Paolo Woods

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    Several photographers have had an impact on me, however one has particularly struck me recently. It’s the Dutch/Canadian Paolo Woods.

    After being an advertisement and fashion photographer, Paolo Woods started working on reportage in 1998. Since then he has been travelling across the world. In 2003, with two journalists (Serge Michel and Serge Enderlin) he produced the book Un monde de Brut on the subject of oil, which took him to Angola, Russia, Kazakhstan and Iraq. In 2004, working with Serge Michel, he produced the book American Chaos, a detailed reportage on Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008, he collaborated again with Serge Michel to produce La Chinafrique, a book depicting the growing influence of China in Africa. Since the election of president Ahmadinejad in Iran in 2005, he has been working on a photo documentary about the Iranian society out of which he produced the book Walk on my eyes.

    Why do I like Paolo Woods? First of all because he has become a master at using photography to depict social dynamics. In a rather clear and straightforward style, one of his photography can replace a thousand words in giving insights into a particular situation. Yet, he has particular ability to go beyond easy stereotypes. In this sense, rather than giving the viewer a picture to look at, he gives him/her a picture to reflect on. This has the effect of involving much more the viewer (participatory photography in reverse?). The viewer is pushed not necessarily to make an opinion on a situation (that would perhaps be too fast), but nonetheless to develop some level of thoughts. By taking visually very attractive photo – and that’s my second point- often in very close distance from the subject, he captures the attention of the viewer and somehow gives him/her the impression he/she could be part of the setting. This physically enhances the participation of the viewer described in the first point. Third and last, he also innovates in that he mixed in his last exhibition Walk on my eyes his own photos and photos taken by citizens during the June 2009 events in Teheran.

    All of these points make Paolo Woods a very inspiring photographer who is at the crossroad between art and journalism. Art on the one hand because he plays with perception, journalism on the other because he investigates contemporary world. Furthermore he puts a lot of emphasis on the individuals. Rather than depicting an environment on which people evolve, he focuses on people in a particular environment. In that, he goes beyond showing people with objects and symbols in specific surroundings (however interesting that may already be) and delves into some psychological aspects of the society and the individuals. These can be perceived tensions between traditions and modernity, personal success and collectives values; suffering and pride, etc…

    Such an approach by a photographer is all the more relevant in times where media and foreign policy often tend to create all encompassing entities (“China”, “Iran”, “oil industry”, “the poor”, etc…) which somehow debilitates the understanding of the particularities (the individuals, specific segments of the society) who make these entities. Paolo Woods brings about technically sound photographies which bear a tripartite reflection (subject, photography and viewer) on key issues of our time. Paolo Woods photos can be seen on:

    Duncan Rawlinson

    Thanks for your submission. I will post a critique within 24 hours.


    Duncan Rawlinson

    Your piece was excellent.

    It was very well researched, written, and thought out.

    In fact this is one of the most precise and coherent essays I’ve seen at this Photography School.

    Here are a couple photos by Paolo Woods from his chinafrique story:



    His work is just as you said:

    at the crossroad between art and journalism

    This is an interesting place to be. It is an often dangerous place as well.

    Your point about the

    tripartite reflection (subject, photography and viewer

    is really interesting. If you think about it that dynamic occurs in all photography. Paolo Woods just takes this to the extreme.

    Another photographer you may want to start learning about is James Nachtwey if you haven’t already.

    I hope this assignment and the course is refining your thoughts on photography. In turn, I hope this makes you a more thoughtful, and more interesting photographer.

    Thanks for your submission.

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