Tomasz Tomaszewski – Elmina, Ghana

Tomasz Tomaszewski

Elmina, Ghana

Elmina is a town situated on a south-facing bay on the Atlantic Ocean coast of Ghana, and the first European (Portuguese) settlement in West Africa. The location of Elmina made it a significant site for provisioning ships headed south towards the Cape of Good Hope on their way to India. Today with a population of 33,000 people, Elmina still remains as a fishing town.

Regardless of the modern technology in the fishing industry, and especially aggressive behavior of Chinese fisherman, the people of Elmina are bravely fighting for survival and for their existence. They support themselves by creating small cooperatives where profits are shared equally between the members of these communities. This is a kind of grassroots work, without any state aid.




Tomasz Tomaszewski has a Ph.D. from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in Media Art, and is a member of the Union of Polish Art Photographers, the Visum Archiv Agency of Hamburg, Germany, the National Geographic Creative Agency of Washington D.C.. He specializes in journalistic photography and has had his photos published in major newspapers and magazines worldwide. He has held numerous individual exhibitions in the USA, Canada, Israel, Japan, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Indonesia and Poland. Tomasz is the recipient of many Polish and international awards for photography. For over twenty years he has been a regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine in which 18 of his photo essays have been published. Tomasz has taught photography in Poland, the USA, Germany and Italy.


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Tomasz Tomaszewski


46 Responses to “Tomasz Tomaszewski – Elmina, Ghana”

  • I don’t know how but even in the first frame I kinda knew this was no “emerging” photographer.
    I confess to never having heard his name….shame on me.
    Great work! Took a look at the website and saw amazing color work as well.

    Well….this just makes me ask the question….how can one off the bat (sometimes) know that what one is seeing is clearly the work of a “Pro”? and what is a “Pro”?

  • So damned excellent it almost hurts to look at it…

  • this in my opinion is one of the finest essays we have run on Burn….no, not a heavy hitting hard core photoJ subject..just everyday life…but seen SO WELL….so finely tuned…and no, not from an emerging photographer…sometimes it is a really good idea to look at the pros here…the last one we did was Arthur Meyerson seeing in colour…there is a reason that the iconic are iconic….they do work like this…not every time but most of the time…check out Tomasz entire body of work and you will see what i mean….

    this is in a very tight classic style….sometimes i yearn for classic…..all of our tastes change all the time..sometimes i am in the mood for jazz sometimes blues or whatever…right now i am in the mood for classic…maybe tomorrow a colourist hipster will pique my eye…point is our visual moods change…why not? who wants to get stuck anywhere?

    it is always helpful to emerging photographers to see the work from those who have made a mark…so we all have the same reference points when we do our respective critiques….that is why i insist to my students that they really study the history of photography…the classics…the new hot stuff…and everything in between…there is a lot of noise out there, and it needs to be distilled and the only way to do that is to know what is up!!!

    thanks Tomasz for being are a gentleman of the craft…..

    cheers, david

  • Great work! Thank you for sharing!

  • David,

    I was going to say something of the sort but you put it nicely….”not a heavy hitting subject”
    I was afraid I would sound insensitive however I would have phrased it.

    Like I said before this is indeed GREAT work!


    i just re phrased a bit…to “not hard hitting photoJ story”…point is that nothing is happening in these pictures EXCEPT the pure SEEING….there is no newsy angle…..simply a way of life captured….and i see no reason for it to be more…similar to W. Eugene Smith’s SPANISH VILLAGE in its temperament….

  • marcin luczkowski

    I am sure this essay looks excellent as a large format prints. I hope i will see it at exhibition somewhere in Poland soon.

  • AH yes! that might be it….the style is classic. I can definitely see that now.

    I like the idea of “visual moods”. I gravitate more towards color photography but when the work is this good color or no color is irrelevant.

