The moment I decided that I wanted to become a photographer; I was looking at Tim Hetherington’s photos from Afghanistan, in one of the Sunday supplements. The power of those documentary images has never left me. From that moment I have had a steadily growing obsession with photography and image making, especially in the documentary area.
We have now been introduced to the first major Unit of the course: Documentary. Leading this Unit is the photographer and educator Anna Fox. “What is Documentary?… A story mediated by the story teller.” She told us during our first lecture, she went on to talk about various documentary photographers which I will list and link bellow. She also showed us some of her work that ranges from fine art to documentary; I personally don’t find that it does much for me, but I am able to appreciate it. We were also shown some of her most recent work that she shot at ‘Butlins’ (British holiday camps), again not my particular flavour of ice-cream, especially as she said that most of the shots where composited. Several frames are merged to get all the required expressions in one image, a practice that frankly makes me a bit nervous. The work is on show at the James Hyman Gallery in London.
In terms of the work that we are required to produce for this Unit, we were given three mini projects and a larger final body of work. The mini projects comprise of a Street project that requires candid and consented portraits, a point of view exercise, to examine the effect that different angles have on the subject and we need to gain access to a space to photograph. The larger body of work entitled ‘Stranger’, does what it says on the tin, we need to photograph the life of a person we have never met before and do not know intimately. As you can imagine several ‘oh fuck’s issued from the crowd of young students at this point, this is a daunting project its true, but I can’t wait to get going. Gaining access is half the battle for documentary photographers so this should be a useful exercise that will hopefully produce a good body of work.
I will keep you updated as it develops.
Jacob Riis: Photographing to raise awareness for social reform.
Lewis Hine: Social Documentarian.
Henri Cartier- Bresson: One of my favourite photographers, known for his street work.
Tony Ray Jones: Documenting the English in the 70s.
Raghu Rai: Indian urban landscapes.
W. Eugene Smith: A remarkable photographer, one of the pioneers of the photo essay, in this case we were looking at his ‘Country Doctor’ piece.
Jullian Germain: His project ‘For every minute you are angry you lose 60 seconds of happiness’ is similar to our Stranger project.
Martin Parr: Documents the English especially, well known for his project: ‘Last Resort’.
Nan Goldin: She documented a grunge/sexually promiscuous culture in the 80s with ‘A Ballard of Sexual Dependency’.
Larry Clark: His project ‘Tulsa’ documents his friends, their promiscuity and drug taking.
Susan Lipper: Documented a rural American community in ‘Grapevine’
Peter Hugo: Documentary Portraiture.
We have now finished our first unit. We took part in a group review to make comments about each others work. The overall quality of the work was excellent, my work also gained some good comments. For one of the first times in my life I was compelled to speak out and make comments about other peoples work, I found the whole review experience very rewarding. It also impressed upon me the importance of other peoples views about your work, I think the fact that they are unattached to the work is key, they may see things about your pictures that you have not.
Bellow you can see the final photographs for this project, this type of image is not my usual style, I am less of a fan of constructing photographs. However I found that pursuing a concept from my head to the emulsion really satisfying. I realized over the summer that my photography need to diversify, if I want to one day make a living out of it. My professional style should start here and develop through the next three years if I am to bag clients. I am very conscious not to be changed by this by this university experience, to be fed other peoples ideas and pressed into a mould, instead I want to grow and experience in the world of photography, to document this process is one of the reasons for this blog.
'Carte de Visite' (visiting card) is the title of our first project. It refers to the process that came to prominence 1859, where people would have their portrait taken and then reproduced several times as a small print usually two and half by four inches, to be given to family and friends. The photograph was generally taken to mark some time or event in the sitters life, whether it be an academic achievement or military service. A collector of these photographs: Tom Philips has done a book and an exhibition entitled 'We are the People'
Our project is a portraiture project, designed to introduce us to colour and black and white analogue process. We must make two small prints, one of each film type.
I was intrigued by the idea of props leading photos and the construction of a artificial environment like we see in the photo above. Props leading photos and the elements of fantasy that you can see in a lot of these photos will be what drive my photographs. (See some blow)
As I haven’t posted for a few days I thought I would recommend an excellent blog post from a National Geographic photographer: John Stanmeyer. In this blog post he talks about working for the National Geographic. See it at: 'The Amazing Yellow Boardered Magazine'. I thoroughly recommend the other post as well, including one where he talks about using a Holga camera for one of his book projects.
Tomorrow we’re starting the first proper project of the course, so there will be lots more content to come.
Second day at FUCA. We had a talk from two of last years graduates, who showed us some work.
Daniel Bergo whose contemporary landscape work looks at how humanity impacts our landscape
Brendan Baker whose work is more conceptual, I recommend you look at his projects 'Eight Observations of Paradox Theory' which I have seen mentioned in ‘The British Journal of Photography’ and 'Moronic' which was produced in collaboration with a fellow student: Daniel Evans.
