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Mustafah Abdulaziz

The Inauguration Of Barack Obama

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

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

Related links

The Wall Street Journal on 01/20/09

Mustafah Abdulaziz



77 thoughts on “mustafah abdulaziz – obama”

  1. Cohesive, well constructed and amazing images on this essay. This work has a strong quality, not only for the moments captured, but also for the composition of the photos. I’m really impressed with most of them, specialy numbers 3-9-13-16-21 and 25. Great job, Mustafah

  2. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”–Barack Obama

    I LOVE this essay…in fact, for me, it’s is the strongest, most poignant of all the work i’ve seen thus far from that historical day. What I love best about this essay is that Mustafah has capture not simply the ‘history’ of the moment but the undeniable vision of the moment, the breath and the fear, the joy and the light, the collective dream that that single day encapsulated. This essay is not sentimental, but filled with the same tension, the same ambiguity, the same witness to hard change that this day entails. Above all, i see many of the extraordinary portraits (like the cover shot with Obama spread bright like a constellation of winter stars upon her hat) that fix these people and the weight of this day not simply on the shoulders of this 44th President but on the long and arduous journey that this essay represents.

    The first time i saw this essay, i immediately thought of Langston Hughes. Inside these portraits are all the jazz and welts, the poetry and the pain, the yearning and the opening of realization, that this moment encapsulates. But, what is so powerful about this essay is that, removed of the context of the inauguration, it still rings true to me: the hope the we place on the convergence of light and shadow, of time to show the scale of our faces and the lines of our aspirations. Precise, poetic, dense, filled with a visual acuity that belies the subject matter. All the reflections, the swelling shadows, Obama on the jumbotron in a sea of voices, the light and the shooting into the cold, burst of light…

    this is not only an essay about a single day, but an essay about what can be captured, through the prism of a single day, when one looks at the life around as an architecture of a people…the lives, the quotidian which tell us best who we are, especially in those moments of tempest and honor. A great and wonderful photographic report. thanks so much Mustafah!


    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    Like a raisin in the sun?

    Or fester like a sore–
    And then run?

    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over–
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?

    –Langston Hughes

  3. It is work to be proud of. It starts strong, but after image 15 the edit is repetitive and rambling. A few frames were lacking anything worth showing (22,24).

  4. Mustafah, you have managed to take me not just TO the inauguration but INTO the hearts of the people who gathered there. Through the immediacy of your images I feel their elation, wonder and excitement. I also feel the sense of being crushed in the crowds, of hoping you’ll get there in time, of some folks trying to make much-needed money by selling Obama gear.

    Photographically speaking, your use of mixed crystal-clear focus and aura-producing exposures reflects the contrasts implicit in this historic event. Black and white gives the cohesion that color would have lost.

    This is a masterful essay and I commend you for creating and sharing it. I’m delighted to see that the traditionally conservative Wall Street Journal gave a people’s eye view into the workings of our nation’s capitol!


  5. Congratulations Mustafah. I think less photos will be better but tastes are tastes and i am not USA citizen so i see all with other distance. What i suggest to DAH for burn is a function for make available a lightbox view. I like to see the essays but i like too see the table and pic another time my favorites or some pic that intrigue me.

  6. The work is rounded out well and i agree that every story can be edited tighter, but only with time. i thought this felt a very mature perspective and pictures buried with gorgeous contextual layers. of course i think they were better in color ;)

    i’m really proud of you man!


  7. Fantastic. My favourite of the essays I have seen on here so far. Have you considered narration by the photographers, David?

  8. Excellent work. Best essay I’ve seen yet on the event. Love the B&W. Great tone. Caught the emotion well.

  9. Acutely observed, with a sense of tension and anticipation that stretches beyond the day into the Presidency of Barack Obama… Will the rhetoric become fact? Will there really be change? You can see it on the faces of those strong black women… I love the questions that Mustafa asks, exemplified by the one photo which has a group of people linking hands and the T-shirt bearing a photo of Obama and the slogan ‘I was there’

    Is this just hype or is that mass of humanity that waits and watches for the fulfillment of the American dream going to be betrayed by the power of political manipulation? Is it possible that the world can reconcile its differences? Can Obama do it? Really, truly?

