Bruno Boudjelal


Screen shot from the gallery on the Leica Camera Blog.

Recently, Bruno Boudjelal was interviewed for the Leica Camera Blog about his work from Algeria. Boudjelal is a photographer whose work fascinates me because of his vision. The photographs he makes are complicated and messy. The stories he tells have no clear beginning or end. His work is very open to interpretation. This video shows him are work in Paris photographing immigrants from Algeria. Boudjelal finds opportunities for pictures where I am apt to not see anything. He pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable for a “successful” photograph.

I usually show Boudjelal’s work in my classes because he is the antithesis of the majority of photographers that are discussed. He makes recordings of his experiences whose meanings are not always clear. Other photographers make crisp declarative statements about the world while Boudjelal uses fragments. With a background in documentary photography I can appreciate the complicated stories he is attempting to tell. Stories of homeland and family are universal and fascinating when the stories involve foreign countries clouded in mystery. The mystery in the pictures adds to the viewing experience.

The first time I experienced his pictures was in an issue of Leica World from 2004. The pictures were from his Algeria series and they showed blurry and seemingly hastily composted moments from an exotic country. It was during this time I was starting to question the limitations of working at a newspaper and I wonder what was out there besides my narrow view of photography. Boudjelal opened my eyes to a seeing a way that highlights the experience of photographing, not just the finished photograph. Within a year from first seeing these pictures I was applying to graduate programs to expand my photographic horizons. The act of considering this work to be valid forced me to think about what it means to make a picture. Does it always have to be clean and orderly? Does it always have to be sharp? Is there more than one way to photograph?

Working in newspapers for nearly decade indoctrinated a certain aesthetic in me. To say these aesthetic is clean and orderly would be an understatement. Letting go of those ways of seeing have not been an easy process for me. It is still ongoing as I continue to question what it means to make a picture in 2013. Having spent some time researching Boudjelal I know there was a time when he made images that were “correctly exposed” and “sharp”. How he is working now is part of his process and it evolves. Learning that was a revelation to me. The older work did not draw me in as much, being more traditional black and white reportage. It was the shift to color and a willingness to challenge the ideas of composition and sharpness that made me think about his work.

When I teach I often tell students to embrace the idea of intention. Be intentional with your technique. Boudjelal’s work is the definition of intention. It is consistently on the edge of what is photographically acceptable that the technique can’t be anything but intentional. That is my take. There are times when the response to his work is more negative than positive and I am pleased by that, because it shows me students do not readily accept everything that I show. I show work that challenges their notions of what is acceptable photography.

Defining acceptable photography is what this post is boiling down to. Is Boudjelal’s work acceptable. For me, and others since he is a member of Agence VU, his work is more than acceptable. VU is an agency with a distinct aesthetic. It is a vision that is more challenging and contemporary than other agencies. It is easy to say that every photographer has a unique vision. VU is a living breathing unique vision. Boudjelal is not the only one challenging what is allowed in photography.

Reexamining my ideas on Bruno Boudjelal forces me to deal with a murkier conclusion. Simply put I dig his work. That is too easy of a conclusion. I am past the point of trying to mimic work to grow. No matter how hard I try, that work is passed over in the viewfinder or in the loupe during the editing process. That might not sound like I wanted it to. What I meant to write is that no matter how much I try to loosen myself up to see in a “freer” manner, my photographic muscle memory works against me. The same thing happens in the during the editing process. The more I try to work in a freer manner, the more formally strict I become. It is like I can’t escape my journalistic training.

The ideas I am turning over keep looping in my head. They keep coming back to me and my process. When I was younger it was easier to challenge known ideas because I had not them become ingrained yet. Now, it is more challenging because I am at a point in my creative career where experimentation is a luxury. That is probably why I have restarted this blog, to experiment. To clear my head from some of these thoughts that have been rattling around my head for some time. Thoughts that are taking up precious space. Once I get them out of my head I will be able to move on to something new. Something new for me lives in the unknown world, like the world the Bruno Boudjelal works in.



Daily Life


Screen shot of original image found on

The Big Picture over on is one of the groundbreaking photography blogs out there. It was one of the first to post galleries of large pictures. In doing so, it paved the way for larger pictures on the internet. There are other news sites out there that have adopted this style of galleries. This blog has appeared a number of times in my classrooms because of the rich content it offers up. This post in particular featuring the work of Mario Tama is one that I especially like. The editors of the blog will find specific topics that might not get covered in other places. A consistent theme that crops up is the idea of daily life, or feature photos, or wild art. The most recent gallery from February has a wide variety of images to caught my eye. A lot of newspaper feature pictures that had been moved on the Associated Press wire were featured. When I talk with students about photojournalism it is series like these that are stressed. Photojournalism is the celebration of small moments. It has the ability to tell stories in ways no other medium can. This gallery was full of moments like this. These were the kinds of pictures I spent a lot of time making during my newspaper days. Pictures that I use to explain the meaning of photojournalism.

