Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Candid v Posed Photography

I have had this post in draft for about a month now and since first writing it, my views have altered already and I know if I leave it any longer they'll blumming well change again.  So I need to upload it now before I change my mind again!

Now, bear with me as I am not familiar with all the right terms.  An observation I have made with the social documentary course is that there is an emphasis towards photojournalism and 'candid' photography such as street photography rather than the 'posed' photography you see in say environmental portraits. 

When I mean candid photography I refer to the definition on wikipedia:

Candid photography is photography that focuses on spontaneity rather than technique, on the immersion of a camera within events rather than focusing on setting up a staged situation or on preparing a lengthy camera setup.
and there is a more in-depth definition in this article here.

Up until recently I just couldn't get excited about candid photography. However, my view has changed on this. Due largely to the Critical Review of Helen Levitt I am writing at the moment for Assignment Three. She too shunned the photojournalistic approach encouraged by Cartier-Bresson to take an 'artistic' approach. Documenting an event is quite a different job to creating 'art' out of the same event.  It is the latter that I too find of interest.

Despite the softening in my view of street photography, for my own learning I am looking to broaden the remit of the course a little to embrace more than just 'candid' photography. I'm happy to try anything, but I also want to pursue my own projects that involve 'posed' photography as part of the course. And therein lies my ongoing wranglings with the assignments. 
To clarify my view a little, browsing through Magnum Stories I am clearly moved and in awe by much of the photography in there by the World's elite photojournalists (the majority male). However, I neither aspire to be like them or do what they do. It was reassuring to hear a quote by Jeff Mermelstein on this interview saying “I should go to Gaza, but I’d probably get sick, and I’d be scared…”. And I think that's how many of us feel - respectful of their work but relieved it isn't us who has to do it!! To have aspirations and a desire to create images like those at the top of a particular profession, even if unrealistic, I do think is important - it forges a direction of travel in which your photography is likely to travel.

As I said earlier my view of candid photography has changed and I am beginning to really appreciate the grittiness, humour, quirkiness and transience. However I am still debating in my own mind whether candid photography interests me sufficiently to pursue further or if I'm being put off because I haven't yet developed the skills to do the genre justice. I don't want to be defeatest and I'll keep perservering and I've taken up the street photography now project which will give me some additional impetus.

But I do wonder whether 'posed' photography may suit my own personality better. When I say 'posed' photography I am referring to photographs where there is some form of consent by the subject.  The subject is aware they are to be photographed and may infact have had significant previous dialogue with the photographer. Connections, interactions, more in-depth accounts and narratives appeal to me more. I guess I am talking about images in the genre such as the likes of Diane Arbus, Rineke Dijkstra, Charles Freger, Alec Soth and Richard Rinaldi. What defines this group of photographers - environmental portraits?? I don't know really, but I am sure it must still sit within the social documentary umbrella.

I didn't enroll on the social documentary because I'm any good at it or like it particularly. I enrolled because I felt that out of the three level two courses on offer, social documentary was by far my weakest.  I thought I would learn most by developing an area of photography I knew least about.  So for this reason, I will try my hands at candid, street, posed or whatever in the hope that my overall photography skills will benefit. And on the way, I hope I'll also improve and maybe find a niche for myself with this too.

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