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Victor Cobo

American Dreams

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This series is a complex, anthropological tour through the landscape of the indigenous Central American — by means of memory, spirituality, longing and isolation.  Lives are concentrated with a vibrancy, an intensity of being that many of us have never experienced.  The under-represented reality between fiction and objective thought.  An existence akin to a world fueled and charged by love and loss, by commitment to family and the need for survival at all costs.  One that cannot be bound by laws from political systems on either side of the border.  Often this human drama is intensified with its reflection of deprivation.  Yes, there is struggle.  There is also joy, and the life of a dream, of opening a pathway heretofore unacknowledged in American society.  It is here that the viewer is urged to ponder the relationship between the real and the surreal or imagined, and to question their own existence in comparison to that of the subjects’.

Perhaps a brief journey through this stream of consciousness will remind the American public and their politicians of the fundamental humanity shared between themselves and the immigrants, whose lives have become such political playthings.


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Victor Cobo


116 thoughts on “victor cobo – american dreams”

  1. FWIW- here is my stream of conscious written while the essay played.


    Jesus money good pic. Nice start mammon or spirituality. Almost to ovbious, but the scene is set for a good show.

    lady on bed. Knowing the theme here – a prostitute? ok its about the lifes

    Another lady whats up with the grain. Is that real grain – or is it just a filter- I hate when technical details disturbes…

    Ok – railway tracks – into the land of plenty? Nice. Is it snowing? Love the shake..

    Family party – birthday! Funny hats – funny that Grandma also wears a funny hat… what are they eating?

    Family wall. Is that the same guy on all photos? Well, it’s the same blue shirt on four of the pics… Why am I looking at this

    Hey Polaroid!! Wal-mart and a guy. Who is he?

    Looks like the sky is reflected in the backpack. He is carrying dreams?… nah… where is he going?

    What – a transvestite at a mens room? No he’s not peeing. What is she doing?

    Color! Green. Absinthe! Going insane! Envy? Windows? What?

    Bus stop. Notes for immigrants and others. The sulfur preacher has been here…

    Nice sky – calm. Where is this? What has this got to do with it?

    Muddy water. Probably cyano-bacteria – due to phosphorus enrichment. Too evenly dispersed to really be a blue-green-bloom… he’s looking into the camera.

    A shade on a junkyard. Where are the people who live here? A stroller! Is there a todler somewhere?

    Why is he standing in the smoke? Funny way to prepare a bonfire – is this a ritual? Is that why the child is covering up?

    Drunk? Ill? No bottles – overdose? Damn…

  2. Just seems like a group of isolated images. Snapshots for the most part. We know the plight of the people depicted. This adds nothing to a story we’ve seen many times before.

  3. There’s some nice work here, but I think a project thats this thematically open, could use a more disciplined and unified style (i.e. one format, all color, etc.) Looks like a good start though. Good luck.

  4. I prefer some of the other pieces on Victor’s site. This one doesn’t work for me. Can’t tell whether it wants to be Soth, Parr, or D’Agata. Not sure what it’s trying to say or convey, and visually too inconsistent.

    That being said, I love the birthday party shot. Priceless.

    “Way Down in The Hole” and “Remember When You Loved Me” are much stronger pieces. Strange and striking, with a much more powerful sense of voyeurism. Take the time to look at them.

  5. Thanks, Chris, for saying much of what I wanted to say. I just spent time on Victor’s web site and found it intriguing. Be sure to read his artist’s statement as well as checking out his portfolios. Victor is obviously a complex fellow who, as he says, lives “on the fringes of society between dreams and memories.” To my eye, this shows up much more effectively in “Way Down in the Hole” and “Remember When You Loved Me’ than in “American Dreams,” especially the edit we see here.


  6. … Ok..
    Still in the car..
    Only 600 miles to go!
    I can’t open the essay because
    there is no Flash player In the
    iPhone .. BUT..
    I checked Victor’s website and
    THANK GOD I was able to see the
    He is my “brother” in a way..
    I got hooked immediately..
    What a pleasant surprise..
    How far away from the common eye..
    Far away from the common sense…
    From the next century
    I can praise it forever..
    On the other side of boring..
    A photographer that shouldn’t ..
    Be ignored..
    There should have been one
    hundred comments so far..
    I don’t understand why not..???!
    What a pleasant surprise..
    It doesn’t happen very often
    in my life to wanna meet another photographer
    … and I’m sober..
    I’m in the car..
    Ask Haik….
    He is right next to me…
    Man that was great!!
    Ok, enough!!!!

  7. wow…
    of course Panos loves this..
    I definitely was more intrigued with his website than this essay posted here..
    does it matter?
    what about covering your flash a bit?
    lots of ‘hot’ images, although perhaps that is what you are trying to convey…

  8. I agree with chris’ comments above. I think the essay is lacking in consistency, formal ant thematic.
    Many pictures speak an entirely different lanquage. For example 4 and 10 even though I like, I cannot related them with the other images. Same goes for 11 and 12.
    My personal favourites are 5 and 15.
    I didn’t have time to look at Victor’s website yet. I’m sure there will be plenty of pleasant surprices there.

  9. I am fascinated by the idea of knowing these peoples’ stories. Am I missing something with my browser? I do not have sound or “scroll over” info accompanying these photos. I enjoy the exploration the narrative guides. I hoped to know more about the subjects and the causes of the humanity that was exposed onto the film or sensor.

  10. looking pretty closely at it perhaps, but maybe multilingualism is fitting in this essay. We are learning about a group of people in between language, etc. If we are looking at an American portrait is multilingualism part of that description and applicable to the way we look at the photos?

  11. It’s quite a leap to match the opening statement with the photographs. 1 and 4 are the strongest for me; probably because of their composition. Way down the Hole is the most interesting essay on Victor’s website and is the most cohesive. American Dreams drifts, rambles, too much for me. But hey, that’s just for me!

    I too can see why Panos would love this work! It’s loose and “out there” like his own. Just as with Panos’ Venice essay; a tight edit which I loved (I “got it” Panos) Victor’s body of work as shown on his entire website could, with a very tight edit, produce a killer essay. Really interesting work Victor, Congratulations!


  12. Some of the photos (1,2,5,6,8,11,13) were part of an essay “American Dreams” by Victor as it was presented in the January 2008 issue of LFI, the Leica Magazine. The opening statement there read in short like (original in German) “The Californian photographer looks for contemporary images of the American Dream. He shows immigrant workers on both sides of the Mexican/Californian border. Images of hope, images of failure. The pursuit of happiness”. The editing is different, e.g. with 13 as a double page opener, and together with some additional pictures of is a very consistent set of photos. One could see it all belonged together, a very powerful essay. I liked (and still like) it very much and wished this tight editing would have been kept for the burn essay (which I see was difficult as the scope has widened).
    I find it interesting to read in the LFI article that originally Victor called the essay “Mexican Dreams”, but then renamed it considering that the immigrant workers leave traces on both sides of the border. That makes perfect sense to me. But then, yes Mike R, it´s quite a leap to the opening statement here on burn.
    It makes me wonder how far we can stretch the scope of a project without risking to lose consistency?