  • Beautiful and inspiring essay showing universal humanity and dignity in its pure form. It could easily have been in Bali/Sri Lanka/Asia. The monochrome approach gives a lot of strength to the individual characters. Looking forward to seeing it in Large print.

  • As the kids might say today, this essay is TIGHT. He is so In There. I’ve seen his work but not for a long long time… thanks David Alan Harvey for publishing this. You, too, are tight, in the best hippest sense of the word, yo.

  • Fish? What a co-incidence; Akaky and I flounder no more.

    There are so many exquisite images here.

    At his best in this essay, Tomasz makes the picture frame his bitch. There is assertion, power and control in the way the limitations of the picture plane explode.

    I look at these pictures slightly differently than David: For David, it is the purity of seeing; for me, it’s the purity of composing. Actually, we’re probably on the same page, because it’s not seeing or composing, but a combination of the two. (We just need a different nomenclature.)

    It’s what comes after the seeing. Here is something in front of you, to which a fire of response ignites. Now what to do with it? Seeing is the passive half of the equation, composing is the active. Look at seeing and composition as the very first edit, but instead of removing things, tightening and contracting the story to a cleaner and purer state, it’s an expansive edit where structure and elements are added, massaged, optimized and maximized.

    It’s a form of edit, just the opposite of what I’m used to thinking of when considering the editing process. Editing by adding, as opposed to tightening. It’s what to love about this collection.

  • I have long been familiar with and a fan of TT’s color work, particularly for NatGeo, but have never seen his black and white work before. Yes, he is elegant, taught, and masterful. Quite a coup for David to be showing TT’s work here on BURN. Thanks David, thanks Tomasz!

  • There is nothing I can add to the conversation on these images that hasn’t already been said. They are simply wonderful.

    I can’t help but notice the uptick on Ghana stories on Burn. By my count, three in the past couple of months. This is not a complaint–far from it. It is a beautiful land filled with warm, welcoming people. I only got to see a small portion of the country, but it left an indellible mark on me. As far as I’m concerned, the more Ghana stories here the better.

    Cheers! You just made me smile.

  • Excellent photography, great storytelling: congratulations Tomasz. I’m used to seeing your Nat Geo colour photography so it’s good to see this essay in black and white. Your empathy for your subject and ability to get close shows through whichever medium you choose.

    I too see a tight, classic style here but I would say digital capture – not that it matters when this is the result.


  • And number 10 is special.


  • While looking at these wonderful pictures — I’m particularly drawn to 11, 15 and 17 — the thought came to me that I became conscious of the fact that they were taken by a foreigner, i.e., someone outside the local culture. Though I am not sure that this matters, I found myself wondering why this thought persisted as I looked at the series several times. Some of the framing is similar to that of Alex Webb, yet I’ve never had this thought about Webb’s work. Perhaps it stems from the framing of 8, 12 and 13 and, maybe also, 14.

    I’d be interested in knowing whether anyone else has this feeling and, if so, why?

    —Mitch [Mieczysław]

  • So great work. Excellent BW. I see this pictures as a very deep observations. And I think it is a value that this essay is “not hard hitting photoJ story”. Congratulation. Tomasz is an amazing photographer.

  • I can agree with all that has been said above. Awesome photography.

    Perhaps it is my server, but the viewing quality is horrific. I’ve looked at it on two different computers, including my main high end photoshop machine, and they appear over-processed in the extreme. Over the top contrast, bright sharpening halos everwhere and terrible “jaggies” on all the diagonals.

    Is anyone else seeing this?

    It’s a shame because it’s spoiling it for me, and it is lovely work.

  • I too see some extra sharpening, and especially on 1 and 7 I am seeing halos where dodging/burning was done. If the halos are coming in during processing in the darkroom, that’s understandable. If in Photoshop, that’s a little disappointing.

  • Absolutely brilliant. The power of seeing the subtle and the unnoticed.

