Archivi categoria: allenmurabayashi

Fetishizing an Entire Culture Through Photography

In September 2016, Vogue España featured Kendall Jenner in a ballet-themed photo shoot. The ballet community was up in arms over the “ballet appropriation” and disregard for the years of training that goes into being a ballet dancer. Jenner responded by explaining that “ I didn’t even know I was going to be a ballerina until I went into hair and makeup.”

Spanish Vogue by @miguelreveriego

A post shared by Kendall (@kendalljenner) on

Fashion photography has always had an element of the fantastical and aspirational. Fashion itself tends to be very appropriative. Case in point: Kellyanne Conway’s Gucci-designed Inauguration outfit. No offense to professional dancers, but this was much ado about nothing.

Ado About Something

For Vogue’s March issue – ironically their “diversity” issue – model Karli Kloss was photographed by Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson in a piece called “Spirited Away,” an allusion to Hayao Miyazaki’s classic animation. My newsfeed was dotted with cries of cultural appropriation. I didn’t understand the fuss because the first image I saw looked lovely.


A white model wearing a kimono is no different than a non-Indian wearing a Nehru collar. They are pieces of clothing that have been adopted into individuals’ wardrobes.

But upon closer inspection of the essay, it was clear that Kloss was made up as a geisha (and referred to as a geisha in the essay) – a deeply misunderstood role in historical Japan that most westerners incorrectly equate with a prostitute.

So the blonde Chicagoan donned a black wig and was styled with make-up to make her appear asian while playing the role of a sexualized exotic. Let’s not forget using an asian man as a prop – it’s gotta be a sumo wrestler or a ninja, right? This isn’t the case where a model pretends to be a ballerina, mermaid, or construction worker. This is using photography to reinforce a detrimental narrative. And for what? To sell clothes and perfume. (Kloss did apologize.)

We can’t eschew nuance and claim that this is no different than the Jenner case. It’s a false equivalent because as a professor friend of mine pointed out, “We continue to reinforce the narrative of otherness (e.g., Asian women as exotic geisha dolls, black youths as overly sexual thugs) that then feeds into the systemic racial inequality that pervades US society. These are not isolated examples, but have a long and tenacious history.”

I’ve been traveling in Tokyo for the past two weeks. In a city of 13 million people, I’ve seen two women in kimonos and two sumo wrestlers on bicycles. Photographers wield the power to depict people and cultures in ways that either reinforce or dispel stereotypes. Use it wisely.

(If you really want to photograph geishas, then pursue the project on your dime, fight for access, and be one of the few people to ever photograph them behind the scenes.)


About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.

The Problem of Fake Photos in Fake News

The New York Times just reported an incredible story of how a 23-year old recent college graduate created a fake news story about fraudulent Clinton votes in Ohio and netted $22,000 on a fake news website from ads.

Desperate for cash to pay for living expenses, Cameron Harris concocted the piece, which was quickly picked up by pro-Trump websites:

Embedded within Harris’ story was an image he stole (“With a quick Google image search for ‘ballot boxes’”) that allegedly showed “Randall Prince, a Columbus-area electrical worker,” who had discovered the fake ballots. The image was actually from the Birmingham Mail, a UK-based news site and showed a worker delivering ballot boxes to a district community center in Sheldon.

The original, undoctored image. Photo by Birmingham Mail

According to Snopes, Harris flipped the image and blacked out some of the lettering on the boxes in “an apparent attempt to make it difficult to find the original image.”

History is littered with allegations of staged photography in news settings, but the decentralization of the news media and the rise of hyper-partisan sites has led to something else: image theft and fraudulent captions.

And with the potential for virality, individuals are using social media as springboards for fraudulent imagery like this image from circa 2013 that was promoted by @YoungDems4Trump as evidence of a mass of bikers making their way to Trump’s inauguration.

Should We Care Who Took This Photo?

Aleppo-airstrike-Omran-Dagneesh

Mahmoud Raslan’s photograph of “the boy in the ambulance” from Aleppo has struck a chord with viewers in a way that we haven’t seen since Nilüfer Demir’s image of 3-year old refugee Alan Kurdi in 2015. The photo and accompanying video of 5-year old Omran Daqneesh covered in dust and blood and sitting motionless is a stark reminder of a desperate war that started the year he was born.

The New York Times photo editor Craig Allen wrote in a piece entitled “What Makes the Image of Omran Daqneesh Extraordinary?”:

One reason the photo of Omran has tugged at so many heartstrings around the world is that the boy — with his innocent stare, just to the side of the camera’s lens — triggers in many a sometimes hard-to-come-by emotion in today’s world: empathy. The photograph is an effective symbol of a war with no winners but very clear losers.

In another piece, NYTimes Beirut bureau chief Anne Barnard commented:

Maybe it was his haircut, long and floppy up top; or his rumpled T-shirt showing the Nickelodeon cartoon character CatDog; or his tentative, confused movements in the video. Or the instant and inescapable question of whether either of his parents was left alive.

The New York Times on August 19th featured Mahmoud Raslan’s image of Omran Daqneesh
The New York Times on August 19th featured Mahmoud Raslan’s image of Omran Daqneesh

By contrast, on RT.com (Russia’s state-sponsored news site), journalist Finian Cunningham questioned western media’s infatuation with the image:

The politicization of an image purporting to show a little boy with bloodied head, covered in dust becomes obvious when we step back from this emotive singular focus. Why do Western media outlets not give the same prominence to thousands of children who have been killed or maimed by the anti-government militants or US warplanes?

Cunningham’s skepticism about political motivations misses the point about what makes this photo special compared to other photos of children victims of war. But the politicization angle is a valid question insofar as photojournalism is concerned.

According to some media reports, photographer Mahmoud Raslan was previously identified in photos with members of the US-backed Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki group that beheaded a Palestinian-Syrian child in July. We can’t expect photojournalists to be devoid of political leanings, but should Raslan’s association with an organization that has been implicated in beheadings alter our perception of the Omran image? Or is the image remarkable irrespective of who took it?

We can take the thought experiment further. What if Raslan’s image wins the top prize at World Press Photo? What if the best civil rights image had been taken by a racist? What if the best 9/11 photo was taken by an al Qaeda sympathizer? Should we celebrate an image with a complex provenance?

I agree with Craig Allen’s assertion that Omran’s gaze conveys a sense of exhaustion and apathy in a war “with no winners but very clear losers.” In that sense, it’s apolitical. And in truth, most people don’t bother to check who took the photo. But photographers choose where to point their lens and which photos to publish, so there is an implicit point of view in every image.

In a world that’s influenced by one curated (and sometimes sponsored) Instagram at a time, the person taking the photo matters.


About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here.

A Rapper Stole a Photo, and It’s More Complicated Than That

Detroit-born rapper Danny Brown recently caused a ruckus when he posted an image taken in Melbourne by Michelle Grace Hunder to Instagram without permission. The photo had been taken at a music festival for Howl & Echoes, a Sydney-based online music site.


H&L Editor-in-chief Lauren Ziegler sent Brown a DM on Twitter to ask him to add a photo credit. Brown’s response was less than cheery, and festival promoter Nic Kelly went public with the exchange.