  13. I agree with Chris, especially for what concerns the birthday party image: genius here!

    I just add that the images of “American Dreams” as presented on Victor’s site have titles that in some cases help reconstructing a context… and I would like to ask the author why he chose to show on Burn a partially different selection of “American Dreams”‘s images compared to his website…

  14. I understand that DAH’s heart is in educating photographers, in advancing the work of “emerging photographers.” I also understand that he is using for that what is submitted to him (at least, that’s my understanding). But what I was expecting on Burn (perhaps not accurately) was the best of the best, the best emerging photographers and the best of their work. It seems, though, that what shows up is either quirky or some subset or remix of essays that diminish, rather than strengthen, the work. Not that there aren’t outstanding images presented here, but that what is presented is uneven and even contrarian (shake things up kind of stuff). And that’s fine, I guess. But the potential benefit of this site and access to DAH as educator and editor to emerging photographers seems too great to waste on the strange or incomplete or commonplace.

    While the eclectic is sometimes interesting, eclectic is easy to find all over the web. Solid, best of the best stuff is what I’m longing to see. Show me the end of the process, or show me the process in a way that makes me understand the reasons for the decisions that are being made in image selection and editing. Otherwise, it seems like just more flickr fodder. More noise.

  15. Our minds our relentless

    and so too the world that swivels around us, because our stories are but phantom hopes against ineluctable life, a way we hope that some small part of what makes the seeingly bottomless chasm of everything that passes through us, through our bodies and our eyes, and gets mixed like a tempermental recipe fails to yield or coalesce as something that resembles that which we’d hope to tell. This is the terrible and often frustrating cunundrum that both bewitches and crushes us. As a photographer, and a writer, this has been at the focal point flash of all that has levened my own work and my own practice: and it’s frustration and sense of failure has not diminished, no matter how many stories i create or wish to tell. In fact, it is the truth, the pinpoint prick, that each of us continues to hone toward…and it escapes us, continually.

    While like many others, i prefered Victor’s 2 other essays “remember when you loved me” (magnificent!) and “way down in the hole” (a dantesque dream and redemtion, After Life), but as a viewer and as a photographer, i am given this essay, and this became the portal through which I’ve been thinking about this story. Like others, I found the essay too short, particularly given what his other two essays contained, as well as the original essay on the website, but I do not hold victor responsible for this, but see it as the limitation of Burn, or the limitation of trying to get a sense of a story that has parameters, for life has only 2: the beginning and the ending of us. I also regret that the photograph of the cat in the ‘abandoned house’ and the dual portrait (espejo de la bruja) were left out, but this points toward what i ‘missed’ here…i wanted more, more of the dream logic of this essay, more from the essay (as in the other 2) that confuses, that takes me away from the dictatorial legacy of linearly told stories. What i do love about both the essay (here and at the website) is that David has given us an essay that requires us to patch together meaning (if this is possible) and go on a journey, an associative journey of the lives of both victor (and his relationship with Mexico) and the people’s lives he has spent time with. the mix of styles did not both me at all, particularly given the nature of his work and, more importantly for this story, the nature of story telling in mexico. As with the magnificent poet-novelist Roberto Bolano, who employs a wide range of literary devices in his stories and novels and poems (from tragedy to documentary to farce to comedia to surrealism to autobiography), so too this story, and much of c.american story telling, this story makes sense to me as a the way our thoughts and stories and lives work: a miasma of disaparity. Mexican art and mexican music and mexican literary tradition is full of this, maybe because of the clash between European sensibilities (spanish) and the intensity of the indigenous stories and the life tied to the land. What i Loathe about most photographic stories is it’s instance on recognizable paradigms to tell a story: this happened then this then that, all managed in a reasonable ‘similar’ stile or framework. But this is NOT the way life works and it is what has always troubled me about the great swatch of documentary photography, particularly when ‘outsiders’ photograph people and places and cultures of which they are not a part. for me, the sucess of this essays is that, in the frame work of most of the stuff David has chosen to publish, and the majority of which hangs in magazines and book and on galleries walls and bookshelves, are stories that don’t often delienate the experience per se, and all the messiness, but the literal story of the experience.

    As a photographer who has given David 2 stories, 2 essays that are neither linear nor clean, I am probably prejudiced about this work ;). How does one go about beginning to photograph a people or place or culture with the small and thin tool of photography? Fortunately, we are expanding ourselves and our tools to better tap into or rather to better express the very things that pass, that make us who we are: the colors an dthe sounds, the divergent stories (god and money and joy and death), the difficulties and the ease. How would anyone of us begin to tell the story of our own lives? Imagine for a moment. the moment you began to speak about one thing in your life, how to be able to give that story life or context without including evertyhing that lead to that moment, and all the tissues that seem disconnected, but are in truth, fibres that make up the blanket of the shape of who it is you are?…an impossibility. Does a straightforward essay tell it right? does a diconnected, cacophonous song tell it right?…do either, do both?….

    the fact, for me, is that everything we do is unfinished, broken, a failure and by that i can only begin to see if a story as spoken to me, as opened me to some experience. I feel that I havent had nearly enough of the lives of these people, in the context of this particular story, and wanted more, a lot more, but maybe because from the moment the essay started i was drawn in. His delerious use of flash and light, the strange collapse of both autobiography and the stories of the lives. There are some magnificent and iconic photographs here (money&christ, railroadtracks and light, the birthday party (one of the few single photographs that, for me, takes Arbus’ masked masterpieces and updates/transcends it, the cat-devil-angle, the men drinking the milky water at the border, with the mud patches appearing like corpses of the dead emmerging, etc), and these great photographs heightened and collapsed by the other ‘broken’ photographs, all of which leads toward a hunger, my own hunger for more….i wanted more….

    as an essay, an anti-essay, it works and it speaks for me…only short, too short, to drown me, to show me the heft and circle of these lives, but there is great work here, and more importantly, a great way to thing of what it means to tell a story, a story of which he is or is not a part of….though, i still wait for the the child from these circumstances who will tell the story even more feverishly, than one who is an outsider…

    the only part of this essay that i did not like was the ‘statement’ for in many ways it reminds me too much of all that i dislike and find bothersome about both documentary photography and art photography. All of what victor has written is true, for sure. But it is because of his work, the ‘stream-of-conscious’ approach with which he works that best speaks about his life, his experience, not theirs. That must come from within and statements that become more didactic and explanatory become, at least for me, not only irrelevant, but worse, diminshing. the work is strong and poetic and ‘truthful’ in it’s attempt to express his expeience in mexico and the border areas. We are all political playthings for not only politicians but also one another, because it is always easier for us to speak in cliches about others than it is to boldly speak only about oursleves. It’s what is so often baleful about political rhetoric and empty anthropology.

    that said, i applaud this work, find it visceral and poetic and truthful, truthful in it’s experiential poetry and joy, it’s difficulty and it’s fever…a characteristic not only of the people’s live in mexico and c.america but in all our lives…

    what i love best about d’agata is not just the mercilessness and honesty of how he photographed his peripatetic and fever-fueled life, but later, how he presents his work in books and in galleries: all there, a mess, without necessarily qualifying what should and shouldn’t go together…for the truth is that all things ram up against each other…take a walk, look around and listen, pay attention to to your thoughts and reflections and sensations…it’s the same…

    a collision of all things which make up the landscape of our exterior and interior lives….

    i am happy this essay is here….

    and happy too we are broadened….congratulations to victor for his work and his fever’d hunger…

    wearied of writing


  16. Symbols, allusions, stream of consciousness – these are barriers to communicating with much of the world. They are intended for insiders, not to communicate ideas clearly to the masses. Stories like this need to communicate clearly, impact people directly. My particular passion, beside photography, is poetry. But so much poetry is incomprehensible to most readers because it is so internal, so specific that it only communicates to those who understand the language. But that isn’t much of a problem with poetry. Most poets don’t write to change the world.

