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Hunger And Rage
Although the Caribbean islands are widely considered as a holiday paradise, Haiti a state lying on the Hispaniola island, in the Greater Antilles evokes a hell and a disaster rather than anything else. The overall situation on Haiti gets worse every year and the extreme, hardly imaginable poverty hits more and more people. The Haitian economics is paralysed, there is no infrastructure, no food supplies, the population suffers from hunger, social and living conditions in Haitian slums (e.g. CitÈ Soleil) are a human tragedy. There seems to be no way out of this misery. Haitian administration is (and always has been) highly corrupted, misappropriation of public funds is common. MINUSTAH (Blue Helmets installed on Haiti by the UN in 2004) substitute the police therefore they are generally not welcomed by the Haitian population. The rage grows and the tension continues with undiminished strength.
Music: Manno Charlemagne (“Banm Youn Ti Limye”)
68 thoughts on “jan sochor – hunger and rage”
this is really like.. in fact i would like to see a much longer essay.. a book.
the haitian people living in such difficult circumstances day to day needs to be highlighted and as someone who has only really seen imagery on the news or within a news media context i find this work illuminating.
without wanting to be negative, is there a slightly superficial feel to the essay? it makes me wonder how much time has been dedicated to the shooting – if this is a work in progress or a subject which has been shot on deadline for editorial purposes… a constraint i understand all too well myself.
i like your work jan, and from your site you have covered a great deal of ground.. are these projects complete or is there an intention to continue over time?
Virtually the whole essay can be summed up by image 5 alone.
If you sent this, out enmasse, as a ‘Wish you were here’ postcard, with donation details on the back….it might well do some good.
Beautiful and succint work that manages to convey Haiti very well. An incisive comment on poverty with a unique touch.
Jan – really powerful, moving work. Many congratulations.
I love unevolved neanderthal’s suggestion – might be interesting to see a ‘donate now’ button next to some of these essays with a link to the photographer’s chosen non-profit…
Excellent!! I would not have minded 10 more images in the presentation but very well done!
Wow! Now this is a good essay. Very strong images. Use of color reminds me a lot of DAH’s Cuban stuff. Excellent.
Kerry. Not quite what I had in mind.
What if…. [damm, looks like im catching elipses] You Mock it up as a postcard. you set up the proper NGO. You get actual people from the affected area to write little ‘wish you were here’ type messages on the back, in real ‘actual’ ink, in their own handwriting. You mail them everywhere you can, schools especially, but everywhere its feasible to. I mean, the internet is one thing, but imagine what might happen given a bit of luck and some humanity in the ‘real’ world. Kids in classes all over the world getting a postcard addressed to ‘their class’ from kids in haiti whos life is ‘this’, saying ‘hi’.
A bit of NGO blurb on the back as well and…who knows?
just a weird thursday train of thought. Please ignore if its a stupid idea.
as each year passes, and each new photographers tackles Haiti, it becomes more and more difficult to fathom the desperation, the poverty, the inhuman conditions that have befallen that tiny empoverished and ravished country….
succinct and up-close reporting…I long to hear them speak…..
as often with the most powerful work of reporting, it makes me want to put down the camera, leave the commenting behind, and focus on what it is we can do, including for the lives around us………
I don’t like slideshows where I can’t control speed or be able to go to next picture manually.
It’s a strong, powerful essay reminiscent of Alex Webb’s treatment of the same subject!
I do find differences in the two approaches of course, but this is besides the point.
There are more images in the essay that convey the hunger part and not so many the rage.
Partly due to the frequent appearance of little kids.
I also think there is a redundancy in tilted frames. Too many frames structured around the diagonical axis.
I did try to pick a single, very strong picture. But with no much success, at least for the time being.
Amazing work Jan, image number 4 and 5 are fantastically beautiful, but the whole essay is so well narrated and shot. I love your work.
it feels like each photo was picked for how well it fit into your ‘hunger and rage’ theme.
but isn’t that a skewed perspective?
people who have little are not necessarily wretched.
it just bothers me sometimes when a photographer manipulates the truth
to further his/her cause.
like the people who only photograph and show the misery of homeless people
when there is also so much love, joy, community and humanness to be portrayed as well.
(may I call you John, or do you prefer ‘unevolved’?) –
I love your idea — the kids I sponsor through world vision send me letters in ‘real ink’ with ‘real drawings’ occasionally and it makes me want to sign up another each time I get one… the human connection is indeed a powerful one.
Imagine your postcard project happening AND a ‘donate now’ button next to photo essays like Jan’s so people can act and make a difference right there, in that instant, while their heart is still affected by what they’ve just witnessed. Hmm… wheels are turning.
Are you familiar with Kids With Cameras? http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/home/ – I love this organization and what it does.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
But Matt you CAN go to individual images simply by clicking on each one. Then you can spend as much time as you like. You’ll need to hit the arrow to start the slideshow first, then choose your images click by click.
“Manipulates” ? Well… Is it, once again, a question of “objectivity” ? We all do make choices. Some even defend points of view. Of course you may disagree, specially when you seem to be deeply involved into the question. But this site, the works David proposes us, is about sharing and differences. For what I understood.
PS : Sorry for my english
Beautiful and heartbreaking. Nice work, Jan.
