LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph

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Nick Nichols: Father of the Festival

There exists a bittersweet joy in watching your kids grow up. As a father of two, I can only tell you how great it is to see them develop personalities, and how sad it is to concede to the bare memories of how they once were.

In that strange paradox where you end up becoming a father to yourself, Nick Nichols is LOOK3. The growth of the festival has become an extension of his career; maturity met with great pride and curiosity for what comes next. The thought of going out on top is no enigma, but it is bittersweet and it does concede to memory.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a crossroads, there is a good chance that LOOK3 goes right and Michael “Nick” Nichols goes left. No turning back for either one, but you do get the sense of new direction. Quite literally, there have been plenty of yellow signs along the way.

As Nick stood before his children at the Paramount, all he could do was sob and gently wipe away the tears. The giant screen had played his career in retrospect, and it was obvious that a three thousand foot rope could not measure or scale his accomplishments. His children stood with him, unanimously applauding before he could even say the words, “Thank you all. Fuck.”

The expletive provided immediate levity, but it also carried a meaning deeper than the four-letter word by itself. It was a touristy way of Nick asking the crowd for directions like where to go, what to do, and how far he was from the location. They were interesting questions from a man who never would have asked them on the 455th day of the MegaTransect. But when you’ve traveled with J. Michael Fay for two thousand miles across the Congo Basin, the call for simple instruction is not hard to imagine. Because, really, what do you after that?

We know all about the work that Nick did before 2002 with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossy. And, of course, there are the intelligent Elephants, the three hundred foot Redwoods, and the happy Serengeti Lions that came after that. (Go see them at The Haven before its too late.) So, it’s not so much as what to do, but more like why he should do it anymore.

It has taken a toll on him. You could see it. He told you so himself. But the paradox between Nick Nichols and LOOK3 ends there, because as the photographer is winding down, the Festival is just getting started.

Since my involvement with LOOK3 in 2011, I could recite the names of the artists with the same effortlessness as I could name any of Nick’s work. Mary Ellen Mark. Christopher Anderson. Lynsey Addario. Hank Willis Thomas. George Steinmetz. Stanley Greene. Massimo Vitali. Alex Webb. Camille Seaman. Donna Ferrato. Steve McCurry.

The list goes on. I could sit in a tree for 19 days and listen to any of them speak without growing weary of their work. The same goes for Nick, but the notion of him being available for so many days is up for debate. It’s hard for me to understand.

David Quammen posed an interesting question to Nick during yesterday’s conversation. “Given that photography was invented in 1826, who would you be and what would you be doing if you grew up in the 1790s?”

“That’s a crazy question,” answered Nichols. “I’d probably be in prison. I don’t have a life without photography. If it weren’t invented yet, I wouldn’t have been there. I couldn’t have done etching because it’s too slow. You can’t shoot two hundred thousand etchings.”

And therein lies the contradiction. A passionate creative admits that he is nothing without the means to create; yet he is willing to give up his life in exchange for something new. Nick has said that he desperately hates following other people’s footsteps, but when you think about it, it is exactly what he has done for decades. The world would be absent of his photographic treasures had he not done so.

That fact the Nick would call it a career is an absolute sacrifice. (It should come as no surprise that his Lions are displayed in a church.) And in that strange paradox where you become a father to yourself, we are LOOK3; and the bittersweet joy becomes ours, having to assume role of the parent and concede to the memory of what Nick was, and forever will be.

A damn good photographer.

(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)

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Shots and Works: Pt.1

Herds of us gathered at The nTelos Wireless Pavilion on Friday night to enjoy two hours of art from over twenty emerging and established photographers. We sat under the stars on chairs or blankets, in the company of our friends, as the images explored aspects of our nature and the condition of our planet.

The impact of progress was put under the lens. Nina Berman’s “Fractured” took a cold, hard look at the initial impact of Fracking on rural Pennsylvania, while Stanley Greene examined the impact of electronic waste on the planet. Will Steacy’s “Deadline” documented the decline of the newspaper industry over the last five years.

Andrea Stern and Lindsay Morris dove into the lives of children. The former explored the seriousness of kids engaged in extracurricular activities, while the latter captured the spirit of children at a camp, where they were free to dress and act as they pleased, irrespective of their gender.

We saw Vannucci’s convicted criminals taking to the stage in the troupe Compagnia Della Fortezza, playing to sold out crowds in Italy, returning to their cells at night. Van Agtmael travelled through America exploring its “brutal and romantic” landscape.