    Documentary photography needs to communicate clearly, unambiguously, or it becomes merely art, and fodder for discussions like this one.

  17. “Documentary photography needs to communicate clearly, unambiguously”

    I don’t share your position Jim: I personally find more interesting “documentary” photography that conveys multi-layered representations of reality (since reality is complex, why photography should be unambiguous??). Besides that I would not be so sure that Victor’s work (or, more generally, works shown on Burn) aspires to be “documentary photography” in the strict sense you are considering here.


  18. Love the work! vibrant, brave! makes me want to photograph more! much prefer the essay on the website, the gaps in continuity disappear. love very much other essays as well! you’re a wonderful photographer, congratulations!

  19. i dont think that ‘Symbols, allusions, stream of consciousness’ are the barriers of communication but our judgement and ignorance. as soon as we make an attempt to understand or for other people to allow ourselves to feel without analysis, we realize, ironically, that we share much of the symbolics of other people. both jung and campbell talk about it a lot.

  20. That’s true. But it’s also superficial with short attention spans. The challenge is to rise above the noise.

  21. JIM…

    i think you might want to think about how all art and communication change from one generation to the next AND different outlets for photography in the first place…there is mass communication which is one thing and communication with a more sophisticated audience which is another…there is USA Today and there is the New Yorker…Victor certainly could care less about USA Today..

    rushing out now, but back soonest to complete my thought..but you see where i am going…

    cheers, david

  22. I understand where you are going, but do you think the New Yorker is going to run many essays that lead with what essentially is a garbage dump next to that full page Rolex ad?

  23. “Documentary photography needs to communicate clearly, unambiguously”

    i can’t think of a more self-defeating recipe to communicate anything other than the directions to grocery store.

    who condemned documentary photography to this sentiment? who were the teachers that graded the work of documentary photographers and failed them when they didn’t follow some geometric-proof structure to serve information to an audience?

    there are two parties involved in communication, and if you don’t consider the recipient’s cognitive energy to assemble information in deep thought and persist it to long-term memory then you will have some very bored, under-whelmed recipients that both ‘got’ your point and ‘forgot’ your point before the credits hit.

    the best, most life changing documentary communicators on earth are trial litigators. most people’s experience with trial litigators come from the movies, but even in real life, when it comes to a ‘trail amongst your peers’ in a complex murder case, these litigator do not communicate ‘unambiguously’, as matter of fact it’s exactly the opposite of this; everything they ‘suggest’ is delivered through questions. essentially all of their arguments are a bunch of mental dots that you are left in charge of connecting in your own head, coming to a shared conclusion, a conclusion that is distracted by a competing party trying to get you to arrive at their conclusion, and more importantly, not feeling like you were ‘clearly’ told this… if they succeed in this delivery method you actually feel like it was your idea, your conclusion.. a much stronger, longer lasting, unshakable impact of ambiguous communication.

    unfortunately i just don’t see how this primitive geometric-proof-style to documentary communication is ever going to break free when so many people prepare it this way, and so many people expect their documentary to be served up this way.

    i also don’t think it’s by accident that the best documentary talent has chucked the term ‘photojournalist’ because it was easier to ditch the term than to get the stuck-in–the-mud alumni to rethink primitive nature of that approach.

  24. The reality is, though, that unless we do communicate where most people actually are, we’ll end up talking to ourselves. As much as I wish that the majority of people make the effort to assemble information in deep thought, that is not what happens. I’ve been a PJ and newspaper editor for many years. While I don’t think we need to talk down to people with photography, I do know that symbolism, allusion or multi-layered representations of reality simply don’t get through to most viewers.

    Venues for serious documentary photography are few enough and getting fewer. How much do we want to limit ourselves? How exclusive do we want access to our essays to be?

  25. JIM..

    you have your opinion and that is why were are here, but i think you are not a patient man, nor do i think you see the picture clearly at all …and i am very confused by your overall frame of reference and sense of visual literacy…

    as time goes on i think you will see that Victor is clearly among the “best of the best” and Panos’ book is going to kill you as will Patricia’s , as will Angelo’s (those three with original production for Burn)…i have not published EVERYONE who might be the “best of the best” but we are only 4 weeks old and i cannot possibly publish more than two essays per week!!!

    i mean, this is not a library , this is a daily changing foray into SOME contemporary photography coming from some amazing emerging photographers…

    IF, you know of a photographer who deserves to be here, but who is not, please recommend they submit their work…yes, at this point , i am only taking submissions…although we may soon commission original work…

    my whole school of critique (or complaint) is based on one thing…show me the alternative!!!! either with your own work or by showing us the work of someone you think matches who is being shown…i am totally up for that…

    frankly, i am not as worried about an education program for young emerging photographers as i am about the much needed education program for the no longer emerging photographers…cynicism is death….

    you said “show me the process in a way that makes me understand the reasons for the decisions”…please, please Jim!!!

    i do not know where you live Jim, but i will invite you gratis to my next workshop in New York or wherever….you would be most welcomed….

    as always, thanks for your note….we do not have to agree to have a discussion….

    cheers, david

  26. Jim:

    The question isn’t, or shouldn’t be, what constitutes communicative photojournalism (a tired, and i would argue, a patronizing orientation), but what is the reason why we photograph. For me, the critical question is, above all else, Why? We do, all of us, as Marina pointed out (as have jung, campbell, religion, art, song, stories), speak in symbols and metaphor, and that is EXACTLY what a photograph is: a constructed, symbolic made object which stands in for something else, period. Now, you are absolutely correct that the ‘audience’ for photography here and elsewhere is visually literate, and often ‘sophisticated.” This is true with all work. You name a photographer, any photographer, whose work meets the requirement of ‘communication’ and you’ll see photography which is also quite complex. Most of us get our visual media diet through sophisticated images: look at the superbowl tv commericals, or the stuff on youtube, flickr, nytimes, newyorker, USA Today (what might be the equivalent?) or Metro (the international daily of the world’s subway riders). Listen to the stories told within groups and their incredibly complex. The problem it seems is that we’ve been feed a diet of ‘journalism must be this’ that has argued that people are unable to like or appreciate or understand imagery but that which ‘speaks’ to readers: that being pre-determined by those whove set the standard. Again, its the logic of the empty anthropology…or the academization of the work.

    What does ‘serious photography’ mean? Does it mean the photographer was engaged in telling/sharing a story and that they’d committed themselves to the expression and detail of that story? Is ‘serious photography’ that which looks ‘serious’ (ie, like the photography that has made the panthenon)? Is ‘serious photography’ that photography whose style and construction seems clean, polished? I dont know actually at all what is or isnt serious photography, in fact, i loathe that kind of qualification. If by that, serious photography, we mean telling story in an authentic way as a means to communicate the passage of life, the life of ourselves and other cultures, that I would argue that I don’t know how that gets accomplished either by establishing a rule or mechanism by which that can be attained.

