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365 Ways to Look at a Self-Portrait

The 365 Days project is a group of people dedicated to making one photographic self-portrait every day for a year.  Although I usually don’t pay attention to snapshot photography, the photos are posted at Flickr and now comprise an archive of 980,819 photos by roughly 18,000 people.  One way or another, this trove is a resource for thinking about how ordinary people use photography as a way of developing their own capacity of self-expression.  The photographs often are both personal and public, artistic and conventional, evocative and alienating, and otherwise both thoroughly familiar and yet uncanny.  And for better or worse, each has something to say about what it means to be a person.

David Sutton face

This self-portrait was taken by David Sutton, a friend whose daily pics brought the project to my attention.  David is a professional photographer and so perhaps not the best example of the group for that.  Nonetheless, I was surprised to see how much his images exposed dimensions of his inner world that weren’t obvious amidst the banter of our conversations in an Evanston coffee shop.  The camera becomes a confidante, and then puts the public into not that role but something like it.

David Sutton eye

And so one might learn more than one wishes to know, particularly as the days go by and the photographer is pushed to experiment.  This image may reveal much more about David’s aesthetic background than his personality–although we can’t be sure about that–and thus the shift into the more artistic mode reveals another dimension of portraiture, which is an exploration of both social types and the realm of the inchoate that necessarily accompanies categorization without and within.

That possibility of seeing what lurks within and between the many mundane images of everyday people may be the surest appeal, and value, of 365 Days.  So it is that when looking for the image of a person, it may not matter at all who is in the picture.

latent image face

David Sutton is a working photographer with a studio in Evanston, Il.  The third photograph is from latent_image at Flickr.


Earth Day + 1: Aric Mayer on Home and Wildness

By guest correspondent Aric Mayer:

Aric Mayer Turtle Kiddie Pool

For the past three years I have been working on an intimate body of photographs [the slide show can be seen here] made within walking distance of my home and studio. Our property is in the middle of an orchard, parts of which have been left to go feral, the trees growing towards their natural grizzled tangle, while other parts have been bulldozed and prepared for development, only to be left for the weeds and the thistle.

For a time it has been a place grounded between categories, neither kempt nor wild. I have come to see it as a kind of crucible within which local tensions are played out in ways with global significance.

Probably the most significant issue of our lifetimes will be the emergence of global climate change as a consequence of human development. How we picture living with nature has everything to do with what we can imagine as a response to looming catastrophe.

There have been sets of parallel visual expectations that emerged over the last 50 or so years, on the one side there is a vision of nature as pristine ala Eliot Porter’s The Color of Wildness, and on the other side a vision of the American suburb that is bulldozed flat, gridded off and built up in a completely controlled fashion. Over the last few years, that American vision of the huge housing development has become quickly associated with decay and entropy as so many sit unfinished and empty, partially built and partially ruined. Suburbia and wildness developed mutually exclusive visions were neither had room for the other, and yet both have to exist.

A successful city is generally imagined as completely counter-entropic. It is permanent progress. Fully realized. In contrast, nature is understood to be cyclical. It is a system where the counter-entropy/entropy tension is contained and fully resolved within a system that is sustainable. An organism is generated, feeds, grows, dies and decays, returning its components completely to the ecosystem.

There is a dialectical tension between the constant effort required to sustain a counter-entropic city and the tendency of nature to absorb everything into a cyclical rhythm of growth and decay. As Carl Jung said in his essay “Alchemical Studies,” “Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose.”

This interaction between home and wildness has profound psychological implications for it mirrors the evolution of human consciousness itself. A similar and analogous set of tensions is played out in the interaction between consciousness and unconsciousness, the first being the creator of technology and home, and the second being a product of nature, emerging from millions of years of evolution. These exist in dynamic tension, in constant movement to dominate or subsume the other. In fact, the history of development is in a sense the history of human consciousness, with many of the same tensions and contradictions.

Cross-posted from Aric’s blog.


Photographer's Showcase: Handprints of Peace

Handprints of Peace

During the 1998-1999 Kosovo/Serbian conflict more than 45,000 displaced Kosovar Albanians were saved in a refugee camp in the Macedonia town of Cegrane—that is more than three times the size of the town itself.  As they were leaving the camp to return to their homes in Kosovo the refugees left their handprints on the outer walls of the town that protected them as a sign of “freedom, peace, and gratitude.”  Subsequently, the meaning of the handprints have been forgotten in the town and the walls are slated for demolition. Boryana Katsavora’s photo gallery “Handprints of Peace” seeks to recover and to memorialize a humanist moment in history at which strangers reached out to help one another at great risk to themselves.

We are pleased to introduce  Boryana Katsavora, a Bulgarian-Russian documentary photographer, and her work to the NCN audience. To view “Handprints of Peace” click on the image photograph.  To sample Katsavora’s other work click here or visit her blog.


Photographer's Showcase: On The Fringe at Carnaval


Peter Turnley, a frequent contributor at NCN, returns this week with his most recent work from the recent Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.  The Rio Carnaval is one of the largest annual public festivals in the world, and it is not hard to find  photo slide shows that feature the colors and the “flair, charisma, spontaneity, sensuality and joy” of the event so emblematic of life in Brazil.  In this photo essay Peter turns the attention of his lenses away from the main event—the parades and dance competitions that take place in the  Sambodromo, the stadium of Samba—to the fringes of the celebration that include everything from preparation to aftermath.


