The Fader #57 Photo Special

The Fader #57 Photo Special

While the world AIDS crisis has received much media and political attention, coverage of the disease here in the United States has by comparison been relatively neglected. Only after the recent release of statistics detailing a marked and shocking increase in cases--particularly amongst young African-American women--has the news media responded to the seriousness of the issue here at home. But however shocking these figures--there are 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in America and the disease is leading cause of death of African American women between the ages of 15-34--they do little to make those at risk identify with those affected. Krisanne Johnson's photo essay in the current issue of The FADER focuses on the ordinary lives of young, black, American positive women. The story brings a human face to the impersonal statistics and gives an individual voice to some of those affected. From New York to Mississippi we are able to witness the everyday lives of these women, their family and their friends, while the text details first hand the experiences of two of these women, Marvelyn Brown and Lolisa Gibson, living with AIDS.

Krisanne Johnson's essay addresses a lack of education and a stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS and reveals the reality for those affected here in America. In terms of its aesthetic the story looks like a FADER story. In terms of the women featured the story relates to the magazine's demographic. In terms of the subject its too important a story to ignore.



The FADER runs individual personal photo essays throughout the cycle of its regular issues but once a year the feature well of the magazine is totally given over to these stories for the annual FADER photo issue. This issue has evolved gradually over the past four years from a selection of disparate essays to last spring's themed issue "The Outsiders," which ran stories on The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, The Roma, and communal life in Philadelphia. This year's theme came together subconsciously, yet appropriately, for a magazine on newsstands at the time of the election. In light of our current state of affairs, the essays focus on American issues, which may be unexpected territory for The FADER. The essays cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American AIDS crisis, refugees' first nights in motels in LA, Miami and New Jersey, and life off the grid in Hawaii.

Given between 10 and 18 pages each these stories are even more heavily weighed to the images than a regular FADER story which itself is usually at least 60 percent visual. The text for the essays runs parallel to the imagery. Photos are not illustrations for the text, nor are texts simply descriptions of the photos. Different aspects of the story can be told through the visuals and through the words. The layouts for the stories are built both intuitively and pragmatically through the structure of the image sequence. This delivers the sense of the story. While the edit is more biased to the poetry of the images than the illustration of the text--which in the case of these stories comes later--the photo edit is careful not to lose the essence of the story. Ultimately the job is to make sense of the content and use the most powerful images to deliver the feature in an compelling way. The design hopefully becomes invisible, as it acts as a conduit for the story, sacrificed ultimately for the feature as a whole.

Photography has always been the core component of my creative approach and direction; the building block on which the design is constructed, often to the extent that design and typography (though still very much considered) are often understated and work primarily to showcase and support the imagery. At The FADER, a mostly music magazine, the photographic approach I have developed and commissioned over the past four years has evolved to be very much in the documentary aesthetic. Subjects are photographed in their natural environments rather than "locations," more in the moment than posed for camera, and more often than not with the use of available light. With musicians this approach is an attempt to achieve something beyond the traditional magazine portrait. With this in mind The FADER has regularly commissioned more pure documentary photographers (including Krisanne Johnson and Peter van Agtmael), setting them the challenge of making images which replicate and reflect upon the aesthetics and values of their personal documentary work which is un-constructed. This commissioned work has received positive response from those involved with traditional documentary photography who have found the work refreshing. However it is when the personal work of documentary photographers is showcased in its purest form in The FADER that the work has most impact.

This year's FADER photo issue also features the long term project work of Peter van Agtmael who has spent the past two years photographing first the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and then the continuation of the war's effects on soldiers and their families back at home. Van Agtmael captures the small, incidental, quieter moments to focus our attention on the emotion of war, whether from the conflict zone--the strained face of a soldier amongst stray dogs--or the tender moment of a wounded soldier holding the hand of an army medic as they are air lifted by helicopter from a battle. The subtleties of these images are supported by detailed captions that bring home the realities of the conflict and make even the mundane compelling. Raymond Hubbard who lost his leg in a rocket attack in Iraq is shown facing up to his condition and medication and also playing Star Wars with his sons, while the families and colleagues of those who lost their lives are shown as they attempt to come to terms with their grief.

The work is at once moving and powerful, tender and beautiful. It is extraordinary that until the FADER story, beyond van Agtmael's website, the work has received limited exposure. But then again this is not the war we have become accustomed to seeing as presented through traditional media. This is not the war of anonymous soldiers, impersonal statistics and polemic or political prose. This is the everyday war seen close up and with sensitivity through empathetic photography which documents the places, the conditions, the situations and the emotions of those who have and those who continue to serve there.



Through Peter van Agtmael and Krisanne Johnson's essays and the others that round out the issue, the magazine attempts to bring a personal and human focus to these larger issues and stories with the hope that these images can not simply inform but touch and affect those who see them. It's an issue I am proud of and one that I hope will make a difference.

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