OCA - Workingman's Death

I have been doing lots of research recently, investigating my major project on 'Workers' for my OCA Creative Arts degree. One of the most outstanding documentaries that I have found on this subject (both the film and the book) is Michael Glawogger's 'Workingman's Death'. It will undoubtedly have a huge influence on my work over the coming months.

The premise of the film are the questions: 'Is heavy manual labor disappearing or is it just becoming invisible?' and 'Where can we still find it in the 21st century?'. The story is divided into 6 chapters, exploring this concept around the globe: 'Heroes' (Coal Mines in the Ukraine); 'Ghosts' (Sulfur Mining in Indonesia); 'Lions' (Slaughter Yard in Nigeria); 'Brothers' (Shipbreaking in Pakistan); 'Future' (Steel Complex in China); and an 'Epilogue' exploring a Leisure Park in Germany. Each chapter is visually stunning, captured with tremendous camerawork.

Of especial interest to me is the development of the book alongside the film. In each country, an independant photographer who had nothing to do with the film, was invited to put together his own photo-essay and tell his own story. The result is a fascinating exploration of workers who put their lives into the strains of manual labour everyday, and a story of how the photographers managed to capture (or not in some cases) the essence of their struggles. Each photographer was given their own freedom of expression, so that each chapter is presented in the photographer's own style, with its own treatment of the material, allowing the reader to explore how potentially similar subjects can be presented in different ways, whilst remaining poignant and (very often) beautiful in their presentation. I intend to explore the works of these 6 photographers further, which will hopefully give me even greater enthusiasm for this subject. Two of the photographers in particular, G.M.B. Akash (who did the Pakistan chapter) and Zhou Hai (who did the China chapter) have their own websites, which are a rich source of amazing images.

Frontline Club Chat with Gideon Mendel

I went to the Frontline Club at the end of November to listen to Gideon Mendel talk about the work he has been doing in Africa, photographing the plight of those suffering with HIV/AIDS. I went to the talk not only to discuss the work from a social conscience perspective, but to also listen to how Mendel's work has developed over the years and how he has accessed differing visual mediums to display his imagery.

Whilst the images were fascinating, and hugely illuminating, I felt that Mendel's presentation of the work was disjointed; he didn't give a clear voice to his work and I was left with more questions than answers at the end of the evening. He decided (wrongly, in my point of view) to present his work in reverse chronology (to make it more interesting 'for him') but this created a little confusion, both in terms of the images themselves (I kept trying to ascertain whether his images were showing the situation as getting better or worse, and what he was actually trying to convey through the presentation of his work in this manner) and in terms of the messages he was trying to put across; this wasn't helped by continual technical blunders throughout the presentation.

That aside, the quality of Mendel's work was outstanding, especially his early Black-and-White images. These, I felt, were much more graphically powerful and seemed to evoke a greater passion and voice. Taking images of a particular subject over such a long period of time (over 12 years) is difficult when the photographer is continually trying to re-tell the same story, but with a different slant, and Mendel's experimentation with 3-D imagery was, I felt, a little too gimmickry; however, his willingness to explore different mediums should be applauded, especially in the New Media world in which we are all part of.

All in all, I enjoyed the talk, and was thankful to hear serious issues being discussed within a visual forum. If Mendel had been a better communicator and had the Frontline Club's technical wizardry performed its magic, then I would have been much happier - but we can't have everything in life, as the subjects of Mendel's work ensure I feel humbled to never forget.

'This Is War' Exhibition at the Barbican

I went to an outstanding exhibition at the Barbican last week exploring the subject of war; a subject that I have a great interest in. 'This Is War' covered 3 main gallery exhibitions: Robert Capa At Work; Gerda Taro: A Retrospective; and 'On The Subject of War', containing imagery from Omer Fast, Geert van Kesteren, Paul Chan and An-My Le.

Of especial interest to me was the work of Capa, a photographer who I have [rightly] admired since I picked up a camera. A retrospective of his work was the first photobook that I ever purchased and I have since obtained some of the original publications of his work (eg, the edition of Life magazine that published the images of the D-Day landings, one of which is shown above). There are hundreds of websites and blogs discussing Capa's work, so there is little point in adding to them with what would ultimately be inferior comments to what has already been written; but suffice it to say, the Barbican exhibition is worthy of the visit and helps to place the significance of Capa's work within the annals of war photography.

