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Studies in Photography


  Collected essays on photography
  Editor: Ger Tillekens
English The Media and Corona (july 2021). To whom should we give our trust — to politicians or to scientists? With the COVID pandemic all around us the choice for Hans Durrer is quite easy: the latter. However, he reflects, it would be far better still if we learned to handle our insecurities by accepting the complexities of the world around us.
English Games people play (january 2021). The way Donald Trump used his tweets to sell his lies and untruths and Twitter's decision to close his account have evoked a debate on the freedom of speech. However, says Hans Durrer, we should rather be talking about the freedom we allow ourselves to think critically.
English On the media and addiction (july 2020). The media thrive on our attention. However, by letting them tell us what is important and what not, Hans Durrer warns, we may lose sight of the things that really matter.
English Changing times, or how I used to see photography and how I see it today (january 2020). Photojournalism nowadays has shaken loose from one of its most important pillars: reliability. Still, Hans Durrer posits, photography can help us to reflect about reality by taking some distance from it.
English On storytelling (january 2019). There is more to journalism than the art of story-telling, Hans Durrer argues. Far more, looking for the truth, for instance.
English An invitation to feel compassion (january 2018). We may not always condone the motivations of photographers who travel to disaster areas or war zones to hunt for pictures. This however, Hans Durrer concludes, does not damage the power of their pictures to let us empathise with the suffering of our fellow human beings.
English On Agenda-Setting (august 2017). With Donald Trump and his lot dominating the daily headlines, journalism nowadays seems to be stuck in an infernal loop of attention-seeking politicians and attention-giving media. It's far better to go out into the world and tell what you've heard, seen and found, Hans Durrer admonishes us.
German Was Pressefotografien meist nicht zeigen (juli 2017). Am 9. Juni 2017 veröffentlichte die New York Times zwei Aufnahmen von James B. Comey, dem früheren F.B.I. Direktor bei seiner öffentlichen Befragung vor dem Senate Intelligence Committee. Die beiden Bilder, wie Hans Durrer erläutert, sprengen gezielt den üblichen Rahmen von Pressebildern.
English The drummer portrayed (april 2017). "I love the rhythm section," writes photographer Deirdre O'Callaghan and her love unmistakeably shows in her pictures of famous and less famous drummers, collected in The Drum Thing. Hans Durrer read the book, steered by the photographic as well as the textual observations.
English A collection of photographs (november 2016). Photography Reinvented is the title of an exhibition now on show at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exposition opened in September 30, 2016 and will continue till January 29, 2017. It shows the photo collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, which seems haphazard but — one way or another — possesses its own beauty. As impressive is the book publication of the same name, edited by Sarah Greenough. It fails, however, as Hans Durrer here concludes, to clarify what exactly binds the artists and their work together.
English On taking photographs (april 2016). The act of taking photographs is an experience by itself. For one thing, it can make you aware of what stays unseen during the routines and rituals of everyday life. Hans Durrer relates how this works for him.
English What photography has taught me (february 2015). Thinking about photographs, argues Hans Durrer in this op-ed, teaches us to question what we're shown and not shown. Photography is about feelings, he adds. And, despite freezing time to a stand-still, photos make us deeply aware of the passing of time.
English Are there pictures that we shouldn't see? (august 2014). Why does the press shy away from publishing photo's of the victims of accidents or war? Would publishing these pictures be an affront to the dignity of the deceased and their family? Here, Hans Durrer counters this argument.
German Bailey's Stardust (april 2014). Bailey's Stardust ist das neueste Buch von David Bailey, dem bekannten Porträt- und Modefotografen. Laut Hans Durrer macht dieser Band endgültig klar, dass David Bailey nicht "nur" ein Modefotograf ist.
English Photography and its many labels (march 2014). Documentary photographs come and go with a lot of fancy labels. Rather than about the photographs — as Hans Durrer here suggests — these labels tell us something about ourselves.
