Writings & Talks / Writings

Here is a selection of some of my writings from books (Books) and periodicals (Writings) as well as videos of Talks from the last four decades, with short descriptions that I have added to put them in context. It will be updated from time to time.


Regarding the Pain of Others in Israel and Gaza: How Do We Trust What We See? (Vanity Fair, 2023)

For those of us on the outside, the “fog of war” is beginning to resemble a total eclipse of the sun. With the contraction of print publications, the front pages of newspapers and the covers of newsmagazines have essentially disappeared, no longer providing a unifying focus. With a multitude of people, political factions, and organizations weaponizing media, using fake or misleading imagery in a parallel media war, viewers have been left largely in the dark, not knowing with whom to empathize, their tribal loyalties reinforced. And now, with increasing skepticism fueled by the emergence of artificial intelligence systems capable of simulating conventional media, the photographs and videos that actually depict the conflict between Hamas and Israel are more and more considered suspect.

Photography in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (PhotoVogue, 2023)

Without the use of a camera, people can now collaborate with artificial intelligence systems to generate images in seconds that can simulate photographs, depicting people and places that never existed while transforming our sense of the real. Such systems, including Stability Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E, can produce photorealistic images in response to a text prompt of only a few words, initiating a media revolution that is likely to be even more impactful than the invention of photography in 1839.

Of the Iconic Image, and the Viral (Design Viral, 2022)

I come from the age of iconic photographs, not that long ago. Certain photographs, often published on the front pages of newspapers, would require that readers pay attention, focus on an issue (frequently a calamitous one such as war, famine, a natural disaster), and focus on it for the first time, or even re-think their positions. The photograph, even those of events happening far away, demanded attention. And while thinking about it, the reader knew that there were many others doing the same thing, reading the image, reflecting upon its meanings, perhaps even asking what they could do to help.

Josué Rivas: For the Next Seven Generations (2021)

In this age of the image, ravaged by a global pandemic, when time and space seem to meld into a muddle and screens displace the world at large, one may ask, “How can we heal from this?” How do we emerge not only from the suffering inflicted by a virulent virus but also from the deep fractures surrounding issues of race and class? Published in the catalog accompanying the exhibition « Thé Protest and the Recuperation » at Columbia University’s Wallach Gallery, curated by Betti-Sue Hertz.  

Living Amongst Them (FOTODEMIC, 2021)

I had a dream in which I was selecting a single synthetic image of one person who does not exist every day. I was not sure why I would do this, except perhaps to guarantee a new face to ponder, one that does not wear a mask and one that has no past to be concerned about. I felt like it would be a good way to accustom myself to the future…

Suggestions for the Contemporary Photographer (2020)

All photographs are interpretive and do not show objective reality. They are constructs. A social documentarian must be aware of this and attempt to be as transparent as possible in letting the reader know what strategies were used to make the images.

The Paradigm Shift: Reinventing the Photographer (2020)

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.

Interview: Pandemic, Photography, and Psychological Distance (FOTODEMIC, 2020)

Decisions made by photojournalists and their editors define traumatic events in the cultural consciousness. Throughout coverage of COVID-19, many news outlets have published photographs that reiterate racist tropes, suggest a false gap between “East” and “West,” and fail to engage a fuller range of human efforts to respond to a pandemic…

Remembering the Dead, Differently (FOTODEMIC, 2020)

In the United States, publications that have memorialized mass casualties have mostly concentrated on soldiers. Now, with the pandemic, it is civilians as well…

The Cat, the Photograph and the In-Between (Trigger, 2020)

I began writing this essay before the pandemic, when human life was more certain. I was reflecting on quantum physics in order to reframe photography as a means of delineating possibilities rather than affirming certitudes, as an attempt to choose, in a fractional second, from among many parallel universes…

Columbine Students Are Asking- Will Sharing Photos of the Dead Change our History of Violence? (Time, 2019)

We have long debated when it is appropriate to publish photographs of those who have been killed. When does the news value of the image override the right to the privacy of the dead? And should that right, and the rights of the deceased’s family and friends, ever be overridden?
Image in the Era of Post-Truth

Image in the Era of Post-Truth (Zeke magazine, 2018)

In the first 466 days of his presidency, Donald Trump made 3,001 false or misleading claims. “Seventy-two times, the president has falsely claimed he passed the biggest tax cut in history…
Time - The Ambiguous Role of Photography

The Ambiguous Role of Photography in Presenting Innocence and Guilt (Time, 2016)

In its March 10, 1947 issue, LIFE magazine published a series of twenty-eight black-and-white photographs as part of its feature, Speaking of Pictures…
Time_Syrian Torture Archive

Syrian Torture Archive: When Photographs of Atrocities Don’t Shock (Time, 2014)

During the last century, photographs of mass murder in Nazi Germany, Argentina, Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia seared the civilized conscience with their revelations of barbarity.