Katia, I take issue with your suggestion that the truth is being manipulated in these photos to further a “cause”. I have never been to Haiti, but everything I have ever read or seen from depicts a place of horrifying poverty and hunger, perhaps worse than any other place in the world. I’m pretty sure that if you went there you would probably be overwhelmed by the wretchedness of the situation, and it would take a fair bit of “manipulation of the truth” to find images of joy. As for community, love, and humanness, these things are all represented in Jan’s photos. Complaining that a photographer in Haiti is not depicting the “joy” in its people reminds me of the Fox News pundits complaining a few years ago, when the situation in Iraq was at its worst, that the “mainstream media” was only reporting on the “bad” things that were happening in Iraq.
Jan, you are a magnificent photographer and this essay displays your talent. But more importantly it shows your heart.
If I were to dare to offer a suggestion it would be to include more symbolic images like #9. When we are hit in the gut time and time again with raw scenes of utter misery, we quickly become numbed and protect ourselves by tuning out in one way or another.
I’m reminded of Anton’s decision in “Sugar” to raise awareness of his niece’s diabetes through occasional captions rather than in-your-face photos of her needles and such. Many of us–myself included–objected to that choice, but I’ve come to see its wisdom. Sometimes the most effective way to show the reality of a situation is to distill it to its essence, rather like poetry. I’m not saying to downplay the horrors you see in Haiti, but to find symbols within the day-to-day that tell the story in a more nuanced way.
I so admire your tackling this horrendous subject and genuinely hope you will continue to explore it in depth. I want to buy the book.
Did you know there are captions under each image that you can read if you click on each image by #? I just discovered it myself.
i think i catch myself doing the same thing sometimes with my work with homeless street youth.
i will find myself looking for the photos that will elicit sympathy.
but there is so much love and joy and magic too.
and i’m not being honest if i don’t include that.
so, really… i was talking to myself.
and maybe some others here too.
can we say we’re truly being honest when we omit realities to elicit attention and sympathy?
it’s something i must answer for myself.
and i thought it would be interesting to say it out loud here.
jan, i like your work.
4 and 5 are particularly stellar.
best of luck to you,
I hear you Katia. Even the places of greatest suffering have joy.
How many people show only slums and suffering when they photograph India?
It seems some photographers prefer to focus only on suffering and some do the opposite, making life look like a Hallmark card when that is not the truth either.
We’ve discussed this quite a bit on road trips already but you have a good point.
As photographers, I think it is so important to know what story you want to tell..
Of course, there is room for all the wonderful surprises,
but ultimately, I think a photographer needs to look within..
and focus on what it is they are exploring…
there is always the good/bad, yin/yang in EVERYTHING
some capture both,
while others focus on one or the other..
I think it depends on the comfort level of a photographer..
and editing the photos to tell the story you want to tell..
Jan’s photo essay is powerful..
it is sitting with me..
and I don’t quite know what to do with it….
makes me want to get involved somehow..
i’m blown away..
Very nice story telling, very nice essay, strong images!! I second some of the above thoughts… like to see more of this develop into a long term project.
Numbers 4, 12, and 16 really strike me for different reasons!
Thank you for the email, we’ll catch up next time. I am excited to hear about the “evolution” of your family project!
I featured this piece on The 37th Frame earlier this year. I loved it then and still love it. Would love to see more one day!
Haiti is a place that has inspired many great photographers before you and that have touched me very much. I have discovered several years ago the work that Alex Webb did there in the late 80s during the brief period after the departure of its dictator Jean Claude Duvalier. Alex’s book “Under a grudging sun” is one of my all time favourites and his images showed magnificently the horrifying and violent chaos that enveloped Haiti at the time. I also cherish the book of Maggie Steber “Dancing on Fire” done at about he same time and who I believe was with Alex on the island…. More recently, I am sure you must have seen the great book that Jane Evelyn Atwood has done on Haiti. I was fortunate to see her very impactful exhibit in Arles last year (in Perpignan the year before) together with Audrey.
For reasons I find hard to explain, I have a clear fascination for this island with its sensuous colour amid desperate powerty. This island has clearly had a tumultuous history, history often steeped in bloody violence. Unfortunately, the chaos there seems to have no end in sight as your essay also suggests. From a photographic standpoint, the environment seems to be prone to very strong photographs with the vivid colors, the struggles of the daily life, the mystery and magacical beauty of some voodoo rituals…
With all the powerful photographs that have been done already on that island, it is no small task really to create your own vision, to raise up to the standards already established by these great photographers. I have really enjoyed your essay overall but the key question for me, beyond the message that you have shared with us which is important, is to know if you have brought up something new and different, something that brings a novel side to a story that has been covered quite extensively. I remember David sharing similar guidance to many of us who were working essays on topics magnificiently covered by previous masters… You have got to create something even more powerful, great but different. Again, easier said than done :):):). Lance who is covering Rodeo cowboys, a subject done very well by Allard in the past is facing a similar challenge..I presume the same is true of me when I get into boxing, a topic done by so many previously….
Now, I say this because I have rewally liked many of your images. The essay brought me back to Haiti, to this fascinating island if which I love the colors, island that is moving me by the extreme poverty but, when I close your essay, which of your images will I remember, which would I say are uniquely yours or are bringing a different angle…. not as easy… My advice for what it is worth maybe to fcous a bit more on some of your closer portraits that I found the best. I love your opening image, images number 4, 7, 9, 14… Some of the other pictures are good as well but in my view do not raise up to what I have seen done by Alex, or Atwood… To me, the portraits I refer to seem to be more your voice….I would deepen this direction if you carry one working this as a longer term project….
