December 16, 2016

The Last Friday Round Up for the Year - 16th December, 2016

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up we end the year with a bumper book review feature - The Light Collective, Daniella Zalcman, Ryann Ford, Paula Bronstein and Sandro Miller. Also there are some new links to stories on L'Oeil de la Photographie on the right hand side of this blog.

Wishing all my readers a wonderful and safe festive season. Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up will be back on 13th January, 2017.

Special Feature: Book Reviews

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre
Interpretations from the Air
The Light Collective 

In their first book, Australia’s The Light Collective, a group of five landscape photographers claim their objective is “to explore modern interpretations of Australia’s immense and unique landscapes to invite deeper reflection on the immeasurable value of our wild places.” In Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, this intention is fully realised in the ethereal beauty of these images.

Lake Eyre is an important part of the Aboriginal Dreamtime of the Arabana people. Located 700 kilometres north of Adelaide in the South Australian Desert, Lake Eyre is the world’s 13th largest, and Australia’s biggest, salt lake. On average floodwaters cover the Lake every eight years, and it has only filled three times in the last 160 years. When there is water the Lake becomes a breeding site for waterbirds, and when it is dry it presents a vast, seemingly endless expanse of white that stretches as far as the eye can see.

(C) Above images Adam Williams

I’ve seen numerous photographs of Lake Eyre shot from the ground, but these images from the air are striking in their rich texture and complexity and the fact that there is no reference point – no horizon, no sky – enhances the abstract imagery. Here Lake Eyre is at once a palette of pastels, an artist’s canvas dripping with vibrant hues, an etching seemingly carved from the earth. Deep rivets run through the landscape, shorelines become the sweep of the painter’s brush, waterways spread like capillaries across skin, algal blooms are marked by iridescent blues and greens and shifting colours in the salt, soil and rocks create almost otherworldly vistas. 

(C) Above images Ignacio Palacios

I am drawn to the power of nature that is so evident in these images. There is something about seeing the Lake from above that sparks one’s imagination for it is a view that few of us have the opportunity to see first hand. In some images the landscape presents as giant jellyfish floating across a vast sea, in others abstract shapes take form, evoking ideas of birth and renewal. 

(C) Above images Luke Austin

When you shoot in a remote location like this there are often wonderful anecdotes like the bidding war the photographers found themselves in with two pilots in one of the small towns bordering the Lake. As the prices for a two-hour flight soared, the photographers took their business further down the road finding a couple of pilots that wouldn’t break the bank. And pilots who were also happy to remove the doors from the light planes, and to fly at varying altitudes, to accommodate the photographers’ needs.

(C) Above images Paul Hoelen

Each of the photographers in this volume – Adam Williams, Luke Austin, Ignacio Palacios and Paul Hoelen – present different perspectives on the way they see the Lake. They also share their personal thoughts on Lake Eyre in text, adding to the experience of seeing this remote and foreign land through their eyes. Yet the images by their abstract nature are open to interpretation making the viewing experience enormously satisfying. It’s a wonderful debut and the works will be on show in Sydney 10-29 January at Black Eye Gallery.

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre
The Light Collective
Available from
128 pp

Signs of Your Identity
Daniella Zalcman

The winner of this year’s FotoEvidence Book Award was American photographer Daniella Zalcman’s Signs of Your Identity. As one of the jury members I am thrilled to showcase the book on Photojournalism Now, as I believe it is a wonderful example of a new approach in visual storytelling, in both the crafting of the images and in their presentation in the book.

Signs of Your Identity
tells a complex story of the legacy of colonialisation and its impact on the First Nations people of Canada. In 2014 Daniella spent a month driving across Canada – British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. “Very quickly I realised that every single person I interviewed who were First Nations and HIV positive had gone to something called Residential School. I’d never heard of that before,” she said. “Indian Boarding schools are what they are called in the United States and they still exist today. It occurred to me that the public health crises and the substance abuse and the destructive behaviour that is so often touted as an endemic problem in native communities was to me a symptom of this much bigger legacy”. 

A year later she returned to interview those who went to Residential School focusing her investigation on Saskatchewan, a plains province in the middle of Canada where the last residential school operated until 1996. Saskatchewan is also known for some of the most famously terrible Residential Schools. On this visit Daniella interviewed and photographed 45 people, and this is the work featured in Signs of Your Identity.

Wanting to portray the story in a way that didn't further marginalise or stigmatise those pictured, Daniella has created double exposures, where she combines the primary portrait with a secondary layer that depicts elements that are relevant to each person’s story. In some there is a photograph of the actual school or its site, in others there are geographic markers or items that evoke particular memories or sentiments. 

