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Michelle Frankfurter


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Drawn to the frontier edginess and melancholy of the region, I began photographing along the U.S. – Mexico border in 2000, shortly after reading Cormac McCarthy’s, The Crossing. The novel begins with a boy finding a wolf caught in a trap on his family’s Arizona ranch. He treks across the Sierra Madres into Mexico to return the wolf to her native land. The story has every narrative element that’s captivated my imagination since I was about ten years old: a cast of characters that includes sinners, saints, and pariahs, an epic journey across a hostile wilderness, a bond between boy and dog, a multitude of dangers, themes of salvation and redemption.

My project, Destino focuses on undocumented Central American migrants traveling through Mexico in an attempt to reach the United Sates. In many ways they resemble the protagonists of adventure novels and epic tales. In an odyssey of wandering, they travel on foot, often relying on a network of freight trains lurching across Mexico. With their small backpacks filled with essential belongings, they leave behind homes and families to exist in a land of nomadic purgatory. Many are in their teens. Spirited as yearlings, they often appear oblivious to the harsh realities that accompany this journey.

In 2009, the worst economic recession in decades made work scarce for undocumented immigrants living within the United States. As in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are currently plagued by drug and gang related violence and a high incidence of domestic abuse. Crippling trade policies have further exacerbated the situation for the poor of these nations. Central American migration, while slowing down has not stopped entirely.

In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, these undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a host of dangers: the police who routinely rob and beat them, immigration officials who detain and deport them, and bandits and gang members who prey on them along the train route. Many have been injured or killed falling off moving trains. More recently, Los Zetas, a renegade battalion of a military unit initially deployed to combat drug trafficking, now operating as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, has established a kidnapping ring targeting Central American migrants. From these adversities, migrants find respite in a loose system of shelters run by Catholic priests and through the benevolence of sympathetic Mexicans in the towns and villages along the way.



Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Michelle Frankfurter is a documentary photographer who lives in Takoma Park, MD just outside of the District of Columbia. She graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduating, she worked for three years as a staff photographer for daily newspapers: The Herald – Journal and Post Standard in Syracuse, New York. Before settling in the Washington, DC area, Frankfurter spent three years living in Nicaragua where she worked as a stringer for the British news agency, Reuters and with the human rights organization Witness For Peace documenting the effects of the contra war on civilians. In 1995, a long-term project on Haiti earned her two World Press Photo awards. She has worked for a number of editorial publications, including The Guardian of London, The Washington Post Magazine, Ms., Time, and Life Magazine. Her personal documentary work has been featured in juried exhibitions at The Washington Project For the Arts, the Arlington Arts Center, Shots Magazine, and the Photo Place Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. For the past ten years, her personal work has focused on themes of migration and life along the border region between the United States and Mexico.


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Michelle Frankfurter


141 thoughts on “michelle frankfurter – destino”

  1. Michelle,

    *LOVE* this essay. It appears to me, photographically speaking to be of a classic documentary style, probably at it’s finest. The lack of colour, the tones, the grain, all work with appropriate impact. The subject matter is juxtaposed with wonderful photojournalism expression. A photographic essay should stand without words and this certainly does. Congrats on burn publication. Most worthy.


  2. This is a good story and there are some very fine images here. But, I feel it is incomplete and in need of a tighter edit. Where are the images of the immigrants encounters with the police or immigration? I feel the concept of the long journey, but I don’t get a real feel for the danger.

    Sarah Voisin of the Washington Post did a story on this subject in 2007 that incorporated some of these types of images. http://bop.nppa.org/2007/still_photography/winners/NAA/94874/173843.html

    As for editing, I would lose image 6 since it is the same girl as in image 5 and 5 is a better frame. The bush growing in the courtyard has nothing to do with the story.

    I looked at your website and there if “The Migrants” is part of this story, you left a couple of really nice images out of this presentation.

    This is a great start, but it feels lacking in some respects. Please keep working on this.

    ALSO – Your essay “The Island” on your website is excellent!

  3. Pete,
    Sarah is a good friend and my next door neighbor! I am very familiar with her work, which I hold in high esteem. We have a polar opposite approach. I shoot with a two and a quarter Bronica and along with that equipment choice comes a conscious decision on my part to concentrate on some things while ignoring others. Much of photojournalism feels weighted by the need to stick to a script where the telling of the entire story rests on a linear storyline incorporating every component. Since I photograph weddings for a living, I see similarities in people’s expectations of what should be included in a presentation. After a while, certain images become visual clichés or iconic to the point of being desktop icons. Most essays, this one included could benefit from a tighter edit. I agree. As far as police chasing migrants, it’s one of those elements I have no interest in pursuing.

    Thanks for looking!


    i was going to jump in and say that comparing Sarah’s work with Michelle’s was an apples/oranges comparison…Sarah the photojournalist and Michelle the more deliberate chronicler…where are all these rules coming from Pete?? even while both of you are calling for a tighter edit, i just do not agree…tighter edit for what?? for what reason? 5 and 6 go PERFECTLY together..same woman, so what?? Pete, you are thinking print space i am sure, and Michelle if you are to do a book, you need more pictures not less….i looked at this essay carefully…IF i were in a limited magazine or newspaper space, then yes the obligatory tight edit would be employed…but, i am not..so why take out perfectly good pictures? nobody has the extra 20 seconds it takes to look at 4 more pictures? i would not want to publish gratuitous work…and i edit tight tight tight in the long run for books etc….but this is a great essay…far greater work than the aforementioned other newspaper style essay in my opinion…another whole level of photography…essays like this are rare…so when i see one, i want to give it air…..room to breathe……

    Pete, mi amigo, always trying to loosen you up a bit…just a bit…has nothing to do with what i think of you as a friend and colleague…again, come down and we can chat about it…Michelle come too…as you both know, my doors are open…would love to host you both…and you both are close by…

    abrazos, david

  5. DAH

    I am NOT thinking of print space. I could not give a shit where it is published. Those two images are redundant and one is better. Filling a book with more images that are not advancing a story IS “gratuitous” and useless. Yes, if you do a book you would need more images not less. But that is not the point. You ask “why take out a perfectly good picture?” Well, I never said it was not a good photo, I just said it is just not needed. Just because you have the space to run a bunch of photos, is no reason to dilute the impact of the essay.

    And what makes the Sarah Voisin essay “newspaper style.” Exactly? I would love to hear what that actually means and how it applies to her essay. That essay could have easily run in a magazine. For someone that came from a newspaper background, sometimes it seems that you have a real disdain for the profession.


    I hope you did not think I was making a direct comparison to Sarah’s work. I was just using it as an example of what I think is a more complete story about these people. It is obvious that there are two different styles here and I do enjoy both approaches. I was mainly talking about “story.” I hear what you are saying, but again, for me something is missing. And the photo of them crossing the river should be in this edit.

    Not saying I am right. I know some may agree and some disagree. That is fine. Just my opinion.

  6. DAH

    OH, and who said anything about “rules.” I didn’t. I simply gave my opinion of an essay. I never said it HAD to be done a certain way. What I said was how I felt about it. How I interpreted it. In other words, MY OPINION.

    It does not seem fair to minimize an opinion to “rules” just because you may disagree with it.

    You know I admire your work and I respect your opinion. I am certainly not always right, but neither are you. (or anyone else for that matter)

    I would hope that anyone who has work critiqued here, or anywhere else for that matter, listens to it all and then decides for themselves, what if any of the advice to take.

  7. Pete, Sarah’s story is newspaper style because she shoots for the Washington Post, and as such, she is bound by certain editorial constraints. There’s an editor riding a desk in DC with a set of expectations. Sometimes the expectations are based on some version of on-the-ground reality that exists only in the mind of the editor. Often it’s based on what is being published by a competing publication. More often it’s defined by the urgency of a breaking news situation-something whose relevance is fleeting but not lasting in a way that is interesting or compelling (to me). I mention this because I saw it come up countless times the year I spent photographing in Haiti in the mid-1990’s. Every photographer working in Haiti, (except for me) got a shot of Raul Cedras giving the finger to the media from the balcony of the Presidential Palace. It was the finger seen around the world. Today, does anyone give a shit? Does anyone even remember who Raul Cedras was? What enduring themes or lessons about Haiti does that image evoke? When you shoot for a publication, especially when you’re on staff, you never lose the “they’re going to want to see shots of XYZ” gnawing feeling. It’s like having a little imp on your shoulder.

    “I would love to hear what that actually means and how it applies to her essay.”
    When I first moved to DC in the early 1990’s, I dropped a portfolio off at the Post. Later, when I swung by to pick it up, the photo editor had my prints spread out on the table in little piles. He told me that most of my pictures were too subtle, too quiet, and that judging by the way I liked to shoot, I wouldn’t be very happy there. He pointed to three photos that he felt had impact, that were, as he put it-loud. I think one of them was of a policeman’s widow receiving a flag at the fallen officer’s funeral. Totally simplistic image, but easily readable. It was clear that there was no room for subtlety or nuance. This made perfect sense: a newspaper isn’t a venue for artistic expression or allegory. It’s purpose is to communicate, to deliver a clear message to a wide audience. There’s no room for ambiguity. Fiction, on the other hand is allegory-driven. Ambiguity is often woven into the narrative because the author’s intent isn’t to lecture or inform, but rather to convey or evoke. It’s the the cousin of journalistic writing but basically the polar opposite because it doesn’t cast a wide net. It’s not trying to appeal to a mass audience, but to a smaller demographic, where it’s assumed that said audience is sophisticated enough to extrapolate. I started off as an English major and I think of photography like writing, in terms of a historically based, but fictionalized narrative. Having worked full time at a newspaper as well as a freelance editorial photographer, to me, there is a huge difference in approach and in the content.

  8. Love it. So human. The portraits are stunning. The spaces photographed tell their own story. I only felt like I needed to read the caption on one–the man whose foot was cut in half. This is the best story I have seen on the migration from Mexico to America. Congrats on being chosen Michelle. The one photo of the woman stepping up on the train followed by her portrait evoked an emotional response for her from a deep place in me. I am always surprised at the desire to come to America. Not that I don’t know all the reasons why, but just the trials and dangers people are willing to risk to make it to the promised land. The woman’s face stepping onto the train really showed this.

  9. “Sarah’s story is newspaper style because she shoots for the Washington Post”

    I think that is crap. If that essay had appeared without “The Washington Post” after it, I would be surprised if anyone would have called it “newspaper style.” It could have run in any major news magazine. Now it it pure photojournalism? I would say yes. Is your essay? Maybe not.

    “she is bound by certain editorial constraints.” — Having to make sure that you get certain images that editors may expect is not a constraint, just extra work. It does not “constrain” someone from shooting the stuff they want to shoot.

    “you never lose the “they’re going to want to see shots of XYZ” gnawing feeling. It’s like having a little imp on your shoulder.” — Maybe I was just lucky that everywhere I worked I was surrounded by people who understood that I was the one there and I shot the assignment to the best of my ability. I was always trusted and not second guessed. Sure there where times when I may not have the great moment that the other photographer for the other publication or wire service got. That happens. You can’t be everywhere. Every great photojournalist will tell you that if you want to make great pictures, see where everyone else is and go somewhere else. Sure this is not always possible, but for the most part it is true. And unfortunately when doing so you will miss something. But if you stop and dwell on that you will probably miss something else.

    Your account of your meeting at The Washington Post seems a bit sad to me. I have worked for newspapers as a photographer and I ran a newspaper photo department. There certainly are times for for quiet subtle photos in news stories as well as feature stories in newspapers. Obviously not all the time. Some of Michael Williamson’s best work is quite and subtle. Melina Mara definitely has a quiet approach to much of her work. Of course the early 1990 is a while ago and just like “hand of god” burning and dodging was popular a while ago, times have changed. I would bet you would not get the same response today if you showed your recent work.

    I am not sure what you are getting at in the rest of that paragraph. Is your essay supposed to be ambiguous? What does fiction have to do with what we are talking about. You are documenting a true story. I am not sure how “fictionalized narrative” fits into a story on “undocumented Central American migrants traveling through Mexico in an attempt to reach the United States.

  10. The essay is clean somewhat clinical in nature and lacks authority. Essays that are controversial or uncoordinated always sit better than a middle of the road essay such as the one presented here. It is a good essay but not an interesting essay with the audience left with little to do but view and accept.

  11. Regarding left with little to do but view and accept I have to ask: and? Other than go down to the border and actually work hands on with this issue there is little to do but view and accept and in doing that enjoy and get a sense of what it really means to be in this position in life. You never know when this essay will come in handy to help us understand a situation. So yes I view and accept.

    I can’t understand Imants how you can say it lacks authority. What does that mean exactly? And it is anything but clinical. Clean yes. Clinical no.

