Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Outside in...

Outside in or inside out...which is it to be?  I'm afraid it is another of my diy theories that can be disproved no doubt as quickly as it popped up.  It doesn't stop me arguing the toss in my head however!!  Rather simplistically, these terms could differentiate the motivations of a social documentary compared to that of an artistic photographer. I'll explain shortly, but you'll need to stick with me as I frog march you all around the houses first...

I was thinking about my own journey with OCA so far after a couple of girl friends had asked to see my self portrait photographs that I carried out for the TAOP assignment one. Wiping off the dust I pulled out the book for the first time in ages. This was the first assignment with the OCA and as such has the boldness and naivety of an immature artist.  With hindsight, I can see it represents an important period of growth, confidence and reflection in my life and photography, and forms a useful benchmark.  As loyal friends are obliged to be, they were very impressed and bestowed many compliments on my work, mostly genuine, I think!  Thanks gals for the support!  Strangely, and rather frustratingly however, it is still this set that remains my favourite and personally most challenging set of images that I have made to date, nearly eighteen months on! Is that a bad reflection on me, that I'm not trying hard enough...or too hard...or what?

I'll go on...since that assignment I completed my APEL successfully and switched courses to Social Documentary. Perhaps a strange choice as I was far better equipped to do either PWDP or landscape. However I came to the conclusion that I had spent two or three years doing digital photography, processing and enhancements to a level that it became a tool rather than an end in itself. And with regards my landscapes, I felt I had careered up a dead end and was totally bored with it.  So in my wisdom I felt I had most to learn from social documentary.

With hindsight, I do not have any regrets in course choice although I do think my progress would have been much pacier had I signed up to either of the other two courses and perhaps I may have been more satisfied with the results.  I sort of feel the last eighteen months has been a period of deconstructing the lego model to work out how all the individual elements look and work and hopefully by the end of the course or degree, I will have reconstructed the model, possibly as it was or maybe as something else altogether that I couldn't have envisaged at the start of my journey.  But it will have been built with the knowledge of how and why it all fits together.  So I'm currently in the depths of dissection and analysis of each piece of lego at the moment.  The end goal or larger picture is not on the horizon yet. 

With social documentary I have now completed two assignments and have done the leg work for a further two so have a good feel for this genre of photography I think now.  I know you cannot completely categorise or pigeon-hole a type of photography or photographer but inevitably you do have a preference. I think the fundamental difference for me with social documentary is that to make a good social documentary photograph the skills required are very different to many other genres.

Those genres that have originated from the realms of art such as fine art photography or portraiture are more contemplative and require skills such as creativity, composition, lighting, narrative and intention.  However, social documentary is about 'capturing' something real be it a news story or moment of serendipity on the street. The creativity needs to be crystallised within a split second.  The image is judged on how you responded to something in that moment.  It is an incredibly difficult form of photography.

And finally back to the beginning this is why I consider social documentary to be 'outside in'. Fundamentally you are taking your inspiration from the outside world and computing it. You still need a creative eye, in many ways perhaps more than a fine art photographer as you need to capture the split second defining moment with the challenges of fleeting composition within the congestion of real life. Fine art photography is in my mind 'inside out'.  By this I mean you have a creative idea or concept in your mind (inside) and you think of ways you can execute it using photography as the medium. 

So personally, by participating in predominantly outside-in photography at the moment, I am aware it is not naturally my way. But I am hoping it'll help me refine my creative eye so that when I reembark on 'inside-out' photography I have a more balanced and complete knowledge base from which to work.  Practically I will also have much more confidence in photographing people and thinking on my feet.  I am looking forward to this Spring and Summer to really make the most of street photography in Cumbria when it fills up with tourists and people and events.  But I suspect beyond this, I may retreat back to 'peopled' landscapes or more fine art photography and 'inside-out' photography.  We'll see...


  1. Funny: I've been reflecting over the last few days about how observational 'outside in' photography comes so much more naturally to me. I keep trying to do it the other way round but somehow get dragged back to stuff that ultimately just feels more me (like people and street). I've had a major rethink of my PWDP assignment 2, as you'll hopefully see in the next week when I post about it. I've gone even more off-topic and I'm much happier with the work. But I do plan to return to some 'inside out' work soon. Really, I will...

    I wonder where we will both be this time next year?

  2. I'm looking forward to seeing it Eileen - I'm sure it'll be very thought-provoking. This time next year...hmmm, I suspect right here discussing art and photography with you and others, different topics maybe...but probably much the same...change happens without us noticing.