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Wednesday, 23 September 2009


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A couple more contenders who didn't make the cut...

Aw Mike, admit it. If Lynsey wasn't a Badger you would never have posted this article.

Seriously, though, congratulations to Lynsey Addario. There's some terrific pj work on her site.

Thanks for posting this Mike - the pictures by Ms Addario are really stunning and she is obviously both incredibly brave and very talented. I've spent a good while looking at the work on her site and, whilst the human degradation and evil of all sorts is compelling, my favourite picture is actually no. 8 in the "Turkey: The Secular and the Islamic" section - made me laugh out loud, really.

Well, I took pictures of a MacArthur "genius" a few times. Pretty good music, if free jazz is your thing, I would imagine. Me, I could just enjoy the raw energy of it all.

Stunning work... touching and powerful. Award well deserved.

Wow, that photo is really nice to look at, it almost looks like a painting (near perfect with imperfection composition and colour).

I wish I had one shot as good as that, she seems to have managed many (looking at her website).

Well-deserved I'd say.

The MacArthur "genius" grant is only awared to U.S. citzens or to people resident in the U.S.
Thus, Lynsey Addario must be a U.S. citizen. Or did they recently change the rules? (which would be good).

Anyhow, this is excellent news! Many congratulations!

Astounding photography!

When someone just has it, you instantly recognize it, with no doubting whatsoever.

Thanks Mike, for turning me onto Lynsey.

I like that photo. Reminds me of Christmas.

Lynsey is terrific.

Addario is an American, born in Norwalk, Connecticut. Took a BA in International Relations from Madison in 1995 and began work as a photographer with the Buenos Aires Herald the next year with no previous experience, returning one year later as a freelancer for the Associated Press. After 3 years in New York she decamped to New Delhi for 8 months to shoot around India, Nepal, and Afghanistan. Full bio here.

I've known many photographers over the years, many highly talented individuals who were every bit a genius, the likes of whom you will never hear simply because they had neither the money nor the influence to finance the airfares, accommodation, and equipment to take them to exotic locations and have their resultant work published when they got back. I'm sure many contributors here have too.

Any young photographers reading this post please bear this in mind if you are in any way inspired by this example. Look around you first and see if there is anyone in your life who'd be willing and able to back you.

It's a truth not often told but one that can save a lot of aspiring young photographers a lot of grief.

We Photographers have to all admire Lynsey's courage and talent to accomplish so much in such a short time.
Congratulations to Lynsey for the MacArthur Grant. Use it wisely it is such a wonderful gift.

Very impressive portfolio, its a well deserved award.

When I read about this "Genius Award" I was rather surprised. I never heard about it.
Frankly I have to say it is good that such a things exists.
I have looked at her images and yes they are interesting and I can imagine some done in difficult situations and of course they let us know about difficulties in the world far from us (mostly ;-).
But don't you feel that this is somehow very often in recent period? That we are exposed to all problems around us? Is it because we should be encourage by it to act, be responsible to change or is it just a popular and therefore sell-able? (not referring to grand and her receiver)

In my own work as a photojournalist I met another of the recipients of this award and found him to be as inspired and inspirational as one would have a "genius" be.
I must admit I never expected to see a photojournalist honored in this way. That may well go to the pinnacle of achievements I've heard of for a p/j.

As you hinted but did not explicitly point out, the MacArthur Foundation itself has never used the term "Genius" when describing these fellowships. That term is applied by others, sometimes with disdain if they are rivals of the recipient or critics of the recipient's work.

It is also a term that is often rejected or at least radically played down by recipients, who didn't ask to be called that and know that it can build unrealistic expectations (and not a little criticism about any less-than-perfect work).

Details on the program here: http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.959463/k.9D7D/Fellows_Program.htm

Thanks very much Mike for pointing out the impressive work of this photographer.

Now that I've looked at that photo a few more times -- can we talk about it?

In particular, why does it work? (Remembering that it exists as a journalistic photo; it doesn't live and die solely on artistic merit here, but artistic merit adds impact to a journalistic photo.)

Because there are a lot of things that bother me about it. Cutting off the top of the tree in the middle at that point bugs me some. Putting the old woman and the farmers as such small pieces in the photo allegedly about them seems strange. I don't find much leading my eye around, and the old woman is pretty much smack in the center.

