Issues and images combine in 'What Matters,' a powerful and passionate new book
By Michael Zajakowski
September 6, 2008
Great documentary photojournalism, squeezed out of mainstream newspapers and magazines in an age of shrinking column inches, has had a hard time gaining traction in other venues. Although it has found new life on web sites and in books, the age of the topical visual long form is in remission.
But nobody has told the 18 photographers in "What Matters: The World's Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time."
These are photo essays by some of today's best photojournalists following the great tradition begun over a hundred years ago with the expos�s of New York tenement life by Jacob Riis. Through the doggedness of these photographers - who are clearly committed to stirring us out of complacency - all the power and passion of the medium is evident in this book.
David Elliot Cohen, who co-created the famous "Day in the Life" series of photojournalism books, had a keen eye in selecting the photo essays and coupling each with cogent commentary from writers such as Samantha Power, professor at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government; Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and Columbia University professor; and Elizabeth C. Economy, director for Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The book is an engrossing journey from pristine wilderness to glittering Rodeo Drive boutiques with stops along the way focusing on genocide, global jidad, child labor and AIDS victims in Africa, to name a few.
In a provocative bit of editing, James Nachtwey's searing photo essay about global poverty, "The Bottom Billion," is jarringly followed by Lauren Greenfield's "Shop til We Drop," a vivid but embarrassing look at another extreme, which is only slightly less shameful than the first.
Some of the pieces will break your heart, some will anger you. All will make you think. To channel your thoughts and feelings into action, the book ends with an appendix "What You Can Do," offering hundreds of ways to be a part of the solution to these problems.
What Matters: The World's Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time
By David Elliot Cohen
- Michael Zajakowski, Chicago Tribune