Author Archives: - For documentary photographers.

– Best Photojournalism Schools

We we’re recently put to task of figuring out which schools we all wished we’d gone to. This is the list, in no particular order, of photojournalism schools with visual media degrees we think rock. Although choosing a program isn’t as simple as looking down a list, we’ve tried to offer a couple insider tips about each photojournalsm program. We are making little difference between private and public, but we hope you’ll choose whichever is cheaper for you. 

We’ll continue to develop this list, leave your tips in the comments! 


University of Sydney

Although not in the US, one of the best international photojournalism programs, Sydney offers students a conceptual and technical masters program. Expect to graduate with a nice piece of paper, a good idea of what art should be, and a supreme historical knowledge of documentary photography and photojournalsm worldwide. 

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Rochester Institute of Technology

Offering a large photography program with more varied areas of focus than other schools, RIT often produces strong visual artists for both photojournalism programs and advertising. Expect to finish with a strong technical and production skillset and a developed network of photojournalism contacts. 

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Kent State University

If you’re into the big university environment, Kent State is for you. Expect large auditoriam-sized classes from time to time and plenty of partying. The visual arts and visual media programs are very strong. Expect to graduate with a strong grasp on the craft of photography and an eye for a good shot. With a little initiative, most find the program stimulating but extracurriculars are a must for the full “big school” experience.

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The Corcoran College of Art + Design

Located in the heart of Washington DC, it attracts individual attention and career opportunities which are emphasized in a vibrant and active visual arts community. The students have access to a range of cultural resources in DC and a dedicated staff. Expect to be extremely educated from an artistic perspective and a theoretical understanding of the topic. Will make cheese and wine parties easy, but we agree it isn’t the best option for a practical documentary photographer. 

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Randoph Community College

Budget-friendly Photojournalism School

A tiny school in mid-sized Asheboro, North Carolina – the program provides hands-on instruction for real skills. Expect to leave the program with a strong grasp of the technology and techniques for taking visually strong images. Less emphasis is put on the creative photographer or the “art” and more on the performing money making photographer. Their website is pretty bogus, but the program is quite strong.

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– Poetry of the Capture

Walking through the 42nd street station below ground in New York City my eye was fish hooked towards the color red pulsating from bright images. Red from a barber’s swirly candy cane open sign; red from a truck in the passing; red from photographer/painter Saul Letier’s vision and poetry of the capture.

Webster’s version burned across my memory as I proceeded up the stairs and out into the light. Poetry: the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken for exciting pleasure by beautiful imaginative or elevated thoughts, poetic spirit or feeling .

As photographers, recorders of history, do we look for the unfinished poetry in every image? Poetry in continuing the education of humanity? Why again, fellow photographers, do we photograph? We photograph to tell of the life lived around us, the history in progress, and the choices humanity strains for – but with poetic grace even in times of despair.

"One of the things photography has allowed me is to take pleasure in looking. I see the world simply. It is a source of endless delight," declared Letier. The photographer and painter speaks of a life lived through pictures in his book Early Color . A simple but poetic vision, one of true elegance in the spectrum of color seen through post WWII to the present, Saul Letier created pictures of what he saw, the simple breath of humanity and its poetic fragrance.

To take pleasure in looking: a profound statement in the world of documentary photographers, to simply notice. With all the photo essays and projects bringing attention and awareness to people who otherwise cannot be there, where throughout these endeavors do we as photographers rejoice in the poetry of the simple? The endless pleasure of looking at a world that is constantly in flux.

Spinning the racks of early twentieth century black and white postcards, down near New York University, I felt a sense of mystery in the photographic process and documentation. best seo agency . Imagery of life throughout taverns, workshops and on the road flooded my view and once again distracted my day to day duties. The poetry of the capture echoed before me dreams of other lives and landscapes only to be sold for quarters on a rack.

