"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
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June 2008 Archives

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June 27, 2008


Today I posted this piece on the Getty Images News Blog, having been kindly invited to offer a short essay about the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund (deadline July 15!) by Getty's Peggy Willett...


(From the Getty News Blog):

In 2008, as they have every summer for 28 years, a committee of three judges will convene in a stifling conference room in Manhattan to plow through piles of photographs and proposals. When they emerge from behind closed doors, after four days of deliberation and two separate rounds of judging, the jury will have chosen the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund’s annual grant.

At $30,000, the Smith Grant, about to enter its third decade, is arguably photojournalism’s most consistenly prestigious, generous and longest-running award. It is dispensed to a single photographer attempting to complete a significant project conceived in the humanist tradition of renowned photo essayist W. Eugene Smith, who died in 1978. Among the grant’s first 15 recipients, recognized at pivotal, early stages of their careers: Jane Evelyn Atwood, Eugene Richards, Sebastiao Salgado, Gilles Peress, Donna Ferrato, Cristina Garcia Rodero and James Nachtwey.

This year’s deadline is only days away - July 15, 2008.

As you consider applying, please consider this series of questions: Why does W. Eugene Smith matter in this digital age? What is the relevance of his essay “Spanish Village” in the era of the video village? What is the relevance of Nurse Midwife in the age of WebMD?

I would argue that Smith’s commitment to documentary, humanistic photography speaks volumes to today’s young, brash, visually sophisticated (and over-stimulated) generation. Here was a man with a gargantuan appetitie for life and for new experiences. He had a compulsion for clutter and disarray and, at times, a tendency to let his finances slide. He was forever getting in fights with his editors, insisting that they were undermining his pure, single-minded vision. Indeed, Smith’s disdain for authority and outright contempt for authority figures, his unbending adhesion to principle, his commitment to righteous causes, and his explorations in myriad realms of modern culture (especially his passion for jazz) suggest that Smith, the journalist, the artist and the man, might as well have been a paradigm for the 21st century twenty or thirty something photographer.

Smith’s seminal 1972 study of a blighted Japanese village, “Minimata” documented how industry’s wastes had ravaged the land and the local population, killing hundreds and maiming many more. Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring before it “Minimata,” was the photographic medium’s first clarion call for ecological action. Had Smith shot only this one photo-essay, he would be conveying a message that is perhaps even more significant today: industrialization and rapid technological advances continue to manufacture “Minimatas” at an alarming rate, on a global scale. And photography - whether in digital or traditional format - remains an essential tool for stirring the world to witness and respond.

Both Smith, the photographer, and the Smith fund itself, thirty years after his death, remain beacons of compassion and commitment, reaffirming the power of the lone visionary in these turbulent times.

I encourage photographers everywhere to seriously consider applying this year. If you aren’t telling stories and opening eyes and waking people up, why are you in this business anyway?

...And speaking of prizes...

Last night was the opening of the World Press Photo exhibition, in the Visitor's Lobby of the United Nations in Manhattan. The show displays the work of this year's winners, chosen from among 80,000 images submitted by photographers from 125 nations. The single frame selected as World Press Photo of the Year: Tim Hetherington's study of an exhausted American soldier on the front lines in Afghanistan - shot on assignment for Vanity Fair.

A duplicate World Press Photo exhibition, featuring reproductions of the same images, will open next week in both Shanghai and Reykjavik.

...And finally...

My last two posts on VanityFair.com's group blog, were about the unbearable "presidentiality" of John Sidney McCain III and about possible design tweaks for the revamped Wall Street Journal.

To wit, from VanityFair.com's graphics wizards...


June 16, 2008


As all of us in the journalist community mourn the loss of NBC's Tim Russert, I was particularly moved by the heartfelt comments of Vanity Fair colleague Christopher Hitchens.

June 7, 2008


CHECK IT OUT. Multimedia artist and educator Hasan Elahi was detained by authorities at the Detroit Metro airport in the months after the September 11 attacks. A Rutgers professor at the time, he was entirely innocent of any wrong-doing. But for months, the F.B.I. interrogated him, forcing him to take nine polygraph tests before they determined that he was not a threat to national security. As an obsessive counterpoint to this pointless detention and as a way of lampooning what he perceived as the government's invasion of his privacy, Elahi decided to telegraph his comings and goings in a visual biographical blog ad absurdum, informing the F.B.I. – and the rest of us – of every movement in his life, no matter how trivial. (Elahi.org is an online compilation of his work.)


…Photo-centric site BagNewsNotes, courtesy of Michael Shaw, continues to focus inventively on visual culture.

…Tim Barber, former photo mayven at Vice, fresh from his transporting (and sometimes laugh-out-loud/smack-the-forehead brilliant) exhibition, “Various Photographs,” at the New York Photo Festival in DUMBO in May, continues to thrill visitors to his mag-photoblog-electronic-exhibition-online-gallery-melange, TinyVices.com.


OFF-LINE…I highly recommend Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11, which I read in galleys several months ago, and which has just been published by Ballantine. Authors Patrick Creed (a firefighter and historian) and Rick Newman (of U.S. News & World Report) weave a heretofore-untold tale of remarkable heroes and of unconscionable hubris (on the part of a few small-minded bit players) by splicing together first-person accounts and first-rate reporting, technical assessments and scenes of internecine squabbles and standoffs that kept various agencies from working together in the days and weeks after the assault on the Pentagon.


And in the REAL WORLD, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has finally had his day in court, six and a half years after the attacks. And presidential hopeful John McCain, the man who may keep U.S. troops in the fertile Tigris and Euphrates unto the next millennium, has expressed his unwavering support for wiretapping-without-a-warrant. Heaven help us. I’ll take Inexperienced Barack over Big Brother the Elder, any day.