Asuntos Fotográficos

Last week I read this article written by a WPP winner, and made me think a bit about it. In the end, I felt the need of writing about it.
 
I just won a World Press Photo and of course I am celebrating.
Why wouldn't I, given the fact that I submitted my work voluntarily? 
 
Awards do not exist only to feed photographer's ego. Awards exist to highlight two main dimensions: first, what has been covered, and how it was covered.
 
Awards are not only a career matter for the nominal winner, but also a message from the story makers to the media and policy makers. They are telling what they think is an important subject, and what's the best way to show it.
 
The visibility a feature gets when awarded is one of the keypoints on its way to reaching the main goal it was made for. When a feature is awarded, it gets clicks, therefore whatever this story is about, gets eyes on it.
 
As far as I am concerned, this is my job: make people pay attention to whatever matter I am shooting. I am but a small link of a much larger chain of people trying to change the world for the better. I use very different strategies to do my job. Sometimes I do pure journalism, while other times I tell stories in a more interpretative way. I couldn't care less wether one is more or less pure. There is a pertinent context for different kinds of features. My goal is to tell a story, and reach as many people as possible.
 
From the moment I see my Google Analytics climb to the sky, I am satisfied because thousands are watching a story about migration in the Mediterranean that I shot with the only purpose of being watched. 
 
Who knows? maybe an influential person has just found the drive to do whatever is in their hands. Maybe next monday morning there will be a conversation about migrants in the corridors at the EU Parliament. Maybe a young person has just discovered an issue they never heard of.
 
Awards make stories spread like pollen and encourage media to keep producing them.
 
From where I see it, when a story voluntarily submitted to WPP is awarded, it means the problem faced is a step closer to being solved. So yes, I do celebrate.

12 years ago I was awarded a WPPh for a photo I shot on a Kodack TMX film, of a volunteer during the cleaning of the spanish beaches, after an oil spill caused by the wrecking of oil tanker Prestige.

Today I am awarded a WPPh  for a short film I shot with a DSLR, and edited on my laptop. I witnessed a a rescue operation of 200 people who left the shores of Lybia and were found drifting in the Mediterranean sea. They were lucky enough to be efficiently rescued by the Italian Navy. Hundreds more have drowned in the sea trying to reach Europe. A disheartening story that needs coverage and spreading. Spreading is easy; covering is not so easy.

I am amazed that the digital revolution happend so fast. I am also amazed to see how the concept of photojournalism is challenged and healthier than ever at the same time.The way photographers have become narrative storytellers is the one big door that was opened and it's impossible to close back.

Moving image has always had this dimension of transcending the mere pictures. Sequencing, narrative, audio, music... old tricks well known by the cinema and documentary industries, applied now to a whole new world in which we carry screens with us 24 hours a day. More room for a personal view.

And this is only the beginning of a new promising landscape. We have figured out how to maximize the potential of multimedia devices. it's time now for the media groups to figure out how to make it sustainable. One thing is sure: some stories need to be told and spread, and cannot rely only on the willingness of freelancers like myself.

This story was possible only because El Pais Semanal decided to cover it. It wouldn't have been possible to get access without the initiative of a big media name. My friend, El Pais Semanal writer Guillermo Abril took all the steps for this production to actually happen. José Bautista, probably the best musician working with photographers around, added the tremendous music that accompanies the film. 

Today I am happy for me and for all those stories that are waiting to be told.

 

My 16 years old niece posts selfies on Instagram that are worth never less than 100 likes each. She lives in a small city in Andalucia, and as far as I know she doesn't have a large international network. Neither is she famous or has a popular blog. She is not one of those very well know youtubbers. She just posts selfies and photos of her boyfriend.

I have a nearly 15 years carreer as a photographer. I have 5 books published, and one of them became quite well known. Yes, I'm talking about The Pigs. Now: whenever I post a new reportage, exhibition, publication or whatever that has taken me weeks, months or years to achieve, I can be happy if I get 85 likes from my 3.000+ FB friends. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not jealous of my niece. I just see there's is something about internet popularity that I'm not getting.

Statistics suggest online popularity just cannot be taken as an indicator. Maybe, after all, I am just waisting precious hours in promoting my work online, while I should be producing better stuff and hand-writing letters to the 12 people that really matter in this business.

Online recognition is a monster always hungry and can never be satisfied. It's like an enormous and voratious pet who is not giving any emotional feedback, but we don't dare to kill.  Well, I am starting to think about abandoning it in a gas station. Would that be a crime, or the right thing to do?