The first thing that strikes me about it when I see it is the color palette, which is really nice. Good light that day (hour? minute?), looks like. The muted colors on the distant mountains are less muted than you often see, so they're more interesting, they contribute more. The sky is very nice of course. The two trees echo shapes rather well, and isn't the woman tilted at exactly the angle the two trees are?

This photo doesn't leave me thinking much about the woman and the men, or her economic plight, though. Maybe it's more effective as art than as journalism?

Sour grapes, David?

Lynsey Addario has earned this award.

I was afraid that might happen. I tried to make clear that I thought the picture *does* work, and that what I'm trying to do is understand *how* it works, to learn from it; but apparently I didn't get that across (at least to Roger).

I'm not in competition with Lynsey Addario, sour grapes doesn't apply at all.

FWIW I think it works because of the fluffy green tree that looks soft and painterly, the fact that it is difficult to immediately recognise what story the picture is telling, the fact that there is a story, and the dominance of green in the picture overall. The fact that is is of a rarely-photographed area is also interesting, as is, of course, the fact that it is nicely exposed and in focus (well duh).

Why "sour grapes"? Can't we discuss the image? People critique Picasso and Klee and whatnot, but this is beyond it? Strange.

I'm actually happy David voiced his opinion, because I felt like an idiot thinking "this image is beautiful to look at--but doesn't work as an illustration of its description at all". I mean--the woman isn't even looking at the young men, so how do we get she's "waiting"? And how do we get she's waiting for a few extra spuds? The image may well tell a story, but not the one we're told it is (she might as well be on the lookout while her grandsons are stealing the sacks :)) And on that level, it fails--no matter that it may be (and I think, is) a great photograph (and that the portfolio shows that the artist deserves all she gets.)

"I mean - the woman isn't even looking at the young men, so how do we get she's 'waiting'?"

You know because the reporter told you so...in the caption. A photojournalist is a reporter every bit as much as a reporter who uses words to make statements. The photographs themselves tell some specifics, and they "pick out" facts to tell to agglomerate into a story, and they do tend to reinforce the believability of what's being claimed. But they're not stories. With photojournalism we need to remember that the person behind the camera is a reporter first (or is working with a reporter) and that's why they're responsible for the truth of what they're telling you. A picture with a false caption violates the tenets of journalism every bit as much as a made-up news story does.


DD-B, please take a look at the Constable on this page:


Notice the pallette? And the part of the painting occupied by the human figure?

Yes, Addario's photo is quite reminiscent of that (and other similar) painting. As Herman said, near perfect with all of its imprefections.

Ahh, texture of the tree. Yes, that probably is contributing, and the particular green there is striking and combines to help draw attention there.

And while cutting the top of the tree off does bother me, pulling back even farther to include it all might not have been possible, AND would make the people even less prominent, which would be a problem when they're part of the story being told.

Ludovic: we can be idiots together :-).

But also, we're seeing the picture in isolation, whereas it was taken with some sort of story in mind, and it may work better as part of the story when it IS part of the story.

It's a striking photo, and it breaks a lot of the rules-of-thumb for composition. And I'm struggling with trying to understand composition on a higher level, so looking at things that work for me and are widely agreed to be good, but go beyond the simple rules, is something I'm trying to pursue. And trying to figure out what makes those photos work.

In *no* way was I suggesting she was "lying". I was only saying that, to me, the image - while, again, to be sure, a great one - "failed" in that it did not convey what the caption told, that's all.

And also, more generally, that despite some people's opinions, anyone was, or should be, fair subjects for fair critique.

"And I'm struggling with trying to understand composition on a higher level"


Photographs aren't composed.

They're taken.

At best...recognized. Sometimes only after the fact.


David- You're gonna need to go a wee bit beyond "looking at things that work for me and are widely agreed to be good." That's pretty much a fairly accurate description of "mediocrity." And although we may all start (and end up) there, it should be the very last thing we actively strive for.

If you're just starting out, you should be looking at everything, absorbing everything, questioning everything- until you develop your own style, and then either continue to refine it or change it all over again...

"Photographs aren't composed. They're taken. At best...recognized. Sometimes only after the fact."

Deep comment, there, Mike. And I'm sure 100% accurate especially when speaking of the types of pictures made by photojournalists. However, I couldn't help but think back to the lively discussion that developed in response to your posting the other day on Richard Renaldi-- in particular the speculating back and forth as to whether the picture of the young man hacking at the palm fronds was posed ("composed") or not. I would bet it was purposefully composed by Renaldi, but I would love to know for sure.