    We delude ourselves when we begin to attempt to speak for others: it is the one major problem i have with all journalism as an act of ‘truth telling.’ We accept it, because we get information about others, other places and times and people and accept this, because we are not of that other place or culture or person. We accept this with qualification. is bresson’s work on mexican brothels more serious or more truthful than the family scrapbooks that the workers share with one another?…

    if there is to be a new arragement for photography, at least for me, it should be a simplification rather than an amplication. That simplification should be this:

    i cannot tell another’s story but through my own and if a story of another has any importance it is that it was as an expression of another’s life and story through the mediation of one’s own faulty tools and hopes.

    i don’t know that any story i’ve ever seen or read tells me anything more about another person but except that it offered me insight into a life different from my own, and that i cannot make anything grander than that….

    what is it that we continuall grope blindly to continue to tell stories…is it about ‘them’ or is it about ‘us’….

    in that sense, for me, lay the problem, insolvable….


  27. JAMES…

    a “pj and newspaper editor for many years” is obviously the recipe for your attitude..bad combo…but, we can get you out!!!! i am joking of course, but jokes always hold truth ….you have been trained to think of communication in only one very very narrow narrow way…how do i know?? because i worked at a newspaper (2 of them) fighting the dogma every inch of the way…yes, of course i learned a lot, but i remember as a young man in the newsroom thinking “man oh man i hope i never grow up to be like these guys”…

    let’s develop your poetic side…please!!!

    cheers, david

  28. What bob said then what david said then what bob said again then what joe said then what bob said just now.
    Been looking at the essay and going through the web site. This is some pretty intense photography. veers wildly from shot to shot stylisticly, no[obvious] fixed points of reference, a veritable circus of treatments. Have to say…. I am his newest fan.
    For me, the shot has always been everything. each new one seemingly completely divorced from the ones that came before. Pictures made for MYSELF and for the picture. If i were to start making pictures for ‘others’, for ‘consumption’ if you like, I think i would rather sell my cameras and get a proper job.

  29. JOHN….

    my whole way of going through a “photographic life” has been to always tell myself that i would rather be a bartender or golf caddy than somehow be involved in using what i felt to be a gift for all the wrong reasons…now, to get my children through school , i have spent a few hours taking some pictures that were definitely not “my art”…but, i dare say damned few and not for more than a day here and there…all projects were always “mine”…so, you have the right attitude…and your work i am sure reflects exactly who you “are”…

    cheers, david

  30. Well, the up side is that what you have done here is great. You’ve provided these photographers a venue for their work, and inspired them to do that work. And provided an audience with the visual sophistication to appreciate it. And that’s a rare thing. And a valuable thing.

  31. JAMES..

    you have your opinion and that is why were are here, but i think you are not a patient man, nor do i think you see the picture clearly at all …and i am very confused by your overall frame of reference and sense of visual literacy…

    as time goes on i think you will see that Victor is clearly among the “best of the best” and Panos’ book is going to kill you as will Patricia’s , as will Angelo’s (those three with original production for Burn)…i have not published EVERYONE who might be the “best of the best” but we are only 4 weeks old and i cannot possibly publish more than two essays per week!!!

    i mean, this is not a library , this is a daily changing foray into SOME contemporary photography coming from some amazing emerging photographers…

    IF, you know of a photographer who deserves to be here, but who is not, please recommend they submit their work…yes, at this point , i am only taking submissions…although we may soon commission original work…

    my whole school of critique (or complaint) is based on one thing…show me the alternative!!!! either with your own work or by showing us the work of someone you think matches who is being shown…i am totally up for that…

    frankly, i am not as worried about an education program for young emerging photographers as i am about the much needed education program for the no longer emerging photographers…cynicism is death….

    you said “show me the process in a way that makes me understand the reasons for the decisions”…please, please Jim!!!

    i do not know where you live Jim, but i will invite you gratis to my next workshop in New York or wherever….you would be most welcomed….

    as always, thanks for your note….we do not have to agree to have a healthy discussion….

    cheers, david

  32. James, you have brought up some very good points and asked very valid questions.

    I see your line of thought as being about, not so much the role of documentary photography but more about the manner of delivering documentary photography to our audience? I would suggest that your line of thought is influenced by the history of photojournalism.

    The fundamental principle of photojournalism (pj) is that it must tell the truth of any situation that it documents. The believability of the profession demands this. Now historically pj was delivered in Black and White photographs because that was the only medium suitable for the fast-moving news business. The results that were produced are the stuff of legend: and then along came colour (color) films that were reasonably fast, of excellent quality and able of being published in, initially, magazines and then in newspapers. You can be sure that some said of the upstart that it wasn’t “real” pj – it wasn’t “classic” pj.

    No sooner had that argument settled down when along came digital! At last we have the tools that enable us to capture a photograph in colour at incredibly-high ISOs. Even more amazingly, we have digital software that give us previously unheard-of control of image post production. If W Eugene Smith were alive now would he be using Photoshop? You bet your sweet bippy he would!

    James, you ask “how much do we want to limit ourselves”? Well, I for one don’t want to be limited to a Leica and Tri-x. Neither do I want to be tied to the colour palette dictated to me by some chemist in Rochester.

    For the first time photographers are able to produce and present for publication photographs that are exactly the way that they want them to be shown. They are able to use (or remove) colour to suggest a mood or emotion that they consider important. These are truly revolutionary times. We should embrace the new opportunities now available to us. Be free; use what you want, leave what you want; find your own voice.

    But what about truth and believability” the cornerstones of pj? Relax James; work such as Victor’s are not going to become mainstream Time or Newsweek material anytime soon – but the techniques employed by Victor may well be perfect for some pj essays i.e. “Way down the Hole”. Further, it may well be able to show the truth and believability; something of the essence, of his subjects, better than could classic photojournalistic techniques. Maybe.

    How much do we want to limit ourselves? Not at all.

    Best wishes,


  33. Important discussion going on here. I’ve been fascinated by Jim Powers’ perspective since he started posting on BURN. He’s obviously a reality-based photojournalist who has little tolerance for the more artistic/poetic side of photography. And that’s good. We need ALL views represented here.

    As for myself, I’m trying more and more to marry the real and the poetic, to open my eyes and mind to a both/and perspective rather than sticking with a dualistic approach that sees things as either/or, either real OR poetic. It’s not easy, especially since my tendency is to tell a story, to be a narrative photographer. But bit by bit I’m “getting it.” One of my greatest lessons has come from looking at essays like Victor Cobo’s, essays that presume the viewer doesn’t need to be led by the hand but can follow, as he calls it, a “stream of consciousness” approach. No, I don’t think the edit posted here is entirely successful. As I said earlier, I prefer the work posted on Victor’s web site. But the fact is, he is trying to tell real stories using symbolic language. And I say, good on him. May we all cut free of whatever ropes bind us to ONE way of thinking, ONE way of making and seeing photos.


  34. David,

    I´m on burn to learn… I was just a bit confused when I recognized the pictures I marveled at in the LFI article now being presented in a different – or – wider essay. It felt to me as if something had been diluted (may be not the right word…). So I tried to understand where that might come from. It was not to question yourself as an editor nor did I assume you would touch any essay here. Every photographer knows exactly why she or he edited they way they have. It´s just interesting to watch the development a project takes, and to see how I or others react to it. And what we learn from it…

  35. Interesting essay…I have a hard time looking past the “inconsistencies of style/format/presentation. It feels collected rather than created w/ intent…where did that polaroid come from??. just a thought, otherwise the beauty of any of these essays; especially those that break the mold, get you thinking!! ..and that I think IS the best part! …again just my opinion.

    Am I missing the captions for each image?? if so, not sure how to pull them up.

