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Vernacular Photographer Herman Krieger

This week we feature the photo essays of Herman Krieger, an independent photographer living in Eugene, Oregon.

There may be less irony in this photograph than you think.  Herman’s photo essays include everything from candid contrasts to captions that are as corny as anything you’d see in a flea market, but they are neither judgmental nor superficial.  Instead, he achieves an intimacy with and understanding of his subjects that is rarely found among other hobby photographers.

You can learn more about Herman by watching this brief PBS video, or by going here (including the link to the New York Times review) and here.  But I’m sure he would be the first to say that the photo essays are not about him, but rather about appreciating the small pleasures–one might even say “authentic delights”–of ordinary life.


Prison Photography on the Road: And You Can Help

Pete Brook, author of the important blog Prison Photography, is taking his work on the road.

Pete will be interviewing three dozen photographers who have documented the rise of America’s prison industrial complex. He also will be talking with leading practitioners in prison arts, prison education, law and advocacy. All content will be made available free of charge, via Creative Commons, to the photo and prison reform communities.

You can read more about the project here.  You also can donate to help cover costs.  (I don’t think Fox News is going to bankroll this one.)  Donors also can pick up some serious prints.  Pete is going the extra mile here; I hope some of the NCN readership can lend him a hand.

Photograph by Bruce Jackson.


Photographer’s Showcase: The Turning Point

Photojournalist Peter Turnley, a good friend of NCN, was in Cairo this past week, where he witnessed what he calls  “The Turning Point.”  He has graciously allowed us to share his work with our readers.  You can find his narrative of events here, and see his 48 hour visual diary here.

Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis  (Note:  To see other work from Peter that we have featured at NCN see here, here and here.  To see our commentary on some of his work, see here.)

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Seeing the Past in the Present

William Faulkner once wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  Oft-quoted and perhaps less often understood, the remark may have more resonance in some settings than others.  Given the extent to which amnesia seems to be spreading throughout American public life, Faulkner’s insight may seem increasingly peculiar.  (He isn’t read much anymore, and that, too, may be part of the problem.)  The question remains of who might be working today to help people reflect on the relationship between past and present, and between collective memory and mass amnesia.  One answer to that question is Sergey Larenkov.

Sergey Larenkov woman in street

Sergey Larenkov blends together photographs from World War II and the present to capture the recurrent disruption,  jarring continuity, and inevitable denial of the past in the present.  More strange yet is the suggestion that the shiny, visible world of the present is inhabited by ghosts that are continuing to act out their dramas of war and dispossession.  If the past can continue so vividly in this virtual world, perhaps war’s destructiveness could recur just as easily in the world we expect to see: a seeming intrusion that fits right in as though it had been there all along.  Perhaps it’s not even past.

You can see more of Sergey’s work here.

Photograph from “Siege of Leningrad 1942/2010” by Sergey Larenkov.


David Zimmerman: Portraits from the Gulf Oil Spill

David Zimmerman is a photographer based in New York City & Taos, New Mexico.  Today we feature his work in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spil in the Gulf of Mexico.  David notes that “The explosion of the oil rig precipitated a catastrophic chain of events that endangered the waters of the Gulf and the people of the region.  The devastation I saw on the water was mirrored in the faces of the people, and at that point, the most important story to tell was the story of the people.”

Wanda Jackson.

(Photograph of Wanda Jackson, Plaquemines Parish resident working at Southeast Pass on BP oil cleanup.)

David’s has woven together portraits and audio clips in a short film entitled “Faces and Voices from the Gulf.”  (His description of the project is here.)  Despite the efforts of BP to turn everything in the Gulf into a prop for their own retelling of the story, David recovers both the complexity and the human cost of the disaster.  Not to deny the effect on the beaches, birds, fish, or tourists that were the subjects of so much of the visual coverage, but surely the tragedy has been felt most deeply and persistently by the people who live there.

David is the 2009 recipient of the World Photography Awards L’Iris D’or Grand Prize for his work in the deserts of the southwest U.S.  David’s studio in Taos, New Mexico is built to LEED certified standards for sustainability.  His web site is here.


Bearing Witness to the Burmese Prison

When prisons are instruments of authoritarian rule, the entire country becomes a prison.  When an entire country is a prison, global civil society is degraded.  The illusion that a prison is a single place obscures these larger structures of terror and repression.  How, then, to expose them?  Enigma Images provides a remarkable photographic exhibition of those Burmese who have been released from one prison only to find themselves still restricted by surveillance, exile, and the knowledge that their fellow citizens are still under arrest.   Thus, they reveal that


Burmese prisoner in exile

Even Though I’m Free I Am Not” is a global documentary photography project.  Traveling to South East Asia, Australia, Japan, Europe, USA, Canada as well as into Burma itself, hundreds of Burma’s former political prisoners who are now forced to live in exile are being photographed to raise awareness of the tragic plight of their compatriots still detained in jail.