Anyway, I think what might be going on here is that this particular photo you chose to post by Ms. Addario is so artistic, so pleasant and interesting to view, that it's tricked us into thinking about it and discussing it as a piece of art per se, rather than a piece of (photo)journalism-- which is its original nature, after all.

So maybe that is the quality that sets her work apart....her images engage both halves of our brains.

I understand she has photographed for National Geographic, among other publications. Anyone looked at that magazine lately? In my humble opinion, more often than not, the majority of the images in each issue are compelling, for some reason or another (or several). But how many of them are "composed" according to the classic rules of thumb? Not many at all.

Thanks Mike; you're on a roll. Content lately has been extremely stimulating. If they ever start giving out those genius awards to bloggers, your phone may be ringing. Sincerely meant!

Count me in as someone confused by her award. I looked at her site; she takes good pictures for sure, but I'm not seeing what makes her particularly special. Would I be able to pick her out of 10 other PJs? I'm also not a huge fan of her color, she's in Velvia over the top land as far as color saturation goes.

Actually I take it back, going through more of her stuff, most of her colors look fine, only some pictures seem quite oversaturated.

Turkish photographer?
She happens to be an American BASED in Turkey. Journalists covering foreign news usually need a temporary home away from home. I don't see anything more than this happening here. In the 80s I never heard Thomas Friedman mentioned as Lebanese American, for example...Maybe there is more than that to this, if so can you please share. Thanks.

Mike -- why? Because I have an analytical bent of mind. That' show I learn things. I'd be happy to settle for "taking" better photos without "composing" them -- but I don't know how to move in that direction. I DO know how, or at least I know ways that have worked in the past, to take my analytical knowledge of something to the next level. And I have some reason to believe that the knowledge will show up in my photos in some ways.

Stan B. -- Not just starting out. I've been photographing seriously for 40 years, though never a full-time professional. I'm just working to improve my skills in a particular area. Ctein wrote about a photo I shot in 1975 here.

Erlik -- the composition fits into traditional landscape modes in a number of ways, I'll agree.

"Ctein wrote about a photo I shot in 1975 here"

Love that shot. Kept it on my desktop for a long time. If I ever write my book about classic 35mm photography, that will be in it, given your consent of course.


Catherine, "posed" and "composed" is not the same thing. While posed photos are certainly composed, the opposite is not always true. What you're saying is one of them thingies... whatchamacallits... syllogisms.

Mike, what would you call, for instance, a portrait of a baseball player which includes a visible bullpen in the background? Or any other photo which shows a subject put in a context?

If that's not "composed", I really don't understand your meaning.

"Photographs aren't composed. They're taken. At best...recognized. Sometimes only after the fact."
Intriguing, to say the least! I think that way, but feel embarrassed to recognize beautiful stuff in a photo I shot that wasn't quite there in my head at the moment of shooting it. Sometimes looking at the potentiality of an image at home is a completely separate and new artistic endeavour. I feel like I catch things out there that I'm not really sure how I'm gonna use later, I just know I want to have them.
On genius, I think we are too used to the adjective as a cardinal point, The genius as a denomination of absolute exception. Too grandiloquent. Instead if we think of genius as the abstract concept naming that spark that we all have inside ourselves, we only need to look to, and express it in our own way, context and intensity, that makes for a much better name for this award. Genius in the way Emerson would use it, I guess.
"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."
- R.W.Emerson, a fragment of the Self-Reliance essay.

"Instead if we think of genius as the abstract concept naming that spark that we all have inside ourselves, we only need to look to, and express it in our own way, context and intensity"

I admit that that meaning is usually uppermost in my mind when I hear or use the word "genius." The meaning of "superman of intellect" so to speak seems cartoonish to me, childish. In other words, genius is a quality, not a title.

Of course the word does always carry the sense of "exceptional" as a sidecar.


Mike, thanks for the answer, I wasn't trying to make a correction, just pointing out pretty much what you said, if you interpret the whole thing as in "They gave her the award because she's a genius", that sounds funny in a Wiley E. Coyote way.
Interestingly, in spanish the word genius (genio) has the same uses, but it also can be used as a quality in describing personality, exactly as you would use the word "temper" in english. Having a "bad genius" would be being ill-tempered.

Does anyone know what equipment she uses?

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