Monday, March 8, 2010

Rising Above our Vows of Silence


by J. Ross Baughman

Photojournalists feel an irresistible attraction to the power of still and silent images. We commit ourselves to what that language can impart, and in so doing, try to find or make pictures that speak for us.

Donna Ferrato awoke to this idea back in 1976, and to celebrate the occasion, we made this photograph in her parent’s house back in Lorain, Ohio. Of course Donna went on to document the awful point of view of women who suffer from domestic violence. For those who know this winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she seldom seems reluctant to speak her mind.

She has gone on to become a champion of this cause, one that almost could not speak its name until Donna gave it voice. She helps women’s shelters whenever she can, lectures around the world and started a website to make sure that her work from the book Living with the Enemy remains in the public eye.

Over the years, I invited photographers such as Donna to speak with my students, hoping that the power of ideas would be more interesting and more inspiring that fretting over the latest gadget.

Some of the other distinguished visitors to my class at the New School in New York included Mary Ellen Mark, Gordon Parks and a young fellow named Louie Psihoyos.

Back in the early 1980s, Louie had caught the eye of top magazine photo editors with the incredible lengths to which he would go for a gorgeous photo. Whether dangling from an aircraft or diving deep beneath the sea, firing multiple remotes or over-gelling his strobes – all this seemed to come naturally to him.

On Sunday evening, 7 March 2010, Louie proved how important it is to put content and passion first. His work entitled The Cove reveals the brutal, mass killing of dolphins and whales in the name of commerce. Louie rose above the golden silence of still photography to win an Oscar for making the best documentary film at the 82nd annual awards ceremony of the Association of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

Even though his name was called out before a huge, international viewership, and he ran up on the stage into the well-deserved spotlight, Louie could barely slip in a word as other folks did all the talking.

But now he has fully joined Mary Ellen Mark and the dearly departed Gordon Parks as part of that elite group of still photographers to have received Oscar’s approval.

They have all transcended this self-imposed limitation of our craft, and found their higher calling.

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