    Nice conversation here by the way! Cheers, Jeremy

  36. Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleson Pie,
    A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
    Ask me a riddle and I reply:
    Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

  37. I’ve always felt that art and poetry are accessible because humanity shares an internal language regardless of the specifics of our outward existences..but here in this essay, from the writing, we are being asked to “question (our) own existence in comparison to that of the subjects’”..and we are verbally set into a position of being separate from the viewed in that they “have emotions/needs that many of us have never experienced”..so the words and my viewing experience are disparate..and perhaps if I am to do what Victor asks (in writing) I would have been better served by a more “direct” documentary piece, but honestly I prefer the work as it is (without regard to the written word) as I feel a connection with what is being communicated and how it is being communicated.

  38. Fish: I have chicken pox.
    Fish: I have ate the unicorn
    Fish: I am an immigra….

    Akaky: I liked the fish.

  39. “it offered me insight into a life different from my own …”

    About the best description I have seen, the rest is just “method.”

    As one with a newspaper background, who can be painfully literal and bizarrely abstract at the same time, and who struggles with the duality of this, I appreciate all approaches but have come to realize that if the standard is to offer true insight, then the edges of the shadows can hold more light than the noonday sun.

  40. We have been told by Victor that his essay is “stream of consciousness.”

    Is stream of consciousness a good enough explanation for us to consider this an essay rather than just an assembled group of random photos?

    I get that we’re supposed to be looking at the work on burn as visual poetry but (I know some may jump all over me for saying this) my personal opinion is that the photographer should be doing more work than the viewer. Otherwise why not just post a grey or white empty screen and let us all go to town on that? :))

    Food for thought…meant tongue in cheek…I’m interested in serious responses, not arguments please!

  41. Akaky,

    Thanks for interjecting that tasty morsel of humor. I needed a good laugh today. And thank you to DAH, et al. for your passionate work here at burn. I’ve been viewing since inception; I enjoy the variety of work and the ensuing disussions.

    Victor, the work is powerful and thought provoking. Stretching the meaning allows for personal interpertation which is part of the craft- I don’t want it spoon fed, I like to discover it for myself-
    a little mystery.

  42. My comment above is directed not just at this particular essay, btw.
    Some images here are perhaps more literal than other essays we have seen on burn.

    Another way of rewording what I said above:
    What, in your opinion is the photographer responsible for?
    If we are all using our imaginations and giving the photographer “credit” for whatever we IMAGINE they are saying, what do they actually need to say, if anything?

  43. panos skoulidas

    Oh I see .. Now I
    Get it…
    Akaky , eventually ate that
    Ok… All..
    Just waking up in Seattle…
    5:30pm .. Time for the vampires
    to wake up…
    Let’s hope that this night will
    bring some new winds of adventure…
    Ok… Ready now…
    Going to find some kinda lost “Venice beach”..
    first night, first time in seattle…
    .. It’s not Raining…
    So f**k all stereotypes…
    F**k all rules…
    laughing… after all Akaky ate
    that chicken pox-ed poor little fish…!
    ok… Sunset… Going out…
    Looking for “trouble”…
    Peace and hugs!

  44. panos skoulidas

    … again,
    i dont mind at all if Akaky ate that fish…
    because that particular fish was responsible
    for the unfortunate missing Unicorn…
    Again, all that thanks to the gentle witness
    P&H Trucking…
    “they” are hiring by the way…
    … and i’m applying…
    ok, gotta go,
    A hot like fire, red Benz, is waiting outside my door…
    lucky me.

  45. This is an interesting discussion, but what strikes me is that we are all sucked into the familiar argument about what constitutes art, documentary, etc, and what kinds of liberties can we take with our art, and how “literal” photojournalists should or shouldn’t be…etc…etc…rather than really discussing the piece itself and whether it works or not. And that is all well and good, but proclaiming that art should be free of the constraints of logic and didacticism is no excuse for a weak and inconsistent essay. Okay, an anti-essay, whatever…At some point you’ve got to wonder whether the emperor is really wearing clothes or not…I try to keep an open mind about art and if someone deems something to be great and worthy, as David obviously does with this piece, I try to understand why, even though my first reaction may be to call bullshit. However, with this piece, I’m really having trouble getting what makes it so great. As I said before, I really dig Victor’s other work, but this piece as presented here is not solid as a “finished” piece and IMO should not be published in its current state. I can see that with some rounding out it could work as a conceptual piece, but it really needs some balance. It needs some framing. It needs some design. It needs some rhythm, something you can dance to. Something that repeats, something that hypnotizes. It needs to settle into some kind of poetic language and stay there for a few frames. I’m not at all opposed to the wildly divergent styles and subject matter in the piece, but they need to reinforce each other, contrast each other, build and release tension, swirl around each other, rinse and repeat. This kind of piece is hard to pull off because the line between what is high art and what is pure crap is so fine, like the edge of a knife. It’s all in how you sculpt it. There is good stuff here, to be sure, and Victor, like Panos, is riding along that knife-edge and coming up with some gems along the way; it’s commendable work, but IMO it is about a third of the way finished. It needs to be a much bigger and more rhythmic piece for the themes to have weight.

  46. Chris Two things..

    Try to forget this…

    This series is a complex, anthropological tour through the landscape of the indigenous Central American — by means of memory, spirituality, longing and isolation. Lives are concentrated with a vibrancy, an intensity of being that many of us have never experienced. The under-represented reality between fiction and objective thought. An existence akin to a world fueled and charged by love and loss, by commitment to family and the need for survival at all costs. One that cannot be bound by laws from political systems on either side of the border. Often this human drama is intensified with its reflection of deprivation. Yes, there is struggle. There is also joy, and the life of a dream, of opening a pathway heretofore unacknowledged in American society. It is here that the viewer is urged to ponder the relationship between the real and the surreal or imagined, and to question their own existence in comparison to that of the subjects’.

    Perhaps a brief journey through this stream of consciousness will remind the American public and their politicians of the fundamental humanity shared between themselves and the immigrants, whose lives have become such political playthings.

    Then try very very hard to re-imagine that you just read this and only this:

    Simply My Central American Sentiment.

    Then go to the actual essay here:

    http://www.victorcobo.com (American Dreams)

    close your eyes when image 4 and 15 pop up (basically the b/w images, the first image (4) because its repetitive and doesn’t have the merit the rest of the images have, the second b/w (15) does have merit, but not in b/w as the sole b/w, a single b/w attracts too much emphasis.)

    and then let it wash over you..

    first question… does the wall that images hang on impact the way we read images?

    second question(s)…should the artist be so literal with their introduction? More so, is there loads in the intro that we could better deduce from the images? Would it have been more appealing to collect the feelings from the images and not the intro?… Would it feel better to arrive at these opinions without being ‘clearly’ told what you should think before you view these images?

    Totally on a side-note, i always thought a great board game / college drinking game would be to put a bunch of artist statements/grant application statements on the back of a deck of cards… the game would proceed with each person taking their turn by picking a card and then choosing to drink a shot of Jaegermaister or reading the artist statement out loud, with a straight face to the rest of the players… either way, if they vomit, the game is over for them. i don’t know, but i’d take my chances with the jaeger every time.

  47. p.s. i’m not slagging-off the actual introduction to this essay, more like refuting the merit of the introduction ‘clearly telling us’ what this essay is supposed to accomplish. As matter of fact this introduction is particularly ‘un-naff’ as artistic introductions go.