    This might seem to be a great deal to get from an essay, but well Mustafa congratulations because you have caused me to think in this way, you have involved me in your work and thought process through your unerring eye.

    Brilliant stuff, really, truly…

  10. In case anyone else spent a moment trying to remember how they know Mustafah… Remember he had his Chilean cowboy here as a single image.

    Very nice now to see the new essay. Well done and of course the subject couldn’t be better.
    So happy I also had the opportunity to see and photograph our new President at a campaign rally this summer.

  11. WOW Mustafa, I read the article AFTER I wrote my initial comment!

    You absolutely nailed it with this essay (I think I prefer the B/W, but thats just me) Even bigger kudos to you,

    Cheers mate!

  12. Number three is sick! It totally blows me away. Great opener for your website, as you had done.
    Other favourites 6, 11, 14, 16 and definitely 24.

    My only gripe is that the edit is bit loose for a silent slideshow.

  13. #6 and #9 have such a beautiful timelessness…
    and then #23 is so 2009…
    love the variety…
    so PROUD to be an American..
    Its been too long since I felt that…
    Really enjoyed seeing what you saw..
    they felt like private moments…
    thanks for sharing…
    and B/W was a perfect choice..

  14. Mustafah – i love your work. i wish we would have met while you were in town…. i saw a LOT of work from inaugural – and yours is some of my favorite. love the black & white too – it’s refreshing. great job!!

  15. I agree with you on 24. 22 still ties in with a political happening of some sort. But 24 could be just any day anywhere really. It doesn’t stand alone as any thing significant. But overall it has a nice consistency. I really wish there were captions to go along with the shots.

  16. Pingback: The Inauguration of Barack Obama by Mustafah Abdulaziz | The Click

  17. #3 is definitely top caliber. I think the pictures, the essay, though obviously taken the day of the inauguration and about Obama becoming president, take their strentgh, and touch me more from actually being much more about America and our renewed sense of popular pageantry (in a way quite uniquely american), than about the historical event itself. this is also where Mustafah’s authorship shines, by choice I believe. Though at times, a few pictures, their graphism more potent as unrelated single shots than as speaking for the event itself, steal a bit from the momentousness felt in others.

  18. …so PROUD to be an American..
    Its been too long since I felt that…
    Im with you on this one…

  19. ALL…

    i kept this edit loose on purpose…

    i simply wanted to show what ONE photographer could do in just a FEW HOURS and from the point of view of the average person who came to witness the event…he had no special access…shooting just out on the street seeing what anyone MIGHT see, but only Mustafah saw..

    when we get towards the end of the year, and it is time to hopefully go into print with a limited edition of BURN, almost all of our essays will be cut to the absolute A edit…for example, this essay now has i think 25 photographs…the A edit would most likely have about 15…i find that time spent with work brings its own rewards….

    i think in general we should savor the take, think about it a bit…some photographs which may not initially seem as strong as others, may take on a new life with time, and vice versa…

    when Magnum chose photographers back in the days of film, members only wanted to see the contact sheets of applying photographers…not just their “best”…they wanted to see how the photographer thought…how they moved around a subject…get a handle on their sense of narrative…

    with this loose edit we can see how Mustafah thinks and how he stays on key…always maintaining a “look” and “feel” ..he stays in control, yet lets the elements flow…he is not self conscious…sure, some pictures work better than others..but anytime a photographer can come up with 5-15 pictures in one day, this photographer has done something right…

    magazine editors love photographers like Mustafah…good work NOW…today…many photographers can take “good pictures”…few can do it “on demand” ….this is of course not the only criteria for a photographer….but, it is a criteria for most photographers who shoot for magazines, newspapers and agencies….