English The visiting nurses (june 2013). It's not easy for a photographer to catch a "system" or a "process" in images. The work of some good photo-artists, however, shows that it can be done. Hans Durrer here discusses a failed and a successful example.
English The man in the picture (november 2012). On June 5, 1989, an unknown man bested a column of over fifty tanks on a crossover near Tiananmen Square, Beijing. The pictures of this curious encounter by now are well-known. Less is known about the man himself. Discussing the photographs, Hans Durrer warns us to be wary of what we insert of ourselves in our reading of photographs.
English Giving the moment significance (september 2012). A photograph, almost by definition, only captures a single moment in the flow of time. By doing this, it also seems to dispense some special meaning to that particular moment. However, this excess of meaning, Hans Durrer warns us, may be rather illusory.
English One photo after another ... (april 2012). Unwantingly, sometimes, two pictures will meld together in the mind's eye, leaving a lasting and alienating afterimage. This is what happened to Hans Durrer when he saw the prize-winnning photograph of Massoud Hossaini and a picture of the jubilant photographer himself.
English Photographs & Memories (march 2012). Photographs impress themselves upon our memory while, at the same time, our memories inform the way we look at photographs. Looking at pictures, Hans Durrer warns, we should be rather careful about this interaction between what we see and what we seem to remember.
English The good photograph (september 2011). One does not have to be a professional photographer to take a really good picture. What counts, Hans Durrer tells us, is the meaning a picture transmits to those who see it.
English How photographs should not be interpreted (july 2011). In order to understand a photograph we need to ask how, when, where and for what purpose it was taken, argues Hans Durrer in this op-ed.
English We see what we want to see (april 2011). In 1999, Cynthia Stewart from Oberlin, Ohio, was accused of taking obscene snapshots of her own litle daughter. Her case, as Hans Durrer argues, once again shows that photographs let us see what we want to see.
English Keeping up appearances (april 2011). Nowadays, as Kiku Adatto argues in Picture perfect, people want photographs to mirror reality as well as to create illusions. What are the implications of this ambivalent attitude, and is it really something new? With these questions in the back of his mind Hans Durrer reviews Adatto's book.
English Photography and empathy (january 2011). Clinging to the rules of objectivity critics often shun the power of photography to engender our empathy and raise our anxieties. In her recent book "The Cruel Radiance," Susie Linfield eloquently and convincingly attacks this position by showing and discussing photographs of political violence. Hans Durrer invites us to her views.
English Photographic storytelling (november 2010). Photoshopping press photos seems to have become a habit among the main providers of our daily news. Hans Durrer here illustrates this phenomenon with examples from The Economist, Al-Ahram and the press information of oil and gas giant BP.
German Magnum Magnum (november 2010). Im Jahre 2007 feierte die Photoagentur Magnum ihren 60. Geburtstag mit einer grossformatigen — und damit ihrer Reputation entsprechenden — Festschrift, die schnell vergriffen war. Jetzt erschien eine dritte Version in einem kleineren Format. Hans Durrer blätterte durch die Seiten auf der Suche nach einer Antwort auf die Frage, was eigentlich ein Foto zum Magnum-Foto macht.
English On framing photographs (july 2010). Framing a picture — releasing a scene from its context and creating a new one — is what taking photographs is really about. That is how photographs, Hans Durrer argues, create the reality we decide to see.
English How photos prevent seeing (april 2010). After the powerful Chile earthquake of February 27, 2010, photographers were quick to spread their pictures of the resulting massive havoc and destruction all over the world. Something important, however, seemed to escape their attention. Here Hans Durrer discusses this principal shortcoming of press photographs.
English Image as oppressor (march 2010). Photographing never is an impartial activity. Taking someone's picture always implies impressing an image on the other. As this can not be avoided, the important question, as photographer Eliza Gregory argues, is who is in command of the situation.