There was something missing in these pictures, something which kept me wanting for more, intrigued to feel the subject before me. As photographers when we strive to capture a story and collect data, do we remember the poetry of why we were so attracted to the subject in the first place? And when the book is completed do we feel more for those subjects or do we slap the dust of initial idea to the floor and move on in search of the same questions just on a different human face?

The craft of photography, even the strictest documentation, still requires an excellence and craftsmanship in rhythmic composition, poetic spirit and emotional response. As the tools of the trade become easier, faster and more manageable we tend to lose sight of the reasons why the still image struck a light in our eye on that fine hour where photography entered our hearts.

The exciting pleasure of the prose, the composition of the rhythm, the color of the Kodochrome and the common thread which makes a story worth thinking about signifies the necessity of simple poetry in picture making.


– Don’t Miss these MoMA Exhibitions

For any readers in the NYC area, it might be worth your time and money to mosey on down to MoMA where quite a few exhibitions on photography are currently on display.

The Paul Graham a shimmer of possibility exhibit features multiple series of photos that Graham took while traveling across the US. The show’s strongest photos are part of a series of several images which lend themselves to the development of a story. Some of the photos cannot stand alone – a few try to and fail. It seems that Graham is trying to capture the mundane, everyday life and he certainly succeeds. However, he also hints at quiet social commentary – a few of the photos focus on individuals that appear to be homeless. These are much more meaningful to me than other shots (such as a man mowing a lawn) because they have the potential to evoke a sense of emotion rather than simply offering the passive perspective of a scene.

In the Tehching Hsieh exhibit, performance art and photography merge in a slightly unsettling museum experience. Throughout his career, Hsieh has pushed the limit of living out art to the extreme. He has focused on long-term pieces that are physically challenging – living outside for one year for instance. This exhibit recounts his year of living in a cage. He lived in prison-like conditions, never allowing himself simple pleasures like reading or watching television. A friend would bring him food and photograph him daily. The resulting photographs show him slowly passing the days away in stark black and white and include a stream of headshots which change slightly from day to day. The artistic production provokes a number of questions about time, the intersection of life and art and the solitude which is apparent in the austere images. Mostly the exhibit inspires wonder about the artist – and your own limitations.

Lastly, the museum has a show called The Printed Picture which follows the evolution of photography from the daguerreotype to today’s technological advances and how this relates to printing and color reproduction. There are an array of new and old photos and helpful explanations referencing the multitude of shooting and printing techniques that have been developed along the way. This is definitely an informative exhibit with a variety of photographic genres and processes represented.

a shimmer of possibility and Performance 1: Tehching Hsieh can be viewed until 18 May 2009; The Printed Picture runs until 13 July 2009. MoMA is located at 11 West 53rd Street (between 5th & 6th Ave), NYC.


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– This Contest is Different, and nearly at its end!

The Vewd Student Media Contest has officially come to its glorious conclusion. The contest, widely touted as "something different," ran from Oct. 1, 2008 to Feb. 1, 2009.

After receiving dozens of submissions from across the globe, Vewd staff are hitching up their collective pants and getting down to business. Says VewdMedia founder Matt Blalock of the deliberation process, "We received a lot of submissions. Most were absolutely amazing and cutting anything out was very hard. It took us almost a month to cut out the ones we didn’t think were exactly what we wanted!"

A group of 16 finalists, whose submissions are featured at the Vewd Contest Web site , will be judged based on their talent: how strong the photographer’s vision is in the story and how well that vision was used. Says Blalock, "Some of the essays had great photographs, but weren’t really visibly a story, and that wasn’t what we were looking for. We wanted the stories."

This year’s accomplished panel of judges includes Matt Eich (AEVUM photo collective ), Jamie Rose (Women Photojournalists of Washington ), Gerik Parmele (Columbia Daily Tribune ), Panos Skoulidas ( ) and Andy Williams (SmugMug ).

Judges will deliberate until around April 1, 2009 when they will announce the two winners—international grand prize winner and North Carolina category grand prize winner. Only entrants attending school in North Carolina can be considered for the North Carolina category, generously sponsored by Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.

