….i did not pretend to be anything other than who i was…my only thought was that maybe i could be a type of "bridge" to other white folks in my generation…

one day "ruckus" invited me for sunday dinner in his small apartment on the 18th floor of the Bronx River Projects…..i was honored….out of respect , i showed up in my sunday best…yup, coat and tie….i figured if they were going to invite me into their homes, i would invite them into mine….from that day forward there was an exchange of friendship and comraderie i had never experienced in all of my travels….this was as far away from home as i had ever been….

when they came to my brooklyn loft  and got on the computer and looked at my photographs of them, they really got into it….even telling me things like "yo dave, the lighting in this picture sucks"   …. they poured over all of my photography books and were very proud to be involved with National Geographic even though they were not subscribers….they each walked out one day with new copies of "Magnum Stories"….they were into the "collaboration" we had going….we all knew we were making some kind of history…..a document where they were the authors…i was just a facilitator…

so, my whole project started with these two unknowns….they have dreams….they want to be like nelly and snoop….for the money?  sure!! but, mostly to be recognized as poets, as artists, chroniclers of their world….one day several months later i tried to call "uptown" from snoop dogg’s studio in los angeles….i wanted it to be a great moment….but, "uptown’s" cell phone was out of credit….but he loved the story later anyway….

i took my lessons from "uptown" and "ruckus" and traveled around the world  to meet other rappers in other cultures…, barcelona, israel/palestine, korea,thailand  and finally to the heart of it all…africa…in senegal i met "jally" a senegalise griot….a story-teller….jally’s father , and grandfather and great grandfather and great great grandfather etc etc were griots….if your father is a griot, then you are a griot…there is no other path…and the griots passed on their beat, their rythem their ability to tell a story , to "rap" to their fellow slaves on ships that ended up on the shores of the americas….and from the cane sugar plantations and the cotton fields  came gospel, jazz, blues, rock n’roll and then all the  way back and  all the way forward  to "rap"….

some of my work appears this month in National Geographic Magazine, with a brilliant essay by James McBride ….some of it online as a video on Geographic interactive…..if i do a book someday, the text will be the words of "Uptown" and "Ruckus"…..i just hope they live to see it…because , you see, the life they lead can lead to fame and fortune, but more often leads to jail or death……this is just their fate….

but, my dream remains… be at a book signing somewhere with my "boyz from the hood" signing their books…..after all, it is their story, not mine….i just went along for the ride….


now i have a surprise trip to brazil and…..


i need an assistant….someone who lives in salvador, bahia and can work with me next week for about 3 days….wishing for someone with good people skills and digital photo processing and transmitting skills

please post your telephone or any contact details here…..i arrive in salvador tuesday evening march 27th……

now, this sometimes happens to me….i think i have a whole week free to work on things, catch up etc…then, i end up in full "panic mode" as right now….this whole scramble is because of an ad shoot…i do very few advertising shoots, but sometimes i have the right style for the right campaign and these things pay for all of the other things i do that bring in no income for me…things like this blog and various little personal photography projects that i do just for fun….

besides, this is a good one…they just need pictures in my own style…i have worked so much in bahia and so this is an ideal commission, albeit a bit rushed…..

come in, come in bahia!!!!