English World Press Photo 2010 (february 2010). The winning photograph of this year's World Press Photo Award raised as many eyebrows as questions. Did Pietro Masturzo's photograph really deserve to win such a prize of excellence? Opinions may differ, but at least, as Hans Durrer concludes, the jury's choice and arguments make us think again about what defines a press photo.
English Scared to get caught staring (february 2010). Afraid of revealing their inner selves, people tend to shy away from stares. In public places staring even seems to be a social taboo. As a photographer Hans Durrer felt himself staring and reflects on his reaction.
English On press photography, context & magic (december 2009). Rather than depicting what is real, photographs tend to create a reality of their own. In press photography this magical capacity of photography is easily used to steer our perceptions in preconditioned ways. Being aware of photography's magic, Hans Durrer argues, allows us to take an informed decision: whether or not we want to succumb to it.
English The lingering afterimages of 9/11 (november 2009). The World Trade Center disaster at that fatal date of September 11th, 2001, probably was the most photographed event of our time. A number of those photo's now have been collected in a book by David Friend who added his insightful comments. Hans Durrer reviews and reflects on the results.
English Learning to see (october 2009). The reader The education of a photographer by Charles Traub, Steven Heller and Adam Bell is a real treasure trove of articles on photograpy written by a colorful company of photographers, critics, educators, writers, art directors, gallerists and visual editors. As the editors declare in their foreword, the compilation intends to provide the student of photography with "inspirational and informative material on what it means to be a photographer." Hans Durrer here assesses the outcome.
English The malleable mosaic of digitized photography (september 2009). In his latest book After photography Fred Ritchin takes a very optimistic view of the digitalized future of photograpy. Inspired by his thematic, but taking another stance Hans Durrer here reviews Ritchin's reflections in a more gloomy vein.
English Robert Capa's "Falling Soldier" (september 2009). Recently doubts were cast upon Robert Capa's famous photo of a dying soldier during the Spanish Civil War. According to a Spanish researcher the picture may be staged. Hans Durrer, however, thinks this knowledge will not affect the way we see this photograph.
English The stories that pictures do not tell (august 2009). By itself any picture is open to many interpretations, often contradictory ones. Hans Durrer presses this fact by commenting on Thomas Hoepker's photo of some people at the Brooklyn waterfront in New York on September 11, 2001.
English Fear of pictures (june 2009). Pictures can and do distort reality. Leaving them away, however, will not erase the facts they try to represent. From this perspective Hans Durrer here discusses the case of the censored photos from Iraq.
English Photographic collaboration (march 2009). As long as photographs, be it press or portrait photos, picture people, they are intruding in someone's life. The only way to lighten this intrusion for the photographer, Hans Durrer argues, is to let the object of the photo become a subject by collaborating to or even co-authoring the result.
English Photo truths (december 2008). Jeff Wall's so-called cinematographic photographs raise the question of what we expect from photographs. Feeling slightly uneasy after having seen some of these constructed pictures, Hans Durrer voices his thoughts on the answer.
English Pictures with words (october 2008). Can documentary photography do without a narrative, and by implication without clear reference of where, when and why a particular photo was taken? Elaborating on that question, Hans Durrer argues against the habit of non-descript or even absent captions.
English Sebastião Salgado: Africa (june 2008). Are Sebastião Salgado's photographs, as many people say, presenting a myopic, even neo-colonial picture of the African continent? Discussing the photographer's latest book, Hans Durrer here takes another view.
English Politically correct pictures? (may 2008). In April an exhibit featuring 270 rare color photographs made by André Zucca of Paris during the Occupation opened at the Bibliothèque historique in that same city. While taking his photos Zucca purposely looked away from the horrors of World War II. For that reason the exposition soon became the target of the politically correct. Here Hans Durrer criticizes this kind of well-meant censorship.
English The Socks-Series (march 2008). Can photography create new realities? Yes, says Hans Durrer, it may even affect the places where your socks get lost.