Photo essays from a broad range of topics are featured: the American family (Nathanael Turner ), immigrant workers (Stephanie Makosky ), professional wrestlers (Timothy Eastman ) and PTSD among Native American veterans (Nicole Tung ). Said finalist Drew Angerer of his entry and overall experience in the contest, "Was I surprised to be chosen as a finalist? Yeah, I’m always a little surprised whenever my work gets recognized. I don’t really have big expectations when I enter contests, so it was a nice surprise."

Truly, the most different aspect of this contest is the judging itself. Voting opened on the Vewd contest site this week, but was soon closed after the discovery that most of the votes came primarily from photographers and their friends. Said finalist Nicole Tung on the Vewd contest Web site , "I have to be honest, it felt a little awkward asking for votes for the viewer’s choice—it did feel a little American Idol-ish!" Judge Panos Skoulidas spearheaded an effort to make judging more fair by closing voting in order to limit bias as final decisions are being made.

Judging is proceeding as a conversation of sorts, a radical phenomenon to the photo contest world. According to Blalock, "It’s transparent and sort of this strange thing where all voices are equal and learning is happening." Judges will converse behind the scenes until their talks have run their course. By that time the winners should be apparent.

Skoulidas explains the process eloquently on the contest site , "Voting does not bring anything to the table…I can create 1,000 robots and vote for myself 1,000 times, but it’s not going to affect judges. Instead it does one major damage: People think that by voting they just did their job. Even if all the votes are totally honest, there is no comment exchange, no conversation, no learning! So what’s the point? Do lack of votes make the essays lesser or not good enough? Of course not! All judges, students, photographers: please get involved! Ask questions, disagree, agree, learn, get involved! There is simply no other way."

Well said! To echo Skoulidas: come over to the Vewd contest site and leave your two cents on the submissions, participate, be moved, learn. How else can a community, or contest, thrive? Finalist Angerer agrees that the Vewd photo contest is a step in the right direction: "I think it’s great that student work is being showcased. A lot of my peers and I work so hard on stuff, yet no one else ever sees it outside of our class and friends. So, it’s nice that someone else out there is taking a look at all this solid work!"

Good luck to all finalists! Let the conversation begin!




– Seeing the Forgotten

To photograph the human spirit in all its capacity and boldness can be a task that takes a lifetime. Capturing the sweat of a boxer on the final round or a climber piercing the ice with his country’s flag brings photographers from around the world together, urging and inspiring one another to continue showing up for those moments of beauty and struggle.

From one person to the next, inspiration is burned differently upon the human heart and it is not always found in glitter and gold. Sometimes inspiration is found in tatters in the back alleys. Denver Car Shipper . When economic hardship hit the men and women of New York during the 1930s, photographer Jacob Riis walked the back streets with his camera to document those who had hit rock bottom, who had in many ways been forgotten. Riis’ How the Other Half Lives is a documentation of the dark parts of our own world. The collections depict people living on the streets with nothing, families crammed ten to a bedroom, the depravity of drug and alcohol abuse.

What does it mean to capture the emotional response of people who have been living in the gutter? How does a photographer approach life with a camera when that life has been so unapproachable for so long? The answer is by being one of them, or more accurately: by simply respecting them. As photographers in search of images that will grip the world and ourselves, we must also try to keep the act of creating photographs in this sometimes tumultuous, sometimes fragile environment casual for the people.

I remember as a young man I was walking the streets of San Francisco one afternoon and I came across a man who was living out of a box and reading a newspaper in the afternoon sun. I paused and proceeded to lift my camera from across the street. While I focused this scene into my view, I felt it just wasn’t working for me the way I really thought it needed to be. I needed to get closer.

So I put my camera in my backpack and walked over to this man and sat right down next to him. This man had been through many difficult periods and trials, situations and travels, but above all his homelessness was tearing him apart. That introduction developed into a three-hour conversation, bringing the man to tears as he opened his life to me. Before I left, I ended up asking this man if I could photograph him and he agreed with an open, proud spirit.