The book is small in format, but beautifully produced and one of the features I like the most is the use of transparent paper for the classic portraits. These pages precede the double exposure images and when overlaid give a lovely depth to the images and an engaging textural feel to the book. It also gives a multidimensional view of the person as you can see the portrait in reverse on the transparent paper. Most of the portraits come with a quote from the person featured. Intermittently there are small photographs of locations or ambient imagery that halts the pace of the book and gives time for reflection. 

It’s a really wonderful production from FotoEvidence that does justice to the work of this extremely talented young photographer whose unique vision and approach makes her one of the most exciting documentary photographers working today.

Signs of Your Identity
Daniella Zalcman
Available from: FotoEvidence

The Last Stop
Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside
Ryann Ford

The great American road trip is the stuff of legends, and numerous novels, poems and songs have been penned about the thrill of being on the road. Part of the romance of travelling by road has been stopping at roadside rest stops, many of which feature unique characteristics that celebrate the state or city in which they reside.

Over a period of three years American photographer Ryann Ford made around twenty road trips to capture the roadside rest stops, which feature in her debut book The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside.

Ryann says the concept started as a personal project that gave her a visual respite from her work as a commercial photographer in Austin, Texas. “It was really interesting how it evolved, it was almost a selfish project. I wasn't worried that anyone else would like it, I was just pleasing my eye,” she said.

But as the project progressed Ryann saw a trend emerging as many of the rest stops were closed, earmarked for closure or in the process of being demolished. A narrative of lost cultural icons began to surface and Ryann started to think about photographing these sites for posterity, acutely aware that they were on the way to being extinct. 


In The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside Ryaan showcases 19 of the 22 states she visited. She predominantly focused on rest stops in the southwest although there are a few concessions to the east coast. But Ryann says the aesthetic of the southwest with its stark, isolated landscapes is what really intrigued her.

“The remote stops really convey the loneliness and I really loved shooting those stops that were the most remote and the most forgotten. The ones that had been closed off were my favourite, fascinating and completely forgotten and closed and rundown.”

The images are classic Americana with many of the rest stops featuring quirky designs that are indicative of each state’s history be it military, as is the case with the rest stop that features a giant missile or those that draw on Native American themes. At the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah, which is known as the site for land speed records, the rest stop sports an impressive concrete structure funded by Goodyear Tires. Many of the rest stops were built between 1950 and 1970 and make a real cultural statement about the period of time in which they were constructed.

Flower Mound, Texas

Ryann says her favourite is the White Sands rest stop, which she shot on her first trip after a summer thunderstorm had swept through and cleared the crowds and the air. “I had seen photos of White Sands and it was just beautiful. It looks like snow and the tables are iconic and for me – we (Ryaan and her mom who accompanied her on most of the trips) had a picnic after making the picture and that is one of my favourite from the book”.

White Sands

As the attrition of rest stops continues in the US, The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside has become an important historical record, a fact that is not lost on Ryann.

“It’s crazy that something that started out as a personal project has come to represent a lost era in American road travel. I’m thrilled I got to do this project and that other people have found it interesting too.”

The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside
Ryann Ford
powerHouse Books New York

Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear
Paula Bronstein

How can you tell a story of Afghanistan that hasn’t been told? We’ve seen so much over the past decades on the conflict, on the victories and defeats, on the devastation of a people.

Award-winning photojournalist Paula Bronstein has been travelling to Afghanistan since December 2001 at the height of the push to oust the Taliban. While she has covered the conflict on assignment, Paula has spent more time photographing the Afghan people, getting to know them and the way the live, and also die. For the past 14 years she’s travelled frequently to Afghanistan, a country she admits has gotten under her skin.

When I met Paula a few years ago she was talking about doing a book on Afghanistan and thinking about how she would approach the story. Paula doesn’t do anything half-baked. She spent time figuring out what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. In 2015 she raised money on Kickstarter and in September 2016 I took receipt of my copy of the book, which quite frankly blew me away.

Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear
takes you on a tumultuous emotional journey that is punctuated with vivid colours and visceral moments. The book is sectioned into three chapters – The Situation, The Casualties and The Reality.

In The Situation Paula gives an insight to the journey towards independence where photographs capture the training of the Afghan soldiers, the aftermath of suicide bombs, women voters and the election of President Karzai.

The second chapter The Casualties slams you into the ground with the horror of the impact of war on civilians. There are photos here that make you wince. Others make you recoil. They are gruesome, but you dare not look away because these people have lived this moment. The least we can do is look and acknowledge their pain. And acknowledge Paula’s courage in staying the course and taking these photographs. As she said in interview, “It’s important to show this. This is reality”. And Paula is not interested in telling the story any other way.