German Photo Art (märz 2008). Wann wird Fotografie zur Kunst? Auch nach der Lektüre dieses neuen Buches über Fotokunst blieb die Frage für Hans Durrer unbeantwortet.
German Fotografisches Sehen (dezember 2007). Hans Durrer nimmt zwei vor kurzem erschienene Bücher über Fotografie — Julian J. Rossigs Fotojournalismus und Rudolf Stumbergers Klassen-Bilder — zum Anlass, über das Sehen vermittels einer Kamera nachzudenken.
English On reading pictures (october 2007). Susan Sontag doesn't like the migration pictures of photographer Sebastião Salgado. Looking at them, so she writes, compassion can only flounder and whither away in abstraction. Salgado's pictures, Hans Durrer says, can be read very differently, though, if only you let them take you into their reality.
German Herr Salgado und Frau Sontag (april 2007). Susan Sontag kann mit den Migrationsfotos von Sebastião Salgado nicht viel anfangen. Ihr Mitgefühl, schreibt sie, komme beim Betrachten "ins Schwimmen" und verflüchtige sich "ins Abstrakte." Salgados Fotos kann man jedoch auch ganz anders lesen, meint Hans Durrer, vorausgesetzt, man sieht genau hin und lässt sich auf sie ein.
English The power of pictures (april 2007). Will the film footage of the British sailors, that were captured by Iran on March 23, 2007, once become an iconic image of the crisis between Iran and the West? Hans Durrer fears it might.
German Tausend Worte um ein Bild zu verstehen (februar 2007). Kaum war Saddam Hussein hingerichtet, waren auch schon Bilder seiner letzten Minuten zu sehen: zuerst die zensurierte Fassung, ohne Ton, im staatlichen irakischen Fernsehen, dann die unzensurierte, mit Ton, im Internet. Sah man sich das Handy-Video im Internet (und, wie üblich, in der Folge im Fernsehen) an, so Hans Durrer, war schnell einmal klar, dass es bei dieser Hinrichtung darum gegangen, worum es bei einer Hinrichtung immer geht: um Rache.
English On seeing (february 2007). Our human disposition, strengthened by a positivistic world view, has made us all subject to the primacy of vision. So, we tend to believe that what a photograph shows us, must inevitably be true. But, as Hans Durrer argues, the medium has its own reality.
English "Take pictures, show the world that our children are dying!" (november 2006). Photo's may show too much of reality and often that's the reason they're left unpublished. What we need, however, is to see as many of these photos as possible, just because of what they tell us, so Hans Durrer argues.
English Documentary photography in the 1930s (may 2006). In the wake of the Great Depression two photo documentaries visualised the conditions of work and life of the American farming population, suffering the calamities of drought and economic poverty. Here, Hans Durrer discusses both these projects that were instrumental in defining documentary photography.
German Bildermacht (oktober 2004). Die Fotografien von irakischen Gefangenen im berüchtigten Abu-Ghraib-Gefängnis werden unsere Vorstellungen vom Irak-Krieg mitprägen, nicht zuletzt, weil, wenn wir uns erinnern, dies häufig mittels Bilder tun. Dass es oft Fotos sind, und nicht etwa Fernsehbilder, die unsere Erinnerung prägen, liegt wesentlich daran, so Hans Durrer, dass sie zum Innehalten auffordern.
English Reading photographs (july 2004). Photographs are never clear by themselves. In some way or another, they are only the shattered fragments of the broken mirror of reality and, as they show us their images, we are forced to reconstruct their meaning. Hans Durrer here reflects on the question of how to read photographs.
English On documentary photography (july 2004). Essentially, photographs are documents, they are records. Because of that very fact, they can easily be used to deceive us. However, we do not want to be lied to, and we enjoy the knowledge of having a history. It is in this sense, so Hans Durrer, argues, documentary photographers should try to give us true visual reminders of things past.
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