Of the thousands of photos from the devastation of Sept. 11, photo editors around the world chose one photo that would tell the story of that day. It wasn’t of the Twin Towers burning and it wasn’t of the plane hitting the second tower.
It was The Falling Man. It was a photo of a man in a white jacket, falling head first, taken by AP’s Richard Drew.
And, of the thousands of photos from the carnage and frightening loss of life on the island of Iwo Jima, it was the flag raising that filled the top half of newspaper front pages. Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was victory and, more importantly, hope.
Brendan Preston considers these two photos and declares that the photographers likely did not intend to capture images of such import and steeped in such symbolism. They just took pictures of events and they did it with great skill.
“Photography images find you,” he says. “The most powerful images are not constructed.”
Preston calls himself a freelance photographer, but his show at Baked Café, Children of Gaia, clearly allows him to call himself “an artist”.
But the idea that he might also consider himself a “photojournalist” intrigues him.
The eight images on the walls of Baked Café show children in developing nations living their lives either happily or stoically.
These are all images that found Preston, the photojournalist.
He was shooting a battered and weathered boardwalk in Malaysia when a child emerged from one of the huts and walked toward him.
He was shooting Vietnamese fishing boats when a group of children came over to talk to him. Then they played in the water between his lens and the boats.
And he was shooting Angkor Wat, a 12th Century temple in Cambodia, when one of the workers from the ragtag assortment of shops went to the water’s edge to retrieve water.
“If I said, ‘Go to the water’, the image would not have been as powerful,” he says today. Instead, he has an image that is beautifully composed that juxtaposes the squalor of modern-day Cambodia with the riches and grandeur of Cambodia’s past.
Preston, the artist, printed the photos and mounted them for the show without commenting on them and almost not even naming them.
It gives all the power to the viewer to glean the information hidden in their pixels.
“I have friends in fine-art school and the teachers all say they need a vision and to describe it … I don’t agree with that.”
The viewer can glimpse each of these cultures via his images and maybe begin to develop an understanding.
“I just put them up and people can take from them what they want,” says Preston. “Sometimes things just look good.”
But what do these images mean to him?
“I can’t analyze them,” he says. “It is like analyzing someone you’ve become accustomed to; I’ve spent too much time with them.
“But I hope other people analyze them.”
If people find the larger story in these images, presto, he is a photojournalist.
If people just like how the images look and find feeling, he is an artist.
Children of Gaia will be on display at Baked Café until the end of September.
More information is available from Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO: BRENDAN PRESTON email@example.com