Panoramas featuring rich greens and yellows, vast and snowy mountain ranges, the deep-blue hues of expansive lakes and valleys – this is the kind of natural idyll that stirs the imagination of landscape painters – yet these aren’t the kind of images typically evoked by the mention of Afghanistan. Popular amongst hippies during the 1970s, Afghanistan was once a much sought after destination for its extraordinary natural beauty – a fact easily buried under decades of media images saturated with violence.
It was this natural beauty, and the everyday life of Afghans with an impassioned storytelling culture, that co-directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli sought to foreground in their scintillating documentary, Frame by Frame. Featuring portraits of four photojournalists, the film explores the emergence of a free-press in Afghanistan after the six-year prohibition on photography during the oppressive Taliban regime. As Alexandria Bombach describes, “It was more than just a ban on photography, it was all media, and all Afghan people’s voices; they banned anything that had to do with the human image.”
“I didn’t know what it would mean not to have photography in your life. But asking the photo-journalists, and watching them flip through photographs of their past, they were so sentimental, just as we would be flipping through our own childhood photos.”
© Fabrice Monteiro
Jinn are described as the “supernatural genies omnipresent in African cultures”. Fabrice Monteiro has been working with Ecofund in Senegal, West Africa, to create images that weave together interpretations of these supernatural beings and very real scenes of Senegal’s environmental destruction. Detailed costume and lighting design are used to turn locations representative of ecological damage into images of foreboding, and Monteiro’s decision to give these harsh scenes human faces means we can more easily interpret the pain, anguish, demise and, hopefully, strength. When we scrutinize the immensely detailed images, the alien landscapes are exposed as foreign realities that offer powerful insight into our own future if we do not alter our current trajectory. Prophecy
has been created to distribute as an educational art book through the Schools of Senegal.
Scene from Sembene!
Sembene! is a poetic documentary woven together through the perspective of narrator Samba Gadjigo, a Professor of African studies at Mt. Holyoke College and author of previous works about the life of Ousmane Sembene. Described as the father of African cinema, Sembene was the first director to create films of his countrymen with “their own identity, their own culture”, says Gadjigo, in contrast to previous depictions that created caricatures of the African identity. Senegalese-born and now American-based, Samba Gadjigo’s life was utterly inspired and driven by Ousmane Sembene’s representation of Africans, and through this film he navigates that admiration and understanding of the artist’s voice along with the wider historical importance of his work.
When Sembene returned to Senegal after an important time of artistic growth and education while working on the docks in Marseille, he had a clear vision to create work that gave his peers a voice to challenge a system designed to suppress. With no formal cinematic training, no budget, no precedent or context within which his work could be viewed, Semebene made art that was empowering to Africans such as Gadjigo, that challenged the political system and critiqued the social class.
Watch the video here.
Wim Wenders and Sebastãio Salgado
Filmmaker Wim Wenders returns this month with his Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth
, a striking exploration of the work of Brazilian photographer Sebastãio Salgado. In a directorial collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, Wenders accompanied the photographer across the globe, from the remote Siberian North to the desert plains of Namibia. Revered for his austere and haunting images, Salgado emerged in 1980s with striking portraits of migrant laborers; his work traces some of the most severe machinations of modern history – from the Rwandan genocide to the refugee crisis endemic across much of the Middle East.
Wenders was a long-time admirer of Salgado’s photographs and they struck up an easy friendship; he describes Salgado as a natural lover of people, who entirely immerses himself into the stories of his subjects: “I would walk with him through the city, and see him meet people he’d never met before, and two minutes later he’d have this closeness with them. It’s something in the optimism of his looking – he puts himself on the same level as other people, and that’s a rare gift. Most photographers want to have distance. He always goes close, his photography is never on a long lens, he’s always in the middle of things, never in the corner of the room.”
Salgado’s son Juliano echoes Wenders statements, describing his father’s ability to create effortless bonds: “One of the things that surprised me when we traveled together was how quickly he can establish a bond with someone who’s a complete stranger to him.
Magdalena Wosinska has been a favorite at PLANET since we first introduced her in the spring of 2012. What we loved about her then is what we love about her now – an unabashed freedom and spontaneity in her life, and an inseparable link between her life and her art. She best summed it up in her very first interview with us: “I love what I shoot, it’s my real life, it’s my breath. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Three years later, and Magdalena has continued to live free and document, rising in the photography and art world on the same breeze she entered with. Her new book, The Experience Vol. 1, presents the latest installment of her journey with a lens. One series that has taken shape over the last few years has been self-portraits she’s been taking of herself in various locations from her travels, with her back to the camera and almost always nude. What began as a simple and clever way to get around Instragram censorship, took on a life of it’s own and has developed into a unique, and ongoing, self-portrait series. We’re pleased to present a slideshow of this series below, as well as a brief interview about it with Magdalena.