  12. PETE…

    of course…your opinions are always valued here…..welcomed…did i say otherwise???…you gave an opinion, i disagree with that opinion, and neither one of us is right or wrong…damn dude, i don’t ever really recall anyone telling me i was right about anything..ever!! still waiting :)

    you got the red face, not me :) get that blood pressure down…not good for a man of your age

    by the way, i think Michelle is currently killing your argument unless you present better…..to present your case better, and you do have a case for the work, get away from making a case for a now totally dead medium…at least on any significant international communication level….while their integrity is rarely questioned, old newspaper standards for the aesthetics of photography are over….and you of all people should rejoice!!

    cheers, david

  13. Congrats on your publication Michelle! I very much like this essay, there’s a lot of subtlety. I’ve spent significant time in Central America, so maybe I am biased towards the subject matter… Viewing this is a completely different experience than viewing the previous essay on eastern Congo – but equally captivating, at least to me. Very evocative, makes me want to ask lots of questions, leaves me wondering (in a good way!)… Oh and it reminded me of the movie “Sin Nombre” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1127715/) I’m sure you must have seen it?

  14. Deeply felt and moving imagery. Personal and universal all at the same time. Wonderful, wonderful work.

  15. Michelle,

    You have some very nice images. But honestly I don’t know more about the plight of these migrants.

    -“In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, these undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a host of dangers.” A powerful statement, but not illustrated in your essay (or at least to my satisfaction).

    -“More recently, Los Zetas, a renegade battalion of a military unit initially deployed to combat drug trafficking, now operating as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, has established a kidnapping ring targeting Central American migrants” Yikes! I’m sorry to pick on two pieces of your statement, but they DO create visual anticipation.

    I want to see more! Your written words are so rich. I read such a passionate story but see only the tip of this very compelling narrative.

    The tough part of being published on BURN is taking the input of strangers. Keep emerging and thank you for sharing your work.

  16. Michelle…

    Love this essay, really nice work. Your portraits are heartfelt and beautiful and I agree with David, I love the two photos of Blanca together one after the other, each one is gorgeous for its own reasons, the first one makes you curious about her and then the next one we really connect with her. Really important and beautiful work.

  17. DAH

    No red face here. And my blood pressure is fine. Why is it whenever I say something in disagreement here it is taken as I am upset or angry? From now on please read my comments in a clear, quiet and calm voice since that is the intent. Maybe we can try that here….

    I am not making a case for a dead medium. I am not making a case for newspapers or any other medium. YOU said this essay was a “far greater work than the aforementioned other newspaper style essay.”

    My point is that Sarah’s essay (the aforementioned) could have appeared in any major news magazine and I doubt that anyone looking at it would say, “it is ok but it belongs in a newspaper.” Or “why is a newspaper photographer published in a magazine?” I don’t even know what “newspaper style” is. Sarah’s essay was shot in HER style not a newspaper style.

    “old newspaper standards for the aesthetics of photography are over.” — what does that mean?

    Actually it is not even important, since I do not subscribe to any particular standards of aesthetics. Why do I have to? I simply have my opinion of what I like based on a 25 year career of shooting, editing and looking at all types of work. I am a photojournalist. Not a newspaper, or magazine, or web site photojournalist. Just a photojournalist.

    And this is not even an argument. Even Michelle agreed that this essay “could benefit from a tighter edit.” My only suggestion was that something seemed to be missing. After reading Imants and pomara’s comments, I think they might be articulating my point better.

    Ultimately it is up to the photographer to decide if something is complete. If it is even really possible for a photographer to feel that way. I think most feel in the back of their mind that there is more…

  18. Michelle, it was great talking with you at OBX, a highlight of my trip. This work, as I told you, just blew me away when I picked up your book. I rudely elbowed Chris Bickford in my enthusiasm. Now I’ve hopped a couple freights but not in Mexico and I didn’t ride on the top holding on with one hand and loading film with the other in a 40 mph wind. I do hope you continue to listen to the advice of your rail friends, stay safe, jump when advised, and please put two books aside for me when you are done.

  19. Carsten, I STILL haven’t seen Sin Nombre because I worry that I won’t have the cojones to ride La Bestia if I see it. But almost all the migrants I’ve traveled with have seen it. They’re always incredulous that I’m doing this by myself, so I tell them that my movie is called Sin Hombre.
    Pomara, thanks, that’s a great question. What does happen to these vulnerable people, whose lives in their home countries are a living hell, who run this gauntlet of adversity only to run smack into the most hostile political climate in recent U.S. history. It’s a conversation starter. Pete, you’re right about Sarah’s essay and when I refer to newspaper style, I include magazines as well. It sounds like we’ve been shooting for about the same amount of time. You are clearly a photojournalist and comfortable in that world. I’m not. I haven’t photo-journaled in over 15 years. I started shooting weddings about 15 years ago in order to mark a clear delineation between what I do to pay bills and remain independent and what I do to fulfill my own personal curiosity and make my own very personal statement. For me, photography has been a long process of sorting out what feels right. For a time, I shot for a human rights organization, but realized that I wasn’t an activist in a stand on the Mall and protest sort of way. I’ll admit-soy egoista as they say in Spanish. I’m self centered. I’m interested in some things, bored by others. Being a photojournalist just wasn’t a good fit anymore. I felt conflicted. Come to Slideluck Potshow on Friday. The river photo is in that edit. The project isn’t complete. Pomara, yes, we all have fragile egos, especially when it comes to the personal work, which is, well-personal. But you’re right. It’s part of the process. Otherwise, I’d stick to my previous plan of the past 10 years of making prints, throwing them in boxes that keep piling up in the basement. So thanks!
    DAH!!!!! So great to hear from you!! I’m planning two more trips this winter: the first in January, I’m thinking to the northern part of Mexico, and then one last trip down to Chiapas. I’ll bring you back a bottle of tequila!

  20. Michelle

    Wish I could make the pot luck, but I have plans. I will drop you an email next time my wife and I are in the city and maybe we can get a beer.

    Guess I owe you an apology for insinuating you were a photojournalist. (grin) It looks like photojournalism to me so I made the assumption. But I still like the work!

  21. PETE…

    “aesthetics of newspaper photography”…what do i mean?? well, just look at the NPPA standard for “coverage” and the general look…you are so much a part of it, you just do not see it Pete….things “missing” from a coverage??…”incomplete” coverages??…what about what is THERE??? the “i wish i could see this” aspect of critique is so so pedantic and predictable……sometimes valid, yet sometimes just words or creed learned by rote and applied to sometimes brilliant work unfairly…..Robert Frank, HCB, William Klein, Garry Winogrand etc NEVER woulda made it in the NPPA…..THAT is what i mean Pete….. yea, as if there SHOULD be this and or SHOULD be that in order to complete an essay…you have been listening to this rationale forever…your own tastes are colored by the tastes of a newspaper pandering to an audience that is being pandered to by a set of advertisers..yes amigo, advertisers…and bless them for sure in one way, because without them there would be no newspaper…i totally get that too and there is no evil intent..there is good intent…..but , the downside is a particular aesthetic that is literally built , perhaps subconsciously, for these readers……loosely known as “photojournalism” (a,b,c, d 1,2,3,4 photojournalism, specifically American ONLY), which is in and of itself up for redefinition aesthetically….again, make no mistake, i am NOT talking about the integrity of newspaper journalism…that part is fine….and yes Pomara,newspaper guy (mirrors your thinking) and Imants (for a totally different reason) would agree with you this essay lacking a i would/do disagree with them as well…however, better look here at the commentators here who just “feel” the essay which is still a very “straight’ but strong essay after all…….well Pete, we have been having this same chat for a couple of years..ain’t gonna change…..and very sadly my friend this is why there is really no legacy for newspaper photographers in general….who besides Weegee actually?…..some really great photographers with no historic reference , including the so called “winners” of the day….however, all my respect to you amigo ( remember, i am a former NPPA newspaper guy too, but from the revolutionary wing of course, we had red shirts and black beanies, smiling)…anyway, sorry if i interpreted you as being angry/upset…..my mistake….

    cheers, david

  22. All sounds just a bit elitist to me.

    “as if there SHOULD be this and or SHOULD be that in order to complete an essay…you have been listening to this rationale forever”

    I actually never listen to this rationale. I put in an essay what I feel should be in it. Yes, advice from others I respect, but definitely not some “newspaper” formula that you are referring to. And only once in my career did I have a photo held from publication due to content. When I was director of photography of a very liberal staff in a very conservative area at a paper run by conservatives, every photo I turned in for publication, with that one exception, was published. Advertisers never had an effect on my images being published.

    And correct me if I am wrong since I certainly do know every photo you have ever shot, but what pictures (other than ones showing something along the lines of nudity) that could not be published in a newspaper? Your not a war photographer so there is no blood and guts or famine in your work that I remember. Just trying to see how far the “revolutionary” in you has gone. (grin)

  23. PETE…

    haven’t we done this a few times before??..laughing…

    elitist? oh Pete please….yea, i know we Magnum photogs are elitist…..do you not think we have heard that before?? …yawning…….at the same time that we “elitists” are fighting for photographers rights, doing more humanistic work than anyone and challenging the norms on a daily basis…..you know me…seem elitist to you??

    holding high standards that are found often unacceptable by the the established norm is not elitism, but representative of an acceptance of “fine work” that just might not be “establishment” work….not elitist, simply democratic….hence Burn…why i am here….and what does blood, guts, famine,etc have to do with anything we are discussing? we are discussing aesthetics ..and i wd not expect you to know my “blood, guts” work in Cambodia, Vietnam etc :) but the revolutionary part comes in the picture choices , the sequences , and the general vision of exactly what pictures are supposed to do from a variety of content…anyway, a longer discussion…

    but the point is back to your original comparison of one photog to another…and their respective styles and influences…look longer please…….again, Sarah’s work is really really good American style newspaper photojournalism…i think any contemporary international editor would say the same….and while you are looking longer , also please check out Krisanne Johnson below…

    i think i have told you i was on the Richmond Times Dispatch bowling team..got first place…have trophy to prove it…now THAT is elitist!!!

    cheers, david

  24. ALL,

    please take a good look at this: http://www.magnumfoundation.org/emergencyfund and mostly see this,
    Krisanne Johnson’s “I Love You Real Fast” : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1611920404/i-love-you-real-fast

    please know that any support you give through the Magnum Cultural Foundation is always something that spins back to you…starting with the Inge Morath Award, our own Burn Emerging Photographer Fund, and linked above the Emergency Fund created and vigorously maintained by Susan Meiselas, the driving force behind the MCF…while Magnum is indeed a business set up to represent photographers to publishers, magazines, galleries etc., the MCF is really set up as Magnum’s truly altruistic wing…

    we raise funds because of our tax free status and in return we give those funds to photographers who have projects most deserving..these are photographers represented by any agency or perhaps with no agency…Magnum photographers care about legacy more than anything…and a clear part of our legacy will always be, and has always been, to help support the next generation in a variety of ways..particularly with a humanitarian cause….in any case, please look at this proposal …lots of small donations from here could put this over the top…one dollar from each of you would do it…no joke…be fun to see if we could make that happen…

    and please, the MCF website is still in beta, we welcome your ideas for improvement.


  25. Good essay. I’m too tired to say more than that. Too tired to join the argument. Maybe because it is that time of year when the sun retreats so rapidly to the south. Just too tired to join the argument.

    Also, it inspired me. Inspired me to want to push myself harder, to do better, no matter how tired I grow, no matter how deep the darkness gets, no matter how the years pile on.

    Michelle, seeing what you did here has inspired me! Congratulations. You take big chances and convert them into something powerful and good. I hope to see more.

  26. Why is there an explicit content message beneath the essay? I don’t recall having seen such. If it’s regarding the mother and child image, then it’s unfortunate that someone felt it should be there.

    Powerful work. And sad. What a tough existence these people must endure.

  27. Thanks Paul. Like others, I too thought something was missing in this essay but planned to just keep quiet since I was unable to articulate it. But now I think I understand. This essay is all explicit content. What’s missing is implicit content.

  28. And yea, that’s me speaking from my neat little box. When it comes down to it, the lack of implicit content is my primary critique of just about all the quality photography that I find lacking. And I hate to go into the thorns, but it might be possible to generalize that the lack of implicit content is a distinguishing quality of newspaper photojournalism and that’s why I too saw this essay as a work in that genre. But I do realize that implicit content is the kind of thing most easy to miss so I hope it’s there and I’m just not seeing it. But even if that’s the case in this instance, it seems to me that too many photographers shoot as though they are working in a two dimensional medium, which need not be the case.

    And David, I’m sorry to contradict you but I think you are probably the most elitist person I’ve ever met in real life. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that I note when choosing essays to publish or students for your workshops, you don’t say you are looking for the common photographs or the common photographers. No, you are looking for the great ones. The elite.

