Archive for July, 2009

Mitch Epstein: American Power

July 21, 2009
BP Carson Refinery, California 2007, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

BP Carson Refinery, California 2007, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

Mitch Epstein is best known for his photographs of American life. From the demise of his father’s small business, to society’s recreational idiosyncrasies, to the face of a changing New York City, Epstein delivers a style classified somewhere between conceptual and documentary, showing the ordinary in its extraordinary state. His switch from black and white to color photography in the 70s was one of the first to be accepted as “art”, and not just slick advertising, which is what color was used for before that time.

Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia 2004, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia 2004, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

Between 2003 and 2009, Epstein photographed the United States landscape and society as it related to energy production. “Energy tourism”– Epstein called it in an artist statement. He set out to photograph fossil fuel, nuclear, as well as green energy production sights, and their affects on the people, life, and environs directly surrounding it. They raise questions not only of western culture and its respective energy use, but also of shifting and often times unbalanced states of power– the power of nature vs. electrical power vs. political power vs. America’s power in terms of the global perspective.


Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California II 2007, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

Epstein visited 25 states over the past 6 years shooting nuclear power plants, wind farms, coal plants, and the Americans who live with them in their very own backyards. He did, however, encounter several setbacks. First was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which affected 30% of land in the US used for oil production. More oil refineries line the Gulf Coast than anywhere else in the country. Epstein shifted gears for this area turning his focus from oil production to the coast’s vulnerability in future natural disasters.

Biloxi, Mississippi 2005, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

Biloxi, Mississippi 2005, 70 x 92 inches, from American Power

For more images and information on American Power and other photographic projects by Mitch Epstein, please visit his website or NYC gallery.

American Power is available for pre-order on Amazon by clicking on the book.



Prix Pictet 2009 Shortlist Announced

July 10, 2009
Andreas Gursky, Untitled XIII, 2002

Andreas Gursky, Untitled XIII, 2002

From the official press release: GENEVA & ARLES, France– A shortlist of twelve outstanding international photographers, from which one will be selected later this year to receive the Prix Pictet, the world’s photography prize for environmental sustainability, was announced today at Europe’s leading photography festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles in France.

The prize is supported by Swiss bank Pictet & Cie. Photographers shortlisted for the £60,000 (CHF100,000) first prize are:

Darren Almond, UK; Christopher Anderson, Canada; Sammy Baloji, Congo; Edward Burtynsky, Canada; Naoya Hatakeyama, Japan; Andreas Gursky, Germany; Nadav Kander, South Africa; Ed Kashi, USA; Abbas Kowsari, Iran; Yao Lu, China; Edgar Martins, Portugal and Christopher Steele Perkins, UK.

The Prix Pictet is an annual search for photographs that communicate powerful messages of global environmental significance under a broad theme. This year the theme is ‘earth’. A Mexican garbage dump where people forage to sustain a pitiful existence; the changing landscape and displaced communities of China’s Yangtze River; the devastating impact of oil production in the Niger Delta; and the annual pilgrimage to the desert fronts of the Iran-Iraq war are among the subjects that feature in the work of this year’s shortlisted artists.

The submissions speak of the harmful and often irreversible effects of exploiting the earth’s resources and reflect on the immediate and long-term impact of unsustainable development on communities across the globe.

Earth’, a book published by teNeues, cataloguing the work of the Prix Pictet nominees will accompany this year’s prize and launched on 6 October at Purdy Hicks Gallery, London.

The winner will be announced by Kofi Annan, honorary president of the Prix Pictet, on 22 October 2009 at the Passage de Retz gallery, Paris. A further award, in the form of a commission for one of the shortlisted photographers to visit a region where Pictet & Cie are supporting a sustainability project, will be announced at the same time.

Prix Pictet will collaborate with FIAC (22 – 25 October), Paris’ major international contemporary and modern art fair, and Paris Photo, the world’s leading event for photography (19 – 22 November).

An independent jury of seven leading figures from the worlds of the visual arts and the environment, chaired by the photography critic, Francis Hodgson, made the selection from over 300 nominations put forward by the seventy Prix Pictet nominators – a group that includes leading critics, practitioners and curators.

Nicolas Pictet, Partner of Pictet & Cie, said ‘The calibre of the shortlisted work for this second year of the Prix Pictet illustrates how the issue of sustainability resonates throughout the artistic community. We strongly believe that by bringing these images to the attention of the world, Prix Pictet will further highlight the devastating effect climate change is having on our planet and ensure sustainability remains at the heart of global policy making.’

Awarding the inaugural Prix Pictet to Canadian photographer Benoit Aquin last October, Kofi Annan said: ‘It is my hope that the Prix Pictet will help to deepen understanding of the changes taking place in our world and raise public awareness about the urgency of taking preventative action.’