I was in Winterthur Plattform 2014, remember? Yes, I showed my work here and there to different curators, and crossed my fingers to get an email to make an exhibition. And that email came all the way from China. Mrs. Yuting Duan, director of the 10 years old Lianzhou Foto Festival asked me to bring my Pigs to China, and be part of one of the biggest photofestivals of the World. After several months planning and working with the great Hu, Yuting Duan's assistant, we managed to design a nice enhibition.

The city of Lianzhou has been strategically appointed as the "City for Photography" in China by a Government commettee, which means they have put a big deal of their technical skills, intellectual capacity and budget to make it happen. As you know, whenever the chinese decide to do something, they do. The day of the inauguration there was a 20 m. leds screen that was used only once, to show a compilation of images from some past editions and some motion graphics while the festival was presented by different leaders.

More than 150 enhibitions, of which more than half were chinese photographers. Sadly there was almost no contact between the chinese and the western artists. I guess the language is still a barreer.

Among the western participants, I have to recall Yann Mingard, Thomas Sauvin, Liz Hingley, Matjaz Tancic and Sol Miraglia. I met for the first time also Madeleine Penny, the new Sunday Times Magazine Picture Editor and Marie Pierre Subtil from 6 Mois magazine. Vincent Marcilhacy from The Eyes and Xavier Soule from Galérie VU were there too. 

Mi exhibition was set in a semi-outdoors venue. It was well protected by young volunteers, although I had to insist a little bit to remove the water machine and a garbage can that were placed too close to my prnts, for my taste.

I'm glad I got all the captions translated. The local audience seemed very interested in knowing all about The Pigs, which I very much appreciated.

The transparent roof gave the perfect light during the day, while I had to insist some more to get artificial light for the dark hours.

In the end everything turned well, and The Pigs were perfectly visible during the closing party. My dear interpreter, Cara and her colleagues volunteers performed "3 Little Pigs" in front of the homonymous magazine you already know.

So I joined Panos.

Why would anyone join an agency today? Do we really need one? Can't we all just do some Social Media strategy and simply reach everyone by sharing what we've done? Can't we just produce amazing work and let it do the talk? Can't we work less but keep all the earnings for ourselves? 

Ever since I started doing photography I wanted to work with an agency. Who didn't want to be a Magnum photographer? Who didn't want to join VII when VII was super cool?. Vu was a dream for those working in the 80's, Corbis was large and hi-tech. I got to join Reportage by Getty years ago, a reportage agency backed by the absolute leader of commercial photo sales. Institute? cool, real alpha male in the jungle.

Panos was always an agency unique in its kind. Coming from an NGO background, really focused in social issues, with a special taste for underreported, and non obvious subjects. Many of the photographers I always took as references are Panos members. Some of them have been my friends, or I have been it touch with for years. Others have been in my radar, and now they are in my arm reach. Am I saying this because I want to look like a nice guy in front of the eyes of my new colleagues? No, but yes, I want them to know how good I feel after spending a couple days with them in London for the Annual General Meeting. I got to know the amazing Panos production crew, I heard some very inspiring talks, and I can confirm I do feel like I might have found the right place for me. 

What I percieve as the main feature of this agency is that the typical Panos photographer is basically a lone wolf who loves to have a gang to gather with now and then. Self-driven, proactive, imaginative and engaged people who are also able to share their knowledge. I like how Panos lets photographers go solo when they want to, but offer their support if required. Staff is smartly shifting the agency strategies towards a more broad-minded production house, able to enlagre its horizons in terms of project concepts, type of clients and cross-over productions. I think Panos has understood where is the documentary visual world going to and are ready to create their own standards.

Do I need this for working as I have been doing so far? Not really. Do I need this to make a better version of me and be part of something bigger? Yes, I think so. I will keep working in personal projects, making photobooks, exhibitions, videos, editorial features, and all the rest, but now I can count on a larger body, to be part or drive bigger projects and reach a bigger audience.

So here we go. Let's see what happens next.

 

I was in Cologne for the opening of the PhotoBook Museum, a project that is finally coming to life thanks to publisher Markus Schaden and his wonderfully and strongly motivated team, including Frederic Lezmi who almost failed to make it to the opening. I heard about the project about a year ago, and during all this time, we have been planning, designing exhibitions and crossing our fingers so that the project would one day be real. I arrived to Cologne a few days before the opening to set up my exhibition in a container. Carolyn Drake, Todd Hiddo, Cristina de Middel, Ricardo Cases, David Allan Harvey, Andrea Diefenbach, Stephen Gill, Ed Templeton and a few more great photographers joined in, and we had a great time during the long working days. It seemed to me that things were too much upside down just a couple days before the opening, but Markus seemed completely confident. And he was right, as usual. It was magic to see how they were able to reproduce the famous Café Lehmitz and really use it as a bar. The opening was quite busy: maybe up to 2.000 people joined the event. 