    Unfortunately, due to crass political manipulators, the word “elitism” is now to often portrayed as synonymous with “snobbery.” That’s a pity. Their meanings are different. You are most certainly not a snob.

  29. “i am NOT talking about the integrity of newspaper journalism…that part is fine….and yes Pomara,newspaper guy (mirrors your thinking)”–DAH

    Ouch!(smiling) I figured that 18 years away from newspaper work was enough to clear my system. Interesting observation.

    I still stand with the notion that the power of Michelle’s words form a framework for her visual narrative. I think this is a wonderful collection of images.

    I come to the BURN playground to expand my horizons and this place never fails to disappoint.

  30. MW…

    in that semantic sense of the word “elitist”, yes you are totally correct…it is unfortunately just a bad word that rightly or wrongly is often associated with a “snobbery”…

    you might want to go back in this thread because i think you might have missed the main point that has Pete and i arm wrestling (again)…we were talking about two women…next door neighbors by coincidence who have done two different style essays on the same subject…Michelle featured here, and Sarah Voisin, a Washington Post photographer…


    love you dude, but those two pics work perfectly together for me and not gratuitous use if in a book imo…at least not in a book i would like…..i think you have been “taught” that two pics of same person are “redundant” and in print would occupy more than their fair share of space…i might see it the same way IF print space were limited…but we are not limited here….but, in all fairness to you, i do not think we would necessarily like the same books, so again we are back to apples and oranges….we just do not share the same values/aesthetic…..again, you are not “wrong”…we probably just buy different books, appreciate different photographers, have different camera bags, choose different wines..i do not know…but on this sort of thing , we are at odds….always have been….no matter…i like you….you are a terrific man with a great sense of humor (in real life) and Jenny, bless her heart, is your greatest asset…so all in perspective amigo, all in perspective….

    cheers, david


    hey, was not being critical of you..nor even critical of American newspaper photojournalism…i am simply trying to differentiate between that and other forms of valid photo documentary that for me go way beyond….

  31. Yes, I devoted quite a bit of time to that last night. I’m just coming at it from a slightly different angle. What, if anything, do the images imply? Great art typically has many layers of meaning.

  32. PETE…MW…

    i have to run to airport…i would like to discuss with both of you , and with everyone, the best way to actually have a serious dialogue here…whatever we do does not work so well because it all gets lost …folks get confused……this has been the struggle for me all along with Burn….comments…and how to do it better….please just give me a few days at home to chill..i have been on a 6 week marathon of sorts, so i just need a few days of watching birds fly by…know what i mean? then let’s put our heads together and see what we can come up with…Pete, i will be in D.C. soonest, so no reason we cannot all get together there and Michael, back to nyc soonest as well…or you guys just figure it out, and i will go along….moderated discussion? no comments under essays? on topic discussion with time limit? anyway, think about it….

    cheers, david

  33. I guess I just feel that one should not have to stare at an essay or photo to try and determine its meaning or implications. I prefer it to be very clear from the first view. Thats just me. I don’t think the photographer’s intent needs to be a puzzle to solve. The subject of the photos can surely provoke more introspection and discussion, but I prefer the photographer’s vision to be clear. Otherwise it seems to tell me that they are not clear on their own intent.

    Maybe in book form with more text and the photography taking on more of an illustrative purpose instead of being the centerpiece this work would make more sense to me. But as a stand-alone essay, I maintain that it comes up short. For instance if you took Nachtwey’s work on famine in Africa and displayed it with simple text at the beginning saying it was shot in Africa between years xxxx-xxxx, his work would not leave you asking too many questions. Same with his TB work. For that matter, DAH, you could take all the text out of Divided Soul and again just giving a short synopsis, and it stands on its own.

    And DAH, you say “who have done two different style essays on the same subject.” The only thing I see different in the styles, other than the format and B&W vs color, is that I feel images are missing. Both essays have the same types of photos if you look at them again.

    Also, yes I did forget about your Cambodia work. Would love to see it again and more since I think I have only seen an image or two. As for the discussion about “picture choices , the sequences , and the general vision of exactly what pictures are supposed to do from a variety of content… ” that would be interesting. Lets do it.

    Now, concerning the most IMPORTANT statement in one of your last posts…. Jenny is ready to take you to the mat on the bowling thing…. she has her own ball and shoes! HA

    Damn I wish that was a pool trophy…..

  34. Reading the discussion about what an essay should be: I ask that all of you remember these are emerging photographers and their work being displayed here gives them a chance to have their work looked at with objective eyes. Totally objective since most people don’t know the commentators except through Burn. It also teaches me and lots of folks from what I’ve heard, about putting good essays together.

    I didn’t read the bio on this really–just skimmed the first paragraph. I am finding I like the essays without the verbiage, allowing me to draw my own conclusions. This essay represented the subject matter very well.

  35. Although I’ve lived in the U.S. most of my life, culturally, I still feel like I’m from someplace else. I think one of the reasons I’ve spent the past 23 years living in and traveling to Central America is that it feels familiar to me. I get a sense of home when I’m there on a most visceral level. One thing I’ve noticed about the United States is we are basically isolationists politically and culturally. When HCB talked about the Decisive Moment, I wonder if he meant that for any given theme, subject matter, or story there are a multitude of parallel decisive moments that are valid can happily coexist. I seem to see this more in the work of non-U.S. photographers. The American interpretation, in my opinion translates to many photographers jostling and elbowing to get the best version of the one Decisive Moment.

    I’m not a big fan of delivering an explicit message as I feel it’s like wielding a blunt instrument. The themes I choose to photograph always revolve around protagonists that I identify and empathize with. They are like tragic heroes, the underdogs that I cheer for. I was bullied for years growing up, and when I hear the racist attacks on undocumented immigrants in our country, it sounds like a lot of bullying. I take pictures because it’s my way of fighting back, and probably as a way of overcompensating for being a total wuss as a kid. Illegal immigration to the United States is a current and hot topic. But for me, the story is an epic adventure tale and I think the Biblical implications are conveyed. I hope to elicit empathy, especially now at a time when so many of our fellow countrymen use the cross as if it were a cudgel.

  36. Monkeypoint, I had this whole comment ready to post then chickened out. Maybe I will later. But wanted you to know I am very interested in what you are saying about American interpretation, etc.

  37. “Illegal immigration to the United States is a current and hot topic. But for me, the story is an epic adventure tale”

    That is well put and a insightful way to look at illegal immigration. I agree.

  38. Good work Michelle, you are covering one of the epic stories of our time and such work will become historic. I see this work and I think “historic document” – in the best possible sense.You say this is a work-in-progress and I wish you well. Pete mentions that he does not get a “real feel for the danger”. I’m sure that danger is there and indeed it has been reported elsewhere, so perhaps your photographs show an empathy for your subjects: they are certainly relaxed and trusting in your company. Congratulations Michelle.

    I feel that the story of migration from the South Americas to the United States has the potential to produce a body of work to rival Sebastiao Salgado’s “Workers”. I would love to see work that joins up all of the threads of this epic story and one which puts names to faces and follows people from source to destination. I want to see where people come from and where they end up and what happens to them and their families back home. For Americans of any latitude it is, I believe, The Story.

    As for Pete and DAHs posts, they raise some interesting insights. I come here just to see great photography and dislike labels. That said I have seen a lot of photographs, mainly delivered to me through books and magazines simply because books and magazines were the only vehicles available. Now we have the Internet and we are no-longer limited in what we see (and show) by page space or picture editor.

    On the topic of moderated discussion, one comment or no comment etc. – I like to read the comments and I like to read the bounce between commentators. Sometimes the comments take on a life of their own and deviate from the work of the photographer. Sometimes a photographers style can provoke a debate that goes beyond the initial work shown and beyond even the photographer. In these cases I think that a separate thread should be set up to reflect that the subject of the comments have moved away from the initiating essay and have become more general. If this isn’t done the comments can seem like an attack on the photographer and, from what I see, they usually are not.

  39. I like this soft and gentle approach,
    to such a harsh reality…
    #21 speaks volumes to me…..
    the struggle,
    the hope……
    the dream……

  40. continued……… here is an example why

    Give yourself that chance to see what is around from another perspective and live within it opposed to observe and record…. Better still sell your cameras and don’t own one.
    I spent 7 odd years in a straight stretch without owning a camera , created stone scapes and participated in creating large scale landscapes………… never took a shot, there was never any need it was all of a transitory immediate nature………then even the dry stone walls crumble.
    Bought a point and shoot camera about “98, shot rarely……. bought a DSLR in 2005 and a couple more since ….. selling them in 2010. I now own a few point and shoots and rarely shoot but still create a extensive image bank……….back to building stone wall.
    The best part is that photos are no longer for the future just stuff for the present easily discarded, not precious they create their own space and lose it just as quickly.

    Here people seem to value their role or career as a photographer above the image created……………….

  41. Imants, I understand, or at least understand more. The best photographs come from people that have empathy for their subjects. Let’s put it another way, the best photographs come from people that think that their subjects are at least as good, or better, than they are. I dumped the cameras for a few years too. Not by choice but, it’s personal. it was LIBERATING! But I AM a photographer – couldn’t stay away.

  42. I played wag from double-mathematics with “Old Fred” (all teachers are old, right?) but I did learn to scrub the salt stains from the beach off my shoes before going home (laughing).

  43. “Your oppressed and outcast masses,” I replied, “are nothing but an abstraction. Only individuals exist–if, in fact, anyone does.” — Jorge Luis Borges

    For me, that quote well represents the strength of this work. The photos do not show undocumented aliens, so to speak (Orwellian speak), passing through Mexico. They show individuals.

    I have great respect for the photographer’s ambition, for the effort and courage it takes to carry it out (though I gotta admit, riding on top of trains through Chiapas sounds like a blast), and the fantastic quality of the finished photos.

    As noted above, I feel there is something missing and on further reflection suspect that much of what’s missing is related to a lack of (perceived by me at least) implicitness in the photos. From her follow up comment, I gather that the photographer feels that the photos imply a great deal that I miss, likely because of cultural considerations, a point which I readily acknowledge as very possible. Nevertheless, as someone who has lived, studied, and traveled quite a bit in South America, Central America, and Mexico, if someone like myself is not sensing those deeper layers of meaning, then the audience who will may be rather small.

    So how to better accomplish that? I would consider losing all of the captions and the great majority of the text. Much as it bothers us, text that accompanies photos is important; it does modify our perception of the work. The captions and text in this case are very explicit — places and names, adjectives and action verbs. Explicitly telling us these migrations are like a biblical journey negates the ability of the photos to show us it’s like a biblical journey.

    To better communicate that idea, I would consider a different sequencing of the photos. As is, I get some sense of a journey, but little sense of the journey. For one thing, there is no picture of either the beginning or the end. The guy at the border fence is the closest we come to the destination. It might help to see more. And the photos give little sense at all, particularly to someone unfamiliar with Central America of where these people come from. Villages in Guatemala? Urban slums of El Salvador? And there’s no sense of continuity in the journey that is depicted. Visually, there’s nothing to tell us if we’re in the jungles of Yucatan or the mountains of Chiapas or the deserts of Chihuahua. I don’t mean to suggest any particular shots, but bringing more visual diversity might be a good strategy for communicating the journey and all, or at least many more of its implications.

    I hope I don’t come off as being negatively critical, my intent is to be constructive. This is great work on so many levels, I’d just like to see it reach that status on a few more.

    Borges again: “My alter ego believed in the imagination, in creation–in the discovery of new metaphors; I myself believed in those that correspond to close and widely acknowledged likenesses, those our imagination has already accepted: old age and death, dreams and life, the flow of time and water.”

  44. For one thing, there is no picture of either the beginning or the end…….. but there is it is where the audience start to view the end is when they have had enough viewing

  45. Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    Michelle, the third image in this essay is fantastic. A standout among some other thoughtfully made photographs. Very nice.

  46. MIKE R…

    you said “the best photographs come from those who care most about their subjects”…that might be an incorrect assumption…certainly does not apply to two of the greatest photographers of the last century , R. Frank and HCB….seems on human terms logical, but is not always the case…i think Frank has disdain for people…certainly not a man to have a beer with….HCB certainly showed no empathy for people he photographed…they were objects in his frame…period…he held himself way above most of his subjects, except for Picasso , Matisse, Sartre and a few close friends….Gene Richards on the other hand cares deeply and maintains friendships of his not so famous subjects for years….both men are great photographers..caring or not caring about the subject probably has little to do with most art….their humanity is another and apparently unrelated story…..we can come up with numerous examples in all arts to either support or debunk the necessity to “care”…..most of the greats care way more about their legacy than they do for the grist from the mill….i am not saying i like this concept, but it is quite clear to me that it can be true…

    good night….

    cheers, david

  47. These images are stunning.
    Michelle, I would like to know which camera you’ve used shooting this essay, medium format I assume?
    Congratulations on your publication here on Burn.