    in upcoming essays i will show you work from photographers who may not produce “on demand”, but have other equally important qualities..perhaps a well thought out personal vision that may require the luxury of time….some photographers are able to do both….i think we will see in the coming year that Mustafah is such a photographer…

    cheers, david

  20. MARK…

    do you mean voice over sound or the written word?? either way , i would be pleased…i always ask photographers for stories, captions, or voice over…if they are not there, it is the photographer’s choice…as BURN becomes more sophisticated in the coming weeks and as our content gets stronger and stronger, i will try to find an editor who can push the photographers a bit on this….i am sure Mustafah would have been willing to write more, but we needed to move on this story quickly before the event became too past tense…Mustafah can still write something if he wants and i will insert it immediately…

    cheers, david

  21. panos skoulidas

    sorry but … stop that flickr shit and take one more good look at the essays…
    patricia for example mirrored herself to the point of “humiliation”… and you admire an essay that been completed in a day?????????????
    stop dissing the rest of us bro…

  22. panos skoulidas

    “…i think we will see in the coming year that Mustafah is such a photographer…”

    i agree…
    Mustafah seems to be extra talented… which is DOPE….

    “…perhaps a well thought out personal vision that may require the luxury of time….”

    fuck “professionalism”…


  23. To start I must repeat what has been said, this work is really really good. But I want to say something as a Canadian, or even as someone living outside the US. Seeing these images makes me love the US. How when something significant happens, you’re people grab hold of it, give it a face, a name and a personality. I cannot think of the last time anyone in Canada showed up in droves for anything that effected them, especially politically. Of course the past years have been dismal, the power and sway can really easily get off kilter, but what amazes me is the united force once a decision is made. First off I applaud you on your choice for a leader, but second I am humbled by your countries cohesive feelings. Mustafah did a great job of representing that here. There was recently a protest (if you are interested the shots are here: http://byronfryphoto.viewbook.com/gaza_protest ) in my town of 300 000, as a promotion of peace in the middle east, however the only attendees were 15 international students only visiting the country to attend an international school here. As I walked with them, shooting the event, no one even looked at them. Its hard to imagine the feeling that must have been in this crowd.

  24. Again, a very strong set of photographs at Burn: congratulations Mustafah. When covering such an event, you only get one chance; you can’t ask for everyone to “do it again please”. My personal favorites are 9 (escalators) and 14 (i was there). I would have liked to have seen an “overall” photograph of the millions of people gathered in the National Mall but my guess is that someone else was assigned to that task: yours was to “work the crowd” am I correct Mustafha?

    Good use of Black & White – give’s the essay a cohesive feel. Interesting to see a photograph of a lone policeman; I’m sure that they were out in force, but attempting to photograph more than one would have probably resulted in you standing in your underwear! Seriously, was security tight? I did read that on the Pope’s recent visit photographers were searched regularly including having to remove all lens caps from lenses to check that they were the real thing.

    “when Magnum chose photographers back in the days of film, members only wanted to see the contact sheets of applying photographers…not just their “best”…they wanted to see how the photographer thought…how they moved around a subject…get a handle on their sense of narrative…”

    yes, this is a most interesting exercise, perhaps we can sometimes ask authors of “Selected Photographs” to submit the frames before and after the selected photo when in would give an insight to viewers?

    Best wishes,


  25. as a loose edit/contact sheet of a single shoot its very impressive. I think any picture editor would have no problem pulling enough shots from this to support a story. good strong pj work. As people have said, no time for redo’s with a shoot like this. Got to get the shots, and mustafah did just that.And in a very personal style too.

  26. DAVID,

    It is indeed very instructive to see what Mustafah has done in one day… I also quite like the pressure of having to produce something on the spot during a short time… It gets me thinking and going…. Regarding the point you are making of looking at contact sheets, I can imagine this to be a tough test to pass at Magnum… I am sure it can be somewhat uncomfortable to show how you work raw, without any filtering or selection of the best shots….intimidating I am sure but certainly so instructive… One of the best part of one of your workshops back 3 years ago in Rome was when you shared with us the entire take you had done from a shoot couple of days before. I remember it so clearly. You were just back from New York and had shot in a night club with your fellow rappers Uptown and Co… That one night you got the picture that eventually became the cover of your book “Living Proof” and there are 2 or oher 3 singles from that night that made it into your final selection. This must have been a very special evening during which you were IN THE ZONE…. I think that at some stage, it may be worth thinking of sharing one of your take or the take of one of the photographers you will mentor on “work in progress” this group for edicational purposes. This is such a useful way of seeing how to work a subject relentlessly unless you have got the very last drop….