  • I’m seeing jaggies in power lines but I just supposed that was because the photos were low-resolution fro web use. I’ve been looking at quite a few Leica Monochrom photos recently and this essay reminded me of them – which means they are probably from a point and shoot. I don’t care which, I like the essay a lot. Number 14 is good too.


  • “While looking at these wonderful pictures — I’m particularly drawn to 11, 15 and 17 — the thought came to me that I became conscious of the fact that they were taken by a foreigner, i.e., someone outside the local culture.

    I’d be interested in knowing whether anyone else has this feeling and, if so, why?”

    Mitch, that’s a challenging observation. Martin Parr has a certain fascination with the broad photographic approaches of different cultures. How do the South American photographers differ in a general fashion of approach to, say, the Europeans? And how do photographers from one country within a continent differ from another? (I wish I could find my reference for Parr’s remarks, but I’ve been unable to do so.) It’s similar to the way George Bernard Shaw’s Dr. Higgins character in Pygmalion was able to pinpoint where a London character grew up based solely on the distinction of their accent.

    In that we may do the same with people’s accents, it might be a small step to map a photographer’s creative DNA, alongside their historical photographic influences. In order to figure out whether these images are taken by a local or a foreigner, I suppose we’d have to know about the general approach of Guyanese photographers to make a judgement. That might be something Parr could articulate, but since I don’t have any viewing experience of Guyanese photographers, my analysis quits. For all I know, the photographers of Guyana have every bit of access to the historic underpinnings of photography in exactly the same way Tomasz has.

    Where I disagree with your comments, and where I throw the challenge back at you, is in your claim that Alex Webb has a superior, photographer-as-local approach. Looking at his African images on the Magnum website, I’d say Tomasz and Webb are equivalent as outsiders. In that Webb’s compositions are (generally) composed of compartmentalized elements and structure which relate to the image as a whole, but not to other elements within the image, I’d say Tomasz has it over Webb, in that his does. If you could tell us more about your opinion of Webb’s work vis a vis subject and environmental engagement, maybe we could get to the essence of the matter.

  • JEFF,

    Just a pedantic footnote from a geographer/writer/translator, but you are talking about ‘Guyana’ and ‘Guyanese,’ which refer to a country in northeast South America. Since you mention South America, and I know you as an erudite person, I assume this is deliberate and you are using Guyana as a ‘for instance.’. Just for reference, in case anybody is confused, Tomasz Tomaszewski’s essay is about Ghana, in West Africa, and the proper adjectival form for the the people and the nation is ‘Ghanaian.’ Cheers…

  • For sure photographers from different countries/cultures photograph quite uniquely …i defy any Westerner for example to really copy the look of the Japanese or Chinese photographers…the Scandinavians have a definite “look” as do the Italians….as do the Eastern Europeans….i guess this is just natural….everyone grows up with certain and specific visual references and most likely they only see at an early age a visual patina that is indeed their own….i am sure that architecture and art play a big role here along with music and film, all of which would play a role….visual anthropology….

    along these lines it always seems to come up that a “foreigner” has taken photographs in a place unknown to them…..this is a time worn topic …for sure Gauguin was not from Tahiti….did he have a right to paint there? of course he did….do the Tahitians have a right to paint/photograph in Paris? of course!! i would love to see their view….

    the truth is historically that very few photographers photograph what is right before them….Davidson does, Mann does, yet most photographers like to roam to explore to travel to have an adventure outside of their own culture…..just natural wanderlust, and what is over THERE must be more interesting than what is right HERE…i encourage my students to photograph what is HERE certainly at least so they can find themselves visually and emotionally….i recommend backyard first, and Rajasthan later….

    i like HERE and THERE, yet for me , and for many, THERE is best done after really developing HERE….

    cheers, david

  • I look at many Japanese photography websites. Japan has a thriving photography culture and I often wonder how much influence the way the written word is read (left to right or from up to down from right to left (I think I’m correct here) with page one on the right and page two on the left) influences composition. I would imagine that in countries that read right to left the viewing of a photograph would instinctively follow the same course i.e. opposite to the western left to right way. This must influence the viewing experience.