    I suppose introductions should be crafted as carefully as captions.. There was an interesting discussion of captions over here; i think some of the same concepts apply:


    Also, in opposite to what i say, i’m certain more people will prefer this clear road map to understand what they are ‘supposed’ to conclude/feel; that way they can come to a yes/no answer, much less work.

    i’m probably alone in only wanting the right pill to put me in the right mood to let me make my own mental map and find my own feeling. That being said, i’m certain both types of audiences would have deduced some of those introductory notes without having the hand dealt for them and their hand forced by the introduction.

    i’m also not criticising the wall that art hangs on at Burn, just suggesting white gallery walls seem to suit some media more than others.

  48. My understanding of the U.S. is, as for many, almost entirely based on the movies I have seen. All I can say Panos, is be careful out there; Washington State is full of trees and serial killers – and it rains all the time. Whatever you do don’t stop the car at night to give a ride to anyone carrying an axe!



  49. Hi Folks,

    Interesting discussion this. I’ve watched the essay a few times, and read the intro. I’ve watched the full essay on Victor’s site too. I have to agree that the full essay makes much more sense than the one presented here. Like many others, I think the presentation here gives the impression of an incomplete piece of work. If this were posted under the proposed “work in progress” section I could see why it would have been included. As it stands it just feels to much like a loose collection of pictures that maybe have something in common, but what that something is hasn’t been fully realised yet. I like the stream of consciousness idea, and I think that it is much more apparent in the full version, as-well-as the idea of playing with memory, hopes and dreams in a lyrical way – it makes the people more alive to me.

    I don’t think the written intro really adds anything, to be honest. I think it plays at being something for everyone, the notion of memory and the stream of consciousness etc for the “art crowd”, and the anthropological study and political rhetoric for the “documentary gang”. I think it would have been much better to have left more “open” for the view, rather than giving us a user manual. As it stands I’d also question its anthropological merit too. It simply isn’t rigorous enough to work as a piece of ethnography.



  50. David:

    I didn’t mean the limitation of Burn is YOU or your DECISIONS ;))…I mean, Burn is Limited by space, readership (concept of people not able to look at more than 25-30 pics, but i’ll guess i’ll test that ;)) ), and being online magazine, instead of, for example, a book, exhibition, website, etc ;))

    in no way was I suggested the shortened version was a limitation imposed by you as editor/dave harvey, but by the nature of an on-line magazine….


  51. Words always seem to harm photographs more than help them. A forum for discussion is a great thing. Democratic, involving and free! But man, all these words, not to mention the intro for this body of work, tire me out.

  52. JASON…

    yes, i do not understand why Victor chose the “short version” for Burn either…maybe it was because every time someone does a longer essay, the comments come in “too long”…everything is either too short or too long…i cannot imagine an essay in any magazine anywhere where if there were open comments on an essay that this might not happen…ultimately, Victor’s work wants to be a book..and i am sure this is his goal…can you imagine Robert Frank showing us 20 pictures from The Americans here?? the man would get killed…well, he did get killed when he first showed Americans…anyway an interesting discussion …

    cheers, david

  53. JAMES…

    i am sure you may imagine that i could easily argue BOTH sides of this debate over the literal vs. the so called “stream of consciousness” (let’s face it, nobody has yet beat Virginia Woolf)…while i may want to go in and tweak out Victor’s essay a bit (and we can do this anytime) i do think he is much easier to “fix” than say someone who just cannot get off the so called “picture story” concept… would rather “dial back” Victor, than try to get an A,B,C photographer to dream….again, just my opinion…

    cheers, david

  54. CATHY….

    who said the work presented on Burn is supposed to be viewed as visual poetry?? did i write that?? i hope not….

    Victor is bearing witness….what he sees and how he edits and makes his juxtapositions may go out of the realm of the mass media, but he is a straight out documentary photographer…the USE of his photographs or the perception of his work could appeal more to the sophisticated gallery crowd or be published by the more discerning book publishers, but he is still simply bearing witness…

    most really great art/literature requires some work on the part of the viewer/reader…spoon feeding the viewer is just too too easy..too too pedantic…..i can get anyone to shoot an “easy to understand” essay in a day…doing something that allows the viewer to dig in a bit and think a bit is much more difficult…

    i think i am correct in writing that you have been basically asking this same question for the last year or so…and i think i am also correct in writing that i have been TRYING to answer it all along…

    i must be doing a very poor job!!! you said “why not just post a grey or white screen and let us all go to town on that?? c’mon Cathy c’mon….

    cheers, david

  55. CHRIS…

    good points…so, i think it would be quite easy for Victor to make a few changes, add a few things, subtract a few things, and make it sing..isn’t that why we are here???

    there have already been changes in Patricia’s piece…and there will soon be a re-edit of Panos….

    i think the “final essay” will be whatever we put in print at the end of the year…all else is some version of “work in progress”….i think that is why the consensus was to keep essays open for comments…wasn’t that your idea amigo???

    cheers, david

  56. Dear Victor,

    I have very enjoyed your works.
    Your editing is very nice. :)))
    Like Lao-tzu principles … letting nature be… leaving nature as it is…. nature itself remained intact.

    Thank you very much.

  57. JOE…

    laughing!! yes, i would bet on the jaeger too!! god, is there anything worse than getting sick on jaeger??? (well, tequila not much better) anyway, i digress…damned dude, you draw different conclusions at different times for different reasons..but always thought provoking..cool…

    cheers, david

  58. BOB…

    your words are always welcomed…that is, when you are ready and in the mood to write…what would Burn be without your comments?? nobody does the “wrap up” perspective better than thee…

    your photographs, your essay will run this week…Bones of Time will say it all for Bob Black…

    cheers, david

  59. david….no rush…no worries…what i feel is just a balance…how to give over words, and make sure they’re there for the work…the work that feeds my family ;))…and enriches our lives…keep the priorities in check….but, i have no worries, just measuring how/when i write, , book inside….hugs….b

  60. I wish I could bat this stuff out like Bob does. If I waited to get in the mood to write, I’d never write anything.

  61. Hi David,

    I always think that taking pictures from an essay to produce a “diluted” version leads to problems. Like your Robert Frank example: it just wouldn’t be the same had he showed a handful of images: to many gaps, to many leaps. Even the fragmentary, stream of consciousness, poetic works need a structure of some sort. By removing images it is that which is lost. I guess, like so many things, its all about balance: selecting the right images, sequencing them in a way that lets them speak, lets them fly. That fragile balance is what it all hangs on and I think finding this takes as many images as it takes. Once you find that number stick with it, otherwise its like reading a book with missing pages.

    As for the to long/too short debate: once you’ve arrived at the definitive version: STICK WITH IT. Victor should have definitely stayed with the long version. People are always going to debate this, but he had the final essay, he showed us HIS vision on his website and thats the one he should have stayed with. If other people don’t like it well, thats up to them.

    Are you planning any visits to London, David?



  62. DAVID.

    No, you did not say that. The subject has come up in some of the discussions here. I used the expression “visual poetry” to condense it for the purposes of making a comment.

    You are basically correct. I have been asking the same question more or less and am still asking it, not because I don’t understand what you are saying but because what you are showing me is often (but not always) …I don’t know the word I want to use here so will use yours… GREAT enough to make me want to do the work.