    Best, David

  48. Michelle, David, Pete, MW, all:

    typed up a long long comment last night (in the browser) and just before i submitted it, i accidentally closed the window….;(((…so upset, i took a walk outside….

    have a lot to say and promise will re-write my thoughts again this evening….including some quotes from beloved Mccarthy and Roth….and yes, indeed, there is extraordinary IMPLICIT stories/content in many many of these images, not the least of which is the magnificent #3….but, i’ll talk about all that when i repost….

    and i did enjoy reading all the discussions above…

    for now, only this:

    please try try to remember that for many photographers, the act of making pictures and telling stories, of documenting and inventing narrative culled from the waking world is NOT ONLY to describe, depict, show, report….no, not at for….

    for many, the act of photographic narration is an act of rumination….and act of inquiry…and act of questioning….ambivalence, ambiguity, contradiction….

    rumination,…not answering/reporting, but assisting in the formulation of questions…probing and wondering…


    for me, as a photographer and writer, making pictures has always been about rumination and excavation, the questions….more so than reporting

    the questions stay with us much much longer than do the answers….for do we not continue to ask the same questions, these past many millennia, though the answers provided have been plentiful….

    much more later tonight about this idea and the specifics of Michelle’s powerful story


  49. MW…

    you make some interesting points..and mostly i see what it is that you are “expecting” in a set of documentary pictures….you are pretty much parroting the mass magazine audience approach…or what editors think a mass audience wants….and no doubt that both you and they are correct in your assumptions from that point of view…but alas, haven’t we been there, done that? over and over and over??

    here on Burn and in my personal life, my efforts are to get us past that…..i know surely that your wishes and approach will be around forever…but i am interested in the outer edges of communication, not the daily accepted norms….there are plenty of folks already working on that one…the best of anything will never be the mass version of it no matter how utilitarian….it is funny how we all see things from such disparate angles…personally, i never care about what is not there in an essay, movie, song, whatever…i only care about what IS there……i could care less about showing us “where we are” or having a “complete story” told…or “missing information”..all of that i can get on Google…or from another photo essayist looking at it with another eye….

    what i care about is the magic…the connection….the feel…the ability of a photographer to grab me by my shirt tail and yank me into their world…only their world..their very small world….i know damn well it is NOT a complete world…at that point i really do not expect or even want to see a “complete package”..

    start trying to “round out” a coverage and then you have an encyclopedia…i.e. for me the guy at the border fence is all i need to see of the destination…stop right there….killer picture…just amazing….says everything…his look, his hair, his shirt, that flat hot light…do not mess with it !! throw in an overall shot of the fence and what it looks like from over here and over there and…well,ho hum…DOA…and end of great essay….

    why do we need to see where these migrants come from? and why do we need to know if we are in the jungles of Guatamala or Chiapas? in ANOTHER essay sure…or for NG sure….but why for this one? this essay is on another level beyond information gathering… and why do so many feel the need to roll all of the education of a migrating Central America into one essay and make one photographer responsible for it??

    stick in pictures of slums in El Salvador to “show” where they come from and this essay is then gone imo…gotta see it? well, we can see that from Donna Decesare who has that fine work but not this fine work…in an epic anthology book or exhibition that showed work from say 10 essayists who have been working in Central America , then you might see what you are imagining…put Donna and Susan M and Sarah together in one large exhibition and then you would have what appeals to me personally and just might appeal to you as well…a step beyond the obvious please please…..then you have an “overall vision” made by say 10 individual visions…so so much better that trying to jam everything into one essay….

    i do agree with you that a major improvement in text and captions would help although i do like her opening literary reference…this is all part of the process…i think Michelle is just beginning to roll..she will fix the rough spots….getting the NUT is the hard part…something few can do…she has done that…the rest is just the icing on the cake….

    cheers, david

  50. Yes David, I appreciate and share your points, but it’s a literary point of view I bring to these things much more than newspaper or magazine photography. As you are aware, I am relatively unread when we speak of photo books. In my second coming as a photographer (yea Imants, I too put down the camera) I have only studied you and Salgado and now Davidson in any great depth and it’s the visual equivalent of what I consider great literature that attracts me to the art, both as a producer and connoisseur. I frankly don’t give a flying fuck about documentary photography (well, not exactly true but sometimes alliteration trumps truth, eh Bob); I just want to experience great art, most of which is at least borderline fictional. When I look at this essay, I think of Otras Americas. Unfair, many would say (though not you David, I know), but I wouldn’t have commented on it, at least not in this manner, if I didn’t think it already good with the possibility of being much, much better.

    I could tell it was going to come off like that, which is why I noted my intent wasn’t to come up with a shot list. I’ve already belabored the point, but what I find “missing” isn’t any particular shot, at least none that I can identify, but a sense that the shots imply deeper layers of meaning. And that’s not entirely accurate. I think #s 26 and 17 are fantastic; maybe 15 and 16 as well. But as a whole, I don’t think the essay gives the sense of as much depth as the photographer is capable of portraying.

    Circling back, it’s the literary element in this and especially the fact that it’s a consciously literary approach the the photographer is taking that appeals to me. It’s an epic adventure tale with biblical implications full of tragic heroes mired in a nomadic purgatory. An incredibly ambitious undertaking. My comments are intended to address that ambition, hopefully to aid its achievement, certainly not to tear it down. As far as the shot list I’ve inadvertently suggested, consider it more as helpful brainstorming than any kind of editorial assignment mentality. The photographer’s goal is to portray an epic journey in a non-explicit manner unlike traditional documentary photojournalism. It’s still way too explicit for my tastes, which appear to be not all that different than the photographer’s.

  51. I guess it’s just not a good day to type in the browser. A paragraph and a big chunk of text somehow disappeared between my first and second paragraphs above, so sorry for the abrupt transition an discontinuity.

  52. DAH

    (This ended up being longer that I had thought and it may wander a bit. Please read it all before jumping in with comments. Hopefully it makes sense by the end. If not…I blame it on the caffeine.)

    “mostly i see what it is that you are “expecting” in a set of documentary pictures….you are pretty much parroting the mass magazine audience approach…or what editors think a mass audience wants…”

    It seems to me that maybe you are trying to redefine what people THINK a mass audience wants. How is that any different? It could be the point is that maybe we don’t know what the mass audience wants. It also may not matter what the mass audience wants if that is not the photographers goal. If a photographer wants to just market to a limited audience of people who “get” the photographer’s vision, then so be it. There is obviously nothing wrong with that.

    BUT, if a mass audience is the goal, I would suggest that someone like you might not the best judge of what the wants of the mass audience are. I say this imply because you are obviously more well-read and knowledgeable on the subjects of photography, art, culture and anthropology. Certainly you are more well traveled than the average person in the mass audience. I would be like a person wanting to learn about a certain subject and then taking a 3rd-year college course to learn it. The professor would be talking way over their heads.

    I am not saying that the general public is not that bright, but as an example, coming just from the U.S., I give you G.W. Bush and Sarah Palin.

    While there is nothing wrong with aiming for a more limited audience, a photographer could be limiting their market as far as income is concerned. Of course it may not matter as much to the photographer if they can charge more for prints to a select audience. But additionally, and more importantly for me, a photographer who’s goal is to educate and enlighten people with their work, would probably be more successful marketing their work to a broader audience that quite probably does not have the same knowledge and experience as someone like yourself.

    I am not suggesting that a photographer “dumb down” their craft, but I am suggesting that while, as you say, newspapers and magazines have a publishing criteria based on what THEY think a MASS AUDIENCE wants, maybe we as photographers need to be careful that we are not imposing on them what WE think it is they want.

    Maybe my argument that the mass audience is not as well-read as someone like a David Alan Harvey is me guessing what they want, so it is also possible that taking my tact would be the same thing that I am arguing against.

    But then how do we know? Where is the line?

    I know that many of the readers here will of course say that we should just shoot for ourselves. Shoot what we feel and see. As you say, give it authorship. I do not disagree in the least. But again, one just has to decide how marketable they want that work to be. Maybe it does not have to be marketable at all. Obviously there is nothing wrong with just shooting for yourself.

    It becomes a bit of a challenge when the photographer has to do both.

    Damn, that was long. TOO MUCH COFFEE. Someone stop me next time!

  53. One more thing…

    “what i care about is the magic…the connection….the feel…the ability of a photographer to grab me by my shirt tail and yank me into their world…only their world..their very small world….i know damn well it is NOT a complete world…at that point i really do not expect or even want to see a “complete package”..”

    I think again that for you, and obviously others at your level, that is it harder to “grab your shirt tail.” You have seen so much both in travels and in looking at so much great photography over the years that it is definitely harder to grab YOUR attention.

  54. I thought this was a fine essay, though a little quieter and more subtle, perhaps, than most people might wish to see — more like poetry than narrative doc-style photography. It’s portraiture, not story.

    I think we are used to seeing migrant border-crossing photography either as harrowing adventure (action shots of riding the rails) or religious epic (Salgado’s migrant pictures all seem to reference the Flight from Egypt).

    I like the simplicity here — the informed simplicity, the literary simplicity.

  55. MW…

    ok..very well put Michael and i respect this thinking….i am not sure that i completely understand what it is that you want in terms of “deeper layers of meaning”, but i will take you at your word…i think i have told you that literature is absolutely the baseline for all that i do…i.e. D H Lawrence “Plumed Serpent” and of course GG Marquez 100 Yrs. of Solitude formed the basis for my exploration w Div Soul ..along with Carlos Fuentes (who had my prints all over his living and dining room floor) Isabel Allende, Octavio Paz and of course my title came from Jose Camila Cela….so yes, i am a gringo through and through, but with at least a taste of the blood of the original migrations albeit through literature…and just a whole lot of banging around the territory as have you….i think that literature can take us into deeper layers perhaps better than photography at least on the surface….a photograph, or series of photographs, can sensitize you or pique your emotions , but cannot be at all didactic IF you are looking for the same kinds of layers as you would in writing or in film….they are different layers, different kinds of layers…..gut level rather than intellectual…..anyway, interesting discussion…the kind i love the most…thanks for bringing it up…

    cheers, david

  56. Michelle, congratulations on this series.

    I’ve been looking at these images, and reading the comments for the past couple of days. Your comments in particular have resonated deeply with me. The “why” of why we photograph, why I photograph, is something that I struggle with constantly. In particular, I struggle with the whole concept of expectations and intentions. My expectations, and the expectations of the intended audience.

    Your comment to the effect that American PJs seem to be all trying for the same HBC shot of any given situation rings true. I’m not a PJ but, coming from a portrait perspective the same can be said of me and many of my fellow portrait shooters. Wedding albums all look pretty much the same these days. This is not to minimise the skills and sensibilities of the PJ or portrait shooters. In fact I have no problem adjusting my approach to match the expectations of my client, it is an important skill, and a necessary one if one expects to feed your family.

    A related comment you made regarding making prints and putting them away in boxes also resonated. That is exactly what my personal work used to consist of. I made photographs for myself only. I never thought too deeply about why I made them, but I knew I had to do it. I’ve been doing much more personal work these past few years, but, since I started putting them on galleries for public viewing, find myself always second guessing how the viewers will react. I’m working on it.

    What I’m trying to say is that I find great inspiration in your comments, these images, and the work on your site. BTW your wedding stuff is awesome, and NOT like every other shooter out ther.

    Congratulations and thanks for this.
    PS..#3 is amazing. I actually missed that enormous crucifix at first, Jesus just fits in with the rest of the group. I’d love to hear Bobs take on it. Your last image, #26 is very beautiful. The message is almost too obvious, but it is so gentle and sad, and hopeful. It tears my heart out.

    David. Thanks for bringing this, and for your insights.