Each of those photographed makes the simple symbolic gesture of the palm being shown in the Buddhist Abhaya Mudhra with the name of another prisoner.  Individually and together they are a testament to the fundamental principle of human rights–the autonomy and dignity of the individual person–and to the moral and political solidarity that is essential to securing those rights.  I encourage you to spend some time at the website, which archives an impressive set of projects on behalf of the Burmese people.  And as you look at the photos of the individuals in exile, ask yourself, if they are not wholly free, are you?


Zoe Strauss, On the Beach

on the beach folded arms

Remember the oil spill–you know, Deepwater Horizon, millions of gallons spilled, disruption of both the ecosystem and the economy for years to come?  Oh, yeah, that spill, the one we’re now being told wasn’t so bad after all.  Somewhere between Monday Night Football and mid-term election coverage, a massive industrial disaster has sunk to the bottom of the Gulf.  Fortunately, Zoe Strauss has not forgotten, and her documentary project On the Beach is still available at this page.  If you take a look, you can begin to understand why the national news coverage never gets close to the story on the ground, which is that for too many people the US is a catastrophe, and one that has condemned them to internal exile.

Zoe is a progressive photographer and installation artist living in Philadelphia, PA.  Her book America offers profound witness to the people living amidst the faded strip malls, desolate urban spaces, and other scenes of abandonment that can be found across the US.  This is the other “real America,” one where people have to deal with a society that provides freedom and nothing else while lavishing its wealth elsewhere.  To her credit, Zoe never condescends, and her work is not another celebration of human dignity.  We are offered something at least as important in a democratic society: a view from inside their world.

You can learn more about Zoe’s work at her blog.


Photographer's Showcase: A Sense of Place

patrioit hat

Today NCN features work by Kay Westhues, who is documenting how rural history and traditions are interpreted and transformed in the present.  I encountered Kay’s work at the Evanston cultural center this past weekend, and was immediately struck by how she is able to show both the devastation and dignity of rural life.  People who are suffering catastrophic economic and civil decline often have little choice but to cling to patriotic and religious symbols–even as they are being largely abandoned by state and church alike.  Kay captures that predicament without condescension or mockery, and she seems to understand how people find a way to live within tattered legacies.  This is a portrait of the people at the bottom of the Real America, people who might be in the Tea Party if they were even that well off.

laundromat jets

You can see the rest of the exhibition here.

Kay lives in South Bend Indiana, where she and her partner, artist Jake Webster, run  a small gallery and performance space called Artpost.  She is currently working on a photo project about old artesian wells in the Midwest and the people who visit them; the project explores how these vestiges of the public commons continue to have meaning in contemporary rural life.  More information is available at her website.

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Photographer's Showcase: A (Southern) Civil Rights Memorial

Till, Store

We are pleased to introduce NCN readers to Jessica Ingram‘s “A Civil Rights Memorial,” a photographic exploration of the ways in which important moments in the struggle for civil rights in the American south are remembered—or perhaps more to the point, the ways in which such events risk being  forgotten as they fade into the landscape of time or are otherwise awkwardly remembered as part of the local context in which they occurred.  The above photograph  is the contemporary, unmarked site of of the store in Money, Mississippi where in 1955  Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, was accused of whistling at a white woman, an event that led to him being beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. To see the exhibit click here.

We first encountered Ingram’s work at the Visura Magazine Spotlight—a site designed to support emerging artists and students. It is a web resource that we strongly encourage NCN readers to visit.


Photographer's Showcase: Touching Strangers

“Bumping into strangers in the dark is a figure for democratic citizenship.”

— Danielle Allen, Talking to Strangers, 2004


When crowded onto an elevator we strain to fix our attention straight ahead and to avoid touching one another; when we can’t avoid the touching we try to find ways to ignore that it is happening.  These are habits of civic life in late modern society.  Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” exhibit challenges these habits by asking us to reflect upon them within the broader citizenship of photography.  The premise of his project is simple: Renaldi stops strangers on the street – strangers both to him and to one another – and asks them if they will consent to being photographed together while touching one another.  His catalog of photographs helps us to see how “notions of trust, love, social conventions and taboos are expressed through body language” and thus implicate the stranger relationality fundamental to life in late modern democratic public culture.

Those in the New York area can view his exhibit at The Gallery at Hermes through May 28, 2010.  For the rest you can see a selection of the exhibit here.  An interview with Rinaldi is available at Conscientious Extended.