    THAT’S IT!!! Actually I think your comment above is the best answer yet to my question! You said “really GREAT art requires some work on the part of the viewer” No offense to anyone here but when I keep asking for more on the part of the photographer to make me want to do the work I am asking for the work to be great, which I’m sorry to say, it is not…in my opinion. Bottom line, I guess it all comes down to that. :))

  63. …and when I wrote…
    “Otherwise why not just post a grey or white empty screen and let us all go to town on that? :))”
    intended as somewhat of a joke.

    I am saying GIVE ME MORE. Make me want to do my part as the viewer.

  64. Cathy:

    I won’t be able to answer more succinctly that what David has given you, so i’ll try to provide another example to contemplate, espcecially since i’ve been one of the ‘loud mouths’ here who have stated that it is incumbent on the viewers to work and that the photographer’s work lay in making the work, not in interpreting it for the viewers. I think it is incredibly important that an ‘essay’ (substitute here any other world, book, story, photograph) be an authentic expression of the photographers vision, idea, reaction, emotion, ‘witness’ of the world with which she is engaged. The problem, all too often, is that photographers (again, here substitute any word, writer, singer, artist, musician, tvshow producer, teacher) orient themselves and ‘appreciate’ ways of expressing which only make sense to them when viewing others. for example, as a teacher, i’m very different than most of my colleagues (not better or worse, just different) but as a teacher I must understand that my classroom is filled students from different nations, cultures, language backgrounds, educational background and, more importantly, process, absorb, react to ideas in a wildly different array of ways. some of analytic, some intuitive, some verbal, some physical, some slow, some quick, some experiential, some digestive, etc. we all learn differently. Thus, when we’re looking at other’s work, while we cant change who we are or how we see/reflect, we do need to try to see work from the perspective it’s given: this comes, i think, above all from familiarity: widening one’s horizons and perspectives: read different books, listen to different music, have different friends/conversations, look at a wider variety of photography. I dont mean YOU should do this, i mean your question begs for that.

    I’ll share with you my friend Olivier Pin-Fat. An extraordinary photographer and journalist and artist. His work (he is now based in BKK) details and deals with much of the same ground that ‘traditional” journalists cover, but his approach is different: interior, engaged with his memories, his life of cultural clash, and his essays, or most of them, are never ‘linear’ but filled with repetitions and questions and expressions…they’re also incredibly messy, ’cause his work is about that….

    compare Oli’s work with (plug in the photographer) other journalists and one starts to understand fundamental differences, not interms of “this isnt great or this is great” but in terms of how one DECIDES to ‘witness’ this life…and that variety is as varied as the experiences that enter us….

    i think assessing what is ‘great’ or not is a dead end…and unimportant, what is, at least for me, more important is this: trying to understand the vision, the lives that lay in front of us…and for many photographers, a simple, staright forward story just doesn’t meet the challenge of what this life does, a disservice to the lives and the reaction of this life…it’s not about complexity, but about being authentic to the experience…

    for one person, the authentic is Nachtwey’s pics for others it is something entirely different…are either experiences less authentic?…of course not….

    the real work, again for me, is for the viewer to make the choice to try to see what’s going on…not to like something (that doesnt matter, and that’s an entirely personal reaction to begin with), but to really attempt to see what beats this person’s tune….that challenge is so much more enriching than dismissing (i know you are not doing this, but many are and do) something because they dont like it, or dont understand it…

    again: the work is in the making (for the photographer) and the work (for the viewer) is in the desire and attempt to see…

    i dont understand a lot of my son’s decisions, but Im trying like all hell to dig inside his head and heart….not to like what he does/things, but to try and grasp that incomprensible, beautiful soul of his…

    here is oli



  65. I made this submission a smaller edit to “stir it up”(journalism vs art), and to draw viewers to the website for a more complete look at my work. It’s funny, when I show this body of work to galleries and museums they deem it more “journalistic”than my other two projects, and when I show it to photojournalists, they deem the work to be too disjointed and “conceptual.” I’ll be the first to admit, I am drawn to the more snapshot approach, or what I like to call the diary documentary method(ie-Arbus, Petersen, Goldin, Shore, Eggleston, etc). This is what fascinates me as a witness and in general keeps me fascinated about my relationship to this vast world we live in. But this said, I don’t mind leaving the imagination up to the viewer. Some of my favorite film directors do this, why can’t documentary photographers?

    Thank you all for your comments(both critical and praise). This is what I love about photography. David H, I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity.

    All best,

  66. CATHY…

    sure, i understand….everyone wants to see work which inspires…and that is not the same work for all of us…work that is a catalyst for you to go out and work may not be the same as work that would inspire me…and there is no right or wrong to it at all…now, i think if you had seen what Victor was doing about 5 years ago , you would have liked it better…his work then was more classically oriented….one of the things we have talked about so much here, but it can never be discussed enough, is how our tastes change over time…based on so many of your comments here, i would imagine you to like the “old Victor”…i like the “new Victor” but know for sure that most people would prefer the “old Victor”….

    at a certain point in their careers and development , some photographers choose to appeal to a smaller but more discerning audience…the very best photographers have much smaller audiences than do the ones who are trying to “appeal” to many…is this not true in all of the arts?? for example, in my own case, i would rather communicate really well with the 5,000 people who might see my book than with the 40 million folks who see Natgeo…admittedly, in some way this could be considered elitist..again, most serious photographers do not care much about the masses..at least not in terms of “acceptance”…they care about their peers….i am sure de Niro cares about what Pacino thinks of his “method” performance more than the millions of his “fans”…now, he is still going to make a movie that gets good “box office” and he knows his craft well enough to make it work for his fans, but in his heart of hearts , he really wants to know Pacino’s opinion …this is where Victor is…he knows he can shoot a “straight story”…and he knows most people will prefer the “straight story”…but, he wants to go for a higher level…he may want Phaidon or Aperture or Trolley for a publisher…he may want the Fahey-Kline Gallery…these book publishers/gallerists are not going to appreciate the same kind of essay that might play well with the mass publications…they have moved on with their taste level..they appeal to a totally different crowd…no print collector/book buyer is going to buy a fine print/book that he/she could see in a mass magazine…

    i will bet you that in 2 years you will like a certain kind of work that may not appeal to you now..you will tire soon of the easier essays and photographs…now this does not mean that everything that you do not “get” is great..absolutely not…all of this requires perspective and just looking and looking at lots and lots of work…

    cheers, david


    Running myself…
    Will take a look at Bob’s link asap.
    For now just wanted to thank you for your great comments and for your kind way of presenting them.

    Both comments very inspirational, made me think about what you were saying without hitting me over the head. Left me with a lot to think about. Just like what we are all looking for the images to do! :))

  68. couldn’t be bothered reading 96 comments but quite enjoyed this essay. some very obvious criticisms that could be made re. sequencing, consistency etc… but for some reason, when there lots of really strong images, this seems to be of little consequence.

    anyway, off to look at his website now.

  69. thanks for your insight Victor..
    I think more terms need to be added as the art world grows..
    however, I resist people being ‘labeled’
    and put in ‘categories’
    I was shocked this weekend at the DGA awards,
    when an animated film won best documentary!!!!
    new terms needed,
    or something……

  70. DAVID and BOB.

    Server not responding? I’ll try this again.

    Back for a moment…I can do better in expressing what I said above…

    Version #2:
    In your comments above you both (in words) expressed yourselves in your own unique ways leaving me inspired, with lots to think about and wanting more.

