Audacity of Beauty: Maggie Steber

I just came across this after searching “Maggie Steber.” When I first got accepted at PJ school Maggie was a visiting instructor. Because I was a transfer student they said “You can’t take the class.” I had already been published and had worked for papers, but the school politics were powerful as well as confusing. “Why?” I asked. They literally had no answer other than a repeated “no,” but my roommate did take Maggie’s class and I was able to live a little vicariously through him.

Audacity of Beauty from Maggie Steber on Vimeo.

You can tell Maggie is cool less than five seconds into this film simply by her smile and body language. And having run into her many times over the years I can say that she is always that way. Not to get too Santa Fe on you, but she has great energy.

I have to say, I wish all of you could see the book of this material because I really think these particular images, and the way she shot them, look SO GOOD on paper, better than they do on screen, and at a far larger size. There is a texture to these photographs, a texture that FEELS earthy, human, bloody but in some odd sense, joyful, and there were some heavy things going down during Maggie’s time in Haiti.
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This is classic photojournalism and classic documentary photography rolled into one. There is something else here that I want to speak to without getting lanced. These images are dated. Sorry Maggie, but here is the thing. These are dated in a GOOD way. The word that comes to mind when I see these is “purity.” These were made before the computer was a reality and subsequently the images were left alone. She allows for her light and timing and composition to speak as opposed to INSANE sharpness, color and beyond specific, pixel by pixel image manipulation. I’m sure what we are doing today will also become dated, as do most styles, so I find perhaps a nostalgia here that I really feel for.

I also just noticed that the introduction was written by Amy Wilentz. Guess what book I had next to Maggie’s? Yes, I have every book ever published. Now I just ruined my own evening because these two books are staring at me saying “Hey loser, where have you been.”
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4 Responses to “Audacity of Beauty: Maggie Steber”

  1. lionelB says:

    A short while ago I listened while an internationally recognised photo competition judge explained. “If there were ways in which you could have improved your image digitally and you didn’t do that, you will lose marks. There is no excuse. These are not photographs, they are images.” He then went on to award a portrait where the face looked like a superimposed waxwork, existing in a different universe than the hands. Sadly, his view is now the orthodoxy and that makes me weep.

    So seeing these photographs is like being reminded of the taste of fresh lime juice, after having been force fed a frozen sludge of polluted river water, aspartame and Fast Green FCF.

    So, Dan, thank you for sharing.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      You have a way with words, and descriptions, that I love. Keep it coming.
      I don’t look at contests any longer, haven’t for years. They have gone off the deep end, jumped the shark and have become little more than money making ventures for large corporations. A friend who came up at the same time I did had this same book at his house, and over the phone we went though the pages looking at specific images and laughing at how those would have been treated today. We also figured out that ONE of the reasons her work is so good is that she spent SO MUCH time in Haiti. She WAS Haiti in her own way because she was really a part of it all. My friend mentioned a super hot modern doc photographer who had just done a story from a tragedy somewhere and my friend said “It looked like he was there for a MAYBE a week.” I’m sure his images are seamless, grainless, and photoshopped into little boxes, little boxes, little ticky tacky littel boxes and they all look just the same…..He probably put them on social media and probably his Instagram feed, but none of this changes the fact he was only there for a week, and the work just doesn’t have any depth.

  2. Catherinerulli says:

    I am getting ready to try a book on Blurb for a client and first watched a how to video that you made. It was excellent. So good I wanted to know more about you as a photographer. Found you blog next. Paged through and found your post on Maggie Steber. I had never heard of Maggie but loved the title and idea of her project. Needless to say I am now a huge fan of both of yours and have a newfound knowledge, interest and appreciation for Haiti. Thank you.

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