Paula doesn’t just take photos and walk away. She has often followed the stories of those she has photographed. She once told me that as journalists we have to help, and “while we can’t give money, we can still assist those in need. If you document something, you have a responsibility to help”.

While there are also confronting images in the final chapter, The Reality, such as those of heroin users shooting up, Paula also shares images that could be considered hopeful. In The Reality, which takes up half the book, the images soften and Paula shows us what has fascinated and sustained her interest in Afghanistan for so long: everyday life – kids skateboarding, a couple preparing for their wedding, schoolgirls playing at recess, a mother tending her baby, farmers harvesting wheat. And then there are quirky moments like the swan-shaped paddleboats that line the shore of a lake in Band-e-Amir National Park, which attracts tourists from around the country. These moments give the reader respite from the trauma of war, something the Afghan people are not yet able to claim.

The reproduction of the images is superb and Paula’s use of colour brings new dimensions to the imagery associated with the Afghan landscape. There is a foreword from journalist Kim Baker who worked with Paula and covered Afghanistan for The Chicago Tribune for five years. British journalist Christina Lamb, who has been writing about Afghanistan for 30 years, penned the introduction. It is a powerful combination to see Paula’s images and read the words from these accomplished journalists. A design feature worth noting is that captions appear with the photographs, which immediately gives context.

Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear may have been 14 years in the making, but it was worth the wait.

Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear
Paula Bronstein
University of Texas Press
228 pp

The Malkovich Sessions
Sandro Miller

American photographer and filmmaker Sandro Miller is a perfectionist, so it’s no surprise that this book from New York publisher Glitterati is more an artwork than it is a book. From the clear dust jacket on which words are printed in white on the inside flaps, to the gold pages that signify each new chapter and the double gatefolds within, this The Malkovich Sessions is a sumptuous production.

The book begins with the chapter Portraits, which features many of the first photographs Sandro took of actor John Malkovich. In 1999 Sandro met the actor when he was performing with the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago. The pair connected creatively in an instant and since then they have collaborated on some of the most ambitious and stunning projects that have involved still and motion photography.

Chapter 2 Homage begins with an interview with Sandro and Jon Siskel, in which he talks about his working relationship with Malkovich and how he came to create the series Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. I know this story well as I interviewed Sandro last year when he was in Sydney for Head On Photo Festival where his Homage was one of the main features. It’s an inspiring tale of two creative geniuses coming together to bring off a project that would have daunted lesser men.

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters came while Sandro was in treatment for cancer. At the time he asked himself if he only had one project left, what would that be? He settled on the idea of paying homage to the great masters who had influenced his career including Irving Penn, Dorothea Lange, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Liebovitz and Richard Avedon. Sandro’s intention was to recreate these masters’ iconic images and to have John Malkovich appear as Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Che Guevara, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and other celebrated cultural identities.

In creating Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich Sandro spent 18 months painstakingly researching each image and learning the different styles of lighting for each era. One of the biggest misconceptions is that he just photographed Malkovich’s face and dropped it into the existing photograph, but Sandro and his team meticulously staged each photograph.

“People think it’s all done with the computer,” he told me. “I’m old school, I’ve been doing this for forty years. I use a computer like a darkroom. For the most part it’s all in camera and we’re very, very, very proud that’s how we did it. I had a rock star crew. Everyone brought their A-game including John.”

In the final chapter, Film, Sandro talks about the natural progression of his work with Malkovich and the three short films he’s directed – Butterflies, Ecstasy and Allegory of a Cave (now doing the rounds of the film festivals as Hell). There is also a fourth film released in October – Psychogenic Fugue.

Sandro describes Butterflies as “a disturbing film about a journey taken by many men, who, when they turn fifty years old, are released from their employment and replaced by a twenty something. Feelings of worthlessness enter their lives and they resort to the demons of our society; pornography, drinking, drugs, divorce and suicide”. Watch here.



The second Ecstasy, “is a crazy film about an underclass Italian man preparing himself in a nightclub bathroom for another night of raunchiness!” Watch here.

EcstasyAllegory of a Cave, which is now titled Hell, sees Malkovich kitted out in US military garb complete with rifle and aviator sunglasses, as he recites Plato’s essay.

This is a remarkable body of work by one of the most innovative, passionate and hardworking photographers working today.

John Malkovich & Sandro Miller

The Malkovich Sessions 
Sandro Miller
Available at Amazon
268 pages

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