Tom Howard. Sing Sing Correctional Facility, 1928: Ruth Snyder is executed by electrocution.

Death and the power of photography

Daily News Front page. Extra Edition. January 13, 1928.
Daily News Front page. Extra Edition. January 13, 1928.

The black-and-white image was shocking to the U.S. and international public alike. There sat a 32-year-old wife and mother, killed for killing. Her blurred figured seemed to evoke her struggle, as one can imagine her last, strained breaths. Never before had the press been able to attain such a startling image—one not made in a faraway war, one not taken of the aftermath of a crime scene, but one capturing the very moment between life and death here at home.

Erica Fahr Campbell

Campbell’s article doesn’t delve any further into the effect of this photograph on death penalty debates. To this day, however, no prisons allow photography during executions. What if things were different? How might the careful documentation of this process — with all our technology for capturing and sharing images — change the debate today? And whose interests are most protected by keeping executions invisible?

Lisa Wade

A good photo to be aware of. Especially given photography’s history with death and the way that photography really came of age during the Civil War. There’s something about photographing death that is especially compelling, even today. While the news media’s fixation on death images as clickbait is gross, it is worth asking ourselves why we all look and why those are newsworthy.

I don’t think it’s just shock value. Death is one of those things that we don’t like to think about because it’s unknowable and inevitable. It’s one of those things we’re taught from an early age how to compartmentalize and protect ourselves from addressing.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to talk to my son about so far. Precisely because we don’t know. And he wants answers. To everything. And I can’t give him good ones. I think I’m still looking for those myself. Hence my difficulty in turning away from these photos.

Zackary Canepari. Sydewayz

Zackary Canepari. Sydewayz.

Deep in East Oakland they’d meet in empty parking lots and spin circles until the police came. The Sideshow, they called it. Elaborate and boisterous stunt driving. Back then it was about the cars more than the skill of the drivers but the goal was still the same. It was about making a statement. A loud and smokey announcement to the status quo. And the message was simple: ‘All eyes on me!’

Zackary Canepari

Zackary Canepari. Sydewayz
Zackary Canepari. Sydewayz.

I’m always sort of a sucker for photography crossed with car culture. I think it’s because both are sort of gearhead hobbies. And the way that one is “look at me” and the other is “I like to watch” results in a good mix.

Also, this is in kukkurovaca’s back yard and makes me (as a South Bay kid) sort of homesick for California.

New People Cinema, San Francisco, 2014 | © Franck Bohbot

Movie Theaters

The Paramount Theatre III, Oakland, California, 2014 | © Franck Bohbot
Franck Bohbot, The Paramount Theatre III, Oakland, California, 2014

These have been making the rounds on tumblr. I like them—quite a bit actually. At the same time I can’t help comparing them to Sugimoto and trying to figure out why I like Sugimoto’s better.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Movie Theatre,Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Movie Theatre,Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980

It’s not because my first reaction was “Sugimoto in color.” This isn’t color vs. black and white nor is it a who-did-it-better thing. Whereas Sugimoto’s photos use the screen itself as the only light source, most of Bohbot’s photos are taken with the house lights on—resulting in photos which are about the theatre itself, not the movie’s impact on the theatre. And I think that’s the difference. Bohbot reminds me of the joy of anticipation and settling in to watch a movie in a classic theatre. Sugimoto reminds me of losing myself in the movie.

Henry Hargreaves. No Seconds.

No Seconds

Henry Hargreaves. No Seconds.
Henry Hargreaves. No Seconds.

(via No Seconds — Henry Hargreaves)

Am very intrigued by this project. Also, yeah, that we have a traditional pre-execution meal in this country. As well as the whole ritual of execution which forces the prisoner to take part (choosing a special meal, etc.) in his execution.

But as a project? There’s something powerful about this in that it assumes that we all know the execution ritual and forces us to see humanity in the condemned by distinguishing how different they all are.

There’s also something primal about food that we can all relate to. Especially since the other implicit question here is, “What would you choose as your last meal ever?”

Marie Cosindas, Mrs Jack’s Floral, a dye transfer print of 1966

Marie Cosindas

Marie Cosindas, Andy Warhol, NYC, 1966.
Marie Cosindas, Andy Warhol, NYC, 1966.

All of Cosindas’ portraits have, as Rohrbach says, a composition that demands the viewer study the image carefully. “They’re dark; they come from an earlier sensibility, where one was meant to look at prints over a long period of time and let these intimate images come to you up out of the darkness.” They also have a timeless feel, difficult to date to the 1960s.

(via The colour photography pioneer that time forgot – Telegraph)

A photographer I’d never heard of until reading this article. Considering how much the narrative is that we only started valuing color photography as art in the mid-1970s, it’s important to note that Cosindas was being exhibited a decade earlier.

The way Cosindas’s photos look like paintings and evoke the sense of classic portraiture is also perfectly timed on the heels of my post on erasure which thought about how photographic portraiture differs from painted portraits.