  27. good photos, in a very easy situation though. Saying so i dont want to diminish the quality of mustafa’s work, only nobody can deny that this is not really the situation where you can have problems raising your camera towards somebody, where there’s a lack of subjects or situations available. In the next days, weeks and months we’ll see thousands of photographs of this day. Only very few in the end will stand out and become history though.
    Anyway, congratulations Obama!

  28. Does photography have to be hard to be good? Most of HCB’s photos clearly weren’t hard to take. The dapper guy in the suit with the funny little camera was pretty obvious!

  29. GUIDO…

    i do not know quite what you mean by “easy situation”….yes, there was built in emotion…it is not everyday that thousands are gathered on the Mall in Washington expressing themselves so well..one of the few happy moments in Washington i might add…but, still Mustafah was able to capture this event in a special way…hundreds of photographers were in the same “easy situation”…dozens of quite professional photographers too…

    i did not see everyone’s pictures of course..but, i did see a lot…including some other coverages by photographers who were shooting for BURN…again, for one photographer who was only shooting the crowd, not Obama and the ceremonies etc., i think Mustafah exemplifies a photographer in control and able to pull out consistently strong imagery…does another photographer have a picture that will go down in history??? maybe/probably..i do not know…

    Guido, it is never a matter of just “raising your camera” where there is something dramatic going on and assuming this will make a dramatic photograph…this is definitely not my experience in either shooting myself nor in viewing many a photographer who is in a good picture situation but does not quite make a PHOTOGRAPH….yes photographers often take pictures of emotion , but rarely make a real PHOTOGRAPH….

    there is a subtle difference between a PICTURE and a PHOTOGRAPH…

    maybe you know the difference and i assume you do , but it is this subtlety that is the divide between “good” and “great” photographers..this subtlety i see as the key to the “next level” where so many photographers aspire and yet wonder why they are not among the “chosen” by editors or curators…

    i work with so many young photographers who are always in the “right places” and yet cannot figure out why they do not receive the best commissions or sought out by the best agencies..they start blaming every damn thing in the world, when all they really need to do is understand this “subtlety” of which i write….

    Guido, i do not mean to digress too far from your comment…and i certainly do not want to be at all condescending to you …it just so happens that your comment just is such a key key element in the photographic discussion…one that comes up regularly when i mentor photographers….this topic is quite DEAD CENTER in photographic discourse on documentary photography….

    just so that you and nobody else is confused, i am only writing now about straight documentary photography…there are other values in other kinds of work…

    thanks for bringing this up…

    cheers, david

  30. JIM…

    NO…..photography should be “easy”….natural…”go with the flow”…but, it does take a special eye to make things easy…please read my comment to Guido…most of HCB’s photos were not “hard to take”, but i sure as hell did not see anyone else taking them!!!

    cheers, david

  31. MIKE R…

    this is a good idea..and basically i think what we want to do with the “work in progress” section here…we will launch this soonest….unedited cards or contact sheets are revelations in and of themselves…this is when you can really “see” a photographer…

    cheers, david


    i left you a note someplace else John, but maybe you missed it…i really like a lot of your work…any chance we could publish some of it here on BURN?? thanks in advance…

    cheers, david

  33. Byron, I’m most interested in your response as a Canadian. I live in a border city (Detroit) and have been part of as many peace protests and vigils in Canada as in the U.S. Now, I admit that Windsor, Ontario is known for its strong unions and community activism, but the people are every bit as politically aware and out-in-the streets in that small city as the people on “my side” of the border. And their demonstrations against the Iraq War drew not just European-descended residents but many Muslim residents from the Middle East.

