A panel discussion kicked off the New York Photo Festival on Thursday that featured Elizabeth Biondi, Visuals Editor at The New Yorker and four photographers from the relatively new photo agency, INSTITUTE. The topic was “New Directions in Storytelling” and Biondi began the talk by professing that she will always be “rooted in traditional storytelling.” But the photographers that followed showcased the ways they’ve adapted to changing media platforms and new methods of doing business.
Jeff Jacobson, a renowned color photographer, confessed he had only recently incorporated other mediums into his photography. He shared a short multimedia presentation, created during a road trip following Barack Obama’s inauguration, which combined his still images with music and poetry written by his wife Marnie Andrews. Jacobson commented that this new medium was “not quite still [photography], not quite film,” but Jacobson seemed happy with how the addition of new elements gave his photographs a new context. The ability to share these small pieces and create a web presence excited Jacobson, who will always prefer photography for its ability to freeze “a moment in time and space,” but is also curious about “what is this new medium and how do we use it?”
Following Jacobsn was editorial portrait photographer Gillian Laub, who said that she wished she had access to the multimedia tools photographers have now when she was first making pictures. When showing a picture of her grandfather, Laub spoke about how she wanted to hear his voice, knowing the value it would add to her image. In her most recent work, Laub has included audio and video as additional story telling elements that she believes gives her subjects a true voice.
Following Laub was Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra, the admittedly “most traditional” of the photographers present. His mediums are still film and photo books, and he has no intention to change. What’s particularly interesting about Hornstra are his new methods of financing and promoting his projects. His most recent work “The Sochi Project,” aims to document the Russian city of Sochi prior to its hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics. He has gone about financing it via the crowd funding technique seen on websites like Kickstarter. We’ll feature Hornstra and his Dutch cohorts later this weekend.
Out of the last of the four photographers, Lauren Greenfield is most likely the best known. Her books Flash Forward and Girl Culture are hallmarks of documentary photojournalism. In the last few years her photography has transitioned itself gracefully into film. Greenfield showcased selections from her documentaries, produced for HBO, that sprang from her photography projects. “Thin” documents young girls at an eating disorder clinic and “Kids + Money” focuses on the culture of wealth in Los Angeles.
Following the photographer’s introduction, they sat with Biondi for a quick panel discussion focusing on their own separate approaches. They all agreed that there are multiple ways to introduce new disciplines to photography, from Greenfield who has taken on a role of full-fledged filmmaker to Hornstra who still prefers working analog, but used Internet to increase his work’s audience. Laub commented that the hardest part of dealing with these new options is committing to the right medium for the subject matter. For Jacobson, it “used to be black and white or color, now there are so many mediums to choose from.” But the upside is that more work is shown. Biondi mentioned that her work at the New Yorker is focused on condensing a body of work into only one photograph. But photographs, Jacobson believes, “need other photographs and wants other photographs”
The main disagreement was on the overall worth of new media’s impact on photography. Does it elevate the subject’s worth or does it offer a distraction that takes away from photography’s value? There’s a common misconception that one can do anything; Lauren Greenfield admitted to working with a small film crew for some documentaries. But as Hornstra believes, when a photographer focuses on wanting to do everything, “everything is average and nothing is good.”
We’ll be bringing you more features from this photo mecca throughout the weekend, spilling into next week.