Throughout the years I have photographed many people and I have learned that by trying to capture the full range of the human spirit I must look upon those who the world may deem the forgotten, those who are not the successful, but the poppers and ragamuffins.The artistic vision in photographing the forgotten or those whom we as a society seem to pass is this: its human life! What is more fascinating than the human and the choices in life? Neither film nor marble can capture all the intricacies of a man and his struggles, of a woman and the miles she has had to walk.

Pursuing the craft of photography is anything but easy, but mostly exhausting. The trials and temptations to continue in pursuit of the photograph is a piece of art in its own right. Why do we do it? What is the point? And will it make a difference? Maybe not, or maybe so, but we do it because it has been laid upon our hearts to display the pumping heart of this world, the long hours of a working man, the exhaustion of a single mother, the butt end of a cigarette on a jazz mans guitar, the sweat of a marathon runners final mile and of course the last look of a dying man. We photograph to inspire, we photograph to keep ourselves questioning, and we photograph those whom the world deems less important because in reality they are the most important.

By being with people, sitting in those dark alleyways, trudging through garbage cities, drinking their coffee, sleeping where they sleep, photographers will gain trust. Photographers can earn trust to take interesting photographs, but they will also earn the trust of a fellow human so that they might be able to tell someone’s story to the world so that it will not be forgotten.


– Photography and Patient Recovery

When Emma Westerlund’s father was diagnosed with cancer, he was hospitalized in Jakobstad, a town of about 25,000 in western Finland. On her visits to the hospital, Emma, a lecturer at the Department of Fine Art Photography at Novia University of Applied Sciences in nearby Nykarleby, thought that the greyish painted corridors through which she accompanied her father were certainly not conducive to uplifting the patient’s mood. At the same time she felt that her father, given the state he was in, wasn’t much concerned with questions of interior design.

Interested in questions of photography and aesthetics, Emma decided to do some online searching on how the environment influences patient recovery. She came across the research of Britt-Maj Wikström, a senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, that revealed the beneficial effects of art and art-related discussions on both the physical and mental functions of patients.

Apart from the occasional painting on the walls, hospitals rarely seem to invest in their aesthetic environment. As Emma said, "Often there is a visible lack of careful planning, holistic thinking and a pedagogical structure that would create an atmosphere that could make us feel better. Professor Wikström has researched the beneficiary effects of art on health for over 20 years, but according to her the research results are seldom put into practice. Both the health care and media industry have expressed a large interest, but so far no concrete projects exist."

(Photo above © Charlotta Ojersson)

When Emma learned of renovation plans for the hospital in Jakobstad, she managed to convince the representatives of the health care unit to create, together with Novia’s Department of Fine Art Photography, a hospital environment where aesthetics and art would figure prominently and thus allow for art to have the beneficial effect Wikström had documented in her research. 

Actually, one doesn’t really need research to prove that, common sense would do. However, since authorities are usually unduly impressed by representatives of science (the application of methodology, that is), Wikström’s credentials surely helped to convince those in charge at the hospital to go along with the project.

Let’s get practical, here’s an example: People who visit patients in hospitals often do not know what to talk about, and neither do the patients. Now think of a well-selected image on the wall. It seems rather obvious that such a picture could inspire a conversation. In fact, when Emma showed me around the hospital, what happened was just that: an elderly couple wandering through the corridors stopped in front of a photograph that showed a horse and the woman said, "Remember the stubborn horse we once had?"

© Max Nyberg

(Photo above © Max Nyberg )

However, the aim of the project was not simply to inspire art-related discussions. In Emma’s words, the aim was to:

"1. Use art to create a better working environment for hospital personnel. This environment would stimulate positive thinking among patients and their relatives and visitors.

2. Visualize the role of the artist in similar projects. Professional artists, employees within health service and decision-makers need to be better informed about the potentially beneficial effects art has on our health condition.

