Critique

Expertise: Howard Buffet's Photography

British curator and critic Stuart Pilkington about the photography of businessman Howard Graham Buffet


Howard Graham Buffet

Howard Graham Buffet, 59 years old

American businessman, philanthropist and farmer. The middle son of the billionaire investor Warren Buffet. He held key positions in Archer Daniels Midland, GSI Group and Lindsay Manufacturing. In 2007 Buffet became the UN Ambassador Agains Hunger; in 2010 he became the head of The Coca-Cola Company.

Howard Buffet combines his passion with photography with his humanitarian activities. While traveling in Third World countries he often photographs locals, their daily lives, and wild nature. He has visited more than 100 countries. Buffet showed his photography for the first time in 2000 in a book called Images of the Wild. Written with Colin Mead, it became a popular guide about wildlife areas of North America and Africa. Exhibitions of Howard Buffet's works are being held in various galleries around the world. This year they are part of The World Food Prize Foundation's Hall of Laureates in Des Moines (Iowa, United States).


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"I can see these photographs in the pages of National Geographic, but not in a chic New York gallery"
Stuart Pilkington

Stuart Pilkington, 44 years old

Curator and photographer from Northwich (England). Worked with Terry Gilliam, Alan Parker and Luc Besson. Photographed for the British Film Institute. Curated projects with Brian Ulrich, Harry Borden and Lydia Panas. Favorite book - The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. Is inspired by works of Alec Soth and Joel Sternfeld.

Being honest, I wasn’t aware of Howard Buffet's photography until now. He is a man of contradictions – and at the end of the day so are we all. He seems to be that odd mix of possibly ruthless ambition as well as philanthropy. He was born into money and he has remained in money. However, as his philanthropy suggests and his interests in conservation, wildlife, and the human condition also suggest he seems to care for the environment as well as his fellow man.

His photographs reflect his interest in the human condition and the ones that I've seen are of people in the continent of Africa: parents, children, soldiers, tribesmen, hunters, schools etc. You get to see the myriad of hues of human life. There aren’t many smiles in the photographs but this isn’t due to some deadpan aesthetic but rather that the people, whom are the subjects of the images, are having to deal with the harshness of their existence. You see children looking understandably unhappy by a carpet of skulls or an adult with a gun, for example.


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When he photographs individuals inside their huts there is a lovely alchemy of the available light on the 35mm film. And Buffet also manages to play with light on the dark skin tones of his subjects particularly well when shooting outside in the twilight hours. The images taken earlier in the day are slightly flatter, but again the content is great so this more than makes up for it.

Buffet is a good photographer in many senses, but it isn’t really my taste. I can see these photographs in the pages of National Geographic as opposed to a chic New York gallery. However, I’m sure I will stand corrected on that. His focus is more to do with content and telling a story rather than style. He captures emotions very well - such as pride or fear or sadness. There are rich colors in many of the shots and the compositions tend to work each time. I suspect his work would have more impact, or should I say a different impact, if he were to use large format or even square format. The dimensions sometimes mean there is an odd cropping and it tends to distract the eye. Having said all that, the message he conveys with his photographs is very clear and his work will appeal to many people for a large number of reasons.

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