Interview: Can Photojournalism Survive in the Instagram Era? (Mother Jones, 2013)

In late May, the Chicago Sun-Times took the unprecedented move of gutting its photography department by laying off 28 full-time employees, including John H. White, a 35-year veteran who had won the paper a Pulitzer.
What a Photograph Can Accomplish- Bending the Frame

What a Photograph Can Accomplish: Bending the Frame by Fred Ritchin (Time, 2013)

What do we want from our media revolution? Not just where is it bringing us—but where do we want to go? When the pixels settle, where do we think we should be in relationship to media—as producers, subjects, viewers? Since all media inevitably change us, how do we want to be changed?
Of Them, And Us

Of Them, And Us (Aperture, 2013)

War photography, at least the imagery that has been made for public consumption, has long distinguished itself, as has much of journalism, by focusing on ‘them’ instead of a more familial ‘us.’
Light Fades

Light Fades (Aperture, 2012)

Photography, the thinking goes, is done in the present to be seen as the past. But there are other thoughts as well…

The Camera is Not a Machine Gun (Design Observer, 2009)

For most of David Goldblatt’s career, which began in the early 1960s, nearly everything that he saw was contextualized by the distorting prism of apartheid. The ownership and use of land, as well as housing, jobs, marriage, schooling and countless other facets of everyday life, were all powerfully linked to the color of one’s skin…

Leaving Kansas (Apterture, 2008)

There are many ways to trace the origins of “Second Life,” a virtual world constructed from bits that mirrors, amplifies and contradicts our own…

Cathe (PixelPress, 2006)

She was thin, painfully so, someone who had trouble crossing a New York City street in the wind carrying her thin black portfolio case that acted like a sail blowing her the wrong way…
The Unbearable Relevance of Photography

1968: The Unbearable Relevance of Photography (Aperture, 2003)

Thirty-five years ago, protest was in the air and on the streets. But unlike today, the photographer was essential to the depiction and interpretation of the turmoil that swirled about…
Editors Choice

Evelyn Hoyfer’s Portrait of Moshe Dayan (The New York Times Magazine, 1996)

As a picture editor the idea is not to illustrate stories, confirming what the text says. The idea is to have other opinions, other points of view on a situation, a person…
New Standards for Photographic Reproduction in the Media

New Standards for Photographic Reproduction in the Media (1994)

With the increase of sophistication and availability of digital imaging technology those reading or viewing mass media no longer can be sure that an image represents something or someone that actually existed. It becomes necessary to inform them as to whether an image is actually a photograph or its simulation…
The March of Images

The March of Images (The New York Times, 1991)

Today, as our troops march down city streets, deluged by confetti, applause and speeches in a welcome home that veterans of the Vietnam War never had, we might also begin to feel a little sorry for them…
The Future of Photojournalism

The Future of Photojournalism (Aperture #100, 1985)

In the future, if one’s pictures aren’t good enough, the answer may not be that one is not close enough, as Robert Capa averred, but that one needs to study more mathematics…
Photography's New Bag of Tricks

Photography’s New Bag of Tricks (New York Times Magazine, 1984)

The first published article exploring a wide variety of impacts on photography and other forms of imaging as a consequence of the digital revolution, with a warning as to the potential damage to photographic credibility. This New York Times Magazine article was published half-a-decade before Photoshop was released for personal use.
The Photography of Conflict

The Photography of Conflict (Aperture #97, 1984)

There is something fascinating about photographing major conflicts. One goes to war but does not kill. One takes chances and is brave. Armed only with a brace of cameras and with canisters of film, one enters the exploding violence in order to witness it and report back. The person who photographs war, we believe, makes a statement that is both compassionate and necessary…

Beirut: The Photographers’ Story (Camera Arts, 1983)

They ended up in a city of frequent death and skeletal buildings, an urban nightmare echoing with the clamor of war. Even Donald McCullin, who has covered armed conflicts around the world for almost two decades, said that he had “never seen bombing like it, or shelling.”