A New Humanism in Photography?

by Mark Isaac


The latest Museum of Modern Art survey of contemporary photography has just opened, and as the accompanying New York Times article reveals, it is a striking departure from the last show two years ago. Rather than simply look at promising new photographers, the show focuses in on a broad theme, which in itself seems more appropriate. But the most striking difference is the turn back toward photography that embraces a discussion of the human condition -- and importantly, an element of humanism.

I personally have no beef with artists who choose to interrogate the image itself, and with an estimated 1.3 trillion photos taken in 2013, it may be particularly incumbent on photographers to understand those images and to make reasonable determinations as to when the provenance of new images is most appropriate. I think it is very fair to say that, at this particular moment in time, new images may be most important to make when they can contribute meaningfully to a better understanding of human relations and to bringing people together. In this way, the MOMA show (which I will likely not see, given my current sojourn in Europe) may be timely and point us in a useful direction. 

In fact, it is precisely in this direction that Atlantika Collective was aimed when it formed several years ago. Members made fundamental commitments to help each other finish projects, to be collaborative, to be transparent about our process, and perhaps most important of all, we added this line to our mission: "We believe in social responsibility, community, and nurturing a contemporary humanism through art."

I personally will, at times, continue to investigate photography itself, to ask a broad range of questions, and sometimes, to make (new and/or appropriated) images just for fun. But along with my fellow Atlantika Collective members, I do not plan to turn away from humanism, particularly at a moment when the politics and the culture demand it more than ever. If the Museum of Modern Art now calls it a trend, we warmly embrace that. Read for yourself, and tell us what you think:

And a brief P.S.: The article notes that all 17 photographers in the show are under 45. I have a quarrel with the connection made by many, particularly in the art world, between youth and innovation, and I intend to do my utmost to help disprove this persistent myth. There are so many examples of artists innovating into their later years, and we should call out this mind set for what it is: a detestable ageism. Let's hold with the talons of an eagle onto the idea that you're never too old to get crazy.

Ukraine Sketchbook: Photo Workshop in Antonivka

by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac

Since we’ve been in Ukraine, we’ve met some incredibly warm and giving people, who have been kind enough to let us into their lives. One of those individuals is Dmytro Say, who is involved in so many projects locally that it’s impossible to know when he sleeps.

One of Dmytro’s most important efforts is on behalf of an orphanage in a small village north of Mykolaiv called Antonivka. Dmytro taught there for several years and now he returns to assist them with a variety of programs. He asked us to come with him to the orphanage and conduct a photo workshop for the kids there, who range in age from about 5 to 16.

Dmytro used an older car for the drive, which he warned is on one of the worst roads in Ukraine. After some truly outsized bumps along the way, we arrived in Antonivka and were warmly welcomed by the staff, who took us on a tour of the facility, which includes a museum of Antonivka’s history, first as a place dominated by a wealthy landowner, then as a very productive collective farm, and now as a place where many have volunteered to fight in the East.

But the most important part of the visit was the kids, of course. We met them first in a classroom, offering some pointers on photo taking strategies that would move them beyond the selfie. Then we all walked out on the steppe, known for its constantly blowing winds, sharing cell phones to take some experimental portraits and landscapes. When we were safely back in the classroom, we downloaded the photos, projected them on a wall, and discussed the results. The kids participated enthusiastically, showing a surprisingly advanced intuitive command of composition.

We don’t know if any of them will go on to become professional photographers, but we do know that Dmytro has forged a wonderful bond with some very loving and talented young people, and we were glad to become a small part of their lives.