February 19, 2016

Friday Round Up - 19th February 2016

This week on Friday Round Up - documentary photographer Matthew Newton talks about his amazing project On Albatross Island, Australian Warren Richardson wins Photo of the Year in 2015 World Press Photo Awards, Dutch photographer Jan Banning wins the Social Documentary Network’s Call for Entries on Visual Stories Exploring Global Themes (2016) and Reed Exhibitions cancels Paris Photo Los Angeles.

Photo Essay:
On Albatross Island
Matthew Newton in Interview

with Alison Stieven-Taylor

Re-bonding after years at sea alone.

Collaboration takes many forms. On Albatross Island, a remote hunk of rock off the coast of Tasmania, Australia in the middle of Bass Strait, documentary photographer Matthew Newton threw in his lot with a group of dedicated scientists, and artist Richard Wastell, to tell the story of the important scientific work being done in this inhospitable, windswept place.

Newton tells that he always wanted to go to Albatross Island, but the island is restricted to official personnel only and requires a permit. Despite Newton’s inside running – he is a friend of one of the scientists who works there – it took him a year to convince the gatekeepers to grant him access.

“One of the easiest management strategies for scientists is not to publicise places because the less people know, the less likely they want to visit them (and disturb the habitat in a way that only humans can),” says Newton. Although there is little likelihood that Albatross Island will turn into a destination even for the adventurous at heart, as there’s not much there other than birds, rocks, some sparse vegetation and plenty of wind. Add to that crossing one of the wildest stretches of ocean in the world and no beaches on which to land and the prospect of unwelcomed visitors lessens further.

In the end the scientists weighed up the risks and opted to publicise the work being done on the island in the hope it would raise the collective conscience and hopefully lead to more funding for scientific investigation. “The thought is that if you make the community more aware there is the opportunity to also make them care deeply about the place,” says Newton. 

Albatross Island is 18 hectares of conglomerate rock. Its hostile climate offers a haven for the birds, which can nest and raise their young without threat from predators. But it’s not an easy location to shoot. With nowhere to land Newton had to jump overboard onto the rocks carrying all his gear, which comprised digital camera and lenses, recording and sound equipment, flash gear and a heavy-duty tripod for video work. “When the weather is not fantastic you have to be prepared to swim ashore too,” he adds. And there was no room for an assistant either with only five people allowed on the island at any one time.

Accommodation on the island was non-existent so tents also had to be carried. “We camped in this massive cave that runs through two-thirds of the island,” says Newton describing the cave as 1.5km high and the width of two tennis courts. “There’s a valley that runs through it and when the wind is howling at 100kph it offers shelter”. Humans are not the only ones who use the cave. Thousands of fairy penguins also call the cave home and Newton says at night when the penguins came back from a day at sea the noise was deafening. “It is wildlife on mass, it is really extraordinary”.

Newton visited the island three times over a six-month period, the longest stay being 10 days. The biggest technical challenge was recharging batteries. He carried solar power for that task, but efforts were often hampered by prolonged overcast skies. The ground proved a challenge also. Covered in a squelchy ground cover called Pigface, it was difficult to position the tripod securely. But it was the constant wind and the sea mist that were the most difficult to work around.

The first trip gave Newton the opportunity to scope out the various locations where he wanted to shoot and to see how the birds and the light behaved. “There was one colony of Albatross that on a clear evening got the last light. Because the birds are mostly white, even after sunset, the birds will glow more than the surrounding landscape, so any bird that flies up into the dark sky is lit. Also on a windy day there are more birds in the air”. Watching the scientists at work also informed his choices.

Newton visited the island at three key moments: when the birds returned from their long sea journey - albatross can stay out at sea for three to four years and some travel extraordinary distances; during the mating season; and to see the fledglings.

Albatross mate for life although Newton says watching the colonies it was apparent there were other liaisons. “There’s a lot of other stuff going on in the colonies,” he laughs. Most of these birds spend their lives at sea without their partner and when they return in early summer (southern hemisphere) they spend time re-bonding with each other.

During mating season the birds are nesting and each takes a turn sitting on the eggs. “The scientists use this time to put little radio trackers on the birds knowing they will fly out to sea, but come back to the nest in five days or so to give their mate a break. They can see how far they have to fly. One of the things with global warming is that the fish stocks are moving and if the birds have to fly too far the other bird left on the nest gets stressed and abandons the nest. Scientists are also monitoring the overlay with commercial fishing and where the birds fly and if there’s interaction there”.

Newton says one of the most memorable experiences was photographing the birds as they flew over him. “These are 5kg birds and they’re not scared of you so you can get quite close,” he laughs. “The colonies are like airports and the birds have to take off into the wind. They waddle through the colony, past all the others that are sitting on their nests, and quacking as they pass by. They get to the end and spread their wings and lift onto the wind. I was lying on the grass and these giant birds are two foot off the ground and they just fly over the top of you. It’s extraordinary”. 

On Albatross Island - The Exhibition
Newton says that after completing the work a philanthropist came on board to fund the exhibition and catalogue. The photographs are displayed as large format prints along with the illustrations from Richard Wastell.