3. Reach a broader intersectional understanding between culture and health care as a result of collaboration.

4. In the long-term, strive for preparing and forming a model regarding the undertaking of similar projects, which would be important for the region. The purpose of this project is/was the provision of information on the positive aspects of aesthetics and art in hospitals in general. This project is not just targeting one specific hospital, but we rather hope that it will motivate similar undertakings in other hospitals in the Nordic countries. A Nordic network on the topic is already forming as we speak.

5. Initiate a discussion on how we can help art students to see and take the opportunity to create a working situation for themselves. Artists can not expect full-time employment, but rather have to learn to realize their own potentials in combination with the needs of their surroundings."

Needless to say, quite a lot of planning was needed to carry out this project.

"Choosing a suitable art form was the difficult part since taste varies greatly in art contexts depending on the onlookers’ experience with art," Emma said. "One of Maj-Britt Wikströms research results testifies that the individual’s personal choice of art is important for the positive impact art has on health. However, this was a practical problem. Our solution was a turning device that had double-sided pictures on it, and by presenting a number of different photographs on it we provided each patient the opportunity to somewhat choose the art presented in the room. The turning device was easily manageable to avoid putting an unreasonable work load on the nursing staff."

"During the month prior to the closing of the ward for renovation, the staff distributed a picture questionnaire to about 100 patients and their relatives. The purpose of this poll was to give the people in the ward the opportunity to express what kind of art they would appreciate in the hospital environment," she said. roofing repair . "The questionnaire included 11 pictures representing different styles of photography. The respondents only filled out their age and their picture of preference."

The project was carried out in autumn 2008. One of my personal highlights when I visited the ward in February 2009 with Emma, were three photos in blue that showed the sea and some trees. When one approached a photo, its shapes and forms started to take on different forms and shapes – and the nurses in the hospital were not only aware of it but enjoyed it. I asked the photographer if he had done it on purpose. No, he said, because most of the work was done in the computer, he only realized this effect later on, when the photos were hung.

© Timo Annanpalo

(Photo above © Timo Annanpalo)

As much as Emma Westerlund, together with Britt-Maj Wikström, was the initiator and driving force of all this, she sees it as the students´ project.

"They took a lot of responsibility, I just assisted them a little," Emma said. "Through the process I wanted to keep my personal involvement of subordinate importance. Of course I told the students and sometimes also the media where the idea first came from, but at some point the idea of what art can do and how important it is that artists realize their own potentials grew larger than my first, entirely personal, feelings when my dad was ill."


– Book Review: “What Matters” created by David Elliot Cohen

It rarely happens that I can’t put a book down. And this is especially true for photo books.

That, however, was very different with this tome. Even my default mechanism – my tendency to scoff at claims such like "the world’s preeminent photojournalists and thinkers" and how one would measure that anyway? – I for once managed to control. How come?

In general terms, because "What Matters" (Sterling 2008) by David Elliot Cohen does what it intends to do: it educates about things that really do matter: global warming, environmental degradation, AIDS, malaria, the global jihad, genocide in Darfur, the inequitabel distribution of global wealth and other issues. And it does so in generally well-written, well-argued texts (by, among others, Bill McKibben, Jeffrey D. Sachs or Samantha Power) that come with mostly impressive photographs (quite a few of these were already published in other books) by such well-known photographers as Sebastião Salgado, James Nachtwey, Gilles Peress or Stephanie Sinclair.

The reason, however, that I consider this book one of the best photojournalism tomes that I’ve ever come across is that it is, for the most part, real photojournalism, which means that pictures and words are actually related to each other. That is rare for most photo books (including the ones that sail under the photojournalism-label) that come with texts giving the impression that either an author needed some pics to make the page not look too boring, or a photographer thought, well, why not add some captions, and while we’re at it, maybe also an introduction.

