The second episode of Witness: Libya screened on November 12. The 4-part HBO documentary by Michael Mann and David Frankham, is an exploration of today’s generation of war photographers.
The subject of the documentary is Michael Christopher Brown. Brown has visited Libya five times over the past two years, including a trip in April, 2011, when his fellow-photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed, and Brown was wounded. “Witness: Libya” looks into his time documenting the Libyan revolution and dealing with the loss of his friends and colleagues.
Brown spoke to The New Yorker about the starring in Witness: Libya. “I could polish my words beforehand, get a haircut, and see this as a way to advance my career, or I could dive into it without knowing what I would say, unguarded in thought and emotion, and expose frailties to help viewers identify with my character, if I may call it that, while giving them a way into the world I experienced at the time,” he said. “This latter route felt more honest.” Brown hopes the documentary will serve as “a messenger for those who might know very little if anything about Libya, to give them a view into contemporary Libyan society and inspire them to take out a globe, locate the country on the map, and to be a participant, if only in thought.”
He has produced projects on China and Russia to name a few, and also worked with the National Geographic on various projects. But in 2011, his profile was raised due to the originality of his work in Libya.
Brown’s photo’s of the Libyan revolution were shot on his iPhone. He faced criticism from many, claiming he ‘hipsterized’ the pictures through the Hipstamatic app. However, the mobility and simplicity of shooting on an iPhone allowed him access other photographers carrying SLR’s could only dream of.
His photographic essay offers an alternative viewing experience of the revolution, fusing the new Libyan era with contemporary photography. Smart phone apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram have been criticised by many since their release, often for the spurious way one can create an impressive photo. Professionals, and SLR owners, are maddened, perhaps fueled by jealousy, that any one with a cell phone can create an aesthetically pleasing photo without a huge lense and Photoshop. Brown’s photos defend the apps and illuminate their revolutionary change in photography, for the good of smart phone users, for the worse of SLR owners.
The whole Arab Spring will be remembered for the dominance of social media, and whatever your opinion may be on photo apps and other social outlets, Brown’s photos are part of a historic landmark of how the world is changing.
To read further on mobile photography, The Guardian’s Richard Grey explores the subject further in The rise of mobile phone photography.
Sources - The New Yorker