The quality of the images from both is amazing and really inspires me to get on with the course and start to develop a style.
We where also pointed in the direction of: http://fotofolios.org/ which features graduate work from a number of universities internationally, including FUCA.
Lots More content to come.
Today was the start of my degree in Photography at FUCA. We had an introductory lecture about the power of photography and the layout of the course. We were also set a project entitled ‘Mobile Phone’ where we are required to document the first week of university with the camera on our mobile phones.
Lots more content to come.
The other night I watched the film ‘The Bang Bang Club’, this true story follows the lives of Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva, a group of photographers working in the South African Townships during Apartheid. More can be found out about them here.
There is a scene in the film where Marinovich pleads with supporters of the ANC (African National Congress) for the life of a man believed to be a member of an opposing political party who is being brutally beaten. Paying no heed to the photographers pleas the man is set on fire, Marinovich continues to photograph the man. He exposes a frame as one of the ANC supporters brings down a machete on the burning mans head. The resulting photograph (See bellow) won Marinovich the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.
Following this Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer too, with a photo that would haunt him, that of a vulture stalking a starving child in the Sudan (See bellow). As the photograph gained notoriety people started asking questions about the fate of the child, questions that Carter couldn’t answer. It is thought the criticism that stemmed from this contributed to Carters subsequent suicide.
My photographic aspirations being Photojournalistic I couldn’t help but ask myself what I would do in similar situations. Is it right to intervene? Could I make a difference? Isn’t simply taking a photograph of that act, that situation, offering help in a far greater reaching and profound way? Showing the wider world what’s happening, is that enough?
I think that its very easy to sit as comfortably as we do in the western world and through a mix of moral schooling and ideals planted into us by action movies say that we would save the day and make a difference. After a few years living and traveling in south east Asia I can say that I’ve seen poverty, but then again who hasn’t? We are bombarded with imagery through charitable channels, that give us images of extreme poverty with our morning cornflakes and coffee. I think of it as poverty porn and we have become numbed by it. I think that its is time photographers found new ways of communicating the situation. From the image makers point of view this would be far better than the physical help that Kevin Carter was blamed for not giving, it’s a drop in the ocean. Please excuse me if in expressing this sentiment I sound callous.
While plowing through Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ in the bath this morning I came across a quote which sparked this post:
‘The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates moral boundaries
and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people photographed. The whole point of photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them.’ Susan Sontag
As I am young in my photographic career, I find it hard, both to agree or disagree with this statement. It does however seem to me that in photographing someone you do take on a certain responsibility, not least that it is well known the photographs lies, or can be made to lie with composition. You also take on responsibility in how you publish the image, it is your duty to present the person or situation as accurately as possible whether it is good or bad.
I took the above photo while in Thailand, I walked into a small fishing village early in the morning, the houses are corrugated iron and bamboo. I went over to a table of fishermen, sitting and smoking after putting their nets out. Despite not speaking the language we had a laugh and I took some photos. Me walking into that village and taking that photograph was motivated by nothing more (or less) than wanting to take some pretty pictures. I had no anticipation for it to help anything or change anything. While I agree its not as extreme as war or famine, but in this case I was acting exactly as the photographer that Sontag describes.
What comes of all this? Only more questions. However I will leave you with a quote from ‘The Bang Bang Club’:
KEVIN: Greg? They’re right you know?
KEVIN: All of them. All of the people that say its our job…. to sit there and watch people die. They’re right.
GREG: Thats not me.
KEVIN: Yes it is.
GREG: Its in your head Kev. Not mine.
KEVIN: I’m not alone.
While waiting for the term to start I thought i’d share other sources of photographic inspiration.
During my Foundation Degree in Art and design in which I specialized in photography, I found that the world of theory and photographic essay writing to be removed from the practical world of being a professional photographer. So I turned to 'Professional Photographer' magazine as a source of both practical advice and artistic inspiration.
The magazine is primarily written by working pros, including interviews with many other influential and ground breaking photographers. Accompanying each issue is a podcast in which they talked about the issues raise in the magazine (these can be found on itunes). Recently the team that runs the magazine has left and set up a new title 'Hungry Eye Magazine' they are yet to release their first issue (release set to be the 1st of October 2011) but the internet content looks excellent, they currently have six podcasts online here. They are increasingly focusing on the world of convergence and filmmaking a topic that I will be addressing in coming posts. With magazines and other outlets needing additional content for sites and apps, photographers are going to need to get to grips with filmmaking and editing. But this is a subject to be talked about in greater detail in a later post, I am eager to see how they address the world of convergence during my degree.
Follow hungry eye mag on twitter here. One of their columnists Peter Dench who writes a hilarious column which is to be continued in hungry eye, is well worth a look. See past entries in his ‘Dench Diary’ here and his twitter feed here.