    I guess it depends on the city.

    That being said, I very much appreciated seeing your photos from the pro-Palestinian march. You really captured the passion of the students who marched. I also documented such a rally and march here in Detroit. But in our case it was the Palestinian residents who came out and gave our demonstration the authenticity and passion it deserved. We also had some pro-Israel counter demonstrators. It was good to see both perspectives. The link is http://www.pbase.com/windchimewalker/gaza_israel_protest


  34. Everybody takes photos…
    to record special moments..
    there are different levels…
    a strong voice
    random snap shots to fill an album….

  35. Hello Mustafah,

    I love your work, especially that I missed the live broadcast, the image of the subway is for me the most striking image, I would have liked being present, thank you for the sharing.

    all the best, audrey

  36. Hi Patricia,

    I live in Victoria BC, way out on the west coast of Canada. We are the capital city of the province, however community activism is quite low. The only sizable protests we have had and are still having are in support of old growth rainforest. Unfortunately the politicians choose not to listen.

    However that is not to say this region lacks power and vision, just the unity and collectivism that these photographs demonstrate. For instance, there is a problem with disappearing rural land, and a destruction of a variety of unique habitats that have failed to be stopped by traditional political methods. However certain NGOs have popped up and organized themselves in order to fight against urban sprawl and destruction of important places by raising money and buying large tracks of land in order to protect them from the governments and the contracting developers.

    This may be my next project to tell you the truth.

    It’s just, I love photographing in crowds, and a crowd like this would have been amazing to photograph. I envy what you were able achieve mustafah, and how you can come together as a country.

  37. Fanstastic work, Mustafah. Strong sense of drama and great light. I don’t think this is an “easy” job at all, especially to do something that stands out above the sea of coverage of one of the most historic planned events in American history. I think you nailed it, my friend. Bravo!

  38. Mustafah, great stuff, especially 2,3,5, and 9. You caught the emotion of it all without the gush the media seemed determined to inflict on an otherwise unsuspecting populace. I eventually had to watch the thing on C-Span; having to listen to the pundits and commentators tell me how I was supposed to feel about what I was watching became too annoying by half. Those guys are worse than bad sportscasters. Again, great work, especially since you only had the one chance to get it. Historic inaugurations are few and far between.

  39. “Will the rhetoric become fact?”

    “Will there really be change?”

    “Is this just hype or is that mass of humanity that waits and watches for the fulfillment of the American dream going to be betrayed by the power of political manipulation?”

    “Is it possible that the world can reconcile its differences?”

    “Can Obama do it?”

    “Really, truly?”

    Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

  40. Byron, you live in a beautiful part of Canada, and actually I happen to know a good number of political activists out there. They call themselves the Raging Grannies and dress in “granny” costumes and sing in-your-face lyrics to familiar tunes. I know the BC gaggles–that’s what we call ourselves collectively–have been active in the struggle to protect land, trees, water and air as well as protesting war. Some of your Grannies have even taken to their kayaks to protest U.S. nuclear subs coming into the harbor! Maybe someday you’ll have the opportunity to document these amazing elders.

    I do hope you’ll take on the loss of rural land and unique habitats as a subject for a photo essay. That is something that speaks universally. It is happening across the globe.


  41. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

    Yes, certainly a most appropriate quote for the 43rd President.

  42. Nice analyses David. I think I understand what Guido is on about, the fact that there were 1.8 million subjects all in a festive mood in a single place, (seeing Mustapha’s photos and the coverage on TV makes me wish I had been there shooting) but like you said merely having the subject on hand doth not make one a photographer. Even the best of us have had our bad days in good situations, or when not shooting for a client per se we just decide to enjoy ourselves instead of working. In this case it was Mustapha’s ability to deliver that counts. The essay may not be “perfect” but few ever are.