Others may clearly have a different pov….but this is my 2c advice…. You have great images no doubt. Keep pushing by further developing your unique vision….
I know what you mean…. Tough question this question of being honest. Should we always aim at showing all sides pf a story or situation or focus on a particular message or point of view. When Nachtwey covers a war, I think that he will show the drama to wake up our conscience instead of the moments of joy that I am sure can still be present even during the worse times… I think he is still being honest but has chosen to focus on one important message.
I tell you, I have been asking myself the same question as you on the work that I am doing. Many of the kids I have been following show moments of despair, deep sadness confronted in the tough life of the streets… now at other times, they are just behaving like kids, having fun and messing around with joy and fun like my own kids… Should I also show that….not sure… Right or wrong, I opted recently to focus more on the aspects of their lives that is moving me…this darker side is only one side clearly… but this is the story that I wanted to tell and show everyone…
Sometimes, you have to decide on what you want to tell and focus on that while saying it with honesty and even if this is only one vision and truth…
Eric, I can certainly tell you have learned from DAH how to view an essay, what questions to ask, and what suggestions to make. I too was most touched by Jan’s close-up portraits. He has an extraordinary eye and unique POV in many of those shots. The images that provide context are good but not as unique as the portraits. When I look into the eyes of the children and adults Jan has focused on, I see all that they have lived. Now, a book of his Haitian portraits would be a significant addition to our world.
Yep, me too, wish there were more. I mainly appreciated that the images were strong in their depiction of everyday’s life, but at the same very simple (as everyday is), and potent thru their seeming “artlessness” (meant as a compliment) giving us the feeling this is exactly what anyone would witness without having to stray too far from one’s safe grounds (airport, hotel, the sort) if in haiti.
One have to think of Alex Webb’s own journey (“Under a grudging sun”) first to see that nothing has changed, but also that simplicity of means, and acuity of sight, mindfulness to sum up, can do as potent a job. Thanks, Jan.
I know your essay, I like it and I also like the music.
I read an article yesterday on the Haitians who would pass illegally in Dominican Republic to escape misery and to work in the plantations of sugar cane or on the dominican construction sites, they would be the target of massacres ” 300 haitiens followed by Dominicans greedy for revenge after the death of one of theirs, must have taken refuge in a military camping… Situation is such as it can come out on on a disaster not to say a massacre – ethnic…. ” Courrier international n°951/ Haîtien en marche, Port-au-Prince
Ce coeur obsédant, qui ne correspond
Pas à mon langage ou à mes costumes
Et sur lequel mordent, comme un crampon,
Des sentiments d’emprunt et des coutumes
D’Europe, sentez-vous cette souffrance
Et ce désespoir à nul autre égal
D’apprivoiser, avec des mots de France,
Ce coeur qui m’est venu du Sénégal?
ooops, sorry, the translation
This unrelenting heart, whose rhythm suits
Neither my language nor my clothing
And into which bite, like jaws of a trap,
Borrowed sentiments and European
Customs—Do you feel this suffering
This despair unlike any other
Of domesticating, with words from France,
This heart that came to me from Senegal?
for me, some of the most poignant photos are when you can see/feel/taste the circumstance, but the spirit radiates beyond..for example http://www.magnumphotos.com/CorexDoc/MAG/Media/TR3/F/W/7/X/PAR45089.jpg
yes, erica, yesss! brilliant..
Wonderful documentary. First image very powerful. The music was soulful and brought out the sadness of the situation. What comes across at first go thru is the anger, the the desperation, the resolution of the Haitians to this sad sad situation and then the apathy.
I knew I had already seen this somewhere… :))
I agree with much of what you said, Katia, though I might express it a little differently. I don’t think the perspective is skewed because the photos don’t show love or joy in the slums, but I do think the ones in this series all hit the same note — they just show the degrading conditions of poverty. As a viewer, I would be more interested in a more varied and nuanced story about poverty in Haiti and less in photos that simply show me that there is poverty in Haiti. In other words, these photos are not really a story — perhaps they are not meant to be, and I don’t wish to criticize them for being something Jan did not set out to create. But I already know that Haitians are poor; I have seen Alex Webb’s photos and plenty of others about the Cite Soleil. I admire a lot of them, and many of Jan’s in this selection will stand beside the best of them.
But I don’t think it is enough, as a photographer or journalist, simply to take pictures of the ambient conditions. It’s an easy trap to fall into, photographing a phenomenon and not the individuals who struggle in it. What’s the story that the photographer (any photographer) wishes to tell? I know that people in Haiti struggle for food, that there are orphans and AIDS victims, that they suffer from violence, lawlessness, and the neglect of the international community. But who are these people? What do they have to say for themselves? Why should I care about them as individuals — parents and children? What angle has the photographer explored that allows me to make better sense of this situation?
Again, this is not so much a criticism of Jan’s work as a comment on our (myself included) humanistic and humbling drive to photograph people whose lives are wildly different from our own. I have wandered through slums in Africa and Asia, both aghast and enticed by the conditions there. But I think that anyone (and again I include myself) who has the personal, professional, and creative resources to work in some of the world’s most degraded places has the obligation to move the narrative beyond simply stating the obvious. People learn from stories, not surveys, and the photos will have a greater (presumably positive) impact if they show something that has not been seen before, open up new ways of understanding, and focus on individuals.
