viernes, 24 de mayo de 2013

Benjamin Lowy’s conflict photography

Benjamin Lowy

Benjamin Lowy’s conflict photography

Pip Cummings

Photojournalist Benjamin Lowy creates images of great beauty while working in the dark corners of the world where conflict reigns. In Australia for the Sydney Writers’ Festival and the Head On Photography Festival, he speaks with Pip Cummings about beauty, art and ethics in photojournalism.
Benjamin Lowy, Afghanistan 2011When Benjamin Lowy was around five years old, his father took him to New York’s Jones Beach to watch the 3.5 metre swells that had been churned up by Hurricane Gloria. “I ran right into the ocean,” he says. “And maybe that sort of explains a little bit of who I am."

Lowy, 33, is an acclaimed conflict photographer, whose images from Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan and Libya have been merited by World Press Photo, the Magnum Foundation Emergency fund and the ICP Infinity Award for Photojournalism, as well as exhibited at the Tate Modern and San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art.

His penchant for photography was, however, discovered by accident. Both his mother and grandmother were painters and Lowy always knew he wanted to work in the arts. “I was also sort of like a daydreamer, always reading science fiction, looking at comic books as a child,” he says. “And the ideal of looking at the superhuman solving the world’s problems, in a way.”

While studying to be a comic book illustrator, Lowy often relied on tracing figures from photography books. One day he pulled photojournalist James Nachtwey’s Inferno from the shelves and the die was cast. “I sat there for hours and I just looked at those pictures and it changed something inside of me,” he has said of the huge format collection of images of war crimes and human catastrophe in the 1990s. He told the New Yorker the move to photography made him feel “complete as a human being”.

The transition from art to photojournalism has granted Lowy a particularly sophisticated analysis of the relationship between the two, and his “moral high horse”, as he puts it, is calling out the exploitation of human suffering for the sake of art. “When we go in to photograph conflict as photojournalists, to shine a light in these dark corners of the world, to educate the public, I think elevating that to art – which is in a sense self-expression, self-gratifying – is disrespectful of the dead,” he says.

He offers the example of French snapper Luc Delahaye, who controversially transitioned from reportage to the art market, producing large-scale conflict photography for museum display and collectors. Disillusioned photojournalist Delahaye toldArtnet magazine in 2003 that the media, for him, is “just a means for photographing, for material, not for telling the truth.”

“The minute we start making money off [those images], being at a gallery show where you’re drinking boxed wine and cheap cheese and slapping each other on the back, saying ‘You’re a great photographer’ and you have dead people hanging on the wall - I think that goes a step too far, ” says Lowy.

Nevertheless, Lowy understands just how to use the transformative qualities of photography – those same that can allow a confusion to arise between art and journalism – to captivate and inform viewers. “Photography is the only medium that can … take something real that’s disgusting and create something beautiful out of it,” says Lowy. “And I think it’s a responsibility to use that well. Not for the sake of beauty in itself but for the sake of an aesthetic that can capture the audience.”

Lowy has experimented with other means of keeping viewers engaged, too. In 2008, he began shooting with his iPhone, using the Hipstamatic app. The ubiquity of his tool drew detractors within the photojournalism community, who also raised concerns about its distortion of reality. Lowy counters that the degree of post-production which can take place is arguably more problematic. “One of the reasons I was okay with shooting with Hipstamatic in Libya [is] I had no control over what the images looked like,” he says. “It’s like a built in algorithm … that presents an image in a certain way. I didn’t choose to edit it like that.”

Anyway, he adds, black and white photography was for the longest time considered the archetype of photojournalism. “The world is not black and white,” he says flatly. “So I just state that.”

Lowy also responded proactively, working with Hipstamatic to create an eponymous ‘Ben Lowy Lens’ that would be acceptable to photojournalism critics; desaturated, with increased clarity and some grain and contrast.

In addition to allowing ease of distribution, Lowy considers the phone camera’s familiarity one of its virtues. “If someone has an iPhone and they’re taking pictures of their cat and their brunch, and then they see a picture from Afghanistan using the same tool they have in their hand, it’s a small common denominator,” he says. “But it’s still something they have more in common with than a far flung photojournalist using a big DSLR that appears on some news aggregation site.”

One of Lowy’s iPhone images was selected for the cover of Time magazine last November. Demonstrating how little people really change, Lowy waded waist-deep into the surf off Coney Island during New York’s devastating Hurricane Sandy. “Ego, adrenalin - that has to be 50 per cent of it,” says Lowy, reflecting on what drives him to bear witness in spite of significant personal risk. “And then I know most of the people I see in rush hour - accountants, doctors, marketing, public relations, whatever those people do, they can’t see what I saw. Ever.

“Those of us who do this job, do it because we can and others can’t," he adds.

"We are a stand in for people who can't witness what we witness, we are a voice for parts of the world that people can’t see."

- Pip Cummings

Benjamin Lowy will appear at the Sydney Writers' Festival on May 25, in a panel titled Telling Stories: Conflict in Art. e is also conducting a 2-day workshop on Mobile Phone Publishing, May 21-22, as part of the Head On Photo Festival

Benjamin Lowy, Afghanistan 2011

Benjamin Lowy, Afghanistan 2011
Benjamin Lowy, Afghanistan 2011

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario