The intention of The Fifth Corner is to advance a paradigm shift in which image-based media are utilized in more innovative, thoughtful, and helpful ways. Recognizing the transformative challenges of this digital, “post-truth” era, The Fifth Corner invites the photographer and other producers and consumers of imagery to evaluate the role of the image differently, and to consider strategies for interpreting the world that are more authentic and credible.
The Fifth Corner asks us what we want from the current media revolution. Not just where it is taking us, but where do we want to go?
In 1984, when photographers were still using film, I began exploring the early use of computers to undetectably modify photographs. In an article in The New York Times Magazine I wrote that “in the not-too-distant future, realistic-looking images will probably have to be labeled, like words, as either fiction or nonfiction, because it may be impossible to tell them apart. We may have to rely on the image maker, and not the image, to tell us into which category certain pictures fall.”
This was two years after National Geographic, at the dawn of the digital image revolution, had modified a photograph of the pyramids of Giza so that it would better fit on its cover, using a computer to shift one pyramid closer to the other. The magazine’s editor defended the alteration, viewing it not as a falsification but, as I wrote then, “merely the establishment of a new point of view, as if the photographer had been retroactively moved a few feet to one side.” I was astonished. It seemed to me that the magazine had just introduced to photography a concept from science fiction—virtual time travel—as if revisiting a scene and photographing it again.
Twentieth-century photographers, acting as witnesses and interpreters of issues and events, were able at times to provoke widespread discussions resulting in profound societal change. Had they not been able to do so, their coverage of wars, famines, racial injustice and environmental degradation would have verged on the voyeuristic and obscene.
It is now a different moment. The photograph no longer is perceived as automatically credible, the result of a mechanical recording process expressed as “the camera never lies.” Photographs are widely viewed now as constructs, malleable interpretations of the real that are largely subjective and easily modifiable by software. They are produced by the billions, without sufficient context provided to shape their meanings. And they are often used to illustrate preconceptions, to be shared and “liked,” rather than to explore that which may be unknown.
Furthermore, these images are now made in an era brimming with assertions of alternative facts, fake news, and post-truth, making it even more difficult for photographs to emerge that manage to redirect the societal focus. For example, despite the massive problems confronting society, very few iconic photographs exist since 2001 and the September 11 attacks. The 2015 photograph of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned, is one of the rare exceptions…
On January 6 Peter van Agtmael was on assignment for TIME magazine in Washington DC, photographing the pro-Trump rally that ultimately led to protesters breaching Capitol security, and invading the building itself. Here, van Agtmael speaks with Fred Ritchin about the events, historical parallels, the future of photojournalism, and the continuing fracturing of American society. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In 2013, Matt Black began photographing isolated communities in California’s Central Valley, the rural, agricultural area where he lives. In 2015, Black expanded the project to encompass the United States and completed his first cross-country trip, a three-and-a-half-month journey visiting dozens of communities across 28 states. Since then, he has completed four additional trips, traveling over 100,000 miles and making work across 46 states.
What had begun as a story of individual, isolated communities grew into a portrait of an increasingly divided and unequal America, created during a time of rising disparity and disunion. Until now, the project has never been published showing all aspects of the work…
FOTODEMIC Town Hall #001: Re-imagining the Future of Visual Journalism responds to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the various roles of the photographer, among other issues; with Nina Berman, Brian Palmer, Bayeté Ross Smith, moderated by Fred Ritchin.
An all-day conference in 2019 on Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-75, an exhibition presenting work by 58 artists that was curated by Melissa Ho, with speakers including Harry Gamboa, Jr., Hans Haacke, Mignon Nixon, and Martha Rosler. I speak about Philip Jones Griffiths’s Vietnam Inc. at about 1 hour:26 minutes into the video.