There were different exhibitions, set in various areas and structures. In the central area there were a group of shipping containers, each one containing an exhibition. The Pigs was in one of them, and I was super happy to see the container always crowded, full of people.

Just to give an idea of what the mood was like, I’ll only say that I danced to club music. The last time that had happened before, was when “club” was a word used mainly for men-only cigar smokers associations. Needles to say that the presence of Emaho Magazine editor, Manik Katyal and dancing king Wolfgang Zurborn was a decisive circumstance. I finally met Federica Chiocchetti who teamed up with other italian mobsters such as Andrea Botto. I met and had a nice conversation with Andrea Diefenbach and spent a lot of time with Marco Cortesi, director of Lugano FotoDays Festival, where my little pigs are travelling very soon.

I know what you're thinking: "are you ever going to stop dropping names?" Yes, I'm done.

I was also part of the jury for the Kassel Dummy Award. We met, we discussed, and we chose the 1+2 winners.  Among the shortlisted there were grteat dummies. Some of them too overworked (don't do that, people) and others too amateur-looking on purpose (don't do that either). Kassel's director, Dieter Neubert wrote a short text containing the jury's basic outputs.

All in all I had a wonderful time, and I’m pretty sure that the PhotoBook Museum will have a long and healthy life after the temporary set will start its itinerancy. Keep your eyes open, and follow the containers trail. It won’t be difficult, as you may simply find them round the corner in one of the main photo meetings next year.

 

Barely 3 weeks from now I will be in Cologne for the grand opening of the PhotoBookMuseum, an initiative by Markus Schaden and his team, that is destined to be one of the most significant events related to the photobook culture. “The Pigs” will be exhibited in a container, along with David Alan harvey’s “Based in true facts”, De Middel’s “Afronauts” and many other great books and photographers. There are going to be workshops, talks, a bookshop, and most importantly, this great exhibition is going to start a World Tour for the next two years. Will the PhotoBook Museum become a reference for the coming photographers, designers, publishers and everyone involved in the peculiar business of photo book making? It looks like this could be the natural development of events. 

Earlier this summer I went to Dublin to attend the PhotoIreland Festival, which I found very nice in all aspects. Nice exhibitions, very nice talks, and interesting open debates. Of course, as usual, a lot happens too after the formal talks, around a Guinness. I felt like in a cozy, privileged insider's meeting.

Right after that, my family and I went to Arles, where I met most of the people I wanted to meet, and saw some interesting things. The one I liked best was the the exhibition of chinese books curated by Martin Parr. The use of  torches to see in the darkened building was particularly nice for my 5 years old child, who otherwise wouldn’t have endured such a thoughful activity. For me it was a needless sophistication, but all in all it was good.

As everyone has already said, the Cosmos meeting point was the place to be, and the Archive of Modern Conflict had the most trendy display, with those old suitcases. And I liked their book “The night climbers of Cambridge".

If I am forced to say what's the one thing I would save in an earthquake, I would say Patrick Willocq amazing photos.

From a personal point of view, It was great. I was awarded the lacritique.org - Voies Off Award, and that makes me clearly happy.

Ok, but where is the controversy?

Calm. Here it goes.

During this summer I have been asked 4 times wether I had taken the photos in The Pigs, or they were collected from Internet. The first time I was asked this question, I looked at the young girl like “Wtf are you talking about?, are you serious?”. Yes, she was serious as a brain tumor. My first reaction was a bit like: “you see, I’m very old fashion, and I love to take my own photos. The love of shooting is the root of me being a photographer. Otherwise, I could go back to my old advertising agency job and get a salary for picking other people’s photographs”.

In Lausanne, Dublin and Arles I have seen really many books made out of photos taken by others. Something that used to be a taboo, like taking other people’s work and present it like yours, is now not only well accepted, but encouraged and super trendy. The idea that taking photos is no longer needed nor necessary, because photography has become a commodity lies in the base of the principle that promotes this trend. The idea of remix vs the idea of creation from draft is clear, and easy to understand. Somehow, it has been around for more than 100 years, when Duchamp first declared that everything can be art, if we all accept it is. So, nothing really new. Just a new way of avoiding one of the most difficult tasks for a photographer: go out and make damned good photos. Making good photos (relevant, pertinent, well crafted) has always been extremely difficult. Contrary to the popular belief, today is not easier than it used to be. Today is a lot more difficult, because the average standard has risen so high, that for photographers, to do something that makes sense, they really need to squeeze their brains a lot harder than they used to. 

