The Getty Center – Documentary Photography Since the Sixties Exhibit
Image by Al_HikesAZ
The architecture is stunning, but what The Getty Center does best is presenting exhibits. This was a powerful exhibit. There was no way a single photograph I might take of this Exhibit could convey the depth and power of what these photographers have accomplished. I just gazed and marvelled. I don’t know if the description of the exhibit will stay on the Getty website, so I’ve appended most of it here for my future reference.
Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties.
In the decades following World War II, an independently minded and critically engaged form of photography began to gather momentum. Its practitioners have combined their skills as artists and reporters, creating extended photographic essays that delve deeply into topics of social concern and present distinct personal visions of the world.
Engaged Observers looks in depth at projects by a selection of the most vital photographers who have contributed to the development of this approach. Passionately committed to their subjects, they have authored evocative bodies of work that are often published extensively as books and transcend the realm of traditional photojournalism.
Philip Jones Griffiths
Philip Jones Griffiths described the scene he photographed in this image:
"Limits of friendship. A Marine introduces a peasant girl to king-sized filter-tips. Of all the U.S. forces in Vietnam, it was the Marines that approached ‘Civic Action’ with gusto. From their barrage of handouts, one discovers that, in the month of January 1967 alone, they gave away to the Vietnamese 101,535 pounds of food, 4,810 pounds of soap, 14,662 books and magazines, 106 pounds of candy, 1,215 toys, and 1 midwifery kit. In the same month they gave the Vietnamese 530 free haircuts."
Vietnam Inc., Philip Jones Griffiths’ 1971 critical account of America’s armed intervention in Southeast Asia, is one of the most detailed photographic stories of a war published by a single photographer. The project’s exploration of the war’s failures and its focus on civilians made it a particularly engaging and ambitious work of advocacy journalism. Griffiths put the conflict in the context of Vietnam’s history and culture, showing how Capitalist values that America promoted in its efforts to contain the spread of Communism were out of sync with Vietnam’s communal and agrarian way of life
While in Germany in 1962, Leonard Freed saw a black American soldier guarding the divide between East and West Berlin. He was haunted by the idea of a man standing in defense of a country in which his own rights were in question. The experience ignited Freed’s interest in the American civil rights movement. In June 1963 he embarked on a multiyear documentary project, published in about 1968 as Black in White America, which would become the signature work of his career.
The series is a visual diary with a moralizing purpose. Freed quickly found that his interests lay in exploring the diverse, everyday lives of a community that had been marginalized for so long. Penetrating the fabric of daily existence, his work portrays the common humanity of a people persevering in unjust circumstances. This empathetic approach sought not to stimulate outrage but to foster understanding and bridge cultural divides as a way of transcending racial antipathy.
W. Eugene and Aileen M. Smith
In 1971 W. Eugene and Aileen M. Smith were told of a controversy over industrial pollution in the Japanese fishing village of Minamata. Beginning in the 1950s, thousands of people were severely affected by mercury poisoning, brought about by eating fish contaminated with chemical waste dumped in the bay by the Chisso Corporation. The ailment, which became known as Minamata Disease, caused irreversible brain damage, paralysis, and convulsions.
In 1978 Susan Meiselas traveled to Nicaragua where she witnessed the eruption of a full-scale revolution against the country’s repressive, hard-line government. Meiselas was taken by the bravery of those willing to risk their lives against the dictatorship for the promise of a better future. The record of her movements around the country formed a narrative about the insurrection’s progress. Meiselas made a decision—at the time, unusual in serious war reportage—to record the revolution on color film, because it seemed appropriate for capturing the vibrancy and optimism of the resistance.
Mary Ellen Mark
Mary Ellen Mark has reported on the state of our social environment for more than four decades. In 1983 she traveled to Seattle to do an article for Life magazine on runaway children. She built trust with the community of runaways living in the downtown area, and created pictures that show teenagers who survived on tough streets through petty crime, prostitution, foraging in dumpsters, and panhandling. Mark’s compositions are striking and uncomfortable, emphasizing her subjects’ youth while capturing them engaged in activities beyond their years.
After publishing the article in Life, Mark continued to develop the story as both a documentary film and still photography book with her husband, filmmaker Martin Bell, and reporter Cheryl McCall. The Streetwise project gave individuality and visibility to the problem of runaway children and called for greater social and political commitment to addressing America’s epidemic of broken families.
Photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has built her reputation as a chronicler of mainstream American culture. In 2002 she published Girl Culture, a photographic project that delves into the ways consumer society affects the lives of women in America. Of central concern to Greenfield was the exhibitionist tendencies of contemporary American femininity.
In 1989 Larry Towell came into contact with members of a Mennonite community (a Protestant sect related to the Amish) near his home in Canada. The Mennonites Towell befriended had migrated to Canada from Mexico in search of seasonal work. Due to shrinking water tables in Mexico, the effects of international trade, and a rising population in the colonies, many Mennonites have found themselves landless and economically marginalized, forced to compromise their beliefs in order to survive. Towell eventually joined them in their treks back to Mexico for the winter and spent 10 years photographing their activities. He had unique access to capture their struggle to preserve a lifestyle incongruent with the world they depend upon
Trained in economics before taking up photography, Sebastião Salgado has used his camera to raise awareness of the world’s economic disparities and provoke discussion about the state of our international social environment. Between 1994 and 1999 Salgado pursued an enormous project to document migrant populations around the world. Published in 2000 as Migrations: Humanity in Transition, this epic work documents people across 43 countries who have been uprooted by globalization, persecution, or war.
Salgado’s work is marked by an aesthetic grace that endows his subjects with dignity even as it communicates the discomfort of their circumstances. His photographs are constructed with careful attention to dramatic lighting, elegant contours, and striking visual impact. Ultimately, Salgado sees himself as a storyteller and a communicator, a bridge between the fortunate and the unfortunate, the developed and the undeveloped, the stable and the uprooted.
James Nachtwey has dedicated himself to delivering an antiwar message by documenting those around the world affected by conflict. In 2006 he traveled with emergency medical units in Iraq for a photo essay, The Sacrifice, that depicts helicopter transfers from battle sites to treatment centers, emergency rooms where lives hang in the balance, and the difficult process of recovery.
In anticipation of exhibiting the series, Nachtwey created a monumental installation print of 60 individual trauma-center images, tightly framed and digitally collaged into a grid. The object’s sheer size—in which one picture gives way to the next in a seemingly endless stream of torn flesh, metal instruments, snaking tubes, and bloodied hands—conveys a sense of the controlled chaos that permeates these medical centers as well as the overwhelming volume of casualties flowing through the medics’ hands on a daily basis.
Nachtwey’s intentionally unsettling work demands that we reconcile the goals and achievements of armed conflict with its human costs, that we be prepared to acknowledge in particular visual terms the sacrifice it entails and the valiant work of those who do their best to mend its path of destruction.
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