There was much more… and there will be more tonight at the same place and at the same time.

(Story by Anil Ramchand / Corbis)

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Susan Meiselas: Seeking Truth

The relationship between photographer and subject is a two-way street, but not always equal. The photographer generally holds the cards and the direction of the narrative. It is how she chooses to participate in this relationship that separates Susan Meisales from the pack.

She seeks the truth.

Susan has been invited into a diverse mix of groups, cultures and subcultures, from carnival strippers to neighborhood kids; from rebels in Nicaragua to foreign workers in Rochester. She rewards their trust with a tasteful and fair representation of the moment. The photographer and her subjects share a risk that allows for a more meaningful, long-term exploration of substance.

It’s about the material. Meiselas approaches her stories from various angles, taking great care to expose viewpoints without judgement. She doesn’t know what she is going to find. She doesn’t know how her stories are going to end. Her job is to examine and handle the cloth more directly, unravel its threads, and then sew them back for the audience to appreciate its true fabric.

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Richard Misrach: Poetic Phrases

When Richard Misrach first took an interest in photography during college in 1967, he approached the medium much in the same way as other young and ambitious academics do: with an emboldened passion to document and change the world. Campus life filled his 35 mm camera with street riots, demonstrations and tear gas developed in black and white. It wasn’t anything that he was commissioned to do; it’s just what he saw.

Richard published his first book in 1972 at the ripe-old age of 22. Telegraph 3 A.M. captured the average street person in Berkeley, California through eye-level confrontations along a five-block stretch between home and campus. The images contained the sort of grit that identified with youth. ICP took notice and showcased Richard’s work during the group’s inaugural event in ’75. And while Telegraph had been elevated and displayed on the big stage, it landed on far too many coffee tables with an audible thud.

Something was wrong.

Perhaps it was more gullible than he first thought. Not everyone’s first body of work is their best, after all. But it wasn’t that. Richard believed that his camera had exploited its subject matter in a way that others took for granted; and, it didn’t sit well with him. He no longer wanted to shoot at the expense of others, despite knowing that photographers before him had profited their careers in that very way. Diane Arbus produced squares of people that many considered ugly. Garry Winogrand approached his subjects as deer-in-the-headlight. Richard wouldn’t do that, so he hid.

In the desert, to be precise.

Away from others, he embodied his profession. Shooting with a strobe in the middle of the night, Richard was brought to light by the connection between him and his environment. Suddenly he could identify, contain, divide and elongate his subject matter. The poetry of this discovery must have inspired his life’s work, the Cantos.

In lengthy poems, cantos are the earmarks of pages. They are the intimate conversations that happen in a room full of people talking about the same thing. Richard’s dialogue began in 1979 and are planned to continue until a photograph can no longer be taken. Between those lines exist terrain, space shuttles, floods and fires—little dots, if you will, that connect an audience with his work in a way that does not exploit.

You could think of the Paramount as a dot of its own. Intimate conversations in a room full of people all talking about Richard Misrach. Talking about the mass graves of dead animals in desert. Talking about Playboys being used for target practice. Talking about the world’s fastest mobile home or a manmade cloud that doesn’t move. Talking about Hurricane Katrina. Talking about a remarkable set of pictures hidden for twenty years. Talking about work produced after 9/11—a utopian response to devastation, inspired by small bodies jumping from windows of the World Trade Center. Talking about the wonderful Petrochemical America Exhibit at the McGuffey Art Center. Talking about what they haven’t seen yet.

Richard’s career may have no punctuation, but his LOOK3 conversation did. It ended with a portrait, no less, of a couple taking a “selfie” on an iPhone. You might have thought that it was return to the exploitation that Misrach so heavily fought early on, but it was actually a new and creative study on pixel depth in photography. Richard zoomed all the way into his photograph until he reached its core, and then zoomed all the way out to reveal the picture taken by the iPhone itself.

The irony.

Richard Misrach said many clever things on Friday, and quoting T.S. Eliot was one of them. “The world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” In a poetry of work divided into elegantly-phrased cantos, we find that hard to believe.

(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)

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Portfolio Reviews

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Carrie Mae Weems: More Questions Than Answers

Carrie Mae Weems.

Look at the name. Say it out loud. Examine it. Tear it down. Sexualize it. Build it up. Stare some more.

We have witnessed many powerful introductions to LOOK3 over the years, but we have seen few deliveries that would seem to pose more questions than answers. What did I see? What does it mean? Where do I fit in the conversation?

