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Critique: The Power of Black (WPP)

James Estrin wrote the other day:

I have always thought that photojournalism contests lead to bad photography. They encourage young photographers to make images like the ones that won in previous years instead of pursuing their personal vision. Shooting black and white with a 24-millimeter lens at f/1.4, and overprocessing the result, does not automatically make a great image. Following your own passions is more likely to lead to important photographs.

He is so right. (And I don’t say that because James and I share own personal disappointment at the World Press Photo awards.) But this years World Press Photo Awards sadly proof the point made. Guillem Valle won the 3rd prize portraits (single) with this photograph from Sudan:

It is wide-angle, it has a shallow depth of field – and it is black and white. A winner!

However, it happens that Mr. Valle’s Agency Fotogloria has the colour version of the same photograph on offer:

Sad, one could say. Genius I say – it is the black-and-white version that one the Oscar of photography. Only, those that are interested in genuinely exciting and cutting edge photography have to hope that not too many up-and -coming photographers will copy this style. Even if it earns gold.

Nina Hagen already told what women really want: colour! So, don’t forget the colour film.

Comments

  1. M. says:

    I was about to make an affected, respectful, serious well constructed critic about what you have said about the picture of Mr. Valle but after seen your work the only thing I have to say is…Are you serious???? I’m sorry but an unfunded critic based in nothing but aesthetics which in documentary I guess is completely insufficient coming from someone with a “supposedly funny” bio and a bad work (no action, no subject, no story, no deepness, just holiday postcards and some artist ego “in color”) who, moreover, is judging the work of a good and implicated photographer who is not an up-coming one as you say (11 years of hard work I guess is more than you could imagine). After seen that you like more criticism and less deep work I guess I’m not loosing more time trying to make you understand the difference of documentary photography with an important story behind (very classic, this one by the way….) in which the camera is a tool to express what happens in the world ( yeah! did you realized that the story is the truly important thing?) and what is fashion-super-colored-fancy-vain-empty fine-art.

    Maybe I don’t have good English but enough to express that I’m tired and sick of people that love to critic other photographers (more over when they are better than you) in instead of work hard and have a little humbleness Not professional at all.

    By the way, you don’t even mention the story, the referendum, the background of the issue….nothing! Do you even care world’s problems or is all about you as an artist and your super colored photography? Come on….

    Regards,

    M.

  2. M. says:

    By the way, all this feature was shooted in black and white directly from the camera and was sent to his agency in colour just because he was asked for it.

    Ah… I’m sorry, Andy Spyra is one of the best young photographers of the moment and there’s nothing you can do about it.

  3. Claudius says:

    Dear M.,

    thank you for your well gutted response.

    Let me clarify some points:
    (1) I never judged the work of Guillem Valle (Infact, I like it quite a lot.) I am also veyr happy that he won a World Press Photo Award. It is a great picture, no doubt.
    That all is not what my comment was about. My comment was solely about the fact that there are two different versions circulating online. My comment was sarcastic, no question – but very much about the whole ‘competition world’ and the fancies it produces.

    (2) The up-and-coming artist I referred to was not Mr. Valle – but I think you figured that out yourself?

    (3) I understand this post (and quite some more of my writing) as (semi-)academic reflections than as reference to my own work. I think it is possible to be producer and critique at the same time, not? With the work around my first academic thesis (in the field of “Conflict Analysis”, btw.), I critiqued a fair share of todays elite photographers. Not I single time did I dare to judge their work against my own. I also didn’t do that in this blog post. I hope you understand the importance of this difference?

    (4) Last and least: I am not sure if you looked careful at my work – it is not as shallow and empty as you might think. I agree, however, that the message and topic of my work is more subtle than of many other (and in particular young) photographers. That, however, I see as strength and not weakness.

    Maybe as a closing word: I am closely related to Valle’s agency my self. Maybe that explains something as well?

    All the best & looking forward to read more of you,
    Claudius

  4. duckrabbit says:

    Claudius,

    good response.

    As for Spyra, I would like to see him employ his style on his own community, rather than diminishing others.

    Benjamin

  5. Claudius says:

    Thanks, Benjamin.

    I saw an essay the other day on facebook that Andy shot during Barnstorm/Eddie Adams last year – they forced him to do it in colour. It was interesting to see him work in colour AND in the west (U.S. in this case) – actually (and not so much surprising, I think) it was much stronger than most of his other work. That’s just my two cents.

    By the way, I love Martin Nachtwey (or was it James Parr?) – I’d bid on one of his images but you blocked the auction to no UKers unfortunately… Is he working on new stuff?

    Cheers!
    Claudius