  57. PETE…

    you bring up totally valid points as far as acceptance and income are concerned…and good points about our audience…my missive to “do your own thing” is of course not based on getting paid to do it….i have managed to walk the fine line between art and commerce and it is that fine line that i try to get others to walk as well … you know this and it is just what i try to get photographers to do…even why photographers come to me in the first place…they know that i survive by “doing my own thing” and want to figure out their version of it…i must say that i have never worried much about the audience in terms of trying to figure out what they wanted…at either the Topeka Capital Journal, Richmond Times Dispatch, Natgeo etc..at Magnum we do our own stories and we sell them to who wants to buy them…we do not worry about who does not buy them!!

    here on Burn we have built up an audience of folks who like what we do and those who do not like just it, do not log on…simple…if i had enough budget to give high paying assignments here, i would use the same philosophy and would bet that i could have an audience way outside of the photo ghetto and do it our way…somebody would like it THIS way…we do not need everyone to love us, we just need for some people to love us…OUR WAY…Michelle on the trains, you with an essay on DC, Panos shooting from the floor of a bar somewhere , and Bob doing an introspective..yup we could sell that…easy ..to a mass audience? well to OUR audience ..our audience expanded just a wee bit…

    the problem with print , was that once there was an audience it had to be pandered to because distro was so expensive…trucks, paper, etc etc…here we can ask a whole lot of people to take it or leave it…obviously if nobody liked Burn then we wouldn’t have much, but all we need is a demographic which we do have….17-35 , graduate school education, etc etc….

    listen the other day i had Larry Towell, Paolo Pellegrin, Alex Majoli all in my apartment and all wanting to shoot for Burn….right now, many of the icons want to shoot for Burn…give me just a little seed money, and we would rock this boat bigtime….anyway, i think there is room for all kinds of stories….and i think we can produce them in a new modern way for the iPad without losing any of the integrity that remains the very positive side of the journalistic ethic…in our industry, we do not need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we do need new bathwater…stay tuned…

    cheers, david


    i hope you are forgiving slight digressions in conversation here….all good and related i hope and all coming out of your essay…all important things to think about…thanks again for providing the stimulus….

    cheers, david

  59. GORDON…

    many many thanks for your words…your perspective is always welcomed since you are coming at it from a different perspective than most…i can imagine you would have an appreciation for the work of Michelle that matches my own…somewhere in your boxes is something special…beyond your commercial work..i can just tell…i do hope to get to Vancouver one day and help you put just that little twist on things that will take your lifetime of portrait photography to another place…gotta run, but assuming you know Disfarmer??

    cheers, david

  60. DAH, by all means-digress! This is a great forum. Where else would we have this type of discussion? Our mass culture of photography is compartmentalized into niche vacuums, each with its own stars glowing brightly for its core members to adulate and consequently emulate. There isn’t an avenue for dissent among the ranks. Only applause. Gordon, thanks so much for your comments. My wedding photography pays my bills and has underwritten all of my personal work since coming back from Haiti in 1995, when I learned the hard way that financing personal projects on credit cards was a dumb move. I am bound by the need to live up to my clients’ expectations. I also feel immense gratitude to the people who hire me. I told myself the following story when I made the commitment to set up a wedding photography business: just pretend you are like one of the Impressionist painters, earning your keep through commissioned portraits and painting your vision in your spare time. That’s basically all I needed to simplify my life, my photography, and the meaning, in my mind between work for hire and work for personal statement or legacy. I bring up wedding photography only because the niche influence is so obvious, answering some of the questions of marketability and the commercial influence on art. The dress hanging off the back of the door. The ring. The shoes. The cake. Stock images of couples performing for the camera. Do these images repeated on a weekly basis on blogs all over the world occur coincidentally and independently, or did some business-savvy photog with a motivational speaker’s personality create a workshop from which disciples were spawned? This sensibility does seem to have mass appeal. I’m fortunate that I’m in an area where I don’t have to cast a wide net in order to catch the fish I need to survive. But I wouldn’t be very popular at the local Wedding Photographers Association meeting.

    David R: thank you, and yes-I shoot with a medium format Bronica.

    MW – your comments do sound like brainstorming and since I’m planning another trip in January, it’s given me a lot to think about.

  61. I am not a believer in the methods of realism, an artificial genre if ever there was one… Jorge Luis Borges, “The Book of Sand.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not leafing through Borges looking for quotes related to this thread, just currently reading “Collected Fictions” and stumbling over them on every other page. Of course it’s hard to imagine writing about anything for which one couldn’t easily find a Borges quote that would seem appropriate. Borges, like Salgado I’ll posit, is one of the great artists of the implicit. Is that true? Yes, no doubt, but now that I’m thinking about it, that might be the defining characteristic of great Latin American art. The explicit is the enemy of the truth.

    i think that literature can take us into deeper layers perhaps better than photography at least on the surface… — DAH

    Yea, but what about beneath the surface? Down there, I’m guessing photography rulz. And that’s where I question my arguments above. Although I’m not so guilty when it comes to trying to fit Michelle’s work into a neat little photojournalism box, I’m not so sure it’s all that much better trying to fit it into any kind of great literature narrative. In literature, an epic journey entails a place of origin and a destination and a series of obstacles in between. If I want to argue with myself, which of course I do, I can see #’s 15 and 16 and maybe 12 as origin stories. They imply Guatemalan villages and Salvadoran slums. But the border fence is an obstacle not a destination, at least not for everybody, not only in reality, but more importantly as a literary convention. And literature would show a series of obstacles being overcome along the way. I see some of that in the essay, but not as much as I suspect is available. I think the essay would benefit by following the literary convention for that type of story better, albeit in unique and unexpected ways. And I agree that it’s wrong of me to publicly speculate how I might approach the subject, but I don’t see any problem with suggesting the subject should be approached, not that it isn’t, but perhaps in a less explicit manner.

    But then I think of Salgado and Otras Americas. It’s been awhile since I studied it, but is there anything even remotely resembling a narrative in that masterpiece? I don’t think so. And nothing whatsoever is explicit. So much more is implied than can ever be comprehended, much less explicated. How does one describe that kind of achievement? I’m at a loss.

    It would be nice for burn to have the ability to divert discussions like this to different rooms, since at some point it is unfair to the photographer whose essay is under discussion for us to go off on these tangents. Although I am unable to adequately verbalize what makes Otras Americas or East 100th Street or Divided Soul the photographic equivalent of great literature, but I’d sure like to read how others here make the attempt.

    Oh well, I’m off work today, trying to take it easy. I think it’s time for me to follow David to the beach and watch the waves roll in for awhile.

  62. By the way, everyone should see the movie Good Luck and Goodnight, shows exactly where we are as a society as that now accepts Fox as news and Comedy Central as the voice of Edward R. Murrow.

  63. “Although I am unable to adequately verbalize what makes Otras Americas or East 100th Street or Divided Soul the photographic equivalent of great literature, but I’d sure like to read how others here make the attempt.”

    I will try to rise to your challenge here, Michael, since these are three of my favorite photographers and I am greatly interested in photography as literature.

    Sensibility matters. Salgado is a creator of epics, and like Homer he understands that simple human touches (a gesture, a facial expression) are powerful moments. There is a scene in the Iliad (Book 6) when the Trojan hero Hector is preparing to leave his wife and infant son for the battlefield. He dons his plumed helmet and scares the baby – he and his wife start laughing. This is a simple domestic scene, possibly even sentimental, but it humanizes and focuses a story that risks being overwhelmed by its scope.

    Salgado is really good at this. While many of his pictures look as if they had been orchestrated by Cecil B. DeMille, he nonetheless concentrates on simple human interaction. He shows the Brazilian miners in their ant-colony pit, but still manages to find a scene that encapsulates the daily conflict of the place – the worker grabbing the barrel of the guard’s rifle and raising a fist. He also shows a Mexican border crosser lathering his body in soap, taking a quick bath with a can of water. That man’s journey, fraught with peril, still hinges on such simple moments – where will he eat, where will he sleep, how will he bathe?

    Salgado also makes overt references to the Bible, one of the foundations of Western imagery, so his photos already seem familiar. His many pictures of women and infants are obvious references to the Virgin and Child. I noted above that his immigrant families on the move suggest the Flight Into Egypt. I happen to tire of all the birds that descend into his frames, like visitations of the Holy Spirit.

    This is all to say that Salgado knows he is participating in a tradition of Western art and is trying to advance it in photography. The effect is to give his subjects a grandeur and nobility that he believes they deserve.

    DAH, by contrast, has a lyric sensibility. His images are quieter and more intimate than Salgado’s. Their power is in their mystery and sensuality, qualities he explores in the Spanish and Portuguese culture of the Americas. DAH’s photos are not bits of narrative or documentary but are poems – personal and reflective.

    DAH covers ground similar to that of the writers he admires. He just listed them above – Lawrence, Marquez, Fuentes, Paz. We should add Hemingway, of course, for bullfighting, Cuba, drinking, and fishing. DAH’s pictures could be windows into a Hemingway story. So again, as with Salgado, our imagination is already primed to see such images as part of an artistic tradition.

    The sensibility of DAH’s images is similar to those writers, especially in the school of magic realism (which includes Borges). There is sensual mystery to the world and humanity’s place it in, revealed in both Western Christian (Catholic) traditions and ancient, earthy folk religions. This is the Divided Soul. David tries to photograph it.

    Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street encapsulates a dramatic moment in American history. It’s a Civil Rights document, but it also refers back to Walker Evans’ and WPA photographers’ work in the South and West. I don’t think anyone had produced such compelling work from “the ghetto” before Davidson. He gave it its iconic human voice, just as Evans, Lange and others did for those places. The effect was, “This is America; it’s not supposed to look like this.”

    Davidson (like Salgado and DAH) is a humanist, a chronicler of the human condition. This is a task we give to creators of literature.

    But I think the most obvious reason why these three photographers (and the books Michael noted) seem “literary” is that great artists have great subjects. Salgado’s subject is monumental, ageless, timeless – workers and migrants throughout the world. DAH photographs a culture that is derived from centuries of bloodshed but retains a mystery even the Conquistadores could not extinguish. Davidson has focused on seminal moments in 20th century America, an epic story if ever there was one – race relations, the JFK presidency, urban poverty, gangs, circuses, California.

    So, yeah, these are great works of literature.

  64. David

    Yes, I do hope we meet up sometime.

    I am familiar with Disfarmer, and have Julia Scullys original book.

    It is interesting that you mention him. Although there is a vast difference between Michelle’s portraits and Disfarmers, the thing they have in common is the direct and un-affected way the subjects present themselves to the camera. We get a glimpse of the humanity of the subjects. We see ourselves.

  65. MW…

    i think Michelle is correct…so far this discussion has not really digressed the way some do, so i think there is no need for separate rooms or splinter discussion…it seems the author does not feel unfairly trespassed..quite the contrary, she seems to relish in the chatter pointing out correctly that “where else can one have a discussion like this?”….i am too sleepy to delve into your last comment of merit i must say, but do offer blanket explicit agreement for the moment, and hospitality at the beach…extra bedrooms this time of year…oh yes, i do agree that Borges does indeed have a quote for almost every situation..the beauty of them is that one can invent the situation and they still work..conceptually implicit in his writing…obviously

    cheers, david

  66. Michelle, very nice looking book. I look forward to seeing what you do on your next trip. And like someone said above, I too hope you hang out here and contribute to the discussion from time to time. It’s been a pleasure.

    Preston, dude. great analysis. Thanks.

    David, thanks. I just hopped the train down to Coney Island and watched the sunset. Today was pretty much a perfect fall day. The air was crisp but not cold. The sound of the waves relaxing. The wine red. And dry. Keep meaning to take up pier fishing. One of these days…

  67. PRESTON…

    very astute my man…many thanks for thinking deep…when you do something you feel is multi layered you always wonder if anyone will notice…it does not matter in a way because you will do it because you MUST…however it is always nice to see that someone has actually taken the time to “read” the work…working on two new ones for you…Family Drive and You Made Me Leave….still a couple of years off i think…why i torture myself like this , i have no idea…..my hero is Martin Parr…he just does it and does it fast….his influence will have me doing one very fast book sooner rather than later..already shot…over 25 years….title: Famous Photographers..no joke..no layers..stay tuned


    how is the fishing Coney Island? fishermen complain here the same way farmers complain everywhere…i can never tell if what they say is true or not…”truth” in fisherman parlance is subjective shall we say..


    15 copies of BURN 01 left in the U.S. for sale…i think 20 or so left in Europe….there will also be an edition of 5 copies signed by all photographers in the magazine…BURN 02, different format, different photographers and special guest designer…..available in the spring…or, whenever we can get it finished..

    cheers, david

  68. “Where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel. He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it…..

    Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now. He’d carried the wolf up into the mountains in the bow of the saddle and buried her in a high pass under a cairn of scree. The little wolves in her belly felt the cold draw all about them and they cried out mutely in the dark and he buried them all and piled the rockes over them and led the horse away. He wandered on into the mountains. He whittled a bow from a holly limb, made arrows from cane. He thought to become again the child he never was….”

    -the crossing, cormac mccarthy

    we carry the ache of the world and it and our own wander on the bark of our faces, carry the sound of our lives and lives’ passing like the bow’d snap of wind reaching, just there, over the shirts drying along the limbs of an old Acacia….our lives revealed less so in what it is we do then in the carve and carpice of our faces, our awkward buckling knees, the way we sit among friends, the way we look upon a lens pointed toward us, the way our backs dip over like a kettle pouring water into a cup of tea…..this story, for me, is not the story of people riding trains to cross the cowardly-walled U.S., but is the portrait of people, a portrait of the migration of not only our lives, but our dreams and aspirations and settling….

