Rethinking photography

The seminar «Bending the Frame» at Litteraturhuset 17.10. (free and open to all), and an exhibition at Preus museum seeks to re-think how to make photographic imagery in an increasingly crazy political climate. We have interviewed Fred Ritchin, project initiator and dean Emeritus of the International Center of Photography (ICP) School, about the collaborative project that includes students from Oslo Fotokunstskole and Akademin Valand: – The photojournalistic industry has largely imploded, so it is up to the students to find new ways for self-expression.

The exhibition at Preus museum will include work by students at Oslo Fotokunstskole and Akademin Valand. This image is from the project «Sex Will Always Exist» by OFKS-student Nora Savosnick.

You are taking part in the making of the show «Bending the Frame» which opens at Preus Museum October 15th, based on your research in the book «Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen». Could you tell us what the exhibition is about and what will be on show?

The idea of the exhibition is that imagery can still provoke discussion and social change, but it might be necessary to re-think the kind of imagery that one makes. It may at times be helpful to collaborate with one’s subject in the making of imagery, as Swedish photographer Kent Klich did when he gave a movie camera to a former prostitute and drug addict named Beth and she made a movie about her own life while Kent made photographs — each are included in the book Picture Imperfect, and each one major awards. For four years the South African-born photographer Gideon Mendel photographed a pilot program to give anti-retroviral medicines to people who were HIV-positive in South Africa; by showing the positive results of the program, UNAIDS later reported that 8 million people were put on treatment when previously Western governments and NGOs had not wanted to be financially supportive due to racist assumptions that Africans would not be disciplined enough to take the medicines. One argument the exhibition makes is that there is room for a proactive photography and not just a reactive one, a photography of peace rather than one that just covers war and other apocalypses — it is better to prevent or minimize disasters rather than wait for them to occur and then make graphic imagery.

The exhibition at Preus museum will include work by students at Oslo Fotokunstskole and Akademin Valand. This image is from the project «Isoäiti», the finnish word for grandmother, by OFKS-student Ylva Teigen Aas.

There will also be a free full day seminar at Litteraturhuset in Oslo October 17th, where you are one of the speakers, together with Tina Enghoff, Laara Matsen, Kent Klich, Sarah Tuck, Tyrone Martinsson, Kyrre Lien and the photo collective #Dysturb. What will you be addressing in your presentation?

I will be addressing the changing medium environment, the fact that, as Marshall McLuhan put it, we are going 150 kilometers per hour while essentially looking through the rearview mirror. Digital media allows many wonderful and terrible things to happen — how do we maximize the good, the useful, the inspiring? How is digital media different than analog media? Where are we going with all of this? How can we aspire to a better society and do something about it with media rather than passively wait for things to happen?

Fred Ritchin giving a presentation to students from Akademin Valand and Oslo Fotokunstskole. Photo: Pelle Kronestedt

In your book «Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen» from 2013 you pose the question of how images and photojournalism  can promote new thinking and make a difference in the world. What is your impression of the possibility for photographers to make a difference in our current political and social climate? 

I think the question can be answered simply — we have no choice excerpt to try new strategies to have a social impact. We cannot give up. The political climate is increasingly crazy, the lack of logic in decision-making is astounding, enmities among peoples are growing, and if there is anything at all we can do with our imagery to make it better we must try. Of course, it would help if we spent more time thinking about the positive strategies that might exist rather than simply copying what we used to do and assuming that it will work. And there are many projects that have made major positive differences in the lives of others. It is a different media climate and we must work differently, but there is much to be done.

Tina Enghoff giving a presentation to students from Akademin Valand and Oslo Fotokunstskole. Photo: Pelle Kronestedt

Through your experience as founding director of the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program at the School of ICP (International Center of Photography), where you were later appointed as Dean, and through your teaching as professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, you have extensive hands on experience working with up-and-coming photographers. Have you noticed any shifts of tendencies or focus with the students who are working with photojournalism and others forms of socially concerned photography over your many years in the field?

One fantastic change is that I have been able to work with students from countries around the world — in fact, the course that I am teaching now at the International Center of Photography in New York has some 15 students from about ten countries. I am also working with Tina Enghoff in person and over Skype with students from Norway and Sweden to make individualized “Bending the Frame” books that express each person’s perspective on social issues. The secret to success is not to be found only in London or Paris or New York, but throughout the world. People use photography differently, the images have diverse meanings, and the impact varies so that in one place prints might work best, in another mobile phones, etc. The photojournalistic industry has largely imploded, so it is up to the students to find new ways for self-expression, for authentic and credible media, and this can be both frightening to work when older models are not as reliable, and also incredibly liberating to realize that one has a voice, as well as extraordinary means of production and distribution — this is the Golden Age for media, a kind of Renaissance, but also a moment of great risk and uncertainty. All of us need to be involved in trying to lead society, and lead ourselves, to a more self-aware and healthier place.

The exhibition and seminar is based on research from the book «Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen» by project initiator Fred Ritchin, published by Aperture.

THE EXHIBITION «BENDING THE FRAME» OPENS AT PREUS MUSEUM 15.10 AND IS ON DISPLAY TILL 04.03. THE FULL DAY SEMINAR IS TAKING PLACE AT LITTERATURHUSET IN OSLO 17.10. (FREE). THE PROJECT IS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN PREUS MUSEUM, AKADEMIN VALAND/UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG, OSLO FOTOKUNSTSKOLE, FOTOGRAFISK CENTER & NORWEGIAN JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. 

Ønsker du å studere fotografi? Les mer om Oslo Fotokunstskole og søk skoleplass med løpende opptak gjennom sommeren for heltids- og deltidsstudium (kveld). Oslo Fotokunstskole er en fotoskole i Oslo for deg som ønsker å utforske dine kreative evner i et engasjerende og dynamisk miljø. Skolen ble etablert i 1989 og holder til i lyse og velutstyrte lokaler ved Alexander Kiellands Plass. Les mer om hvordan du kan starte din fotoutdanning på oslofotokunstskole.no.

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