  • >>>[Jeff H] Where I disagree with your comments, and where I throw the challenge back at you, is in your claim that Alex Webb has a superior, photographer-as-local approach. Looking at his African images on the Magnum website, I’d say Tomasz and Webb are equivalent as outsiders. In that Webb’s compositions are (generally) composed of compartmentalized elements and structure which relate to the image as a whole, but not to other elements within the image, I’d say Tomasz has it over Webb, in that his does. If you could tell us more about your opinion of Webb’s work vis a vis subject and environmental engagement, maybe we could get to the essence of the matter.<<>>[DAH]…along these lines it always seems to come up that a “foreigner” has taken photographs in a place unknown to them…..this is a time worn topic …for sure Gauguin was not from Tahiti….did he have a right to paint there? of course he did….do the Tahitians have a right to paint/photograph in Paris? of course!! i would love to see their view…<<<

    This is a difficult point to discuss briefly, and deserves a long essay or, better yet, a long conversation Also, I think this is a judgment on which I would not expect universal agreement, so it’s fine to disagree. Your [Jeff’s] statement above made me examine more deeply my reaction to try to articulate to myself why I found that Webb’s work looked less obviously a “foreign view” — though I hasten to say that there is noting inherently wrong with a foreign view, as David suggests.

    In my first view of the essay, the composition of picture 2 brought Alex Webb to mind. As I went on viewing the rest of the series, I was conscious of a mental comparison with Webb. In that context, I found the framing of pictures 8, 12, and 13 somewhat arbitrary, so that when I looked at the whole essay a third and a fourth time, I came to think of the concept of “The Other,” in the sense of some of Conrad’s novels, particularly “Heart of Darkness.” The Conrad reference here is only tangential — to say that I find Webb’s pictures, say, in “Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds,” more integral and somewhat deeper psychologically (or do I mean culturally?) than this essay of Tomaszewski. But I recognize that I may be going off the deep end here because the intent in this essay and the Webb book is probably quite different. I see Tomaszewski essay as photojournalism, while Webb’s book is more “depiction” than “documentation.”

    My feeling is that these issues are worth reflecting on by photographers. Coming back to David’s comments, the view of a foreigner may sometimes be more incisive on political or social issues than of a local photographer; and the views of a foreigner on a culture may sometimes be as valuable as that of a local and, therefore, equally, valid.



    great discussion between you two…with both of you making good interesting valid points….both of you great thinkers…..

    thanks for this

  • Excellent photos. Tight edit. I agree with those who observed that the photos seem to be over sharpened, though.

  • Personally the only problem I have with this essay and something which also always bothers me with Webb’s images is the slight disconnection with the subjects. There’s always this slight lack of intimacy, a polite distance, kind of like a doctor and the patient… it never turns personal. Sometimes I get the impression it’s more about organizing interesting compositions and perfect light than the actual subjects life.

  • PAUL

    For sure you are correct about both photographers. However, I do not see this as a “problem”, yet rather a characteristic. Alex Webb I have always regarded as intellectual rather than emotional. You have the feeling with Alex, as with HCB, that they neither one ever met or talked to their subjects…they took a step back and OBSERVED rather than become INVOLVED….that to my mind is simply a manifestation of their respective personalities…who they ARE….

    Tomasz is a bit different normally albeit in this essay it is true that he is somewhat disconnected emotionally….not true in all of his work…and not true of who he is either….So I see this Tomasz essay as excellent seeing and visual literacy, yet not up close and personal as in some of his previous work….