I’m not surprised to see most of the photographers who’ve made the shortlist, except for one. Edgar Martins. It’ll be very interesting to see if the latest controversy over the pulled NY Times images affects his candidacy negatively. The shortlist results came in only a few hours ago, and I would think the news of the controversy and ultimate withrawl of images from the NYT site hit France as soon as it did here in NYC, especially since the shortlist was announced from one of the largest photo festivals in the world.

I have been a fan Martins’ extensive bodies of work over the years, and loved Topologies. I find it hard however to now believe his black skies were all done within camera. I have no problem with darkroom techniques like dodging, burning, contrast or softening tools, etc. Or even with digital manipulation if that’s how it’s labeled. But to misrepresent your work in a way the public believes to be true goes against the ideology behind his work. Gursky on the other hand, while he doesn’t reveal the step-by-step process of his pictures, does say there is digital alteration and manipulation present in his work. Does it make it any less respectable? No, because it’s there for us to take into account and put into the context of his ideas and the respective images he creates from those ideas. Photographs are after all constructs of ideas that originate in less tangible forms.

Stay tuned on how this plays out in this most coveted of environmental photography prizes.

Sebastião Salgado: Genesis

July 3, 2009

Sebastiao Salgado one of the most well known photo journalists of our time. Over the past 36 years the Brazilian born photographer has been photographing developing countries and their respective communities showing us what these remote locations, their peoples, and their everyday lives entail. Salgado works in the humanitarian and social documentary vein, seeking out indigenous cultures as well as impoverished ones, with previous projects including migrant workers, displaced peoples, famine and war torn lands, and political issues. He uses photography as a means to the end, utilizing its immediate visual story telling capabilities as a tool to further urgent political and social issue based discussion.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

Salgado began his career as a professional photographer in Paris, in 1973, and worked with the photo agencies Sygma, Gamma, and Magnum Photos up till 1994, when he and Lélia Wanick Salgado created Amazonas images, an agency that exclusively handles his work. Together, Lélia and Sebastião have worked since the 1990’s on the restoration of a small part of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. In 1998 they succeeded in making this land a nature preserve and created Instituto Terra, whose mission is reforestation, conservation and environmental education.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

Salgado’s latest and probably the largest project to date is titled Genesis (which he says was not meant to invoke religious connotation), an environmental documentary project on a grandiose scale. While previously photographing the plight of various lands and its peoples, Salgado, an environmentalist, thought he needed to photograph the areas that have not been touched by humans, war, famine, pestilence, etc. To show the amazing and precious places that still exist on this planet is to bring to light how important and urgent their survival and preservation is. He hopes to make a difference in the larger environmental movement through his images of “pristine” places around the globe, taking him from 3 months in the Galapagos, to 500 miles trekking across the Ethiopian mountains. He has turned to focus from social systems to eco systems.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

The images are dark and moody, in a grainy black and white. And while I’ve learned that Salgado has recently switched to digital cameras, the images still appear consistent with his style and look for over the past 30 years. They are not to be confused with traditional journalistic imagery, as he subjects here aren’t seen from a voyeurs point of view. Instead Salgado engages with his subjects, be it African tribesmen, Russian bears, or Venezuelan forests. They are slightly romanticized, but not overly so. I think the aim for this project is to romanticize these places specifically for the purpose of showing viewers eco systems that yet remained untouched, but only for so much longer. They have to be shown in an elevated light in order to truly cause emotion and not just give information.

Salgado’s work is all about context. Nothing is static or still, even in an image that may appear still. The narrative present has a past and a future, we’re only glimpsing a moment in passing. There is a real sense of fluidity in his images, but a calculated fluidity as well. Technically, they are perfect. Composition, light, POV, angles, all come together in the frame. But, that is the means to an end as well. There is always a story behind each Salgado photograph, and his techniques are merely the language with which he tells these stories. The style or genre is not quite documentary, not quite fine art, but somewhere again, in flux, moving between the two never landing in one place or the other, just like his images.

Salgado says of this body of work, “I have named this project GENESIS because my aim is to return to the beginnings of our planet: to the air, water and the fire that gave birth to life, to the animal species that have resisted domestication, to the remote tribes whose ‘primitive’ way of life is still untouched, to the existing examples of the earliest forms of human settlement and organisation. A potential path towards humanity’s rediscovery of itself. So many times I’ve photographed stories that show the degradation of the planet, I thought the only way to give us an incentive, to bring hope, is to show the pictures of the pristine planet – to see the innocence. And then we can understand what we must preserve.” -Sebastião Salgado via Jori Finkel for the NY Times.

To see more of Salgado’s striking images on what looks to be a 12 years project, currently 4 already under his belt, please visit the Peter Fetterman gallery where he is represented by clicking here.

Further links to the NY Times article here and to the Guardian’s regular posts on Genesis as it progresses here.