Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Making a start with Social Documentary

I don't know what it is, but I just can't get the bit between the teeth on this course yet.  I have finally this last weekend picked up my camera.  Some 'nice' snaps but can't say I was hugely inspired. It is a start however. I have ideas for each of the projects but have had a random 'scatter-gun' approach so far, tackling a few projects on one occasion but none well.  I have been questioning why I am still struggling to get focussed on this.

What draws photographers to certain genres of photography is something I am thinking about at the moment, wondering whether this may be inhibiting my progress. How people view and use photography I think will reflect the type of photography they are drawn to.  For me, for example, I don't necessarily want to photograph what is there.  I am drawn to altering what I see, creating something different which probably doesn't sit neatly with photo-journalism which is factual-based.  Maybe this is why conceptual and fine art photography has been increasingly of interest and why I hit a wall with landscapes. It dawned on me that competence with my camera and its tricks such as long exposures, distorting lenses and digital manipulations would never be sufficient to create the quality of work I aspired to. I needed to adopt and learn additional skills to create work that was not a carbon copy of others.

This got me thinking about the 'profile' or skills that each type of photography requires. In my mind, each genre (landscape, social documentary, fine art etc) requires as contrasting an individual as you will find in for example athletics or medicine. Sprinters, marathon runners, shot putters, high-jumpers are all athletes.  Doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, GPs, heart surgeons work in medicine yet each discipline will vary considerably.  

This compelled me to look deeper in to photojournalism initially to see what skills are required.

www.skillset.org talks of Press Photographers or Photojournalists as:
the vast majority of Press Photographers are skilful, diplomatic people, who work under pressure to capture the best possible images to document events, tell a story, meet the picture editor's deadlines and help sell the newspaper
Within this field, they also often specialise in a certain field such as sport, politics.
Photojournalists often provide words as well as pictures, and generally work for magazines rather than for newspapers, as well as providing images for picture libraries. They often suggest the story themselves and produce photographs that underscore a point made within the text or an editorial opinion, rather than simply document a series of events.
This suggests a high level of iniative is required with an instinct for a 'story'. An independent thinker with a high level of resourcefulness and possibly contacts or interests in their specific specialism. They require a creative mind to make the mundane 'look' interesting. It goes on to say they:

have a good understanding of the needs of the publishing industry and have the ability to capture significant moments, without fumbling to select the right lens, aperture or shutter speed. They need expert knowledge of suitable photographic equipment, combined with the ability to recognise a developing situation, and to adopt the right approach, in terms of both positioning and reporting. They must be able to work quickly under pressure, effectively manipulating both equipment and people. Though Photojournalists often have more time to develop a personal relationship with their subjects, Press Photographers should also be prepared to do some research into the background of their subjects to ensure they can communicate a deeper level of story through each image. Press Photographers, whether freelance or staff, spend long hours out of doors, waiting for the right light or weather conditions. The job can be lonely, and patience and perseverance are required to get the right shot, at the right time.
I now want to turn my attention to a number of influential photo-journalists to learn a little bit more about their personalities and motives.

Henri Cartier Bresson was a shy man who coined the phrase so often heard in photography - the decisive moment. He was arguably the first modern contemporary photo-journalist.  
He recalls how he excitedly "prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life, to preserve life in the act of living."
He helped form the Magnum Photo Agency in 1947 and travelled extensively on assignments in the 1950s and 60s.

As a journalist, Henri Cartier Bresson felt an intense need to communicate what he thought and felt about what he saw, and while his pictures often were subtle they were rarely obscure. He had a high respect for the discipline of press photography, of having to tell a story crisply in one striking picture.
"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject," he wrote in ‘The Decisive Moment’. "The little human detail can become a leitmotif." Most of his photography is a collection of such little, human details; concerned images with universal meaning and suggestion. He lived in a haunted world where mundane facts, a reflection in a mud-puddle, an image chalked on a wall, the slant of a black-robed figure against mist, radiate significance at once familiar and only half-consciously grasped. His was an anti-romantic poetry of vision, which finds beauty in "things as they are," in the reality of here and now.
There are a collection of his photos here.

Luc Delahaye's photography is harrowing, true to form with regards photojournalism (an interview with Jorg Coelberg is here). But his journey as a photographer appears to be evolving.  He chose to turn his back on conventional photojournalism for a less sensationalist approach.
In 2004, Delahaye resigned from Magnum Photos, no longer considering himself a photojournalist, but rather an artist. Unlike the photo-journalistic practice in using small-format cameras (35mm and digital), Delahaye has been utilizing medium- and large-format cameras, including a Linhof Technorama 612 panoramic camera, and enlarging the resulting images from these conflict areas to near-life size scale, approximately 4 feet by 8 feet, for a heightened sense of photographic description and reality.
The ethics behind photojournalism is an interesting point which concerned me in light of the Cockermouth floods (see this post) and also raised in my APEL discussion here.  It has also been discussed recently on the OCA discussion forum here.  Delahaye exhibited at the Getty Centre in 2007 a portfolio of images that:
Delahaye's work describes well known events from a perspective different from the one we have become accustomed to in newspapers, on television, and on the Internet. Delahaye's choice of subjects reveals an interest in the "ordinary." Unlike the sensational representation of international news, his photographs establish a bold visual record of the long-term implications of current events that go well beyond their initial moments in the headlines.
I would like to explore Delahaye's work more thoroughly at a later date.

The vii photo agency seems to have made a major impact in this field. A more in-depth look I will save for another day. James Nacthwey in particular seems to be a favourite.

There are others too that I want to explore but this is as far as I am going for tonight.  Just one other photographer who's work I have found inspiring and that is of Liz Hingley (not the easiest site to navigate).  What appeals about her portfolios are her novel almost obscure ideas and how they are presented to build up an understanding and appreciation of the subject matter.  What I also found encouraging is her ability to identify issues close to home.  This I think in many ways can be more challenging photographically as the subject is often more subtle, less sensational, less unique and therefore more difficult to present in an outstanding way. And for me this is the most likely approach I will have to take as I am geographically anchored in Cumbria for the majority of the time (although recent events unfortunately challenge this notion!)

I have ideas but many questions and doubts. What this and others work now urges me to consider is the practicalities of how they go about setting up their images.  Do they ask their subjects to say 'cheese' - I doubt it. How do they get them to behave as themselves?  There must have been some permissions to gain first?  Were they self-conscious or shy?  I know I would be/am.  This is what I now want to turn my attention to.

Right. This is just what I needed to lift myself out of my malaise.  I feel much better now!!! 
Interestingly, I started this post by asking myself what type of person is suitable to be a photo-journalist and ultimately whether I 'fit' that profile.  I have concluded that the genre of photography or job profile is actually a 'red-herring' and almost irrelevant.  What is more important is how you interprete your subject matter and how you respond to it.  So maybe I'm not cut out to be a hard-nosed, edgey photographer in the war-zones of the world. However, that doesn't mean I can't contribute something to this field in my own way.  Sounds obvious now I write it!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment