Picture: Stephen Dupont photographer (centre left) is framed by a pregnant Liz Tardic of SBS Dateline [we first met supporting the Timbara gold mine protests in 2000 including our donation of some $2K for expert's airline ticket from USA] last Saturday afternoon at Byron McMahon Gallery, 88 George St Redfern, and in turn by the SAM news reporter's camera.
We were first alerted to Stephen Dupont, whose name sounds to us like a chemical company CEO, after catching this on Channel 9 Sunday programme
June 17, 2007
If you've ever wondered what sort of person risks their life going to the wildest and most dangerous places on Earth to snap those photographs we see in our newspapers, then you'll want to hear from Stephen Dupont.
This renowned Australian photo-journalist started out as a teenager who just wanted to travel and maybe learn how to take pictures along the way. So far, he's spent 20 years of living dangerously: Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia — he's been to them all. Along the way he's won a swag of top international photography awards and has seen his pictures printed in almost every leading magazine and newspaper.
SUNDAY caught up with him after a new exhibition of his work opened in Sydney.
You can catch Stephen Dupont's exhibiton at the Byron McMahon Gallery in Sydney's Redfern. Call 02 9318 0404 or visit www.sandrabyrongallery.com.au
Or visit Dupont's website at www.stephendupont.com
It was a bitter sweet experience dropping in to coincidentally find the place filled with appreciative fans receiving a walk through and talk by the good photographer himself.
By chance before proceedings, having recognised SD from the tv I complimented him on the "great grab" he got on Sunday. "Did you see yourself broadcast?" Puzzlement then "yeah I watched it".
"I notice the photo with all the people looking toward your camera. Just goes to show the power of the camera. The West Wing calls it the Heisenberg Principle". No reply. The first communication disjunction.
Okay so I had just had a coffee and was blathering a bit trying to be smart about what is actually more accurately known as the observer effect ie what you monitor is changed by the act of observing.
As we went around listening to his light hearted and soft patter an older guy with an expensive long lens camera came in with a coffee coloured slender beauty. As these two merged with the strolling audience I was so entranced by the talk and pictures we bumped shoulder tips lightly.
Big Camera called out a question but SD didn't hear it even though he had invited questions as we went. Communication disjunct #2.
In a pause I repeated it "How much did they [the fixers - ie local interpreters/logistics specialists] cost?"
"In Indonesia it can be US$100 per day which is alot of money for them." Them and me both.
The gallery itself is in a gutsy location just off tricky Redfern St. A conversion of the Redfern Hotel where we used to deliver street press, once a month part of that 6 year slog. One of the last rough and ready Sydney pubs all tiles and faded fittings a bit like the County Clare in Broadway.
The photos were on sale, beautifully presented framed in glass, large format, at $2,500. All in artistic black and white which was the cause of my diplomatic downfall, but more of that below.
Picture: In Romania, 2nd largest single building structure after the Pentagon says Stephen Dupont. Says he took this late morning with only 3 cars in view. Robbed but kept his cameras and film.
At this photo I ventured "Yet there are no other cars" to which he corrected me "There are two other cars". Yep, quite right. 3 cars. Communication disjunct #3.
Picture: SD. "I don't read Arabic, I have no idea what this reads"
I had asked him whether he had any other languages. And he confirmed he didn't. So when we came to this picture above I was in mind of Philip Ruddock the federal Attorney General reported in large format article in the Daily Telegraph recently cracking down on any publication that "praises" terrorism. The absurdity of that law for an artwork like this photo seemed obvious to me. I alerted Liz Tardic to this line of thinking too for her show. Here is the article:
And I quote: "Mr Ruddock will today [21 June 2007] introduce legislation making it an offence to produce or disseminate material that "advocates" terrorism, such as offensive books and DVDs."
So the talk finished and SD took questions.
Someone: Why black and white? 'Grew up with it, makes you think more'. It took a veteran in the audience to suggest it carried more emotion which rang true to me. Disjunct #4?