In Jan’s series, any one of those photos could be expanded into a story on its own. Who’s the guy in the opening frame and why is he angry (not why are Haitians angry generally)? In other words, this guy will be a better representative of Haitian anger if I as a viewer knew more about him and his life. Where does he live? What does he do? Does he have a family? How does he feed them? If I understand him, I can understand Haiti.
Very thought through and to the point comment! Thank you!
This is an interesting discussion. Katia, I do hear what you are saying, and in reference to your own work I can see where showing the joy is very important. What makes your stuff compelling is that you really get the sense that you know the characters, and you get drawn into their struggles, mischief, and sense of community.
I think Jan has a different intent, and that is to show the absolute dire situation of hunger and poverty in Haiti. It is not pretty and it is not joyful. Certainly there are moments of joy here and there, but probably few and far between; and regardless, what would be the point of showing them? In this world of information overload, you’ve only got a few seconds to make your point. Why dilute the impact of the story with happy, smiling Hatians, kicking back and enjoying their good fortune to be alive? Would that make us somehow feel better about the whole thing? And should we, in any way, feel good about what has been going on in Haiti for years and years?
To my mind, the distance I feel between myself and the people in Jan’s images is poignant and powerful. I do not need to know, or to think, that they experience joy and community and love. What I do need to know is that they are living in abject, sub-human conditions, and that there is little happiness where there is chronic hunger and disease.
Jan, in addition to the very constructive comments by Eric and others, my main hope is that you get this work out there and find more humanitarian outlets for your work. You may be doing this already, I don’t know. But when I see work like this my first reaction is “what can be done?”v Unevolved’s idea of a donation campaign, or something like that…I don’t know, something…if there could be a pipeline directly from work such as this to sources of aid and political action, then the work is not just about good photography, it is about, as hackneyed as the term is, helping to make a difference. Which is, at least karmically speaking, more important than “saying” something different than Alex Webb or others who have documented Haiti…
Perhaps, in the evolution of BURN, we can develop a humanitarian wing, where stories like these can be linked to funding, NGO’s, and political action to further the causes the photographers are undertaking…and also provide funding for the photographers to continue their work…
old recipe, old school natgeo style,old used techniques “tried” on time,,,
safe, “success prone”, typical wide angles,
another story on poverty… the western photog… the desperate 3rd worlders…
no involvement , no engagement, no self exposure… nothing new, old tested
GRANDMA RECIPES… enough with the “i need to fit” or the “i need to get paid” mentality…
A story for the average mind, a story for the masses, a story for that yellow mag
that fits so well on my dentist’s desk….
a story for the average consumer with the two kids, the SUV and the picket fence…
no wonder 80% ( maybe more ) of the viewers loved it…
… on the other side…
this is a story that could do “good”…
as “unevoled n” & Kerry mentioned above,
a story like this can provide some kinda
financial help , attention to their “issues”…
positive exposure, so the rest of the world will witness
and hopefully gets involved… yes… yes, the rich
should eventually help the poor… i really see the
activism on the photogs part… and the desire to “help”….
Hey Panos, you are correct – with both of your posts! This essay really annoys me: not because of the photography but because; in spite of numerous essays on the subject, each equally worthy, NOTHING happens to help the people of Haiti. It must be a nightmare to live there.
Why is it allowed to continue? I suppose the glib answer is that there is no oil in Haiti. If ANY population of Planet Earth were willing to accept International aid then surely it would be Haiti. So where is it? As for donating money: to whom would you entrust it?
Speaking Of Nat Geo, I believe that satellite photographs of Hispaniola show the boarder between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in stark contrast: very few trees in Haiti; all cut down for fuel.
How much longer must the people of Haiti endure? How many Albert Einstein’s or Louis Pasteur’s etc. must we waste?
“As for donating money: to whom would you entrust it?”
(no answer on this one…Mike ..)
“Speaking Of Nat Geo, I believe that satellite photographs of Hispaniola show the boarder between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in stark contrast: very few trees in Haiti; all cut down for fuel.”
(fact:natgeo is not always as bad as i present it…laughing)
“How much longer must the people of Haiti endure? How many Albert Einstein’s or Louis Pasteur’s etc. must we waste?”
(sorry Mike but this world looking for the next “American Idol”, the next “Superbowl”, the next Donald Trump not necessarily for an “Albert E.” or a “Louis P.”…sad )
peace & hugs
Mike U see.. i dont wanna be destructive towards the photog…
i would love a different approach… choose a family in Haiti..
LIVE WITH THAT FAMILY… or a girlfriend or a drug dealer or a pastor
or a whore or …. get close , be the insider,
show us from the “inside”…the “unseen”, the “unheard of”…
it wont probably be as “strong” or “obvious” as this essay… with
strong “fancy” poverty photos … maybe it would make the lazy viewer like me
to get involved a little more or quit…. A person(viewer ) that dont care
will quit sooner or later…”obvious” photos no matter how strong do not always
bring “obvious” results… I think that “obvious” photos are “overrated”…
This is a beautiful, well executed essay , very “straight”, very “obvious”though…
and like i said, yes it can “please” the eye,
can “straight” photography help “Haiti”??????
i doubted it because
just like “republican” governments love starting wars all over the world,
same way, “straight” eyed Fox News viewers love and hold on to their money…
In other words i dont know how much the average consumer can get convinced to
put their hand in the pocket to reach that wallet…and help
Haiti or any Haiti that is hurting right now…
Are we all ready to help?
