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What We Learned This Week: Remembering the Work of Two Wire Service Photographers

By David Schonauer   Thursday January 31, 2019


The work of wire service photographers often goes unheralded.

“While their work is frequently excellent and regularly wins Pulitzer Prizes and other major awards, for the most part those photographers are unsung heroes,” noted former Associated Press photography director Santiago Lyon at The New York Times this week. Lyon, who is currently the director for editorial content at Adobe, was writing to celebrate the work of wire service photographer Desmond Boyle, a longtime friend who died of a heart attack at age 54 while working in Cuba.

“Desmond was getting regular local assignments for The A.P. in Spain by 1989, switching later to Reuters, where he joined the staff in 1993,” wrote Lyon. “His career gained momentum and took him all over the world: embedded with United States Marines in Kuwait and Iraq, covering turmoil in Albania and Palestine. Like other wire service shooters, he had to be a competent generalist, able to handle a wide range of assignments. He covered several Olympic Games, Formula One and motorcycle races, and countless soccer matches, ski championships, track meets and golf tournaments.”

While spotlighting Boyle’s work, Lyon also underscored the impact wire service photography. “The vast majority of news images seen around the world are produced by the three largest news agencies: The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse,” he noted. “They employ hundreds of staff photographers each and have extensive networks of thousands of freelancers. When Desmond started in the 1980s, they generated maybe 400 images among them daily, mostly in black-and-white. Today, they produce nearly 10,000 photos per day, all delivered digitally and in color, often in real time, to thousands of outlet.”

This week we also reported the death of veteran wire service photographer Mark Leighton, who died at age 67. Leighton worked for United Press International and The Associated Press during a long career that, noted AP, was nearly cut short when he was 32.

“He had been in Beirut for UPI just three months when, in March 1984, gunfire from street fighting awoke him in his west Beirut apartment,” noted AP. “After he stepped onto his balcony and began making pictures, a Druze militiaman sprayed him with automatic rifle fire.”

After a year of recuperation, Leighton taught himself to make pictures with one arm. “He told UPI that a former camera repairman for National Geographic had modified Mark’s equipment to accommodate one-handed shooting,” AP reported. “Mark said he would hold the camera in the palm of his left hand and release the shutter with his little finger.”

“Leighton was the kind of photojournalist and editor we all want to emulate,” said David Ake, AP director of photography.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1.  Candida Hofer Captures Architecture in Mexico


In 2015, German photographer Candida Höfer — best known for her rigorously composed, large-scale color images of architectural interiors — began shooting stunning interiors of theaters, churches, convents, museums, and other spaces in Mexico. The work has been seen in museums in that country, but never in the United States. That changes with the upcoming exhibition “Candida Höfer - In Mexico,” which will be on view at the Sean Kelly gallery in New York from February 2 through March 16, noted Design Boom.


2. Iraq's Yazidis Struggle to Rebuild Their Lives


Emilienne Malfatto first stepped foot in Sinjar, a remote massif in northwestern Iraq, in 2015. A year before, ISIS invaded the region in a genocidal campaign against the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority whose roots in the mountains go back centuries. Kurdish and Yazidi fighters recaptured the city in November 2015, and residents slowly began to return to their decimated villages, noted The New York Times. Malfatto, a French photographer, has been documenting their attempts to rebuild their lives in her series “Back Home.”


3. Patti Smith's Images From Kahlo's Home


In 2012, musician Patti Smith traveled to Mexico City to speak and perform at La Casa Azul, the former home of the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. While there, Smith took several black-and-white Polaroid photographs of objects she encountered: crutches that belonged to Kahlo; her worn corset; a white coverlet with crocheted trim dangling from a wooden bed frame. Those “talismanic” images, noted The New Yorker, are part of an exhibition of Smith’s photographs now on display at the Diego Rivera Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute.


4. The 9 Young Photographers to Follow in 2019


W magazine
published its 2019 roundup of young photographers to follow in 2019 — pacesetters “giving a facelift to the tradition of self-portraiture, and creating new visual language to depict culture's changing understanding of identity.” The group includes Adeline Lulo, who was a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 5 competition, as well as Dana Scruggs, the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone, and Lagos, Nigeria-based Noma Osula, who calls his work a “a union of African photography, classical and contemporary.” Above: photo by Adeline Lulo.


5. Why Mapplethorpe's Photographs Remain Subversive


In 1989, the year Robert Mapplethorpe succumbed to AIDS, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., canceled an exhibition of his work that included photographs of anal-fisting and naked children. Three decades later, he’s the subject of “Implicit Tensions,” a two-part retrospective at the Guggenheim, and “Mapplethorpe,” a biopic starring actor Matt Smith. Most “controversial” artists are forgotten long before they die, and many others are done in by their own success, but, noted Artsy, that isn’t the case with Mapplethorpe.
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At top: From Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition "Implicit Tensions"

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