    I think this is simply a function of this particular essay. In Gypsies for example Tomasz is the opposite of here..That’s ok. ..Artists change up just like musicians…However, any way you look at it, this particular set of pictures resonates with continuity and style and a feeling of “being there”…

    When I look at a book, or an essay, or any set of pictures, I just do not expect to see everything that could have been done actually done…I take it for what it is…One must go one way or another way and cannot go all ways simultaneous….So this is this, and Gypsies is that, and I await his next song…..

    cheers, david

  • MIKE R.

    Good question that I have often thought about but don’t have a definitive answer for. For much of recorded history, East Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam) read and wrote in Chinese characters in vertical lines from top to bottom, right to left, as you observe. In material with multiple pages, the first page was at what we in the West would call the ‘back’ or ‘end’ of the book, magazine, or pamphlet, and when one read one turned the succeeding pages from left to right. Sometimes individual lines of text were written horizontally, as in shop signs or headlines or signposts, in which case the writing was from right to left. As someone who did not grow up with this system but started studying Asian languages in late adolescence, I always found accustoming my eyes to reading vertically top to bottom and right to left difficult and time consuming… after many decades, it is still not especially easy or natural for me.

    However, due largely to Western influence, these conventions started breaking down in the 20th century and particularly after World War II. Many books and magazines are now printed with text running horizontally and read from left to right, just like in the West. When written vertically, the lines always begin from the right side and proceed towards the left, but horizontal text is almost always written left to right except in old historical documents or self-consciously ‘antiquarian’ signs (The Asian equivalent of “Ye Olde Grogg Shoppe”). I just pulled a random sampling of books in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese published within the last 30 years off my shelves and about half were written vertically right to left and half written horizontally left to right. An educated person in Japan, Korea, or China needs to be able to read both ways. (Vietnam adopted a heavily modified version of the Latin alphabet almost 200 years ago and it is always written left to right).

    So modern East Asians are now accustomed to reading in various directions (the one thing I haven’t ever seen is writing from bottom to top). It is we in the West who are so habituated to reading always in the same direction and it undoubtedly has an effect on how we ‘read’ pictures. It is also related to our fixation with seeing things move and unfold in a ‘clockwise’ direction.

    Something I think is probably deeply related to traditional means of reading and writing but doesn’t seem to get much attention are the huge differences in the popular aspect ratios of visual formats between Western and East Asian art… most 2-dimensional visual art in the West is heavily dominated by rectangles that are more or less ‘golden sections’ whether they are in vertical or horizontal format, or more rarely, squares. In East Asian art, golden section rectangles and squares also occur, but over the centuries the dominant formats are often very, even extremely, elongated compared to those in the West. Hanging picture scrolls, one of the most common traditional forms, often have aspect ratios of 4:1, 5:1, or greater… and handscrolls, the ’emaki’ of the Japanese, which are unrolled from right to left, can be as long as 5 meters and yet only 15 or 20 centimeters high. Being accustomed to visualize scenes in these formats is, to my mind, clearly related to reading and writing text in lines from top to bottom (and needless to say, from right to left).

    The 19th century innovation of ‘panorama’ theater spectacles in Europe and North America was the first thing in the West that came close to these traditional Asian formats, though Western panoramas were, and I dare to say still are, in stitched-together or otherwise constructed photo panoramas, almost always read left to right… and ‘virtual reality’ 360º coverage nearly always seen in a clockwise direction in the West. In contrast, the modern 150-meter long, digitally animated version of the 11th century Song Dynasty handscroll ‘Qing-ming Shang-he Tu’ (‘Spring Festival On the River’) that has now been seen by millions of enthralled spectators in Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Singapore over the last 5 years, unfolds and is viewed in the traditional direction of right to left.

  • Sidney, most illuminating; thank you.