Am I??? i dont even know…
Chris Bickford, if i understand you correctly, if a photographer wants to incite change they should focus their communication on aspects of life they think should be changed. When they capture images they should seek visual evidence of the issue and not waste time on images that distract from the injustice. Maybe when they edit the message they should drop parts of the story to amplify the suffering? Most subscribe to this recipe for issue-photography.
so is it ok to carve into the whole story to create a strong dose of only a part? Key to your reasoning is the short attention span of the audience. Ironically, this reasoning exactly causes the short attention span of an audience. For the same reason you can’t pull a single leg out of a three-legged stool and expect it to bear weight, you can’t exclude aspects of the human condition and expect it to resemble a story. Without a story you have barely a few seconds of attention, but with a story you can hold court for hours.
how important is story to humans with regards to paradigm shifts? As i type this i think of a true story from 1839 that led to a fairly authentic movie and even a few Oscar nominations. It was about a slave ship where one of the slaves managed to get free and lead a take over of the ship, but still managed to be taken into custody by the US Navy.
a long trial ensued and while the case seemed to be purely a battle of who could take ownership of the slaves: the US Navy based on salvage law of the time or the Spaniards based on original ownership, another more noble result emerged entirely propagated by a story told by John Quincy Adams, a story that captivated the court and suggested the men in the open sea were not property, but captives and while still captives they owned themselves and therefore were released to go home as free men and the leader a hero.
How good of a story must that have been? Do you think anything was left out, even the murder of the captain? This story reminds me of the extent we are moved by stories verses facts and reasoning.
Can it work with still images? Maybe not purely still images, but surely with still images at the core i think it can. i’d be willing to bet that most people that start watching This Essay will spend the entire twenty minutes watching it to its conclusion, and i suspect it will provide a paradigm shift in the way of thinking about this topic and the sentiment.. ‘let’s give everyone a lifestyle like we have.’ conviction. i think this largely has to do with the spirit of story verses issue-photography.
i also don’t think we all need to be as exceptional of Oliver to captivate an audience and produce a paradigm shift, but i do think we need to learn to be storytelling photographers. We need to introduce the people we want our audience to care about, and not sensationalise the situation they are in, and definitely not in such a poloarised way. i just don’t think anyone is going to change the world with some killer images, but they can help us to better feel it by introducing us to stories of the people that are living it.
i recently discovered evidence of this approach from a member of Burn. This person is exploring the concept of homeless kids… If someone told you they were covering this topic you would immediately start sighing.. but because this person is doing this entirely through story you feel captivated by it. Ultimately I’d like to meet more people through stories and ultimately get my meaningful happenings of the world through stories, i’m certain i’m most moved by them.
its all in the story telling…
‘still images at the core’
I like that…
I thought images 13 and 15 were good examples of how commercial logos originally promoting, “cool” trickle their way to third-world provinces. It reminds me of a story in Time about T-shirts that were made for losing super-bowl teams being donated to Nicaragua. All in all I liked your whole set of images, it left me wanting more yet that in itself still left me feeling satisfied with what I saw.
i just saw this comment, Preston i couldn’t agree with you more, expecially these simple words..
People learn from stories, not surveys..
When Nachtwey covers a war…
Eric when Nachtwey covers anything this seems to be the case, and we always ‘know’ about the issue, but it doesn’t always make us want to do something about…
you can find 120 comments that explore this exact dilemma with this exact story approach with this exact person here..
every photographer makes a choice in what aspect of a “story” they want to tell…i do not see Jan manipulating the truth…in my mind, he has simply chosen one aspect of life today in Haiti to tell…that of hunger…just one truth, not all truths….surely , there are other stories to tell….
knowing you and your work , you would have seen Haiti in a totally different light..you would have seen the individual humanity and relationships that exist despite harsh conditions….Maggie Steber and Alex Webb chose more political themes…Bruce Gilden went for the irony of Haitian life …..Antonin Kratochvil depicted the almost always conflict….all five of you would have seen in Haiti something quite different and all “true”…
i think i know what does frustrate you overall…and it does me too….and that is when certain photographer’s, out to make a name for themselves so to speak, will choose graphic subject matter for it’s own sake….will go to certain “hot spots” just to appear journalistic…or to win a prize…how many of them actually care?? how many photographers have “used” people in strife of one sort or another for their own benefit?? this is an issue which i think we could discuss at some length…
i do not know Jan Sochor…but, as i tend to do with most people , i assume good unless i find out bad….let’s give Jan the “benefit of the doubt” and see where he takes us next…fair enough??
i always love your words of wisdom…and you certainly know how to use language well..you tell your story or make your point with good old fashioned words as the medium…wordsmith extraordinaire…and i do want to agree with every word you wrote and i do ..er, that is until i clicked on your link….
