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"Art meets news" in career-spanning Bill Foley retrospective

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Art meets news. Or news meets art. However you arrange it, for Bill Foley, it's about making the best, least boring picture possible. That's the common thread through a partial retrospective of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist's work at the Indiana State Museum. The show, open March 18 to July 19, addresses three aspects of his life: his Hoosier roots, or when "complete serendipity" led the chemistry major to start working for the Indiana Daily Student and interning for the Cincinnati Enquirer; his time in the Middle East, when he took the last picture of Anwar Sadat before his assassination; and the tools of his trade during an era of analog film technology.

READ: David Hoppe's 2007 profile of Bill Foley

Whether he was shooting in an active war zone — he was the first person to report on the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in Beirut in 1982 for Western newspapers — or making "feature" pictures of the average citizen in some 47 countries, it was all about, according to Foley, "looking for the best picture, the most interesting narrative, whether in the light, the composition." Foley, who grew up in Indianapolis, returned home in 2007 to teach at Marian University. He's still making work, but Art Meets News focuses on the period of 1978 to 1990, when he worked as a staff photographer for the Associated Press, and then on contract with TIME. Read on for a selection of quotes from a recent interview with Foley, as well as several examples of work from the show.

Phalange Christian militia fighter, East Beirut, 1981. Photo by Bill Foley.
  • Phalange Christian militia fighter, East Beirut, 1981. Photo by Bill Foley.

"In the analog world, one had to process film, whether of Sadat or somebody shooting at somebody else or a building exploding. Then you went back to the office or your hotel room or wherever you were based. You processed that film, you edited it, you made a print. Then you sat down at the typewriter and you wrote a caption. Then you put that caption on the print, you wrapped that print on the drum, you called London, New York, Paris, Rome when you had the line. You said, 'Hi, London, this Beirut, Cairo [or] Baghdad. I've got three pictures for you. I've got a picture of Sadat. I've got a picture of buildings burning. I've got a picture of a camel.' And London or New York tells you, 'Okay, great! We're ready for you, Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad.' Each black and white picture would take 15 minutes and then the editor at the other end would say, 'That's great, we got it.' Or, 'That's not great. We got a line cut. Let's redo it.' Sometimes they weren't the best phone lines and it would take you 45 minutes to move one picture."

Lebanon press pass for Bill Foley, 1985.
  • Lebanon press pass for Bill Foley, 1985.

"I've been collecting press passes since I was covering stuff for the Cincinnati Enquirer in '76 and the IDS in '75. I just find press passes and old passports and all that ephemera interesting. I never thought of what I would do with it in the future. I just thought it would be cool to have."

TIME magazine, July 2, 1990; cover photo by Bill Foley.
  • TIME magazine, July 2, 1990; cover photo by Bill Foley.

"The curators and I worked together very closely over the last 18 months. Mark Ruschman and Katherine Gould, the two curators I worked with — Katherine comes from a historical background and Mark comes from an artistic background. Part of Katherine's idea was to show the narrative of somebody who worked in the '70s, '80s and '90s, versus today. Most people working today have no idea what an enlarger is, what chemicals were used to process film, no idea about transmitting pictures."

U.S. Marine being pulled from the barracks rubble, Beirut, October 23, 1983. Photo by Bill Foley.
  • U.S. Marine being pulled from the barracks rubble, Beirut, October 23, 1983. Photo by Bill Foley.

"Film is becoming a complete speciality. I still do film and people I know still do film, but the general public, and certainly the press, is never going to use film again. It's not gonna happen. They're never going back to the wet plate or film. It's all digital, so you don't need to know how to process film in today's world."

Bill Foley at the U.S. Marine base in Beirut, 1983.
  • Bill Foley at the U.S. Marine base in Beirut, 1983.

"If you look historically at the last 100 years, pictures that were taken for editorial use — whether it was Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Jim Nachtwey, the Turnley brothers or anybody else — that work, which was originally shot for magazines and newspapers, has been rediscovered and reseen as art. You've seen Bresson in museums; you've seen Jim in museums; all these photojournalists are now in museums. It's an acceptance of the fact that this is art on many levels."

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