Working on Albatross Island is an extension of Newton’s commitment to long-form photo essays. In the exhibition’s exquisite catalogue, he writes: “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. Stories are what move us, make us feel alive, and inspire us. Ultimately, as a documentary photographer, I want my work to be part of the conversation in geopolitics, social issues and the environment. To engage with the world on a deeply serious level. The price of admission to this amazing life is that you have to go all the way out there, come back and show the world what you saw. If you take that responsibility seriously it’s a difficult task”.

As our interview winds up I ask him about the sustainability of longform documentary photography. “I’ve got to the point now that I can do a personal project and not lose money, but I’m not at that point where I actually make money. I’m hoping that’s the next step,” he concludes.

On Albatross Island Exhibition
Queen Victoria Art Gallery
Until Sunday 3rd April

Moonah Arts Centre
April 29 - May 21

World Press Photo 2015

Winner Photo of the Year - Warren Richardson

Australian photographer Warren Richardson has been awarded 2015 Photo of the Year in the 59th edition of the World Press Photo Contest. Richardson’s picture of a man passing a baby through a barbed wire fence at the border of Serbia and Hungary also won the Spot News prize.

Richardson who is based in Hungary explained how the photograph was made: “I camped with the refugees for five days on the border. A group of about 200 people arrived, and they moved under the trees along the fence line. They sent women and children, then fathers and elderly men first. I must have been with this crew for about five hours and we played cat and mouse with the police the whole night. I was exhausted by the time I took the picture. It was around three o’clock in the morning and you can’t use a flash while the police are trying to find these people, because I would just give them away. So I had to use the moonlight alone”.

Francis Kohn, chair of the general jury, and photo director of Agence France-Presse, said: “Early on we looked at this photo and we knew it was an important one. It had such power because of its simplicity, especially the symbolism of the barbed wire. We thought it had almost everything in there to give a strong visual of what’s happening with the refugees. I think it’s a very classical photo, and at the same time it’s timeless. It portrays a situation, but the way it’s done is classic in the greatest sense of the word.

Two other Australians were winners:

Daniel Berehulak won first prize stories in the Daily Life category for his New York Times photo essay An Antarctic Advantage, which documents the Chilean, Chinese and Russian research teams in Antarctica seeking to explore commercial opportunities once the treaties protecting the continent for scientific purposes expire.

Rohan Kelly took first prize singles in the Nature category for his photograph of the incredible storm shelf, a ‘cloud tsunami’ approaching Sydney over Bondi Beach. This shot was made even more interesting by the inclusion of the female sunbather engrossed in her mobile phone and unaware of the impending storm.

Lars Boering, managing director of the World Press Photo Foundation, said this year’s contest went smoothly despite the volume of work being considered: “This year we had more photographers and more entries than ever in our contest and we see this as a great support of the industry. As an organization, we are delighted by the outcome this independent jury produced, and ready to present an exhibition of wonderful and powerful imagery to a global audience that can trust what they see. We see that the photographers are as committed as we are to providing accurate and fair images on the world’s most important events and issues. We had a new code of ethics for the photo contest and a transparent and rigorous verification process. This resulted in many more entries being checked, but fewer problems than last year being found. In 10 days we will be releasing a detailed technical report reviewing the verification process, and we will then lead the public conversation on these issues. Today, we celebrate the incredible and important work of all our prizewinners, especially Warren Richardson’s photograph”.

You can see the winners gallery here.

Jan Banning - Social Documentary Network 

Dutch photographer Jan Banning has won the Social Documentary Network’s Call for Entries on Visual Stories Exploring Global Themes (2016) for his project Law & Order, which was selected from a pool of 140 entries.

"In Law & Order, Banning contributes to the public debate regarding our approach to crime, especially punishment: do we want retribution or correction? In the US, the number of prisoners has quadrupled in 40 years to 707 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Colombia, this number is approximately 250, in France and Uganda around 100; in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, approximately 60-70. 

Of the four countries in this essay, only the US carries out the death penalty. There is no credible scientific evidence that the death penalty deters criminal behavior. As for the threat of imprisonment: research confirms time and time again that it is also not a deterrent.

What does contribute to the fight against crime is public confidence in the police and other criminal justice agencies. Criminologists have made it convincingly clear that economic inequality is the best predictor of crime and violence. Combating crime is not just a matter of keeping dangerous individuals in check but also of social justice."

Jurors this year were: 
  • Barbara Ayotte: Senior Director of Strategic Communications, Management Sciences for Health 
  • Barbara Davidson: Photographer and Photo Editor, Los Angeles Times 
  • Alice Gabriner: International Photo Editor, Time Magazine 
  • Elizabeth Krist: Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine 
  • Molly Roberts: Chief Photography Editor, Smithsonian Magazine 
  • Glenn Ruga: Founder & Director, Social Documentary Network 
  • Mikko Takkunen: Photo Editor, New York Times 
  • Jamie Wellford: Independent photo editor and consultant 
You can view the full photo essay on the Social Documentary Network. 

4th Edition of Paris Photo LA Cancelled

Despite great critical acclaim and apparent public success, Paris Photo Los Angeles fair organiser Reed Exhibitions has cancelled the show, which was planned to take place at Paramount Studios between April 29 and May 1, stating it is not viable.

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