  • I’ve always thought of that type of composition as Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment” style photography. From what I’ve seen, Webb may be the foremost living practitioner, but most of the top documentary photographers nail it on a regular basis. Not sure how to best describe it but I know it when I see it. Something along the lines of having subject interestingly spaced within a geometric-ish composition that seems to add up to some deeper mystery than you’d get from the individual parts. Interesting and/or mysterious facial expressions are often part of it as well. However difficult it is to describe, it’s much more difficult to do on a consistent basis and I suspect is one of the key skills that separates those at the top of the profession from the merely very good. Judging from this essay, Tomaszewski is very good at it. Near misses like #’s 14 and 15 illustrate just how difficult it is.


    Dear David, dear Diego,

    I was thinking of writing a sentence, concerning the great discussion going on on BURN, but I have difficulties to place my simple respond on your site.
    Could you be so kind and use your login and copy/paste it and make it active?

    Here is a very simple text. I do hope that it is understandable.
    Tell me please what you think.

    “I really hope that calling you a friend does not offend anyone who took part in the discussion on my Elmina pictures.
    I am delighted when I read these intelligent posts with many intriguing thoughts.
    Unfortunately I can not participate in the substantive discussion, because my level of English is away from your about 2 light-years.
    I can only say that photography was for me always a different way of thinking and serve to define my relationship to the world and my place in the world. I must confess that I am delighted by the world. So far I still feel that I take part in some amazing miracle, and therefore I believe that taking pictures should not only rely on capturing the world as an object, but rather doing it the object by catching his otherness, his attractive peculiarities, and ultimately converting it in to the image.
    If any of you were so gracious and noticed that my photographs are different it’s probably because I have a different experience. It is the experience determines who we are. I believe that man is a cultural, not natural. What we have got from the nature, is nothing compared with what we acquired from the culture.
    I treat being my self the serious way, but not as a religion. I’m very happy to derive from tradition in photography and first of all from literature. I’m watching the best among us, those who are able to describe the theory of the universe using words, or photographs. They merely guarantee the survival of all other, including my self.
    I cannot find the words to thank you for this discussion,
    Tomasz Tomaszewski”

    Big, big hugs,


  • Thank you for taking the time to comment here: Tomasz – and your English is better than my Polish!

    I have long been a fan of your work, Tomasz; your obvious empathy for your subjects is always visible in your photographs.


  • Thank you Mike,
    it is pure pleasure to read texts that contain the thoughts not associated with the technique only.
    Indeed, the most important moral virtue is a commitment I think, because it indicates the seriousness of the subject. I always try to treat people as an entity, not as a subject of my story. They interested me the most, not the photograph of them.
    For me the most profound experience is the feeling of bliss of existence. The one who knows this feeling is usually the simple man, not a townsman, who, instead of being, keeps him self occupied by hard work and negotiations with others.

  • Thank you for posting such a lovely message. I have to admit I’ve just discovered your previous work and last night I sat in awe going through you gyspy essay. Amazing soulful images.

  • Yea, lets take more black and white photos of exotic shit! And convince everyone that this place is oh-so-different from anything else they know!

    Sure, for composition and aesthetics and the whatnots, its fantastic; but what is the story setting out to accomplish? Is it a story, a documentation, or a telling of a place– as the description suggests? Because if it its, I know nothing accurate about this place after seeing the photos. All I have is arbitrary images of nice aesthetics that I can hang on the walls of a Starbucks.

  • Tom, one of the great pleasures that I get from photography is seeing how other people in the world live. Often their geographic location and circumstances are so different to mine and yet when photographed by someone with a heart their (the subject’s and the photographer’s) humanity – our common humanity shines through. It’s oh-so-different but they are oh-so-like-me. This is why I don’t like to see too many technical effects like heavy contrast or Instagram styles. Just show me the photograph.

    On another level it is possible to see a photograph as just that: a photograph in its own right. it depicts a scene but also exists as an entity separate in some ways from the subject matter. This can be experienced when standing in front of a black and white print made by a master printer. I’ve experienced this a few times: I am lucky to be old enough to have seen Eugene Smith’s “Let Truth be the Prejudice” when it came to London in (I think) the late 70s / early 80s. I also saw Sebastiao Salgado’s “Workers” exhibition, and in both cases it was possible to be wowed by the subject of the photograph and awed by the sheer quality and beauty of the physical print.

