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Documentary Photography Exhibit at the Getty Center

One section of The Sacrifice by James Nachtwey

Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties is currently on view at the Getty Center. Curated by Brett Abbott, this exhibit presents the recent history of the world’s mistakes and triumphs.

An excerpt from the essay accompanying the show states:

“In the decades following World War II, an independently minded and critically engaged form of photography began to gather momentum. Its practitioners have combined their skills as artists and reporters, creating extended photographic essays that delve deeply into topics of social concern and present distinct personal visions of the world.

Engaged Observers looks in-depth at projects by a selection of the most vital photographers who have contributed to the development of this approach. Passionately committed to their subjects, they have authored evocative bodies of work that are often published extensively as books and transcend the realm of traditional photojournalism.”

I found Engaged Observers to be the most commanding exhibit that the Getty photography department has presented to date. Sometimes documentary photography can be hard to view. Documentary photographers deal with subject matter we would rather be in denial about. I believe it is important to view photographs that present issues of human challenge. The images of history show us the direction the world has taken since that period time. We can see the positive changes made through awareness, then action.

I spent hours in this exhibit, taking in every photograph. The one(s) that touched me the most were James Nachtwey’s multi-photo collage called The Sacrifice. In 2006, Nachtwey traveled with the Emergency Medical Units (EMU’s) in Iraq. The result is 60 individual shots collaged together into a grid of 20 photos across by 3 photos down. There was no information as to the exact dimensions of the piece, but my estimate is 30′ across by 3 1/2′ down.

Nachtwey photographed the images from the height of the operating room table. A powerful point of view in which the viewer becomes the patient. The only softening factor about The Sacrifice is the back & white presentation. Lost limbs, burns, blood, tubes, and the agonized faces may be too hard to look at in color. Some of the wounded soldiers appear as if they are about to die, or possibly have just died. You are not sure. The questions in The Sacrifice are who lives, who dies, and is it worth it?

Photographers included in this exhibit are Phillip Jones Griffiths, Leonard Freed, W. Eugene and Aileen M. Smith, Susan Meiselas, Mary Ellen Mark, Lauren Greenfield, Larry Towell, Sebastiao Salgado, and James Nachtwey. The wide-ranging issues cover race, industrial pollution, homelessness, war, self-image, and migrant populations.

Engaged Observers left me with a feeling of calm confidence. Many of the problems presented have been greatly improved or altogether eliminated since the photographs were taken. It reinforced the fact that we have the power to correct injustice in the world.

Engaged Observers runs through November 14th, 2010 at The Getty Center.


About Gina Genis

Hi Friends, I'm a photographer and artist who lives in Washington DC. I have two blogs. The Gina Genis Blog is about art and photography. My new blog, DC Discoveries is dedicated to showing you everything from fashion to art, food to entertainment in all sections of the District. I hope you will take the journey with me. I exhibit my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. I'm included in the permanent collections of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections Division of the University of Miami, Hard Rock Casino, Orange County Transit District, IBM, and the Sarah and Adam Markman Collection among others. My series "Window Peeping" was included in OsCene 2010 at the Laguna Art Museum, Truman State University, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Biola University, and solo shows at Gallery 825 and Cypress College. The "June Gloom" series was exhibited in a solo show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The "Kala" series has been exhibited at MPLS Photo Center, Cypress College, and Gallery 825. "Economy Portraits" was created as an Artist In Residence project at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and was awarded "Best Art Show of 2011" by the OC Weekly. I curated Wide Angle View, an exhibit of 16 international, award-winning photo and multi-media journalists at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art to much critical acclaim. Recent reviews of my work have appeared in the Huffington Post, Art Scene, OC Weekly, Orange County Register, New University, Riviera Magazine, Coast Magazine, Huntington Beach Independent, and appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and more. I lead the Gina Genis Photo Workshops where I show beginning and intermediate photographers how to jump to the next level with their work. I also teach online photography courses through The Compelling Image.

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