To view the photo essay click here.


Photographer's Showcase: Shaped By War

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin

Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, England

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 10.42.26 PM

For more than 50 years, Don McCullin’s images have shaped our awareness of modern conflct and its consequences. His courage and integrity, as well as the exceptional quality of his work, are a continuing inspiration and influence worldwide.  The Imperial War Museum is collaborating with McCullin in  featuring a major exhibition of over 200 photographs, objects, magazines and personal memorabilia that shows how war has shaped the life of this exceptional photographer and those across the globe over that past five decades.  The exhibit runs in the Special Exhibitions Gallery of the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England, from February 6 to June 13, 2010.  It is free to the public and will travel to Bath (September to November, 2010) and London (October 2011-January 2012).  To see a slide show of McCullin’s photographs click here, to see a brief interview with him click here.

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Photographer's Showcase: Locked and Found


Locked and Found” is part of Robert Gumpert’s “Take A Picture, Tell a Story” project begun while working on a short documentary concerning the closing of San Francisco’s County Jail 3, the oldest count jail in California at the time.  He had the idea of connecting photographs of inmates with whatever story they wanted to tell except for a story of an open case.  The project  began in 2006 and is regularly updated.  To see the archive of photos and to hear the stories click here or on the above photograph  of Thaddeus Stevens and Roy Westry taken in August 2009.

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Photographer's Showcase: On the Outside Looking In

ScreenDesertification 2009 shot 2010-02-25 at 6.44.19 PM

We are pleased to introduce NCN readers to Impact, an exploratory online exhibition site inaugurated by the Resolve collective of photographers and creative professionals and designed  to feature the work of independent photographs as they address a common theme or topic.  The initial theme is “On the Outside Looking In.”  The photograph above  is from Sean Gallagher’s “Desertification Unseen.”

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Remembering Iraq

We are pleased to welcome Joel Preston Smith to our Photographer’s Showcase at NCN.  These images from the early phase of the war in Iraq can be see as aides-memoire for a war already fading into oblivion, and as reminders that war ravages time–by filling it with terror, and creating vast stretches of boredom, and making lifetimes prisons, and giving all that happened the unreality of floating outside of ordinary experience.  Let’s take a moment, then, to look back, as guided by this photographer.

Most of the images I took as a freelancer in Iraq in 2003 cover Iraqi social life, which I felt was overlooked (as it usually is) during the conflict. I hadn’t wanted to illustrate Iraqis as victims, exclusively, but it’s easy to get the impression from such images—that their lives are composed only of sorrow. The same might be said of U.S. troops, in that most images attempt to project them solely as heroes or villains, rather than as people living and working in extremely difficult circumstances.

Al Quds Militiawoman

An Al-Quds militiawoman pauses during an anti-American demonstration in Tikrit, Iraq. The military parade featured roughly 45,000 civilians in an exhibition of Iraqi resistance to U.S. forces. The annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Militia parade honors the Feb. 8 birthday of Sadaam Hussein, who was born in a hamlet just outside Tikrit.

Ammar Shakar in death, Baghdad

Physicians at Medicine City Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, attempt to revive gunshot victim Ammar Shackar, 26. Shackar had been shot in the left tibia 10 days earlier, according to his physicians. He subsequently developed sepsis (bacteria in his bloodstream), and became edemic as his kidneys failed.

Ammar Shakar's mother unconscious

Ammar Shackar’s mother lies unconscious at Medicine City Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. Physicians had just informed her that her son, 26, had just died in the emergency room.

Daour Mathoub in fear, Baghdad

Daour Mathoub, 12, at the height of fear, while watching the American movie Letters from a Killer on television at her family’s apartment in Baghdad, Iraq. Mathoub is transfixed by a scene in the film in which a red-headed woman, in a New Oreleans apartment, pursues Patrick Swayze with a knife.

Stabbed by uncle, Baghdad

A patient, who said he’d been stabbed by his uncle, waits for treatment while being supported on a gurney by friends at Ali Amouck hospital (also transliterated as Al-Yarmouk Hospital), Baghdad, Iraq.

Soldier Swims Euphrates River, Ar Ramadi

A U.S. Army truck driver from Iowa swims in the Euphrates River, Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Sadaam Hussein’s captured Northern Palace lies in the distance.

Joel Preston Smith is the author of Night of a Thousand Stars and Other Portraits of Iraq (Nazraeli Press: 2006). He teaches photojournalism at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Ore. His website is here. His book is available at Photo-Eye, here.


Pictures of the Year

“I have been a witness and these photographs are my testimony.”  James Nachtway

‘Tis the season for the multiple lists of photographic retrospectives.  The first to cross our in-box include this special issue from Time magazine that begins with a introductory letter from Richard Stengel titled, “A Window on Momentous Events.”  We will list additional retrospectives as they become available, so keep coming back to check in over the next several weeks.


Additional Retrospectives:  Big Picture 1, 2, 3, Pictures of the Decade; NYTNYT-Documenting the Decade;  AOL: The People’s Choice, Editor’s Choice; LA Times; Charlotte Observor; Washington Post: Best of the Decade, Best of 2009; Chicago Tribune; Wall Street Journal; New Yorker

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