    Sometimes the photograph itself is enough. It doesn’t have to depict world events or illuminate the meaning of life: it can be just a photograph. I’m thinking here of Gary Winogrand’s quote “I take photographs of thing to see what they look like as photographs”. I’m probably paraphrasing here. Another paraphrase from Sebastiao Salgado “If I could take a photograph of someone which would not show their dignity, why would I take it?”. I’m sure – sure – that the same would be true for the photographs shown here by Tomasz.



    Interesting comment. I think Mike R. above gave the answer to you I would give or pretty close to it.

    It all depends on what you think photography is supposed to DO…if pure information is your game , then you will get nothing out of most of the classic essays that have ever been photographed by W.Eugene Smith, Sally Mann, Henri Cartier-Bresson to name just three…Spanish Village by Smith for example is just like Tomasz here..not really any information per se to it…

    I think photos have many “functions”…one of them is surely information….when i want to buy something online, for sure i want to see a picture of what the object i want to buy actually looks like…i zoom in and see details of the object etc….or the layout of the hotel where i might want to

    However when i am looking at magazines and books for example, i personally am looking mostly for authorship , not information…..i never think i am supposed to be seeing a didactic view….nor in novels, nor at the movies, nor at the Louvre…..the Mona Lisa is after all just pigment on canvas, there is nothing utilitarian about it….

    If i wanted information on Elmina for example, i would just Google it and go to Wikipedia or whatever…so for me, i suppose the beauty of authorship alone gives me the feeling of being in Elmina…i can taste it so to speak….

    the joy of aesthetic as its own reward..this joy is very rare…

    i see very little real authorship in the world of photography even though billions of images are floating around everywhere…i can see utilitarian pictures easily..for sure in an essay the last thing i want is anything resembling encyclopaedic wikipedic info…

    there is of course no right or wrong to it….your point of view is not wrong it is just different from the view we have for publishing Burn in the first place…our function here is to present authorship and/or a visual point of view…or at least an attempt at authorship….visual literacy…the personalised speaking of the language…nothing more.

    thank you for your is real…and the view of many who look at photographs…..i only suggest perhaps looking at pictures in another way….yet i totally respect your point of view as well….

    cheers, david

  • Mike,

    I very much like your answer, and I agree whole heartily with it, but I think you, as well as David, are articulating a very fine defense of artistic story-telling, which is an extremely valid use of the photograph. But I don’t think this analysis applies in the case of this story so much, because it seemed to me that the intent was photojournalism. And to me, I think it fails in the same way that a lot of photojournalism fails. It focuses too much on the differences than the similarities. The human element is there and there are shades of pure and universal emotions, like the kids dancing on the beach– but I can’t see a young kid who has never left the shire of England looking at this story and thinking, ‘oh wow, these kids are just like me!’ I think that kid would look at this story and think ‘oh wow, the world is full of such different and exotic places that have no bearing to me and my world. these people aren’t like me.’ And while it’s important to establish the variety the world has, I think its done too much in journalism. We need to spend more time getting people who have never left their drowsy towns to realize the world is not a poverty ridden, unwelcoming bomb stuck in the 17th century. To illuminate the differences, you first need to set the context of what is similar. Because you are always going to find more similarities amongst the world than differences.

    Surely this story isn’t the worst in perpetuating stereotypes, but I don’t think its the kind of journalism the world needs right now. But as you two both are saying, it stands very finely as a piece of art. And the photograph is magical in that regard– I very much like your quote of Winogrand, Mike. And yes, I agree journalism needs authorship to be successful. Wikipedia will never tell you about Soweto like Edward van Herk did. But he did in it an actuality kind of way. He didn’t chase after the historical photo.