    When I’d first wanted to write a comment, the one that dried up and evaporated when i’d accidentally closed the Burn window, I wanted to write so much about what seemed to be a terribly wrong mis-reading of this story, of the photographs themselves, that I struggled with what exactly to write, without sounding both pedantic and dictatorial….but then Preston, as he does so often, captured the essence of what I had written and lost and what I shall try to write again…In Preston’s eloquence and sharp insight, he has captured what to me is what lay at the heart of this presentation and the ‘story’ itself….this is portraiture…but personal (of the individuals) and collection (historical, cultural, iconographic, spiritual): it’s all contained in many of these pictures and, dare I say, haunts the Divided Soul of Mexico and C.America….it’s literature and liturgy….

    This is not journalism…it is not an illustration of documenting the plight and flight of these migrant aspirants (though migration and flight is one of its themes, of course), but its refusal to easily and unambiguously document trainriders, it offers us a glimpse into something more essential: the portrait of individual people whose lives are compelled and defined by something much more complex that the easy abacus of stories and ideas that often accompany stories published on people risking lives and limbs to make it to the North….

    A key point, for me, is indeed related to McCarthy and of course The Crossing, my favorite of the Border Trilogy books and along with Suttree and Blood Meridian my favorite of McCarthy’s magisterial books. Though it’s not necessary that readers be familiar with the Border Trilogy, but I wish to call attention to the fact that the ideas that churn and burn those books, the ‘border’ (between USA and Mexico) is not really about the borders and walls the define and divide nations/cultures (though that too) but the border between Life and Death, between eloquence and silence, the border that defines knowing and loss, understanding and confusion, youth and age, man and animal, culture and nature. The Border in those books, and in the pictures of Michelle’s essay, are the same. The border between the nations is the least ‘important’ aspect of this essay, for me, and it is THAT DISTINCTION which makes this not reportage, not journalism, not fit for newspapers and magazines, but for something more ambiguous and ephemeral in it’s reach….

    but a word about Newspapers/Magazines vs. Rumination. Like David, I don’t find the comparison between Michelle’s work and Sarah’s work apt or even relevant. They’re kin projects in ‘content’ at all, but they’re defined (visually and philosophically) by very different apparatus. I too am always surprised when this discussion comes up. ‘Journalism” (here, let us define this by work created specifically for newspapers/magazines/journalistic outlets) operates under very different needs and requirements and I always wince when the ‘journalistic’ applique comes up when dealing with, ostensibly, ‘documentary work. Newspapers use photographs in an entirely different way than what Michelle is doing. As a photographer and writer who has also worked for newspapers (a NYTimes owned newspaper in florida and an independent paper in W.Hollywood), I understand and support the requirements for papers. Newspapers/Magazines use pictures for their (truthful or not) unambiguous simplicity: their illustration of a story. What I like and admire about journalism and newspaper/magazine work is, often, its simplicity (in the best sense), its concision, its ability to give the reader something to digest quickly, easily. Newspapers/Magazine have the goal, a valorous one, to communicate the events of the day, to communicate a clean message: here is what happened. They’re expressions of the ‘appearance’ of events and the readers need, in order to benefit (in the readers’ hope) from that message: clarity. A newspaper/story (written or visual) has as its goal that of ‘informing’ the reader: here is what happened. This, like other forms of communication, is important and it allows many an entrance into seeing something, being made aware of something. But let us NOT confuse exposure with understanding or with depth of awareness. It is not the role of most newspapers/magazines to delve deeply (though it does happen, surely) into the nature and history of an event or people or circumstance. It is about speed and clarity of thought/expression. Make a clear sentence with concrete facts, show the reader what happened, even if you cannot (in it’s limitation) detail why.

    But too often at Burn and endless other places (blogs/communities/seminars/festivals), there is a odd attempt to define ‘documentary’ work by the standard’s of journalism. This is not only unfortunate but nonsensical. Since when do we define books of non-fiction by the architecture of a newspaper. Since when do we define a novel by the standards and practice of journalistic. Imagine defining, for example, McCarthy’s books by the rigors and requirements of a Sonnet. Novels expand, delve, multiply, contradict, confuse, question, repeat. Imagine reading Anna Karenina or Blood Meridian with out thinking of biblical language or the concept of the leitmotif and counter-chords. Senseless. So too with ‘documentary’ work. Just because a photographer’s work looks journalistic (realistic, straightforward, of-a-place, non-conceptual) does not mean it is driven or defined by other ideas of how to use photographs, how to use the moment to delve into metaphor and history. Sarah’s work, to me, looks like classical journalistic work: it meets my expectations in that regard. It’s beautifully photographed and thoughtfully told/organized. But, like nearly all work that is created for that outlet (journalism) it doesn’t subvert what I think it will be/should be. Again, that is part of the role of journalism: it does not subvert it’s legacy or the expectation of the reader but to the contrary gives the reader both what they want/expect and need in order to ‘see’ an event. Michelle’s plays, iconographically, with other ideas (which i’ll try to describe below).

    When I first looked at this essay earlier in the week, I immediately thought of Octavio Paz’s magisterial Piedra de Sol….and of course his essay El Laberinto de la soledad…not journalism but literature….of mexican painting…or the extraordinary icons housed in all those extraordinary Mexican churches baking in the swelter of its White Hot sun….the scarring of landscape ….the drying of lives….Virgins appearing in the desert of flame….lambs hanging from trees….for me, it’s so clear in so many of the pictures…..that i thought, just looking at the photographs, how in the world could someone mistake this for journalism….document, yes…portraiture, absolutely, but not journalism….it’s hunting for a larger catch….a more ambiguous one…

    as i wrote yesterday, it’s about thought and trying to depict the lives of these people within the shades of their faces but also a wider stretch: the spiritual lives which mark their lives, the landscape….it seems really clear that, at least for me, the whiteness that is contained in many of these pictures are the Sun, that powerful god that defines much of the mexican landscape, it’s harshness and thirst…the landscape, to me, is a huge presence in this work, and also very much a part of it’s IMPLICIT story….

    I think those who feel it ‘lacks’ something, seem to me (though i may be wrong) to be expecting a journalistic piece…where the story unfolds in clear/clean ways (their lives around the migration journey, the death, the backstory and the conclusion, etc), which allows the reader an easy narrative…if i saw this piece run in Newsweek or the Post, i would feel the same, in fact, the pictures that deal more with the ‘facts’ of the migration and train riding seem much less successful, in that I prefer the pictures that haunt, those which are rich in aesthetic and nearly religious symbolism/iconography…most of the train ride pictures do not work for me, they seem too obvious, too much about what i already know…I’m thinking of John vink’s magnificent old project where he road the train and photogrpahed the train riders in the western us …those pictures were about the people, Michelle’s pictures (to me) on the train make me think, ‘ok, a photographer is on top of a train, shooting’….but these are minor squabbles, for it is the other visual and emotional story that gets me…that is so intelligent, so articulate, so beautiful in its photographic power….that i’m joined to these people, at least while looking…

    the implicit content: it’s richness is so clear…take a look..

    1) First picture: that extraordinary, heartbreaking portrait….i am drawned by his extraordinary face, and haunted and focused on his right eye (left of the frame), an eye that is mishappen, asymmetric, and appears to be blind…and sine I am also blind in one of my eyes, and have been haunted by this my entire life (both the asymmetry of my own face and it’s unseeing), that I immediately think of him not as a migrant, but as a person whose life i am drawn to, i want to know how has that face, that eye, that blindness defined him and his life, for the truth is that our appearance, more than we ever imagine, often demarks our lives, often renders what happens to us…the events of how our lives are lived and unwind, so often a condition of our bodies, though we so often imagine ourselves autonomous of that, the real agent of our lives and events, we imagine to be us, our desires, when often over the work of time, we recognize something else…i want to know that about this man…and the way he holds himself, slightly awkward, bruised, bent over slightly….an extraordinary and compassionate portrait of a face that seems haunted and still resilient…on of Billy’s horse traders…

    2) the MAGNIFICENT #3….this is my favorite picture of the essay…and god-damned, is it loaded….the visual triangles going everywhere, leading me from the dogs to the sleeping to the crucifix to the tree stump sshorn, the hanging wire, to the extraordinary and startling expression on the bandaged man in the chair….what is he seeing…ecstasy…revelation….transformation….they are pilgrims, are they not…decsiples…it is a profoundly spiritual ‘painting’ photograph…culling up so many great Mexican icons and paintings, but also the paintings of Rennaissance….Tarkovsky’s dog, in reverse, at the end of Nostalgia, the dacha in the cathedral….and his extraordinary face…what is he seeing that we are not priviledged to see, out of frame…ambiguity….mystery….pilgrimage..

    3) the burning bush in 9

    4) the powerful 10, the dog as the lamb beneath the tree of knowledge…

    5) 13….the mexican civil war…Alvarez Bravo…..zappata between the crossing

    6) the extraordinary 16….not only her remarkable hair, but the bow of her body, the easy of the combing, and counter intuitive to a portrait, and that which is stowed beneath her shirt, again a complete mystery….which again forces us to think, to wander, to want to know more about her…

    7) 19…again, the bow of his back, the scar and the hurt and haunt-d gaze, removed from the train’s crucifixion…..El Greco…

    8) all those children’s faces, and the power of their faces and expression culminating in the magisterial portrait of the child/man boy in 23….this is one of the most haunting portraits i’ve seen on Burn, period….like a child pulled from the coal mines of Whales….no fear….the power of his hands and how he holds the dirty pole in his hard-worked, soiled hands and his remarkable face and they he is staring at YOU, at each of us with such august bravery, how is it possible for a child so young to have more character then most of us who laze away the days in ease and drift….i had to show my 16 year old son this picture as a reminder to him, for him….as he, just this past week, he was hospitalized after being assaulted by a gang of 20 teens, 5 staples in the back of his skull, knocked out for 2 minutes, cold….revived…..how to sustain belief in the world in a 16 year old who has been assaulted……so i show him this photograph…

    these are pictures that tell a story of the living…of past lives, of the honest, simple strength of belief that it takes to journey this life, to fly the rails knowing it involves a border crossing itself much greater than the arrogant bigotry that so often defines the US toward these people, the border of living and dying, the border of what accounts for our lives and drives us, defines us, aches us and washes us into exhaustion, and ecstasy of hope that the crossing will count for more, much more than us dollars and jobs….count for something that most of us, ridiculously, take so much for granted…

    what implicit content….it’s there in their faces and in the frame, the lives, the spirituality, the armed, long, of history and flame….

    as Preston pointed out magnificently, this is portraiture of the highest standard….portraits filled with beauty and loss, portraits that beg more questions that answers rendered….ambiguity…uncertainty….unfinished….like our lives, until they go away beneath the inevitable push of land and air and dirt over our forlorn and lived selves….

    and Michelle, why do you have to countenance the notion of ‘tight edit’…is there a tight edit to life….CaseHistory is a book of hundreds of pictures and one of the finest i know and a cherished one….

    then again, i’m longwinded…in prose, in comments…and in my own photographic ruminations…..

    the working through of things…

    that is the edit of our lives….

    thank you for sharing this powerful and beautiful series…


  69. last comment for a while:

    MW: borges’ work is a clock-calendar by which many of us have navigated the Babel library of life, isn’t it :))))..

    here one of my faves, for u:

    “The original is unfaithful to the translation.”


    NO SEPARATE ROOM….though i dont have the time or energy at the moment (bigger things to grapple) to follow/continue, but i’ve thoroughly loved reading all the comments and arguments….above all, the dream i once told David when Burn went Live: that the photographers who publish would jump in and push the readership, countenance and argue and spill out all the ideas…Michelle’s been a keen and articulate defender of not only her work but unafraid to offer ideas and discussion….wish it were that way always….tried to do that with Bones, will try again when Nova Scotia piece gets sent, but, it’s been a real pleasure to read, from Pete/David initial bowling alley chat (even in total disagreement with Pete’s original posts, i applaud him for starting the discussion) to MW’s borges dream scatters to Preston’s take on 3 photographic scribblers to all the stops in between….

    ok, gotta go now, for real….family to heal….
    Jorge Luis Borges

  70. Bob, I appreciate what you do, and I would definitely put you among those I would most like to write my obituary, but for all of the eloquent words you wrote about Michelle’s essay, not a bit of it is the least bit constructive. You seem to imply that this essay is perfect, or at least as good as it can possibly be, which is as good as any photo essay ever produced, and should be hung in the Louvre toot sweet. Is that how you really feel? Is there no possibility whatsoever for growth or improvement?

  71. Then again mw whoever you are maybe if you become part of the audience as opposed to being the resident photography critic/historian/theorist the essays may open up a whole new world for you.