Evan Tetreault uses film photography to create his own visual diary, a photographic record of personal memories. This collection documents recent travels through New Zealand and the North East Coast of America, far from his newly adopted Los Angeles home. The mix of portrait and landscape images creates a unique world of intimate moments that invites us to view and appreciate life’s subtleties, but it is a world we can never fully penetrate. The landscapes are wide and dreamlike, portraits are tightly cropped and the surroundings are askew; often, turned heads avoid the audience’s gaze and allow us to look longer and create our own narratives.
Evan has discussed the importance of film photography, and its value as a medium that encourages the artist to make a photo rather than simply take a photo. This approach to the medium also invites the audience to stop and take note of a moment and an image, instead of skipping so quickly onto the next.
Susan Sontag. Photo: New York Times Co./Archive Photos/Getty/Courtesy of HBO
What has happened to the public intellectual? When Susan Sontag died in 2004, after losing her third battle with cancer, it seemed as though not only a majestic woman but a twentieth century tradition had died. Who in public life now has Sontag’s uncompromising verve, her endless curiosity, her willingness to plunge headlong into both intellectual theory and artistic practice?
Granted, during her lifetime Sontag could be the butt of jokes—and she could also be a bit of a pain. Her name was often invoked as a byword for “something intellectual you probably don’t understand,” used in movies from Bull Durham to Gremlins 2. She was tone-deaf after 9/11, insisting the hijackers had legitimate cause. Even the writer Wayne Koestenbaum, one of her most ardent fans, admits that “she represents grandiosity, I think, and it is a little comic…because it seems a bit of a pose.”
That quote, and many other revealing ones about Sontag, occur in Nancy Kates’ fascinating HBO documentary Regarding Susan Sontag (debuting Monday December 8), where we find out a lot about Sontag as both public figure and private individual. We learn about her huge intellectual appetite, her ambivalence about being gay and Jewish, and the beauty that made everyone from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Andy Warhol want to photograph her.
For those of us not directly caught up in war, it’s easy to think it as something distant and isolated, an abstraction of bomb blasts, tanks and tents. Of course, though, war is anything but impersonal. Especially in our new century, it often takes place in populated areas and involves substantial collateral damage. Towns are razed, innocents killed, and survivors left with a burden of trauma and guilt.
Knowing this, the best photographers approach war as a human-interest story. It’s an uncomfortable truth that war photography has flourished in the last two decades, with a generation of sensitive young photographers taking the baton from their celebrated predecessors. Among the best are people like Marcus Bleasdale, Paolo Pellegrin, Peter van Agtmael and Tim Hetherington—all of whose work is featured in the moving new book and exhibition, A Form of Love.
The title comes from a quote by writer Sebastian Junger, known for his collaborations with Tim Hetherington. “The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly,” Junger writes. Indeed, in these images we see evidence of soldiers’ love, both in quiet moments and at tragic junctions where they’re trying to save each others’ lives.
Vivian Maier’s photography has had a seismic effect on the art world since it was discovered a few years ago. The poignant story behind the work enhances its appeal: Maier was one of the finest street photographers of the mid-twentieth century, yet she kept her work hidden and died in poverty. In fact, she worked as a nanny for her entire career, living with a succession of suburban families and becoming increasingly eccentric. Her employers knew her as a shutterbug, but it was only after her death that the amazing quality and breadth of her work was discovered.
Maier’s photography, and her fascinating story, would never have come to light if not for John Maloof, a young Chicagoan who happened across a trunk of her negatives at a local auction house. In the absorbing new documentary Finding Vivian Maier, Maloof traces the story of his find, and the obsessive quest he went on to solve the mystery behind the treasure trove of images Maier left behind.
The film, which is both unsettling and delightful, offers a compelling, bittersweet portrait of a very complicated woman. A veritable Mary Poppins figure to some of the children she worked with, Maier was abusive to others. She was extremely wary of men, in a way that suggested she might have been abused herself. Often she refused to give her name and occupation to people, referring to herself as “the mystery woman” or “a kind of spy.”
From Godfrey Reggio’s VISITORS. Courtesy of: Cinedigm
Featuring a stream of up-close human faces (and one preternaturally inquisitive gorilla), against a stark black backdrop, Godfrey Reggio’s striking, trancelike new feature is in some sense a continuation of his Qatsi
(1988) and Naqoyqatsi
(2002). Spearheaded by Reggio, an indisputable cine-poet, in collaboration with the venerable avant-garde composer Philip Glass, it brings to mind the undeniable power of an unremitting gaze.
Glass’s unmistakable score serves as something far beyond the emotional punctuation we’ve come to expect from film music, instead providing a sparring partner to the images that Reggio describes as a kind of dance. “He’s writing a full symphonic score that covers the entire length and breadth of the film; Philip in effect provides the emotive narrative. His music doesn’t illustrate the image while its proceeding on a separate track – its like a dance partner, each partner has to create their own individuality, but together they make the trot, you can’t do one without the other.”
Their collaboration dates back to late-seventies, when Reggio was intent on pursuing the then little-known Glass to score his debut feature, Koyaanisqatsi
. “He was a genius in my opinion, but he wasn’t acknowledged or accepted at that point. His music is polyrhythmic, it doesn’t illustrate anything, and it’s totally cinematic, you almost can’t miss how to edit it.