now , i am a big fan of Brian Storm at MediaStorm…as a matter of fact, his operation would be a very good multi-media production company for photographers here to use..Brian has a staff of well trained multi-media producers on hand including one of the best at it , Bob Sacha…if those boys had gotten hold of Jan Sochor , there no doubt would have been a very sophisticated presentation…MediaStorm and Burn may well partner on projects in the future…i linked to Brian long long ago…
however, to use this multi-media piece of Olivier as an example of powerful story telling does not work for me…i kept glancing at the “time remaining” icon….the problem is not in the story, Kingsley’s WORDS tell us a GREAT STORY ..the problem is in the TELLING of the story from Olivier..or, quite simply the photographs used to tell the story…..the STORYTELLER (photographer) just is not adept enough for me in this essay…in my mind, no matter how good a story is, the language used to tell the story must also be good…i.e.visually literate……as you do with words, i would expect a fine photographer to do the same with pictures…i.e.Oliver does not “speak” well or “write” well with pictures in this essay…not a single strong photograph in the bunch…mediocre pictures of yes yes meaningful story telling situations, but mediocre pictures nevertheless…
Joe, if you applied the same sophisticated standard to photographs as you do to words , i do not think you would rate this essay so high..i think if we put Jan Sochor on that same migration story, we would have someone who knows how to speak the language…
you are quite correct: “Nobody is going to change the world with some killer images”….but, nobody is going to change to world either if the audience gets lost or hits “pause” because of poor storytelling…
so, this brings us to the most time worn seminar topic of all…what is more important, the story or the telling of the story???? the answer must be that we want both….i suppose these two essays leave us wanting either one way or the other…
Well Jan, your essay has certainly provoked discussion here! If your primary objective was to evoke a response of indignation that people have to endure such conditions then you have succeeded. Many valid points have been made here and, of course, there is more than one way to confront the subject.
I’d be interested to know how long you spent in Haiti and if it was your first visit? I imagine that it is a very difficult and dangerous place to work and that, no matter what, you are never able to just blend in!
On a photographic level, and after looking at your website, I personally find your framing to be a little too chaotic for my personal tastes. I’d like to see a little more structure. Your images actually seem very close to reality, so much so that I almost feel as if I am there, stood next to you. In that sense your way of working is very, very successful. I’d just like your work to succeed (for me) on multiple levels: as a
witness and as a photograph. By that I mean that a photograph can transcend the reality that it depicts and be something “other”; can become an object in its own right. This is a subject in itself. Is it possible for a photographer to practice the art and craft of photography as a photojournalist or is she / he only able to document reality? Are we, as photojournalists, able to include something of ourselves in our work or are we only able to offer a sterile window to the viewer?
Good work in a difficult and heartbreaking situation Jan. Congratulations.
with photography i always wonder what’s a time worn topic David. For me it’s all new material. Questions as simple as weighing and measuring the story vs. the storyteller will still send me into a mental mission to make that concept relevant to photographic communication.
Oliver’s telling of Kingsley’s story makes us impatient with its delivery. Ninety percent of Oliver’s images are easy to forget. The bland repetitive images drown the few images that are haunting. Would anyone think that Kingsley’s story is weak? Does this lead us to a logical conclusion about Oliver in this instance? Is that logical conclusion because we became impatient with the Oliver’s delivery?
A story can hold your attention because it’s interesting and/or it’s entertaining. i suppose it’s the ‘story’ that is interesting and the story teller’s ‘rendering’ that makes it entertaining. Either aspects of a story can hold your attention; if you have both then you have loads of traction with your audience.
i don’t think Kingsley’s story was at all entertaining; but it was interesting enough to maintain twenty minutes of traction. The images might be more entertaining if they were more daring in capture. It seems rare to see medium format ‘daring’ capture; the economics and the agility will always weigh it down for entertaining points of view or matching it’s presence to a moment.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water; let’s go back to the balcony seats on the concept of story telling photography. If you google ‘immigrants’ and ‘boat’ what do you think you’ll come up with? Without including in that search the word ‘die’, how many times do you think you will see the word ‘die’ in the headlines of that two-word search? Now go plug that two-word search into the Magnum site and see the approach to covering the concept. Do we learn anything about the ‘why’ when we see so much of the word ‘die’ included in that story?
This is why i like Oliver’s approach to covering this headline. Rather than sitting in the safety of a coast guard cutter like some little league catcher, Oliver covered the story in true cradle-to-grave fashion. He started out before those headlines and he followed it past the sensation of suffering and into psyche of a survivor; Oliver let us know the entire lifecycle of the singular suffering event that’s continually reported.
it may just be by luck, but Oliver’s story offered some paradigm shifts for me; it’s made it more clear that this segment of immigrants are not just a bunch of ‘chancers’ discovering a raft and going for it, it’s an entire cross-social process routed in something as archetypal as entrepreneurial spirit with a dash of venture capitalism on the home front. It also uses the ‘grass is not always greener’ theme to offer a grand finally paradigm shift.
a year from now i’m going to ask you again David about this story. i’m going to ask you if the lack of visual-pace reduced it’s lasting impact on you. i’m going to ask you what you think of when you hear about people that die in boats. This is not in anyway to make a point about Oliver, i don’t know anything about him, it’s a point about the persistence of story…i’ve got a funny feeling that this story structure might live with you longer than the headline reporting structure of the same topic.
My point is that if you want to reveal a headline, don’t do it will loads of exhibits, or what I would describe as horizontal coverage. Do with deep-rooted story, tell it from beginning to end, start at the roots, take it past the trunk of the head-line and try to show us a surprising branch we might never have explored. This is the crux of my plea to Anton in his new adventure.
I love everything about this essay. I have been following Jan’s work on flickr.com for quite some time and his work has been an absolute inspiration. The color and composition of his images are almost identical to the style I am trying and currently failing to achieve. Im only 17, so I still have a long way to go, but when I see photo essays like this I would do terrible things If it meant I could take photos like these in places like these right now.
lots to think about…
Tyler, only 17 and you have a resource more valuable to you at this point in your life than gold: Burn Magazine, D.A.H. and the community here. You lucky sod!
In many ways, a life is routine. By this I mean that a person is born, lives and then dies.
We all travel this common road called living but how we travel, and what we do with the opportunities, or lack of, that come our way: is what makes each and every one of us unique and thus a valuable, worthy subject for photography.
Once we, as photographers, grasp this truth we are free to purse our dream of documentary photography: we realize that we do not have to travel to new, exotic or desperate places in order to practice our craft. Humanity is all around us waiting to tell us each unique story.
Of course the world is full of terrible events that must, cry out to be, documented. But it is also equally valid to document lives seemingly more ordinary.
As Joe has said previously (in a reply to Anton Kusters’ “Work in Progress” essay – Soichiro) “fall into a story that you didn’t even go there for, maybe make the backdrop of this story purely incidental to the story you bring home. don’t be afraid to share your enthusiasm, your mission, your ideas, your wishes with everyone you meet, help them to quickly understand you’re not there to take pictures, you’re not there to take anything, you’re purely there to reveal something that someone else wouldn’t understand if you weren’t there to collect it with your lens
i suspect you will be amazed by how many rabbit holes you’ll be dragged into by people that want nothing other than to let the world see things they think would not be seen if you didn’t help it to happen, strangers have a funny way of knowing the things that a lens has never seen”.
Thanks for that Joe.
So Tyler, the terrible things that you must do are 1) stick around here and 2) find yourself a bookshop with a really good selection of photographic books! Let us here know where you are in the world and someone here will point you to one or more.
Joe, I just read your posts. I hear what you are saying; there are two different implications to what you say that I’ll respond to.
The first is that you have to tell the “whole” story. The thing is, you can NEVER tell the “whole” story. The genius of a great storyteller is that s/he knows what to leave in and what to leave out. This is 90% of what art and journalism are about: distilling a meaningful thread from the multitude of events and stimuli that we are confronted with every moment of our lives.
Now, how much of the story you want to tell is your choice as a storyteller. You can do “War and Peace” or you can do “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. Both have their uses and purposes; indeed, a single image may be all the story you need to tell. Doisneau’s Kiss at L’Hotel de Ville sums up the romanticism of Paris in a way that no other photo ever has, yet his lifelong body of Parisian street photography rounds out that story with a thousand vignettes of Parisian life. Perhaps it was his lifelong dedication to photographing Paris that allowed him to distill the city into one iconic photo. But at the same time, it is not necessary for us as viewers to see his entire Paris oeuvre to get the story.
But my main point in what I was saying earlier was that there just might not be a whole lot more to tell in Jan’s story. I’ve never been to Haiti, so I can’t say firsthand, but it would seem to me that hunger and poverty are the basic, brutal, overwhelming facts of life there, and these overshadow everything else. There is no “other side” to round out the story. To try to make it so would be facetious. Imagine Fusco trying to show the “joy” in his work on Chernobyl victims. He’s not going to show them sitting around playing guitar and singing folksongs, because that doesn’t happen. And yet, how many more photos of hunger (or in Fusco’s case, deformed children) do we need to round out the story? At what point would it become overwhelming, even off-putting?
Yes, we have limited attention spans in the 21st century, but you can’t fight that by being didactic. You have to keep people interested. And you do that by giving them just a little bit less than they want, all the time, so that they keep wanting more. As soon as you’ve given them more than they want, they will tune you out. They have to. It’s a survival instinct.
On that note, to avoid beating my point into the ground, I’ll leave it there.
On another note, I remember the first time I saw “Kingsley’s Crossing”, about a year or so ago, so I guess you are right about its power as a story and as a documentary piece. But my main reaction to that story, then as now, is “where is the photographer”? To have a story that is this intimate without really getting into what kind of relationship the photographer has with his subject strikes me as strange. It makes me think of “Survivor” somehow. Who is this photographer who is tagging along on this journey just to make a good story out of it? Doesn’t he have enough money to get himself and Kingsley to Europe a little bit more easily? It’s that classic “participant/observer” dilemma here, but I don’t see much participation. The photographer is working as a fly on the wall but clearly he has developed a relationship with Kingsley during this long journey. Not to include pieces of that relationship in the story makes it seem staged somehow, like Kingsley is a movie star and Oliver is a paparrazzo. If Oliver is going through this same journey, where are his boundaries? Does he have money? Does he not give money to Kingsley in order not to taint the story? I don’t know; as powerful as the story is I find myself being mostly impressed with Oliver’s “getting in” there but a little perplexed by his invisibility…To me the obvious implications and questions about the photographer’s role in this story almost overshadow Kingsley’ story itself. But that could be like the film buff always ruining the movie for everybody by dissecting the cinematographer’s craft or pointing out chinks in the story’s armor…as my old girlfriend used to say, you just gotta let the art wash over you and have its way with you…
Hi Chris, i’m convinced we’re talking about the same thing when you say “The genius of a great storyteller is that s/he knows what to leave in and what to leave out” i like that, it sounds suspiciously like a viewfinder… framing decisions are relevant regardless of the device ;-) i was mostly trying to refute the ‘shock/headline’ story telling verses story telling in a more epic sense, but again, we’re talking similar spirits with regards to delivery.