  72. mw:

    well, that’s far the intention….(sorry, broke my last comment for a while rule, though i’m a rule breaker by nature)….hardly a perfect essay…nore my favorite, by any stretch, at Burn…my reaction/comment (which is itself far from perfect, as it was a long bold of emotion this afternoon)….it’s failures, for me….i dont like the train pics at all and thought they were too predictable, as opposed to some of the other portraits and pictures with objects/landscapes/emptiness….and michelle is not reinventing portraiture nor the story, metaphoric and literal, of migrants in search of a ‘better’ and safer life…my comment was meant as a way to work around the imagery and see the story and what it implies, visually and emotionally….

    constructive criticism, a way to ‘improve’…well, the book (as linked) is pretty sweet…i’d ditch all the pictures related to the trains but deal with them through implications…the man bowed over the tracks (who was injured), the 3 men with the dog, the light shining on the rail, etc…and continue with the interior shots too, in contrast to the outside work, which sets up a nice contrast and narrative….

    most of the portraits are ‘classic’ but there is some surprising and inspired details in many and therein lay the strength…and my read on the pictures, narratively, is born on the back of the book that so inspired this work….

    i guess mw, we have too different understandings of what commenting on work suggests…face to face with photographers/friends/students, i prefer talking about what works/doesn’t work, what might aid constructively or not….here in the blogosphere, and particularly to a photographer as aware and as acutely articulate as Michelle, i find the pointing out of failings of little interest to me….let that be your, or others, role…i’m more interested in searching for meaning, more interested in what makes a piece work, individually or as a whole….for as i’ve said before, there is nothing ‘successful’ or ‘perfect’ about any work at all, the imperfection, the failure, the working through is what gets me going, as a photographer/maker of things, and as a writer….a jazz riff MW…

    possibility for improvement?….possibility for transformation and continued growth/change, yea all of our work…

    i offer a contra-reading to your and pete’s initial reaction, that’s it, nothing more….neither, in truth, of any real importance…it is the work that sustains, not the comments

    why i’ll not be commenting for a while….must devote the next 2 months to finish 2 major projects and to help heal – mend real things

    take note of the borges’ quote, it is, ironically, even more appropriate now for you ;)

    and no, i’m writing noone’s obit….who needs that shit


  73. MW…

    i wonder what you would think if i had popped in the pictures from Salgado’s “Other Americas” under a different name , and you did not know this work, as you did not 6 months ago, and if you would have decided he needed “improvement”…of course the Salgado work (using your reference) needs “improvement”…everything is flawed…i know i make myself a little crazy sometimes trying to get it right…coming to grips with the fact that i won’t…sure Sebastaeo feels the same…a satisfied artist is not an artist….who gets it right?

    however, in the process for some sort of perfection , some come closer than others…that is all we have to go on either here on Burn or anywhere where we are purveyors of photography or any other art…

    the one last thing i will say about Michelle’s essay is one very simple thing……….and it sums up all my thoughts about it ………….I DO NOT SEE WORK LIKE THIS VERY OFTEN… period…and i see a whole lot of work…yes, it is in the classic genre and yes there are other ways to work on this subject…i hope a million different ways…but for this particular way, she is right on it imo, and with her final push coming…of course of course with dedicating editing and specific picture details to be worked out…but this is detail work stuff and not critique of the BODY of work and of the TALENT displayed herein….two totally different things…

    please know that i live in a world of intense critique….there are few if any “pats on the back” at Magnum…so i do not expect songbirds in the trees when work is shown or a book is opened….but i also live in a world of well educated reference….when i publish an essay here i do know that 95% of it is still a work in progress….some of it will move forward, and yet most of it will not….i am guessing this will move forward…maybe Michael Webster Jr. will see this as his Other Americas :)

    ok, Michelle, if you are reading this, you now have a mandate…ha ha, clever huh??

    now, the nature of what we do , if we are going for the highest levels, is that few works can “make it”…i think everyone knows that…we are NEVER going to do constructive criticism and then magically the work will come up to some “mean level” of acceptance…any “mean level” is not by any definition anything other than a mean level…

    so what we are looking for here on Burn is rare air…we cannot find it most of the time, but seeking it will at least provide an inspiration….and the most important thing to know of course is that the effort itself will be enriching…..

    i had a treasure map i got out of a cereal box when i was a kid….i never found the treasure….but i sure loved the map…..

    cheers, david

  74. David, yea, regarding slipping in a Salgado, I often ask myself that kind of question. I also find it healthy to consider what I’d think of a photograph or essay if it were one of mine. That often results in a finer appreciation. Regarding the Salgado test, if it were an essay, you’re probably right that I might think there were possibilities for making it better. I think individual photos, however, can be perfect. What could one possible say about the dead kid with the coins in its eyes? Would it be better with a larger denomination coin? I’ll have to revisit Otras Americas with this discussion in mind. I didn’t think of it as a linear narrative. Should I?

    I’ve never been sure what’s expected for comments on essays. I generally only comment on essays or photographs I think are very good and about which I think I have something constructive to contribute. Don’t always live up to that intention, but that’s the goal. In this case I think I’ve done pretty well by those standards. I like Michelle’s work and think I added some constructive comments.

    Others seem to think that the comments are a place where they should provide either a thumbs up or thumbs down. A subset of that group seems to think it should be a thumbs up or nothing. I’m pretty sure that from your perspective, David, there are no rules and each comment thread is appropriate or not on its own terms.

    And sometimes we get involved in these incestuous little spats to the detriment of the person whose essay is on display. In this case Bob wrote a lengthy rebuttal to my approach to which I made a not-quite-so-innocent reply that goaded him into telling us what he really thinks, which turned out to be a much harsher criticism than the one I offered. I feel kinda bad about that.

    I like to think that to a large extent we offer the kind of criticism we’d like to get. That explains me on good behavior and everyone who is joyously positive, but I’m not so sure it represents the “I don’t like it, just because” crowd. And there’s quite a bit of selfishness involved as well, at least in my case. Writing makes us explain ourselves and justify our beliefs. I’ve learned a lot about photography here on burn and I’d wager at least as much knowledge and understanding has come from writing about photgraphy as looking at it.

    So what’s the right way to comment on an essay?

  75. MW “Writing makes us explain ourselves and justify our beliefs. I’ve learned a lot about photography here on burn and I’d wager at least as much knowledge and understanding has come from writing about photgraphy as looking at it.”


  76. “I don’t find the comparison between Michelle’s work and Sarah’s work apt or even relevant.”

    OK, maybe I needed to be a bit more clear as to what I was trying to do when I brought up Sarah Voisin’s essay. It was not my intention to directly compare them. My intention was to illustrate by example some of what I thought was lacking in the story element. Of course, now since it has been made clear that it is not necessarily a “story” in the strictest sense, that my points probably do not apply well.

    I do have another thought though and Bob’s long post above made me want to question something…

    Why do people feel the need to look at a photograph or essay and then dissect it into things it reminds them of? And Bob, I am not picking on you, just using some of your post as an example.

    ” paintings of Rennaissance….Tarkovsky’s dog”
    “Octavio Paz’s magisterial Piedra de Sol….and of course his essay El Laberinto de la soledad”
    “the burning bush in 9″
    ” the powerful 10, the dog as the lamb beneath the tree of knowledge…”
    “13….the mexican civil war…Alvarez Bravo…..zappata between the crossing”

    Now don’t get me wrong, I know that photos are inevitability going to trigger memories and feelings, but if we dwell on that aspect of it so much, do we not take something away from what the photographer has created?

    As far as the photographer goes, if they are using the same references in their creation of their work, is this not in some way imposing another meaning over the one at hand. I am only asking this question in regards to either journalistic or documentary work specifically.

    If Michelle is using a book like The Crossing to influence her work, is there a danger that her feelings about the book and its meaning to her begin to turn the photography into more of an illustration of that book than HER interpretation of the story in front of her?

    Interested in hearing views on this…

  77. MW:

    “to which I made a not-quite-so-innocent reply that goaded him into telling us what he really thinks, which turned out to be a much harsher criticism than the one I offered…”

    let me just iterate that i loved this essay, that i found in powerful, intelligent, emotional and filled with great depth, visually and emotionally. i think the portraits are not only magnificent but very very astute, but more importantly, the conceptual framework is worked with an important depth, including the notion of Border beyond national/geographic, as i wrote in my long comment. the ONLY criticism that I have is that i found the train pictures too obvious with regard to the story. In other words, if this were journalism, i would stay stay/get back on the top of the train. I don’t need a lot of train pictures and for me, most of them, are the ‘weaker’ of her pics…and i say that in quotations simply because her aesthetic and sensibilities are so strong as to make it comical to write ‘weaker pictures’ at all.

    why i was pissed about, is that, again, your jovial notion of suggesting that if someone takes the time and effort to actually write about anothers work, at at length, why in the hell would this be considered ‘not constructive’….i never once said what you or pete had written was ‘not constructive’, i simply offered a different perspective and a different way of looking at the old boondoggle of journalism vs. documentary work, initiated by Pete. to the contrary, i enjoyed reading this discussion, even though i get frustrated by the iron-masks that the photo world still clamps down on it’s practitioners…stupid, narrow, myopic, but there it is, and so i write against that AND i make work to go against that…

    and yes, it is important for photographers to look to look to look and to write to write to write to talk to talk to talk about work, for themselves, it is an exercise and a building of one’s own ideas….

    you asked david, how to comment on an essay. i would say, from my perspective and i’m not David, all a reviewer can do is to offer honestly and openly what it is that moves them or not about work. they’ll always be others who differ. our eyes and sensibilities are open by this, by the connection and combat of our ideas/thoughts with others….we grow….

    i don’t at all care about others perceptions of me as being the ‘man in the white hat, all the time’ as Joe was said….if i am not moved by work, i rarely comment, as why should i, as there will be others who will say their peace…i will, always, however write and support work that moves me or work that i like….i love photogrpahy, that is why i am a photogrpaher….i love books that’s why i am a writer….to be anyone else would be an act of cynicism….and i am many things, but i am not cynical…

    again, for the record, as if it weren’t obvious at first, i love this work, i find it intelligent, humane, loving and photographically-speaking, rich and aware….what more could one ask from a photographic project?…

    from me, nothing more needed….but time for it to develop as Michelle wishes…

    and lastly, there were many people here who had no idea when Ballen was published who he was or his work…and he got creamed by many…..for me, and example of the lunacy of when people think they’re being clever/constructive by talking about the failing/negative aspects of work, they’re being helpful….maybe the failures are not about the work at all….but the opening of all our sensibilities….

  78. DAH, “i wonder what you would think if i had popped in the pictures from Salgado’s “Other Americas” under a different name ” …. yes, do it! With the permission of essay authors and the “known” photographers, slip in a photograph every so often – you have many colleagues in the industry who would be willing to include a photograph. It would be most interesting to see if anyone notices.

  79. I don’t have anything to add here one way or the other, I just wanted to be post #100. As I’ve mentioned, I am easily entertained.

  80. MW..

    you are doing it absolutely right…there are as many ways to critique as there are ways to photograph…just because i may challenge does not mean i would suggest you not challenging right back..that is discourse….all good…and , as far as i am concerned, all in good spirit and collegiality..anything less would get pedantic, boring, well i just couldn’t take it…carry on as per your instincts…now, start doing the same thing with your camera…get clear…make visual statements..be wrong….go for it…wrong can be really right….and right for sure can be all wrong…get a hold of something and make it your own….

    cheers, david

  81. Preston,
    I read with interest your analysis about Salgado, Davidson and DAH.
    While I share your view that East 100th Street “encapsulates a dramatic moment in American history”, I would like to expand however on your statement “I don’t think anyone had produced such compelling work from “the ghetto” before Davidson.”
    Roy DeCarava, black photographer, documented Harlem (as an insider) before Bruce Davidson. His work is in my view more compelling because he lived and breathed THE GHETTO. In addition, his b&w prints are the finest I’ve ever encountered on an exhibition wall.

    There is a point DAH made a while back and I’m still “chewing” on.
    He wrote: HCB and Robert Frank never cared for their subjects (quote from memory).
    When I read the biography of DeCarava (Wikipedia) I come to the conclusion that he must represent the counterpart to the aforementioned.


  82. He wrote: HCB and Robert Frank never cared for their subjects (quote from memory).
    What’s so hard to understand?

    In any craft there are artists who care about people and some (of the greatest)
    simply exist in their own mind (think “neverland”) type of isolation/exaggeration/eliticism/any way u call it..

  83. Also think of michael
    Jackson… Or Elvis Presley.. or Phil

    But let’s twist it a bit and call the truth..
    “some photogs out there are coming from rich families, can easily afford their adventures/travels..
    and some have to bartend a lot before they get their first FM-2…
    Let’s face it.. Not everyone has the same share in that “Luck” pie..
    But who said that life is fair?