    Years ago I failed to photograph probably the most dramatic thing ever to happen in Seattle. the WTO riots. I was dealing with some really heavy family shit at the time (my younger brother is bi-polar) and the last thing I needed at that moment was more drama in my life. Do I regret it now – yes (and we ended up with riot police on our front steps anyway). But sometimes it’s just where we are at, for better or worse, that makes what we do successful or not. Mustapha was there, working and doing his best. It’s futile to say what if so and so or myself was there – you or they were not and therefore those imaginary “better” photographs don’t exist. Game over.

    And yes, we seem to be living more and more in an age where surface representation (ie “picking up your camera”) is seemingly more important/real than the subtlety of which you speak. It’s easy to blame this on the popularity of digital imaging but I think it’s more than that. Our shorter attention spans perhaps, or less outlets for subtle type photography? A good topic for discussion.


  43. Charles; I know what you mean. I was driving out to do an article interview the two days ago and came across a concrete truck left the road, rolled and the driver trapped.

    I was third on the scene so helped out as best as I could, but basically just waited until the ambulance and police arrived (it was in a rural area twenty minutes from town). When they had everything under control I left.

    I thought about how if I was any type of photojournalist I should have taken photos. But I’m not a newspaper photographer, and our local rag doesn’t pay for pics anyway. If I thought that my taking photos would have done some good I would have, but the truth is it wouldn’t have.

    Yet if I was back in Timor and was witness to the police doing something dodgy (or a similar occurrence anywhere) then I would take photos. If there was going to be a positive outcome, or a way to enlighten the public about a situation, then I would always try to document it. Is that a perverse reasoning?

  44. David,

    I have really enjoyed this discussion. And I have a question for you that I think would be beneficial to many emerging photographers. My question then: what does an emerging photographer do when his surroundings don’t offer a “good situation” for taking pictures?

    I want to step aside here and take this away from the context of Mustafahs work, which is without any doubt an incredible piece of documentary photojournalism.

    However, this may be what GUIDO was getting at, about how that situation offered amazing opportunities and would make it easy to get good pictures. I don’t think making good or great pictures is easy, no matter the situation. However what I find hard is that in my corner of the globe there seems to be little that I can make great images with the kind of importance that these pictures have, or like the ones Sean Gallagher made about China. Not that there is nothing interesting, however there seems to be little of the international importance that seems to make up a core value of documentary photography.

    For example, I am working on lining up a few projects the first being on heritage grain production and its uses in traditional bread making. First reaction? Yawn, or mildly peaked interest at best. It won’t a photo-essay on the civilian toll in Gaza, or Kurdish rebels in Northern Iraq. But then again I am really drawn to the subject in the wake of a few other ideas, one of them being the massive clear-cuts of the rainforests in British Columbia, my home. Clear-cutting seems more important, but I am not drawn to it. However heritage grain production is for some reason fascinating. Where I grew up, a place called Metchosin, is somewhat similar to Tolkien’s Shire. I love the thought that in this messed up world people on a small pocket of rural land have taken the time to cultivate crops that have been forgotten about, and use farming techniques that have been extinct. I am blabbing on and on here, I know. I think maybe my question has evolved. What do you do when your subject matter doesn’t fit, do it anyways?

  45. David.
    thank you.
    Re: publishing here: I guess so, but I dont think I really count as an emerging photographer[ a lot of the time as any sort of photographer really :) ]

    I think there are probably a lot of ‘actual’ emerging photographers coming here who would benefit and want the exposure they would gain here more so than I.
    i do really like what you are doing here though, and I wish more people who were in a position to give back something to their art/craft did so.
    Maybe we could talk through the email [john@john-gladdy.com] and see whats what.
    look forward to it.

