Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professional Photographers

Here are two interesting well-known photographers using different methods to approach their subjects, which are pretty different as well. The first presented is Annie Leibovitz, an American photographer specialized in celebrities’ portraits and the second is James Natchwey, also an American photographer but specialized in war photographs. Both of them might inform Visual Anthropology students about the way they take to be in a position to represent people in different contexts and to make them feel comfortable in this situation so that they can better participate and open themselves to the photographers – or anthropologists – interested to them.

Annie Leibovitz
“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.”
   - Annie Leibovitz

The methods she uses to photograph people, as shown in the documentary film Life Trough a Lens (Barbara Leibovitz, 2007), are similar to those used by anthropologists, that is to say: participant-observation. Indeed, Leibovitz adapts herself to the person or the group of persons she wants to photograph. She goes into their socio-cultural context and tries to be a part of what she is taking a picture of. This way, people participate in her work and the images produced represent better the personality of her subjects. Some persons in the film told that they sometimes did not even realize that they were the aim of Leibovitz’s camera. Obviously, the pictures taken are not done in a disrespectful or disturbing manner towards the people photographed. On the contrary, she participates with them and seems to present them in the more personal way as possible.


James Natchwey
“I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”
- James Natchwey

Natchwey’s way of photographing appears also as kind of participant-observation.  He is a war photographer and takes pictures so disconcerting that we may ask ourselves how he realized this without hurting or offending the people taken in picture. Fortunately, we learn in the movie War Photographer (Christian Frei, 2001) that Natchwey wants to give a voice to those people, victims of some violent injustice and tries his best to be accepted by them and develop a complicity before photographing them. Respect, communication, calm and smoothness are some of his ways to approach people. Indeed, what he wants to do is approach people in their context of suffering or violence and be very close to them so that he can feel and live what he is witnessing and better tells to others what is happening on the ground. This is precisely what is shown in the quote above. Natchwey’s pictures are a testimony and a way to avoid possible events such as war to happen again.

 Bosnia, 1993 - Mourning a soldier killed in the civil war.

 New-York, 2001 - Ruins of World Trade Center.

Nicaragua, 1984 - Relic of civil war became a monument in a park.

 West Bank, 2002 - Digging out the ruins of a shop in Jenin refugee camp.

West Bank, 2002 - Mourning the dead in Jenin refugee camp.

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary of these two photographers. What can you learn from their methods and work that will improve your own photography and visual anthropology?

    Please provide the sources/URLs for the photos you borrowed.