  84. Gerhard….

    wanted to take Preston to task too for that ;))), but i love when he writes here, and i love when he talks over wine in company too :))…but had no real desire, as i’d written enough already ;))…

    but, adding to the addition of DeCarava (great)….can i add:

    James Van Der Zee or Gordon Parks….both of whom made the profound and important contributions before East 100th St…..(not at all to diminish the power and importance of Davidson’s magisterial work)….

  85. Did I like the essay above? Since I’m posting here..?
    I’ll be honest : not yet.. Coz thanks to steve jobs and apple… since I’m lost somewhere in the deep American south… I don’t have Internet except the iPhone ..
    But iPhone won’t support “flash” therefore I can’t see the essay..
    Quit anything u r doing and make an “iPhone Burn Version” asap..
    iPad version too.. Please..
    AT&T already charging so much, so since we are paying for it, let’s use it..
    So, anton, haik, whomever .. Please create a slideshow / essay view version but.. But…
    For iPhone / iPad too…
    Don’t exclude the “lost in the south” burn orphans..

  86. mw ……”I also find it healthy to consider what I’d think of a photograph or essay if it were one of mine.” you are better off taking ownership of your own work not spend your time pretending with that of others.


    from all accounts, DeCarava was just as you wrote…caring


    correct points about Van Der Zee and Parks…unfortunately neither really got a classic book going …they had the pictures, they were well known, but they just did not get the book…i do not know why…Parks became more famous for being Parks than any acknowledgment of his work..probably because of the books he wrote…The Learning Tree , A Choice of Weapons, are still classics..i need to study more the Van Der Zee story, but i am assuming he considered himself to be a pretty straightforward commercial portrait photographer and with photography his second calling, not his first

  88. DAVID :))

    true that…especially Parks…

    and E.100th is one of the most important books of nyc, of any time…it’s a funny story, when i was in high school and first saw it (a mentoring high school teacher showed it to me), i was convinced Davidson was Black….the intimacy of the pics, the depth, the concern, the access…the name….that isphotography that transcends ..:))

  89. BOB…

    this is something i have been wanting to write about for a long time..and Michelle this does not hijack your story….as a matter of fact is part of it…and that is the necessity/desirability or lack thereof to actually be part of the culture in order to photograph it…evidence suggests otherwise, but it will be a hot topic…i mean Michelle is an Israeli, Davidson a white kid from Chicago, Carl Bower w Columbian women, and on and on…

  90. DAVID :)

    yes, this IS also an important discussion…comes up all the time, and would love to talk about that…it came up too with the story on young, black model aspirants too :))…comes up with literature too…and it’s relevant too with Michelle’s story…same too with your Tell It Like It Is…(still one of my favorite Harvey books)…I actually wrote about this at Lightstalkers when a thread came up announcing the launch of Living Proof and some criticized, but as i told u long ago, u aint no tall white kid with a surfboard only, but a delta bluez stompin’ cat at heart……

    that for me the most important ingredient to speaking about/photographing/writing about another place/culture/ethnicity/background that is not one’s own is about something that can NOT be taught…the ability to connect…to be open, to listen, to become a Zelig of the spirit….would make for a great discussion…


  91. ¨would make for a great discussion…¨

    when a camera is in hand it may not matter whether it is our own family or the family of someone else we are photographing.. the narrowing of the gap between subject and photographer comes down to what you mention bob.. ability to connect.. be open.. listen..

    plenty render themselves ¨tourists¨ in their own backyard through a lack of understanding or ability, just as plenty become insiders to a culture utterly alien to their experience.

    the camera is an obsticle to some and a enebler to others.. as with much.. truth is relevant to each photographer and rather grey-card in colour..

    how about, though, a subject photographed over a long time becomeing cenral to a photographers charecter.. instinct draws us to a subject and passion keeps us there..
    if it was not our backyard to begin with, it surely will be in time.

  92. Bob, what I meant by “not constructive” was just that your comment did not offer Michelle any advice on how to better achieve her vision on this particular project. It seemed your objections to Pete and my constructive comments (why we’re lumped together in this is a bit of a mystery since our perspectives were radically different), were a bit personal. But of course I realize that the opportunities for misreading intent on the internet are infinite. So no offense all around. All in good spirit and collegiality.

    David, thanks, yes, I do make a great effort to do the same thing with the camera. I’ve done some interesting stuff I’m about to start peddling if I can get a few paperwork problems worked out. If the offer of a critique is still open, I could probably use a good hard slap against the head.

    Imants, why you would think I don’t take ownership in my work is a mystery I’m not particularly interested in solving. I don’t like being negatively critical of other people’s work and the act of considering if I’d feel differently if it were mine is just a little exercise in empathy, an effort to appreciate the photograph rather than judge the photographer. Nothing to do with ownership.

    The idea that one has to look and act like the people one photographs is just nonsense intellectually and from a hiring perspective would be outright racist in practice. I would agree that sometimes a person from a particular culture will have valuable insights that an outsider would miss, but the reverse is true as well. Sometimes an outsider see’s what’s unique or enlightening or beautiful in things a native takes entirely for granted. I’d really like to see more people from non-western cultures or disadvantaged subcultures take a few whacks at the dominant western norm. To see us as bizarre and exotic as we too often see them. Martin Parr does fantastic work, but there’s room for many more.

    And circling all the way back, I think Michelle has some strengths in that area as well. The final picture in the series, for example, strikes me as more from the migrant’s perspective than the photographers. A couple of shots in the book seemed to look at it that way as well. Maybe something else to think about…

  93. Since I accidentally discovered Burn magazine I made lots of wonderful discoveries. I am all but a photo reporter and I am not the kind of guy who cares so much about others. But, once again, watching your essay was a moment of deep reflexion. I admire the speech tone of the pictures you show here, no “salgadism” here trying to make horror look beautiful. This is just life that you are showing, from a very human distance. In particular, the last picture of the essay, showing this young couple or brotherhood facing a most probably tough future, moved me a lot. I feel like your work helps me be a bit better.

    PS: I linked your essay from my blog http://www.vitessemoderne.net, just tell me if this is not okay.

    Warm regards,

  94. mw

    “And circling all the way back, I think Michelle has some strengths in that area as well. The final picture in the series, for example, strikes me as more from the migrant’s perspective than the photographers. A couple of shots in the book seemed to look at it that way as well. Maybe something else to think about…”

    I had the same thoughts about this work. The point of view is from within. The people are real. More than that, I saw myself here, I saw my children. I am haunted by the overwhelming sadness and look of defeat and wearyness in all the faces, even the children.

  95. the camera is an obstacle to some and a enebler to others..
    Very very true.. Camera is an obstacle to most photogs.. You nailed it..
    Plenty photogs that have a major weakness in that communication department to begin with..
    Now imagine if u add a camera to their nightmare..

  96. BOB…

    i have photographed outside my own hypothetical ethnic barriers my whole career…i do always put a disclaimer in any book saying “hey i am not of Spanish heritage, hey i am a white kid”..both for the Iberian diaspora Div Soul and for Living Proof in the hood…folks can then decide whatever they want….however, when it comes to going “outside your own culture”, where does one draw the line?…”hey i am a white kid” does not get me into many white communities just because i am white nor exclude me from other ethnic groups just because i am white…

    both acceptance and the resulting work will undoubtedly have more to do with who you are as a person and how you come off in your sincerity, than your skin color or religion at birth or country of origin…even with American Family now, i am crossing all kinds of religious, ethnic, political, lines…so far, nobody has mentioned it..why? because the topic is the common ground of family…not race, religion, sex, politics…

    yet the stigma of working “outside” will always be there for some…

    for example: go back and re-read all the comments about white boy Brian Shumway and his portrayal of black women…whew!! so many said “well a black woman should have done it”…i sure would like to see what a black woman would do photographing black women for example, but alas in my whole career i do not believe i have seen such an example…i do not know why..maybe you have and please tell me…but if i do find or hear of a black woman with a legitimate project , i will fund her come hell or high water…

    in any case, i think you will find most photographers photographing a bit out of their own zone…with a few notable exceptions…given the chance, most want to see whatever is on the other side of their own backyard fence…we are all born explorers….i suppose that exploring out or exploring in both have their validity…

    it is just important to know that where you have your feet planted is nowhere near as important as where you have your head…

    cheers, david

  97. David; Re; “well a black woman should have done it”…

    Didn’t Eugene Richards come up against something similar with the story about his wife’s battle with breast cancer (him not being a woman)? Also; wasn’t he roundly criticised for shooting Dorchester Days? (or was it Cocaine Blue, Cocaine True?), because he wasn’t black? I remember reading him saying that it was only other black photographers that stood up for him. Nobody else wanted to know him. Interesting…

  98. ROSS…

    everybody who does something significant gets roundly criticized by either those who don’t or can’t…


    isn’t that Road Trips piece a paraphrase of what i just wrote? or are you making some other point that i am not getting?

  99. I’ll jump in with my own solipsist musings. I’ve spent most of my life as a U.S. citizen but I still feel like an outsider. When I’m down in Mexico or Nicaragua, there’s an innate familiarity to being there. It reminds me of home. I’m not a world traveler. I’ve circled back to only a few places over the past 23 years, learned the language, absorbed the cultural nuances, gestures, body language. I personally wouldn’t have done this project unless I felt that culturally, I was in a comfort zone. There are many who empathize with their subjects and use their empathy or insider status as a disclaimer for work that isn’t very interesting. My projects are personal to me because in some ways they are about me. I identify with the people I photograph. My family moved to a predominantly Jewish suburban neighborhood of Syracuse. Instead of being accepted, I was bullied and ostracized. I spent most of my childhood in the company of books and neighborhood dogs, which is why I gravitate thematically to the underdog and why dogs always appear in my work – that symbiosis between people and dogs. I’m drawn to the anti-heroes, the tragic figures. My father survived the Holocaust. I was exposed to the grainy newsreels of emaciated bodies stacked like cordwood. This was not a lesson meant to expose the Evil Mastermind theory, but rather that human beings behave predictably and are easily manipulated – the complicity of the average citizen. This was a lesson learned early of human betrayal and culpability on a colossal level. I’m looking for something good, something redeemable about our species, something inherently human – something I needed to see and experience as an antidote to remedy the feelings I have lately that the only thing we merit as a species is extinction. Loose coalitions formed in the migrant shelters based on cooperation. People who had nothing shared food and water, looked out for one another, cared about each other. In the days spent waiting for the train we slept in adjacent bunkbeds, told each other jokes and stories of past loves and losses. Yes, I got to know them, but they got to know me, as well as any close friend. I spent a night on top of a boxcar in the pouring rain wrapped in a plastic bag another migrant had given me with my arms around a 19-year-old Honduran kid named Elmer, other migrants shouting, “Apapachala! Apapachala! (basically, Hug her!) and we all laughed. And we smoked and the night seemed to go on forever. I felt like one of them, even though I knew they were better than me, that I was little more than a tourist.

  100. Michelle,

    “I’ll jump in with my own solipsist musings. I’ve spent most of my life as a U.S. citizen …”


    And it’s all right there in your images. You don’t need any words. None at all.

  101. DAVID :))

    no doubt, no doubt :)))…and damn, i don’t want to re-read all that mess under Brian’s essay, i gave it all i could on that one to open eyes… ;))…..but it took a lot out too…;)

    i’ve never, ever, understood the ‘this book/story should be/could be only told by _____’ mentality….then again, i’ve lived a totally screwed up life too…white kid spends early childhood in asia…thinks he asian only to awaken to being a white kid in a city, later taken to the country….always been out of the element but for where the feet are….

    the act of imagination is an act of solidarity with humanity, and that has no bearing on the outer shell….

    to be open to what is around, to respect and tender what is around, to be aware and to connect…

    who knows….4 noble truths, that’s pretty much the dime for me, and how to maintain that awareness and to be open, knowing full well we fail most of it….

    what matters is not only where your head is…..but where your heart is as well…

    MW: no offense taking….they’re only comments…it’s the work that matters

    Windup: HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU, promise…been a mad 7 weeks…but, ur pics are on my on-deck circle, :)..


  102. the camera is an obstacle to some and a enebler to others..

    Definitely belongs to the second category ….(Hi, fellas, this one sent from Bangkok)

  103. Thank you Michelle for your additional writing and insight to your excellent story.
    From own experience – photographed the grape strike, Cesar Chavez and the Mexican-American farm labor movement in the late sixties – I share your view of involvement with your subject besides the
    Tourist / Gringo status.

    Thank you David and Bob for the comments on place and being,
    making BURN worth reading . . .
    My comment may be one day late – the blog is moving fast . . .


  104. What freakin’ amazing work. Michelle you’ve really raised the bar here. This is the kind of work that really resonates with the soul of the viewer (mine at least) by portraying the soul of the subject. Thank you. Charles

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