  46. byron :))

    too often we are seduced by content, in other words, that the ‘story’ behind the story looks sexy or ‘important’ or historical or ‘made for photography.’ My first reaction, ‘yawn!’ ;)) what makes work compelling and, dare i say, ‘universal’ is the way in which the photographer takes to her subject matter. the truth is that photographs documenting ‘events’ always attracts and we, in the moment, tend to be drawn to that which appears to shuttle in extraordinary importance. This, im afraid, is a terribly unhelpful way to consider work. Take all the momentous moments that pass by and look at the work that stood up. be it the inauguration or the conflics in the middle east or asia (afghanistan, pakistan, indonesia, etc) or mother nature ravishing, there is an endless deluge of photographs and photographers and yet, what ends up speaking to us often has little to do with the moment per se, as it does the ‘closeness’ or the ‘perspective’ that the photographer brought to bare upon the moment. i’ll try to use Frank as an example. If you look at Frank’s work from the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (when for the most part he was turning out extraorindary, personal hermetic movies), they reveal very personal visions of the act of photographing, of being engaged with the life around him (lower nYC and Nova Scotia) and his life, particulalry his life surviving the death of both his son and daughter: a pain unimaginable for a parent. Later, he went to Lebanon and photographed the city after the civil war, long after most of the Journalists had left. This work and remarkable book (COME AGAIN),


    IS an extraordinary and heart-breaking book of photographs of a city devastated by war, but if you look more closely, the book is about the broken heart, the space of all that is inside us disappears….the book is a logical extension of his work prior…not of The Americans, but what came later….

    All moments and all place yield remarkable lives and ideas and moments, but it is in the act of seeing, in the act of attaching yourself and listening to what goes on around. I’m just finishing a collection of Gogol’s story, the entire span of which has to do with absolutely nothing heroic, nothing monumental and yet within his mad, deranged stories and characters, is the strange, and hilarious and profoundly sad character of our entire life.

    I’ve just also finishing looking at a book mockup by a young photographer from England (who i hope and trust will have his work published here) whose work on East Anglica is extraordinary…but what’s in the book?…farmers and land and light and shadow and death and crops and animals and mud and hearts of stove-light and curtains and how large how extraordinary this work is….and of what?…old farmes plowing the earth like the cutting of wearied skin….

    i do not know what David will say, but for me the way toward ‘success’ as a photographer is the same as any well-beaten path: the way you know best and what means the most to you. Not everyone will celebrate or get the work, but if it has meaning to you, if it sings your life, if it somehow compelled you, it surely will fit inside another….

    it doesnt mean a personal project about shoes (did that once) has the same gravitas as the horror and tragedy of Gaza, but as soon as you begin to feel the connection to the life, in a very profound way, around you, you are bound to notice that, for good and ill, all moments gesture to the same basic questions: of the living and the dead…of the difficulty of staying this often sad and wintery life and that without others we are bereft, without connection to what surrounds, we are holed up in a pen of one….

    photograph what speaks your name, thereby we can know it…


  47. david and all,

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


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

  49. guido :)))

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


  50. BYRON,

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

    Good luck with the story you want to do.


  51. BYRON…

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

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

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

    so, every photographer must discern carefully between professionalism/personal and between subject matter that resonates…the “subject matter” could be in their head or in front of them..it does not matter…you should nurture the fire in you…figure out what actually motivates YOU…your spirit, your heart…if you must earn a living taking pictures, do not ever ever sacrifice “the fire in your gut”…your best work will be what comes naturally…sounds easy, but this is where most photographers lose their way…they forget what they really think..what they really care about..who they really ARE…becoming an adult in society tends to strip away the inner person…somehow, some way, you must learn to speak “correctly” and yet still feel free to actually say what you think..no small task…but, you must win this war….

    cheers, david

  52. GUIDO…

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

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


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

    all the best.

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

    Good light,


  55. Byron,

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

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


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

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

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

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

    Hopefully my work will make its way here sometime.

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

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

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

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

  59. Byron,

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

    Best of luck,


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

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


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

  63. RAFAL,

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

  64. Mustafah :)))

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

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

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

    people helping people…it’s all we have


  65. Dear Mustafah,

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

  66. Pingback: >Re: PHOTO » Blog Archive » Most photographed event in the Universe

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

  68. Pingback: The Inauguration of Barack Obama by Mustafah Abdulaziz | The Click

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