That last question is particularly important, because Carrie Mae Weems carefully aims to place you in her work. She is a photographer. NO. She is a conceptual artist. NO. She is a documentarian. NO. She is a performer. NO. She is an educator. YES.

NO. You are unsure. Weems is carefully designed by many disciplines to engage viewers—nay, participants—across an entire spectrum of beliefs and opinions. You get the feeling that her work is judging you and your own perception of art, history and context. And while she precisely targets all three of those constructs, it’s the sting of history that leaves us red in the face.

Slavery. Gender. Objectification. Placement. Perception. Revision.

By her own admission, Weems is more of an architect than anything else. But before building her projects she absolutely tears them down. Gets to the core. Understands the message. Creates meaning. Looking at her work could make you proud or it could make you uneasy. It does introspect.

Deborah Willis was an amazing moderator. No one could have been more prepared to navigate through the many layers of Carrie Mae Weems. Her questions were masterfully terse and academic, as if she knew that planting the seed was enough to allow her counterpart to water and grow the narrative. You could tell that they were friends. The Paramount needed that connection between the two to help explore their own relationship to the widescreen before them.

Everyone can relate to the kitchen table series because we’ve all been there. We can relate to the conversations and the displays that take place in such a confined space. It might mean something. But not everyone can relate to the history or experience of black people in America. Few people have lived it, and perhaps fewer truly “get” it.

Beyond my own control, a carefully framed set of squares and ovals lowered my head. Painted red and played in succession, they were appropriated stills of black soldiers and the archetype of mammy behind etched glass—each one captioned “HOUSE” or “YARD” or some other impertinent, pre-fabricated American classification. I was embarrassed, although I had no reason to be.

“What do you want the viewer to feel?” asks Deborah.

A rare pause.

“I don’t know if I want you to feel, but I want you to be deeply engaged,” Carrie responds. “I try to establish a rhythm of language that helps you move through a difficult piece from beginning to end… so that the language becomes an anchor for the viewer, to assist the viewer from one difficult experience to the next. My responsibility is to CONSTRUCT. The work forces me to look at what I am doing with my own life.”

Suddenly the image of Carrie, seated at the kitchen table with a mirror pointed at the camera, makes sense. You have to confront your own notion of self and accept or deny what it is that you actually see. Her work is colorless, revealing the true aspects of human behavior.

The woman dressed in black is a common protagonist in Carrie’s work, playing witness to environment, surrounded by physical constructs. That, too, makes sense, until you realize that her demonstrations go beyond witness.

They are calls to action.

To ad-lib Carrie Mae Weems’ wonderful control over the English language is rather stupid, but I’m left with no choice beyond my own memory to account for her final dissertation on the importance of subject matter. It actually turns the mirror on herself. She left the Paramount saying that, “everyone writes about Picasso because there are one million books him, but who will write about Lorna Simpson or Joe Crawford?”

In this case, it was more of an answer than it was a question.

(Story by Joe Santa / Corbis)

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Galleries and Exhibits: The ♥ of LOOK3

Seeing all of this years’s galleries and exhibits in less than three hours is no easy task, but these are the lengths that we go to share the LOOK3 experience with the greater audience. The talks and the conversations always seem to generate the most buzz, but it’s the heart of Main Street and the veins along its periphery that really keep the people alive. Galleries and exhibits are not something that you should experience online—you really need to go in person. It’s also NOT something that you should do in less than three hours. The confining space of the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit and the holy feeling of watching Nick Nichols’ lions in a church need to be felt on a personal level.

Having said that… GO. It doesn’t matter where you begin or where you end.
The journey is more important than the destination.

(Story by Joe Santa/Corbis)


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An Interesting Thing Happened Today

As my colleague and I were dropping off our bags and setting up equipment in the LOOK3 registration building, Laura-Chase McGehee stopped by to say hello. If the name somehow rings a bell, it’s because Laura-Chase was last year’s winner of the Corbis Instagram contest. (Read the story here.) Her single, square frame beat out 900 other submissions to take home a brand new Apple iPad.

The fact that Laura-Chase stopped by was less interesting than the actual reason. She had come to drop off a thank you note, explaining how her experience at LOOK3 and winning the Instagram contest literally changed her life.

It’s an incredible story that we’d like to share with you below in its entirety.

Dear LOOK3/Corbis/Instagram world,

Throughout the past year I thought about sending many tweets of thanks, but I could never seem to get it all out in 140 characters. I wanted you all to really, truly know what winning the Instagram iPad last year did for me.