(I was musing about this later and recalled there is much greater variable shadow play without colour and that this in fact is indicative of much non western life where electric light is the exception rather than the generality at early morning and dusk.)
After waiting politely I ventured: "I'm totally untrained [which was a lie but meant by comparison], but from western eyes the images suggest poverty. And quite gritty. Is that why you like black and white?" His answer, somthing like:
"Well colour can give you gritty too. I don't know about poverty, that's not really ao, there isn't really poverty depending on what you mean."
Definitely disjunct #4. It was clear as day many of these folks envied or hated western affluence and I was talking from experience in Morocco, Santiago with their stray dogs everywhere, other parts of Chile, back slum lanes of Barcelona, Falls Rd Belfast, Port Moresby dust with buses overflowing, 20 Toya for an egg no haggling. Indeed what his western face and camera really symbolised to those viewed. The observer effect indeed which SD virtually acknowledged himself as the "fuck you" look. Or was it the accusation look?
I was similarly not really interested in pandering even to the artist himself. It just seemed trite to be lectured on concepts of cultural and emotional richness as distinct from western materialism. As if I didn't know about that at 43 and reasonably travelled. Still I couldn't blame him. He didn't know me at all. But he also seemed to airbrush the underlying aggression to the West these days for the incredible inequality in this world.
So I shouldn't have but I couldn't resist responding to this fine published photographer's spiel to potential purchasers
"But you weren't "alone" really. You have your camera which is very powerful and it was Tony Blair the other day who made it clear the media is so powerful it intrudes on everyone's life". (Not to mention fixer nearby?).
[The Blair speech is instructive actually for just how powerful the media are, even a small share to this little micro SAM news website, or we suggest travelling photographer, including this quote:
"I am going to say something that few people in public life will say but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today - outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else - is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms." Things to chew on in Blair's parting gift June 21, 2007]
I was on a roll but it was the wrong place, wrong people, fish in a barrel stuff. Self indulgence. Stephen had suggested a relaxed question and answer, or conversation but he didn't really want a challenge. Pandering was much more in order. In my own defense there was another fiesty questioner in the audience, and Tadic had her camera on me which was a little surprising. But then I was getting bored and running out of time for the Islamic exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery.
This now middle aged, travel obsessed rolling stone slightly paunchy and maybe punchy photo artist with a proud air published in New Yorker and New York Times was being what he is, a wet Democrat and a brilliant photographer. I even agreed with him mostly, but it just didn't seem relevant. Where was my respect?
"I don't get that much work these days because I prefer large format black and white. I do work for books mainly now."
Meaning uncompromising artist. Admirable stuff. But maybe also because he an old media dinosaur compared to rude new media bloggers like this writer? We left quietly for the next (free) show closing in less than an hour.
Communication disjunct #5. I left a web address in the message book and I called back the next day, left a message. No reply.
We hope Stephen Dupont has alot of good sales from his show open until 14th July 2007. He has good politics and a likeable nature. But also something else we have tried to reflect above, perhaps from all those years out of the comfort zone not least with Massoud, assassinated leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, and Big Media pride. He's gone native I would say, and a little defensive. He's definitely earned the sales after 20 years of expertise and risk. I hope he finds some time for the new media too. You can't be a rolling stone forever which suggests SD confronting the modern tastes of Australia or similar western country eventually as per this liftout in The Australian June 26th 07.
Or maybe he will settle outside of his home country? Sticking to his dark room and black and white stills forever?
We also felt a little concerned. Which of course sounds foolish for a big tough war photographer but everyone has their limits. We are reminded of a chapter, if memory serves, from an old Australian 60 Minutes book alluding to a similar character who strides manfully through the newspaper to the editor's office all machismo and daring seemingly invincible and full of vigour, only to die on yet another battle ground. It doesn't have to be that way.
Show finishes July 14th 2007, closed Sunday and Mondays.