Chris McGrath, a Getty Images staffer based in Singapore, made a picture that not only held my interest but fascinated me. It was the caption that answered my questions about the image. It helped to fill in what is not initially apparent. This information which is not apparent is the magic part of the photograph. It is the magic part of every photograph. All we have is a hint of the action. We never know the whole story. On my first look I was drawn to the man with a white shirt leaning casually on the ferris wheel. I wondered about the other two, but I thought maybe the wheel had broken down. After reading the caption I lingered over the lines and the color of the image. The closer I looked, I noticed that two of the men walking to make the wheel turn are barefoot. How long could their shifts be? How long have they been doing this? It is interesting that Burma has townships? Seven men make this wheel turn, so where are the others? If this illustrates the state of the transition of Burma, what exactly is it telling us? The country is referred to Burma and Myanmar in the same caption which I also find interesting. After checking the caption against what was found on the Getty Images website, I see this is how Getty sent the image out. This photograph was part of a series of 30 images made between February 10 and 14, 2013. There are other strong images in the series, but this one stands out. McGrath’s use of the the man in white as an element of composition makes the image succeed. McGrath has a knack for form and light.

McGrath is yet another talented photographer on the Getty roster. Going through his website his ability to photograph news and sport is another trait of his. THe act of reading this caption opened me to not more of his work. Searching the Getty site showed me more of the life of a travel carnival in Burma is like. It is easy to consume images on the internet. Taking the time to investigate the ones that stop me always pays off.


…And We Are Back

Back? Really? Yes. No question. Regularly too, if the thoughts rattling around in my head pan out. I said to my wife the other day: “Hemingway wrote everyday. The only way writing improves is if you do it everyday.” I tend to favor Papa Hemingway over Faulkner. It is always the classic male binary ranking of the things that matter. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Stones. Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Cougar Mellencamp? The Boss. Larry McMurtry or Cormac McCarthy? Mr. McMurtry. Apple or Android? Android. WordPress or Blogger? WordPress. Canon of Leica? Leica. You get the point.

The goal is about 1,400 words a week. How that breaks down will depend on a number of factors. I am back because I need a challenge and I need to stretch my abilities. The focus, as always, will be photography and photography related matters. I am not cornering myself into one corner of a very flexible medium.

I will be writing for the sake of writing. I am not out to grind axes or play gotcha with photographers. There are enough of those sites out there. I just see myself as a former newspaper photographer trying to work out some opinions on the past, present and future state of photography…It will be interesting to see what happens.

Reading this post the other night is what fired my imagination and got me thinking that I have something to say.


Why This Blog Died

Blake Andrews called it yesterday: this blog died in the year 2011. Why did that happen? I am sure the 25 people who have visited here since then are wondering too.

From what I can tell, I started blogging around the early parts of 2005. I got a Blogger account so I could leave a comment on Thomas Boyd‘s blogger blog at the time, or something like that. Maybe it was Allison V. Smith’s blog, I can’t really remember. I was still working at the newspaper at the time and preparing to apply to graduate school. I had a Flickr account, posted photos there, but decided to hop on the bandwagon of blogging. Not a lot of worthwhile stuff, because even then, the photo blogging community was not yet fully formed.A lot of the photos are missing since I have cleaned out my flickr account for one reason or another. It was during graduate school that I took a Photography and the Web class from Paho Mann,  where the main thrust of this blog, words on photography, developed as part of a class project. So this blog came to life I am thinking during the fall of 2008. I had this blog, my other personal blog, and a website I felt plugged in. At times I dabbled with tumblr off and on.

I have never set out to making a living from this blog. It started as a class project, and my own strong opinions about various photo topics had kept me going. This post was probably the turning point for me. After this post, I really did not want to the be the one commenting on things any longer, it became tiring. I tend to spend more time than I should online looking for photographers or new working methods. I feel like this is part of my job as a photography educator. The other thing I realized was that what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. I will share a link that is passed on to me, but I will not comment or complain my students online. That is just not professional. There have been a few times where I have tweeted how behind in my grading I am, but other than that, you would not know I teach, unless you looked a blog I made for a class.

This blog started getting updated when I would post a book review for photo-eye, but after a while, I would just tweet the links. I started to like Twitter more than this blog. Facebook was something that I spent some time on, but eventually left for a variety of different reasons. I have thought about going back to Facebook, but in the end I always decided against it.

The increasing amount of time I spend on my phone does not help. I think about blogging when it is easy to blog, which it is on the laptop, but on my phone, I am prone to tweet than blog. Once, tweeted, I would probably not blog about it. Which is what it all comes down to. What is it that I want to say, and what is the easiest way to say it? It is easier to do that on my phone with Twitter than this blog, or the blog on my website, or the Tumblr I once had, or the….you get the picture.

With Twitter it is easier to mix the passions for photography, F1, college basketball and bacon than here. This blog, by it’s very name, is limited to just photography, but I can find  a way to pull all of those tangents together.

Lastly, the realities of life in 2011 got in my way, be it a high teaching load, long commutes, motivation that only comes in small doses, economic worries, the kids, my wife, money, the car that only eats money, etc. all sap the life out of me. There are times when I walk away from the online life and read a book just to recharge the batteries. I need to do this more. If all I worry about is what I have to say on the blog, my priorities are off. I want to make pictures, write some book reviews, participate in my life. I do not want to be thought of the guy who twists off about the online photo issue of the day. Aline Smithson covered a lot of those things better than I could have.

I am glad that someone paid enough attention to my thoughts to mention them to a wider audience. For something that started as a class project, I feel like I have learned a lot. Especially when I realize I prefer to make images more than anything. So, if you see this and like what you see, I can be found on Twitter and Google +, but I don’t write much their either. I occasionally post here. I am also on Goodreads.

When I started this blog it was more for me than anyone else. To stay true to that spirit, I should have called this blog dead a year ago, but in that time I have realized I can live without it.