Why Draw Pictures?
Only two people have ever gotten angry when I drew their pictures: a Moroccan religious fundamentalist and a New York City cop.
I was 19 when I sat sketching in Fez’s Old City. I came to Morocco with a hallucinogen-chomping writer and an orientalist streak as deep as Fez’s open sewers. I abandoned both by the end of the trip. Besides motorbikes and street harassment, Fez’s main sounds were those of tour groups clomping toward their guide’s carpet shop. I didn’t want to be like them.
Tour groups took photos. They’d jam cameras into someone’s face. Before their subject could respond, they’d run off, happy to have proof that they’d stood somewhere quaint.
I’d curl up on filthy steps with my sketch pad. Street kids watched. Drawing was a monkey dance to prove that despite my dopey American face, there was still a skill I could rock. I’d draw the street kids. They’d scamper away with my sketches.
The man who didn’t like my drawings had the long gray beard of the religiously devout. One morning he ripped my drawing from my hands and shredded it with a satisfied grunt. Dopey-American-style, I burst into tears.
A decade later, I sat next to journalist Matt Taibbi in a New York misdemeanor court, watching a judge pressure brown men into plea bargains for walking their bikes on the sidewalk. I drew the cop who was guarding the courtroom. He looked as pink and shiny as a boil. The cop stormed over. “What are you doing?” he hissed.
“Drawing. It’s allowed.”
Ian Berry Takes Jaw-Dropping Photos of Massacres and Floods
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
In 1962, Ian Berry was invited to join Magnum by Henri Cartier-Bresson—which, in photographic terms, is about as close to canonization as you can get. His invitation followed his work in South Africa, where he was the only photographer to witness the massacre at Sharpeville, one of the more brutal events in late-apartheid history. His photos were retrospectively used in court to prove that the protest had been peaceful. He has covered conflict in Czechoslovakia, Israel, Ireland, and Vietnam.
VICE: I understand you’ve been with Magnum for longer than 50 years now. Is that correct?
Ian Berry: Yes. I’m horrified to admit it, but yes. That says something about my inability to let go, I think. I think of quitting every year and never get around to doing it.
You got your start in South Africa. How did you end up there?
Well, as a young Brit, I wanted to travel. And in those days you could get assisted passages to what was formerly, and in those times still, the Commonwealth. So, you could go to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. South Africa sounded the most exciting. You know, I thought I’d be seeing lions on the streets of Johannesburg and so on.
As it happened, my family knew a photographer there who had just come back from the States assistingAnsel Adams. And he was prepared to stand as a guarantor for me for a year. I didn’t actually need a visa but you had to have someone guarantee you. So I legged it out to South Africa, and that was it really. No regrets, either—it was a very exciting time to be there.
You had no real formal training in photography beyond that, did you?
College for photography really didn’t exist at that time. The best thing you could do was become somebody’s apprentice, and that’s what I did. I mean, he was shooting on a four by five, and everything was lit, and so on. So it was great training, even though I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Jonathan Hobin Recreates the World’s Most Infamous Tragedies with Children
Jonathan Hobin is a Canadian photographer whose series In the Playroom features a range of children reenacting some of the most brutal news stories of our generation, from Jonbenet Ramsey’s death and the Siegfried and Roy tiger mauling to 9/11 and the threat of nuclear war. At first glance it’s hard to tell if the children in the photos understand the horror they’re conveying or if they’re just having a lot of fun. Regardless,many people have reacted strongly. The photos have been described as sick, pure shock, and tasteless, self-indulgent masturbation. Even the children’s parents have been vilified for their involvement.
If you’re in Canada this week, In the Playroom is coming to Toronto for an exhibition at the Gladstone. I gave Jonathan a call at his home in Ottawa to talk about the criticism he’s received, the way kids absorb the news, how his entire series is a criticism of Western media, and whether or not we’re all giant kids playing adults. Oh, and he was nice enough to give us some photos that have not yet been shown anywhere online. So take a look for yourself.
VICE: What kind of feedback have you been getting from the kids in these photos?
Jonathan Hobin: For the most part they just have a lot of fun. They are given permission to do what they are often scolded for doing—acting as crazy as they want. The funny thing is, kids play games where they kill each other all the time. Whenever a kid plays with a water pistol they’re pretending to kill someone. It’s something we see constantly. I’m directly referencing where kids might be learning to do those things and that makes people very uncomfortable
What do the parents think, generally?
I have never photographed a kid without having a clear dialogue with the parents about what the intention is and what I expect the images to be. Some people seem to think that these parents are making money off this in some way, or that they’re fame-seekers. I have yet to really encounter a stage mom. I don’t know if that’s an American anomaly… I’m not sure. I feel like maybe that’s a stereotype and those things aren’t necessarily a factor in Canada. Most of these parents, they’re well-educated, they get the arguments, and they think the photos portray a valid point that they want to participate in.
There was one circumstance with the Jonbenet Ramsey photograph where the girl is, essentially, imitating a child murder victim after a sexual attack. We were very cautious in moving forward with that one. The girl was unfazed, but the mother was clearly concerned and clearly cautious about moving forward. But I think any healthy parent would be very cautious with something like that.
Do the kids understand the scenes they’re portraying?
Sometimes the kids just get it. Like the 9/11 picture. Even though they are three or four years old, they saw the twin towers and said, “I’ll hold the airplane, this is where the plane hit the building.” The mother was stunned. These symbols have worked their way into our subconscious. They are so ingrained in our culture, and they’re instantly recognizable. On the other hand, one of the new images is about acid attacks. With those kids, you’d say, “You’re fighting. To hurt that person you pour something that will sting on them.” You talk to them in terms they’re going to understand. And they understand it’s one person hurting another person—that’s the big picture. To start talking about specifics, like bringing in culture, religion… things like that, I think that’s just too big for them to handle. They get the broad strokes. I’m sure it makes for some very interesting conversations on the way home from the photo shoot.