I’m a big fan of conceptual works. I love projects when they have really deep conceptual foundings. But that said, I don’t remember any experience similar to knowing that you have just captured in a frame exactly what you were expecting to capture. This is no conceptual matter. This is like going downhill on a bike, or drinking cold beer in summer. This is epidermic pleasure. Almost animal, primitive. 

Does that mean I don't like Andrea Botto's 19-06_26-08-1945? No. First, because it's a very nice book. Then, because he is a very nice guy, and then because he also has Ka-Boom, which is an explosion of photography.

It’s great that art directors, designers, critics, theorists, curators and teachers play with photography. But guys, try to go out and shoot. Try until you make one photo that makes you thrill. There is nothing like that. And there is also no shortcut, no way around. There’s only you and the world in front of you. No intro text will replace the power of a perfect (to you) image, the same way no DJ will ever feel like a piano player.

Also, consider this: when you are about to die, you may remember some of your great shots. I seriously doubt that you will remember your artist statement that explains why and how you didn’t take a photo of something.

Last weekend I was in Lausanne for La Nuit des Images, organized by Le Musée de l'Elysée. It was good to show The Pigs on a screen to a very educated audience, although the rain made the screening a bit challenging. The atmosphere was kind, clean and super polite, as everything usually is in Switzerland. Children were taken in more consideration than adults, and that should be taken as a real compliment, because that makes adults very happy. The only way to make parents go to cultural activities is to think about children as one of the core matters to take care of, not like something you can solve with a baloon clown. Besides that, food was good, and drink comes in bottles, so it's good everywhere.

I won't mention any names, because anyway can't remember them, but some of the screenings I saw were a bit boring to me. Ale hop. I said it. Maybe I am becoming like old men, who need to eat extra salty and spicy to feel any taste. Or maybe they are serving tasteless vegan food too often.

Instead, I saw one of the most astonishing films I have seen so far: Roger Ballen's Asylum of the Birds.

Ever asked yourself wether Roger Ballen photos showed real people or staged fake freaks? Here you have your answer.  Just one thing: don't show this to ultra sensitive people or children. You would create an impossible to erase trauma for no reason. For the rest of us, already half the way to the grave, it's just amazing.

Oh, yes, the good old times -when I used to write posts telling the world my photowisdom- are gone.

Now this in no longer a blog. This is a news page where I share whatever I am doing (and I'm proud of).

That is why the front page stays unchanged for weeks and weeks. One can't be doing cool stuff all the time. No matter how hard I try, I am always trapped between the last cool thing I did and the next one. In between there is a lot of email writing, researching and of course, real life.

A few days ago I was in Barcelona for the opening of the Foto Colectania Foundation exhibition "Here and Now: spanish photobooks". 

I particularly loved the place. Not enormous, not small either. A nice size, able to hold an 8 photographers exhibition without feeling overcrowded.

I'd say some 100 people came to the opening. We had an open debate between the photographers and visitors, among them Joan Fontcuberta, Ramón Reverté, Jesús Micó and other well known names among photobook lovers.

The conversation was mainly about wether this photobook boom is a real thing, or just another (PIGS style) bubble that is bursting at any moment. We also discussed how to make the non-insider buy photobooks. There were more that two opinions regarding this. From where I see it, a photographer should focus in matters that are interesting for everyone, try to package the story in a viewer friendly and not too expensive way, and of course, spend some time promoting the book. Whoever is not willing to include the viewer when thinking a new project should not complain if they sell less than 200 books. 

I spent a few minues talking abouth The Pigs to journalists. They reacted with a few discreet laughs. I believe no matter how serious, or even sad your story is, people always enjoy funny anecdotes. You know what they say: people forget what you say, but they don't forget how you make them feel. So I try to make them feel ok.

I have translated The Pigs into an exhibition by photographing the magazine itself at two different distances. In one you see the whole spread, so the image is there, and the paper is there too. The paper form of the project is always present. The other close up is more dramatic: you can see the printing pattern, and even the macro details of the paper. I show 3 important things together: the image, the paper, and the detail you should pay attention to. Of course, anyone is welcome to think they would rather focus on some other parts of the photo. This will eventually lead me to make more closeups, and make the exhibition larger. One interesting thing is that you will never get the real aspect of the exhibition if you don't see it in person. A computer screen will always blend the dots of the printing grid, so there you have a reason to fly from wherever you are, go to Barcelona and spend a few minutes in front of The Pigs On a Wall.

10 months after The Pigs was published, after dozens of reviews on some of the most reputed publications and a couple awards, The International New York Times has published a "Page Two" about it. This makes me happy, so I'm sharing it. 

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About this blog

In 2008 I started to write a weekly post about people and issues related to photography, with a wide range of subjects.

Archived Blog 2008-2013

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