    There was some British guy whose name I forget, making some film I forget the name of (sorry), but he was setting out to find uncontacted tribes in southeast asia, and at the end of the film he spent some time reflecting about how he had finally fulfilled his boyhood dream of finding a lost tribe. And I think that sentiment exists in a lot of journalists today– that its more about manifesting the romanticized image of how journalism appealed to you as a kid reading National Geographic than to be honest and see whats actually there.

    Again, the story isn’t as dishonest as others, and its damn good composition and interesting content material, but its not great journalism in my opinion.

    Fantastic conversations you guys have on here,


  • Tom,

    I’m not sure that Tomaszewski’s essay, or portfolio, of 18 pictures is photojournalism. Reminds me reading about Robert Capa, in the 1930s, advising Henri Cartier-Bresson to call himself not an artist, but a photojournalist. Essentially, photojournalism documents. Tomszewski’s essay doesn’t document; it depicts.

    The distinction between documenting and depicting is not my own idea: it comes from an essay by Zdenek Felix in Moriyama Daido’s photo book, “Shinjuku 19XX-20XX” published by by Hatje Cantz Publishers, which asserts that Moriyama’s work is not “documentation” but “depiction.” The essay is presented in both English and German versions. In the latter version, “depiction” is “Darstellung,” which, without the latinate roots, is more direct and graphic as a concept. In this context, I simply cannot agree with your assumption of Tomaszewski’s intent in presenting these 18 pictures.


  • According to his bio above, he “specializes in journalistic photography” and he has had 18 stories published in National Geographic, one of, if not THE, premiere magazine for photojournalism, as well as other media outlets for journalism; so I’m a little unclear on why anyone would think he is not practicing journalism with this essay.

    My observation is that, much more often than not, photojournalism needs be accompanied by words to effectively tell the story. Of course there are some great photos and essays that stand just fine on their own — “Napalm Girl” or much of Bruce Davidson’s work jump to mind as arguable counterexamples; but that’s usually not the case. Without written nods to modern fishing technology and aggressive Chinese fisherman, for example, these photos would not tell the story the photographer is seeking to tell.

  • >>>According to his bio above, he “specializes in journalistic photography” and he has had 18 stories published in National Geographic, one of, if not THE, premiere magazine for photojournalism, as well as other media outlets for journalism; so I’m a little unclear on why anyone would think he is not practicing journalism with this essay.<<<


    HCB published a lot of photojournalism in LIFE and other magazines, yet his greatest book, "The Decisive Moment," and some other ones as well, had little or nothing to do with journalism.


  • I have the impression that I should clarify a few things in this intriguing discussion.
    First of all Burn magazine is not dealing with disenchantment of the world, that is, does not publish images that only show how things look. It has rather different goals, such as visual education. If the photography in Burn has something to serve, it’s probably more about to dissuade people from colloquial experience, which occupies most of the glossy magazines. So at least I understand the mission of this fantastic forum.
    Photos of Elmina came to live privately, not as an assignment given to me. They are the result of my enchantment with the place. Thus I had no obligation to show anything specific, and if they wanted something, it would be rather to provoke the imagination of the recipient and his reflection.
    Additionally I think, in my pictures contain a huge amount of information. We see people doing thinks, haw they do, what they use, how they dress, what they do for fun, etc., etc..
    People just see what they want to see, and there is no way to please everyone, especially when we see 18 images, out of hundreds of what I did. This edition will not be satisfied for those who want to see technology of catching the fish.
    This set of pictures presented was only to induce reflection. For me, when I was looking at this incredible place and the toil of the people I was thinking about mythology. And a tiny piece of that feeling I wanted to show you shyly.

    Anyway I want to thank you all for this great and valuable discussion
    Big hugs from Warsaw,


  • All of the pictures are quite good, many great, but #14 is one of the best photographs of all time! Thanks for this fantastic work.


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