Who’s your favorite?

November 11, 2009 at 5:58 am Leave a comment


So, artists, executives, nonprofit organizations, who are the photographers you look at the most? Whom do you love? Who tells the best story in the most beautiful phrases?

PhotoPhilanthropy has just received an outstanding deluge of entries for the Activist Awards, and, I’d like to know, those of you who submitted and those of you who have looked at the submissions, and those of you who just like pictures, who are your favorite photographers? And why?

I am a little bit embarrassed to tell you who my favorite photographers are, because the level of idolatry I’m liable to communicate is, well, it’s unseemly. You may suddenly feel as through I’m a shrieking teenager and you are at an ‘N Sync concert circa 1999.

But I’ll start with the elephant in the room. I am a student of Emmet Gowin’s, and his way of teaching, way of being, and way of making art have had an enormous influence on me. As a result, he is my #1 favorite.

What I love about Emmet’s work is that it takes on huge, multifaceted social issues—wicked problems, as a policy wonk might say—and explores them, without losing any of their complexity, or their poignancy. His work, like the book Changing the Earth or his new moth portraits, talks about the impact human beings are having on the world, while also reveling in the world itself; in its paradoxes and its surprises.

emmet moths

Emmet Gowin, Mariposas Nocturnas, Index No. 8, Yashumi and Otenga, Ecuador, 2007

It’s a bit hard to put into words. Joel Smith, the curator of photographs at the Princeton University Art Museum, and the force behind the new  show Emmet Gowin: A Collective Portrait, says it better than I can.

In his introduction to the catalogue, he writes of the moth pictures, “Seen collectively, these portraits manifest the diversity of a natural order that is endangered on every front; seen alone, each embodies an ingenious beauty that remains available to the eye of anyone willing to become its student.”

I believe that great images a) are visually captivating; b) teach you something new; c) make you feel something; and d) tell a story.

When nonprofits communicate what they do, I think the goals are similar. You have to a) get an audience; b) teach them about the issue you work on; c) convince them that issue is important; and d) show the way forward.

That’s why I think artists and nonprofits have such great potential for collaboration. They’re often working toward the same ends, and we need both media—art and organization—to keep moving forward.

So share your favorites with us!

Comment below, tweet your response to @PhotoPhilan, or email me at eliza@photophilanthropy.org.

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A different kind of picture Opportunities for artists and nonprofits

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"In this way his work is more powerful in its moments of creation, when real human interactions are eroding racial stereotypes, than in its exhibition. And if the work succeeds, it is not because Subotzky can use a camera like no one else, it is because his photographs embody his efforts to confront social injustice on a personal level." --Charles Schultz on Mikhael Subotzky

PhotoPhilanthropy’s blog is written by Eliza Gregory

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