more interesting to me is your interest in ‘where’s the photographer’ in the Kingsley story. i couldn’t stop thinking about that myself. It wasn’t really to catch him out as i immediately liked the idea and thus him at the outset. My fascination started first as how he discovered this story thread at such an infancy and how did he design his participation? It all seemed like a silent co-polite until some of the camera angles made me start wondering where he was to collect specific images, then later it started to really make me wonder,.. again not about catching him out or even if he was artificially contributing to the mission to make sure the story played out to the end; it was more about how much he was contaminating the mission merely be being a non-indigenous person travelling Kinglsey.
i’d love to attempt a story of such epic proportions, but designing participation in such a story seems impossible without admitting the obvious and allowing yourself be implicated by the story to better show the honesty of the story. i think the implicated story-teller seems the way to go now.
Thanks for the deep reply Chris
I totally agree…
‘you can never tell the whole story..’
the story is always thru the photographers eyes..
and only that..
we create our own stories..
Hey Joe–now we’re getting into something really interesting: the role of the “participant-observer”. In contemporary anthropology there is a lot of discussion about the way in which the observer (be it a photographer, a writer, or a researcher), contaminates, as you say, the study just by being there. They were calling it “the anthropology of anthropology” and it was kind of a dawning self-awareness that an outsider coming into some sort of indigenous situation is being observed and studied just as closely as s/he is observing his/her subjects. Especially when the “observer” is a westerner with pale skin coming to town with all sorts of modern gadgets that are fascinating to anyone who has never seen them before. It changes the situation drastically, can upend belief systems and cause social upheaval and all sorts of crises of meaning.
The Kingsley story is very much a case in point, and I’ve been asking myself the same questions you have. How did he find this story before it even happened? How much did he help? How much more difficult, or easy, was it, for Kingsley to be traveling with a non-indigenous photographer? How did everybody else react to a guy traveling with his own media crew? The list of questions goes on. I think, like you say, it implies a certain “contrived” nature to the story, because the photographer is like a big elephant in the room. Better to acknowledge the presence and role of the participant-observer and bring him/her into the story, first on principle, and secondly to add more depth to the story.
I think that these issues are probably much more glaring to photographers than to the general public. With media so saturated by reality TV, people are used to the idea of “real” lives being documented in minute detail, and the production crews on those sorts of shows are painstaking in maintaining the illusion–subjects are not allowed to speak to the camera people or even know their names, camera people are not allowed to speak, etc…I can’t watch these shows for this very reason; I get caught up in thinking how much of a “performance” is going on because cameras are rolling. We all know the feeling; even when there is someone else in the room other than the person we are speaking to, we alter our actions and communications. And when that person is wielding a camera or shooting video, we change even more.
However, the average person is not going to be thinking about these things when watching Kingsley’s story, and that’s probably just as well. And though we agree that there should be some sort of an inclusion of the photographer/observer in a story that is so obviously intimate, I see that there could be problems with that approach as well; mainly that kind of self-indulgent narration that I see in a lot of “multimedia” that drives me f-ing nuts…You know, the “I first became interested in these poor people because of my deep desire to foster world peace”, or some bullshit like that…
Anyway, very interesting things to consider indeed, and a good topic for further and deeper discussion. Nice chatting with you Joe.
I already mentioned while commenting his single: This essay is great. Short, convincing and touching. Again, chapeau, Jan.
i agree with you in principle Joe….i just do not think that Olivier has the visual acuity to bring this story in as a great essay…yes, yes of course the story is moving…i am starting this whole discussion being very well aware of this story and the consequences…i guess i simply want more compelling photography to go with it…i think we all know this story well…it has been tackled by many…did you see the Judith Quax version where she just photographed the empty bedrooms left behind, the dead bodies on the beach, and then portraits immigrants who made it in their new living spaces in Spain?? check it out…much stronger for me …
we were comparing apples and oranges really..this whole discussion started out with Jan’s Haiti piece…a totally different kind of essay…and i do not think Jan has a “whole”…i just think his imagery stronger…as simple as that…OR as complex!!
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With extreme situations like this i doubt that committed citizens can change the world, what this world needs is the elimination of dictatorships that are allowed to exploit their people such as it has been done in Haiti for far too long now. This is a disgrace to the human race, shame on these dictators that abuse their people as its done in Haiti. Don’t get me wrong I am all for it, actions from committed citizens, but proof that it never changed the world is right there in front of your eyes and not only in Haiti.
Very interesting thread. I am new to Burn [which is a great find]. I am not a photographer, but a human rights campaigner [Amnesty International] looking at how photography is used in human rights work. Of particular interest is how photographers and NGOs can better work together – using photos to inform and move people, providing channels for them to take action, and ensuring that the communities being focussed on are part of the creative and campaign process rather than ‘passive subjects’. I personally think that focussing purely on the negative aspects on peoples’ lives, though ‘cutting to the chase’ so to speak is not always helpful, and that a more rounded representation can actually create great empathy with the viewer.
I have just started a personal piece of work called The Rights Exposure Project and would value suggestions and contributions that help share best practice in this field. I am sure there must be many photographers and organisations looking at these issues so links to resources would be great.
Right on… Welcome Rob !
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