Ali’s work reflected his consciousness of the role of the photojournalist as a historian and chronicler of the voices and lives of ordinary people. During the class, he showed work that was part of a long-term project to understand the consequences of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 through the hopes and dreams of to ordinary Iranian citizens who participated and dedicated their lives to the revolution’s goals and ideology.
Working in such an honest way inside a political system that may not want such specific truths revealed requires courage. We were struck by the purity of his intentions and the love he was showing for his countrymen in his own aspiration to tell effectively their stories.
Other students in the class also are producing powerful personal work on subjects that are of great personal interest and in doing so forming visual sensibilities and identities that do vary from the prevailing visual journalism orthodoxies of the past quarter century.
Our master photographers each offered inspiring examples in their own work of the fruits to be found from working in this way. All spoke eloquently about the need to put one’s artistic ego in check and to focus primarily on the obligations to one’s subjects and telling their stories in a way that is truthful and clear to any potential audience.
Philip Blenkinsop made it clear that doing the work and finding a way to get to the heart of his subject’s lives is far more important than making a living through regular publication in media outlets, particularly if publication means that one’s vision of a story is going to be profoundly compromised.
That same purity of intentionality came through loud and clear in the talks offered by Giorgia Fiorio and Maggie Steber. Both showed highly personal work that was emblematic of larger truths about the human condition – work that required immense dedication, persistence and the ability to push through any barriers that a certain kind of self-consciousness might impose when one had to photograph in emotionally charged or emotionally uncomfortable situations. In Maggie’s case, she was photographing the highly personal story of her mother’s last few years of life. In Giorgina’s case, she was photographing the hidden worlds of men in roles that normally would not be accessible to a female photographer.
Giorgina talked about her photography as a kind of “confrontation” meant in two senses; confronting one’s own curiosity and passion for a subject as well as confronting the barriers that might be in place that would block one in a more literal physical way from being able to photograph those subjects of interest. Both stressed the need to have certainty about one’s own intentionality as a means of acquiring the courage to persevere in the face of physical or emotional challenges. I was struck by the clarity and relevance of their message as well as the power of the work they showed as examples of their approach.