  1. I’d have to say the most life-changing outcome has to be this: Because of winning an Instagram competition, my former boss (when I was an intern) hired me back for the week of the Democratic National Convention as a photojournalist/live tweeter/Instagrammer for the Charlotte Observer. Holy sh*t. Shooting the DNC is something I never could have fathomed getting to do. But I did! And it gave me the self-confidence to believe in myself and sell myself to potential clients thereafter. “Hell yeah I can cover your event! I covered the DNC!”
  2. Having an iPad at client meetings was a serious game changer. Laptops were clunky, iPhone too small. The iPad, to me, is the Goldilocks of the tech world; just right. I honestly believe having this piece of technology helped boost my professional appearance, allowing me to book the most high-paying gigs I’ve ever landed.
  3. Landing these gigs helped boost my portfolio.
  4. Boosting my portfolio made me a competitive candidate when there was an opening in the photography collective Readyluck.
  5. I am now a partner in Readyluck and I can honestly say that I have never felt more at home than with this group of inspiringly creative individuals. Thank you, Corbis and LOOK3. You’ve changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

Laura-Chase McGehee

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Tim Laman: Survival of the Sexiest

Story by Joe Santa / Corbis — Photograph by Riley Blanks

There are only two ways to begin the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph at The Paramount Theater. One is with Vince Musi, and the other is with “the talk”.

Many of us know Vince from his previous years as the Festival’s Master of Ceremonies. Some of us may even recognize him from Marvel’s The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises—but, “only if [we] sat next to him in the theater.” And those of us who have been to LOOK before know all about the talks; they’re masterfully delivered presentations from the industry’s best talent, of course.

But this talk was different.
This was THE talk.

It’s the conversation that parents don’t like to give and teenagers don’t like to hear. And given his penchant for humor, sincerity and directness, you would think that it would come from Vince himself. But this “talk” came from an even more natural source: a bird-watcher.

Who better to talk about the birds and the bees the birds than a bird-watcher, right?

Tim Laman is a Harvard educated PhD, a field biologist, and a photographer. It is that last part that makes him most qualified to talk about sex, because for the last ten years, Tim has seen 39,568 pictures of birds performing their mating ritual. To say that he knows a thing or two about a pickup line is probably an understatement.

It’s taken 18 expeditions, 146 tree climbs, 200 commercial flights, 58 boat trips and 12,000 feet of air to capture all 39 of New Guinea’s birds-of-paradise. What started as an assignment for Nat Geo in 2003 became an absolute obsession for Tim and his fellow journalist/scientist, Ed Scholes. The birds-of-paradise are known for their colorful iridescence and complex display by males who dance, change shape and even clean their homes in the interest of courting a female.

The images are stunning, of course, and they can be seen hanging in the trees throughout Main Street. Vince Musi jokes that he hasn’t seen a single bird or a squirrel since they went up.

The presentation was more than just Biology 101; it was as much art as it was science. Beautiful males with feathery and ornate head plumes and long stems sprouting from their backs were coupled with the brown and more demure females. Kings of Saxony, Astrapias and Wilson’s birds-of-paradise exposed their red, yellow and blue hues. The Paramount was in awe of the beauty and the precision with which these amazing images were captured.

Few people are willing to camp along eight branches set fifty meters in the air just to see birds make love… but that’s exactly what Tim did in the Aru Islands. He described the process of building a canopy high in the trees with a local clan who knew the whereabouts of the Greater Bird of Paradise. In four hours time, the team constructed an elaborate, egg-shaped blind from which to capture two males courting one lucky girl. The strategy to attract the birds? “Rub earwax on the tree trunk,” advised the locals. It worked. Tim captured the majesty of this unique species overlooking the greater landscape.

The “talk” was surely academic—as most lectures from fathers to their children typically are—but it never felt that way. It was an important visual reminder about the necessity for wildlife conservation.

Tim Laman described what he saw in New Guinea as “Survival of the Sexiest”. If the remainder of the talks follow the same path as he did, we may all come out on top.


(by Joe Santa, Corbis)

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LOOK3 is only 2 weeks away!

We’re just 2 weeks away from the opening night of the Festival! We couldn’t be more excited about our lineup this year, and we’d like to thank our 2013 guest curators, Melissa Harris and Yolanda Cuomo, for all their hard work putting it together. Check out this year’s poster for a sneak peek of what’s to come:

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