    The process we just went thru together as writers/reader is more or less the same process we are discussing as photographers/viewers. Not much more to say other than thanks and I will try my best as both photographer and viewer to push my boundaries.

    As an aside…the relationship between what we write and what we see causes me to think the suggestions about “banning comments altogether” may not be a great idea. Some good does come from them.

  71. Thanks so much for sharing your work with the train ride that is Burn :)))…it’s been a pleasure and an terrific opportunity, above all, to feed upon your work.

    keep on, keepin’ on! :)


  72. Jim – while I understand your point I question whether a photographer should really be too concerned about ‘who’ the audience is for a particular essay or book. For me, I want to see photographers who follow their creative intuition, which is something that’s not only innate, but always evolving with their visual education.

    When you start thinking about the audience too much you begin to think like a marketer and not an artist.



  73. Jim – while I understand your point I question whether a photographer should really be too concerned about ‘who’ the audience is for a particular essay or book. For me, I want to see photographers that follow their creative intuition, which is something that’s not only innate, but always evolving with their visual education.

    When you start thinking about the audience too much you begin to think like a marketer and not an artist.



  74. Nahhh, that’s just a myth we perpetuate so everyone won’t move here, especially those Californicators. It’s sunny, clear blue skies and in the 60’s here on the Olympic Peninsula. Forecast to be spectacular weather all week. You’re lucking out Panos :))

    But it is true that the one thing about living in Washington State I never could stomach was all the damn vampires.

  75. panos skoulidas

    I’m lost in a (something like a bar, I think…)
    called VENOM..
    there are naked girls everywhere..
    All of them are half naked ..
    All of them seem to love me..
    All of them pay so much attention on me..
    All of them wanna dance for me..
    All of them ask for money..$20..
    for a dance.. I think I found paradise..
    To give u an idea , back in LA it would cost me
    around $200 just to take my girl out for one night..
    Here is only $20..
    I love Seattle.. I love the attention the girls showing me..
    All the affection..
    I think they love me.
    I’ll stay..
    I love Seattle..
    Girls are sooo friendly…
    F*** LA..
    “VENOM” is the place..
    Tom, Mike no worries..
    I’m happy here.. No danger.. I found love!
    Where the hell am I????

  76. panos skoulidas

    Update from the “love house”..
    I’m almost outcashed now…
    One of the girls with an exotic name: Vixen,
    she wants me to stay..
    She said:” I’ll accept your cheap little camera for one more dance…”
    I said:” oh you really like my M8 don’t ya???”
    She replied:”no I’m way cheaper than that.. Just give me your little camera..
    I don’t need your BMW car… You can keep it…!”

  77. DAVID,

    I am just catching up and reading all the great exchanges on the work of Victor. I had seen the slideshow when you had just posted the link and was then away for a couple of days so it is great to read 100 comments when back and see what all have thought of the essay. I know that you often pick subjects that push the boundaries, explore a more personal vision. When I had just looked at it, I was left unsure what to really think of it in this particular case… for me as well I felt that it may lack some unity and the work seem a bit too disparate somehow… Like Chris had found himself, I also agree that some of the other essays on Victor’s site were stronger and more interesting… Now, regardless of how I felt at the time and even if I am not a big fan of that one particular essay (although there are few photographs that I also love, like the party one that is simply great), I really appreciate you showing us such different types of work. The conversations that are generated as a result are very rich and help us all think more about the work we do, how to approach a topic and how to develop a more personal vision… I will continue to look at lots and lots of work as honestly, I did not get this one either, but I am working hard on digesting all of what you are sharing with us :):):):). Thanks for Victor for sharing this essay that generated healthy discussions. If I was not a fan of it, I really enjoyed “way down in the hole” :):):):)



  78. Victor:

    As an American woman who married a Central American immigrant to the USA quite a long time ago and subsequently moved back to his country with him i can say i have known the subjects of these photos on both sides of the border. I know what provokes them to leave their countries (and it’s not always economic necessity. Sometimes it’s a right of passage to adulthood, other times adventure and still other times it’s to escape a sticky legal or paternity issue back home) and have known how they behave once they take up residence in the US. One thing that always touched me are the photographs they take of each other to send back home or just to document their new lives in the US. These photos can capture what for us is the most stunningly simple moment or location but invariably, when i see these snapshots taken by immigrants i am always reminded how we take certain aspects of US life so very for granted. For example, a ride on an escalator or standing in front of the unremarkable restaurant where they work in the kitchen, or snapped posing proudly in 2 or 3 inches of what is their first snowfall without even a jacket on, still tan from their trip up from the border, in front of the local mall, whatever..wherever..it all represents the American dream to them. And i find those snapshots just unbelievably touching.

    For this reason, the pola of the guy in front of the Wallmart spoke to me most deeply of the Central American immigrant’s dream. This is the kind of photo they would take of each other. This is the kind of moment they would savor as important, a day off at Wallmart. Yup. That’s just about right. This photo tugged at my heart and made me remember so much about the guys who came and stayed with us, their hair still long and shaggy from the difficult trip, their bodies skinny because they never got enough to eat on the way up, their backpacks or gym bags pretty empty because they got robbed all along the way, their faces homesick and shell-shocked by their harsh new reality, their eyes hopeful that they will find good work and always a naivete and insecurity (regardless of their criminal background back home) as to just how and where they’re going to fit in.

    I think that this sort of essay is important and i urge you to continue but i hope you will stay true to the Latino experience and not try to filter your vision to engage your mainstream viewers. Please stay raw, do not digitally over-process your photos as some are here. I find that distracting and patronizing. I personally do not need or want your vision digitally altered. There were a number of photos that could as easily have been taken back home in Latin America as in the USA which confused me.The girl passed out on the ground, the Jesus with the money, the birthday party. There wasn’t enough context to tell me what side of the border i was looking at. But maybe that was the point, that life in the new country just starts to immitate life in the old country. If that’s part of the message then fine, i just wasn’t sure. I don’t have any idea why the close-up of the grainy girl was in the mix. And i don’t know what #8 is or what it has to do with the immigrant experience. I think your vision is especially well expressed in the river scene, the train, the guy walking through the desert scrub, the bus shelter and as i said, the Walmart photo. Maybe even the girl passed out on the ground. The scene at the dump is curious to me. No immigrant i knew lived in a dump. They all have connections in the USA. They might share an overcrowded apartment or room but no immigrant i knew would have struggled to get themselves north just so they could live in a dump. Where is this? The border? Mexico? The USA? i’m totally puzzled.

    I hope i have not insulted you. i strongly encourage you to continue this kind of documentation. It really is important to relate the experience of the immigrant in the US with understanding and empathy and a clear eye for the truth and the essence of the experience. Don’t be too kind or too critical. Just be real and the story will be fascinating.

    Most sincerely:
    Kathleen Fonseca
    (Costa Rica)

  79. Eclectic, for sure. Victor, what a rich language at the tip of your fingers, if that sounds sensical enough. I am less taken in by the journalistic shots than the others where I find a deeper vein, and a succesful attempt at revealing intimacy. Wait, we can’t reveal intimacy, only suggest it. This quality, I find evident in many of your shots, with many blanks, silences, spaces, for us, the viewers, to fill in.

    The 2 shots of the woman on the bed, so different in treatment, or capture (I probably meant rapture) are charged with desire and erotism…. Suggested, not revealed, of course! ;-)

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