The introduction is different and exceptional in the sense that it is an instructive text that addresses issues in photojournalism that are seldom written about:

"In an undertaking this ambitious, it is important to understand what the medium does best, and what it doesn’t do very well at all. For some very important issues, photojournalism is not the best way to tell a story. Despite our best efforts, and excellent guidance from a dozen top photo editors from major publications, we could not find a great photo-essay about the institutionalized corruption of America’s campaign finance system. It is a crucial meta-issue that affects many other issues, but it doesn’t lend itself to pictorial exposition. Then there are other big stories – such as the digital divide between information ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ – about which we felt sure we’d find great pictures. But we couldn’t identify ten or twelve strong images to convey the story. The point is, we believe that all the stories in this book are essential, but we also realize there are other stories, just as important, that are best told in other media.

Basically, photojournalism works best when it is personal and specific but still conveys a universal concept."

Indeed. Let me illustrate this with the text accompanying the first photo-essay of this work, "Meltdown, A Global Warming Travelogue" by Bill McKibben. It begins:

"For a long time – the first fifteen years that we knew about global warming and did nothing – there were no pictures. That was one of the reasons for inaction. Climate change was still ‘theoretical,’ the word that people in power use to dismiss anything for which pictures do not exist.It is the reason we don’t see shots of coffins coming back from Iraq; it’s the reason the only prison abuse we really know about was at Abu Ghraib. Without pictures, no uproar; not in a visual age.

But now the pictures have started to come, and they will not cease. Some show people: airlifted off the roofs of their houses in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward in the mad wake of Katrina, staring at their houses crumbling into the sea on the Alaskan coast, watching their graveyards flood on South Sea islands …"

Powerful, isn’t it? And so are the accompanying photographs by Gary Braasch.

Photojournalism stands for pictures with words (or for words with pictures), and never is this more apparent than when one is looking at a photo and cannot really understand (only guess) what one sees. Brent Stirton’s shot of a young African filling water, taken from a swamp, into a jerry can held by a woman while a man standing next to her is balancing a bucket of (presumably) water on his head, for instance. I examined the photo for quite a while before I read the caption: "An eleven-year-old girl in Ghana helps her blind mother and brother fetch water from a swamp. She has cared for them for six years, since they both lost their sight to trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eyelids linked to dirty water." This information made me see what a picture alone cannot show me – blindness. But his information did more: it triggered lots of other pictures in my head. These words made me see more than a thousand pictures. It goes without saying that I now look at the same picture with very different eyes.

Another very powerful essay is by Gary Kamiya with moving photographs by Paul Fusco. From "Bitter Fruit. Behind the Scenes, America buries its Iraq War Dead":

"War is nothing until you see it. Iraq is barely real, just something that keeps happening to other people very far away. Only stark, clear, undeniable images can make us realize what’s happening.

But there are only a few images out there. Photographs of the war’s horrible reality – the corpses, the mangled bodies, the dreadfully wounded victims – rarely appear in the US media. The war is largely invisible."

Despite the fact that this wasn’t really new to me , I followed this text and the pictures with great interest, and deeply moved.

"These faces make us weep. But they should also make us think. One thing they should make us think about ist he Iraqis. Take all the heartbreak in Fusco’s photographs and multiply it exponentially, and you wouldn’t tuch what the war has done to the Iraqi people. Hundereds of thousands of Iraqis have died; hundreds of thousands more have been wounded; and millions have been forced into exile."

And then there are the "Images of Genocide" by Magnum Photos, accompanied by the reflections of Omer Bartov about (among other things) what photography can and cannot do.

"Photographs of horror can mobilize political and social action, especially when they evoke other, already familiar contexts that remind of the consequences of inaction and the horror lurking behind still images. During he war in Bosnia a single shot of emaciated men behind the barbed wire of a makeshift camp evoked world-wide recollections of Nazi concentration camps and triggered an outpouring of public outrage. Action did not follow right away, but public opinion began to build, putting pressure on governments.

Yet photographs can have precisely the opposite effect …"

But let me stop here, I do not want to copy the full text of this impressive book, in which, without exception, all of the essays and photos are worth spending time studying.

Read and see for yourself, you will very likely come away like I did: enriched and troubled.