Tuesday 19 November 2013

Contact Sheet for Bather #5, Ukraine 2011 (image_1625)

Bather #5_1622 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1623 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1624 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1625 © Richard Ansett 2013
Winner Grand Prix de la Decouverte 2013/Acquired by Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Bather #5_1626 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1627 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1628 © Richard Ansett 2013
Bather #5_1629 © Richard Ansett 2013

Bather #5_1630 © Richard Ansett 2013

Monday 18 November 2013

Out-take from Bathers

Image_1790, out-take from series Bathers, Ukraine, 2011 © Richard Ansett

Wednesday 13 November 2013

We Need to Talk about Robert

It is the 100th anniversary of the birth of war photographer Robert Capa and what seems particularly  poignant, is a shift in the attitude of the photography establishment to acknowledge the controversy surrounding his work as part of the commemoration. Up until this point the reaction to the increasing evidence against the authenticity of Capa's most famous image has been more of a ‘head in the sand’ mentality, that has infected any decent debate about ‘Falling Soldier’

This new pragmatism acknowledges the discrepancies in his career that challenge his journalistic authenticity, whilst celebrating his skill as a great photographer; re-branding him as a ‘war artist’. Rather brilliant yes but…

To truly appreciate why the photography world might be so twitchy about challenging this photographer’s legacy, let us imagine for a moment the consequences of the complete destruction of Capa’s reputation as a photojournalist. What if we accept that Falling Soldier was in fact NOT shot in an area of conflict during the Spanish Civil war but on exercises miles away from any action but then presented as the former?

"The truth is the best picture..." - Robert Capa

I remember being deeply shocked by the evidence presented against 'Falling Soldier', it shook my foundations of trust in photojournalism but I was more disappointed by the complete lack of acknowledgement of its importance across all sections of the photographic community. I am not challenging the quality of Capa’s work and I agree with the vested interests, that he is one of the great photographers, what is at stake is a larger issue of documentary truth. We must accept that the entire emotional reaction to ‘Falling Soldier’ is dependent on its veracity; its strength is not in its composition but purely in the belief that this is a terrible moment in time, captured by a photographer caught in the heat of action. If the circumstances are called into question, the images power is diminished. To recognise this ambiguity and attempt to re-catagorise Capa under the contemporary label of 'artist' is in danger of weakening confidence in photojournalism.

Under these circumstances, to continue to celebrate Capa as a poster boy of the photojournalistic genre may be a dog whistle to all future generations that look up to the amazing organisations like Magnum (co-founded by Capa himself), The International Centre of Photography (founded by his brother Cornell Capa) and the Ian Parry Scholarship that nurtures a new generation, that ‘anything goes’ in the pursuit of an image to illustrate an event that traditionally requires some objective self-awareness. 

"If you call yourself an artist, you won't get anything published. Call yourself a photojournalist, and then you can do whatever you want. "- Robert Capa

But if we start to accept the ambiguity surrounding this one image and debate Capa’s legacy openly, there is a chance to learn from it in a constructive way. What are the pressures on the photographer to capture the definitive moment for their hungry editors at home?

The last great days of objective documentary photography seem to have passed with the changing face of modern newspapers and magazines that feel they must appease their advertisers. Don McCullin articulated these issues in a great documentary film about his life. The media no longer want images that show the stark reality of humanity, the advertisers feel it sits too uncomfortably with their finely crafted portrayals of consumerism; they don’t want a starving baby or mangled corpse opposite their 2 for 1 offer for a chocolate bar or a shiny car.

The contemporary war photographer doesn’t have the same access afforded to the great photojournalists of the past. PR agencies control access to the situations that may reflect badly on our countries’ actions. Photographers can be ‘over-looked’ for trips if they are deemed unsuitable and of course wars are fought differently now with a stronger emphasis on virtual warfare to limit the casualties brought home.  My photographer brain tells me that this has led inevitably to photographers like Tim Hetherington being forced to revert to a fine art practice, creating personal and interpretive projects from what is available. See Hetherington’s tender, homoerotic sleeping soldiers. These projects are heavily loaded with the personal views of the photographer and are less about an irrefutable defining and 'truthful' moment.  Mari Bastashevski records the banality of modern warfare and the actual lack of access to the photographer within her work.

At this point, where the photographic community is marking the 100th anniversary of Capa’s birth, (he was killed by a landmine whilst covering the ending years of the first Indochina war in 1954) celebrating the hard work both he and his brother did in the advancement and promotion of photography, setting up enduring and extremely influential institutions, we should take the opportunity to re-evaluate our definitions of 'photojournalism' and 'art' and think carefully about what message we are sending out to a new generation.
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, 1936 © Robert Capa Estate

Alcantara, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 2008 Digital C-print © Tim Hetherington Estate

Head office of a major arms industry outlet. Permission to photograph inside was declined. State Business, Chapter II. From the series "State Business" © Mari Bastashevski

Friday 1 November 2013


Shooting Range Panel, Armed Police Training Centre, UK © Richard Ansett 2010