The DOCNYC festival is back, and this year there are more documentaries about and by photographers.  I’ve seen the first ones, VII Uncomissioned and Men At Lunch, one a selection of shorts by members of the photo agency, and the other dissecting the iconic photo of men sitting on a steel beam high above Manhattan in 1932.

On The Line

VII Uncomissioned begins with “On The Line,” a piece by Ashley Gilbertson about a suicide hotline for veterans.  Using still images and audio, Gilbertson creates a truly haunting video that is so raw, you feel as if you’re watching and hearing it in real time.  By focusing on the faces of the hotline workers he has created a piece that doesn’t just hit emotionally, but causes you to deeply think about how awful and bereft the people on the other end of the line are.

Ed Kashi’s “Photojournalisms” is a dynamic look at the work and travels of this wonderful photographer, enhanced with readings from his own diaries.  While Kashi flies around the world covering every imaginable story, sometimes for months at a time, he reveals the torment of being disconnected from his family.  His loneliness and search to find meaning in his work is truly moving, and the still images in this video are some of the most astonishing you will see.

I thought Seamus Murphy’s “Syrian Spring” piece was much stronger than “Went The Games Well,” his look at the London Olympics (done for The New Yorker).  The former was a pretty straightforward piece about the uprising that used narration as well as still and video images.  The latter went on too long, and except for an amazing shot of two young Mormon missionaries who never stopped smiling, and never moved (so much so that they could have been stuffed) it missed its mark for me.

The sobering, sad story, “Massacre at Utoya is told by Marcus Bleasdale though the words of a young Norwegian survivor.  As we see images of the island where the massacre took place one cannot help but be thunderstruck by the beauty of a place where such horror occurred.

Stefano De Luigi’s video, “Blanco” is a blend of still images of the blind from around the world set to music.  Through a technique I can’t identify he makes the images stand out from the background in a 3-D sort of way that enhances the overall storytelling.

And then there was the incredibly brief “Siberian Supermodels” by Anastaia Taylor-Lind that seemed almost incomplete.  It was over before you really had a chance to care at all.  I don’t understand that.  Is it part of a larger, continuing body of work?  Or was it just to add the work of one of the women of VII?  Either way you don’t know, and it was a throwaway. The same story on her website in still images is so much stronger.

A completely different story is told by Joachim Ladefoged in” Mirror,” his piece on a bodybuilders competition.  It is dark, dark, dark and almost claustrophobic in the way he zeros in on ripped veins, and body parts of both men and women, accompanied by ominous sound.  I kept expecting something horrible to happen, it was that evocative. By mixing still and video Ladefoged really managed to take us out of our comfort zone to such an extent that I was sure whether I was sympathetic or repulsed by the competitors.

There is definitely some interesting work being done by VII photographers, but I hope to see others push the limits of this kind of story telling.  It can and should break boundaries of narrative to create a new form of journalism.  That would be a real achievement.

Listed below are links to these pieces, and look for my next post about “Men At Lunch” and the other films I will see in the coming days, including “Shenandoah” and “Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68.”

Photojournalisms –Ed Kashi

Blanco –Stefano DeLuigi

On the Line –Ashley Gilbertson

Mirror –Joachim Ladefoged

Massacre at Utoya –Marcus Bleasdale

Syrian Spring –Seamus Murphy

Siberian Supermodels –Anastasia Taylor-Lind

Obama’s War –Christopher Morris

Went the Games Well-Seamus Murphy

Thanks to VII Photo Agency for the stills.