Of other worthy note (for me) is Geert van Kesteren's work, published in 2 books: 'Why Mister Why' and 'Baghdad Calling'; the former already a classic and the latter destined to become one. I constantly review images from both Iraq and Afghanistan (from those taken by both military and civilian sources) and van Kesteren's work has such an energy and honesty that it stands out above the rest. The influence that his 'fly on the wall' documentary style has had on my own work is huge; it gets to the very heart of its subject and is something I hope to emulate.

The Barbican are presenting a comprehensive series of talks over the coming months (until the end of Jan 09), which I hope to attend and comment upon. They will undoubtedly be a huge source of inspiration.

OCA - A Walk With My Human

I have been working on a new project for my OCA Creative Arts degree (exploring the presentation of a 'Persuasive Document'). This project explores what my local landscape would look like from the eyes of my dog. All too often we ignore the specific detail of a place (especially in the countryside, where our eyes are drawn to the beauty of the landscape as a whole) and I wanted to capture the essence of this detail through an animal that is thorough in his approach to exploration (and my dog is a very 'nosy' animal).

Through research into how dogs see, I shot the images in colour, but then converted them to black-and-white, whilst leaving any shades of blue remaining within the shot (dogs do have slight colour-vision, centred around shades of blue). I also shot the images in as wide an angle as possible (24mm on the lens that I have) to take into account his increased field of vision. I shot the images from my dog's point-of-view, thereby being close to the ground, extremely close-up to the subject and often 'tilted' to simulate the way he would move his head to explore what he found.

Whenever he stopped at something specific, I photographed what he was 'sniffing' out. In this way I hoped to capture not only the detailed sights of the countryside, but also aspects of smell (which drew my dog to the images taken), thereby creating a journey that is both visual and olfactory. It also enabled the decision-making aspect of when to take a photograph determined by my dog; ie, when he decided there was something worth stopping for, then I took a picture.

The shot at the top of this post was one selected from 8 that I chose for the Project, taken on a single walk in Sandringham; however, I intend to take the study further and explore this concept in greater depth.

OCA Feedback on my First Assignment

I received my First Assignment feedback from my tutor, Peter Haveland, a few days ago. His remarks were extremely encouraging, giving me a bit of a boost; much needed as life is extremely busy at the moment. Not only am I working full time (in a very busy job), but I am also studying for a Masters degree in Human Resource Development & Performance Management (part-time with the Centre for Labour Market Research at the University of Leicester), on top of my OCA degree studies. Time really is at a premium (nobody can ever accuse me of ineffective time-management).

Anyway, to the photography. I submitted an assignment, looking at Gestalt's theories of composition, which I found extremely useful. Throughout my study of photography I have immersed myself in the value of composition (especially when I first began taking photographs), so this was a timely reminder of how it all really fits together. Peter commented that I had a tendency to overuse the 'angled camera' in my image taking, and for the images that I submitted for the assignment (6 in total), he has a point. Taken as a single set, it can easily be misconstrued that I take shots like this more often than not - actually, this is not the case. These images were selected from many dozens that I took during a single photo-shoot (a wedding), during which I took a wide selection of 'standard' and more 'artistic' images. I should have been more careful in how I displayed this particular set to my tutor, and it is a careful learning point for the future. He gave some useful advice on cropping in order to make the images better; however, I am trying (more and more) to get the image right 'in camera', and ensure that the need for cropping is minimised; the purist in me wants to keep the shot as original as possible, so more thought goes into taking the image itself, rather than to the post-processing. I am not averse to cropping to improve an image, but I would rather do it as a last resort.

Peter also discussed my choice of a major project (Workers) and suggested a variety of photographers, whose work would be good to look at in this category, not least of which is Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange (and other FSA photographers), as well as the likes of Bill Brandt and Jacob Riis. I am very familiar with the work of these photographers (and others of their ilk), but it will be useful looking at their work in light of my own project. The debate on 'black-and-white or colour' is a fascinating one, and one that [strangely] I have never given any major thought to. For example, the way that colour (or black-and-white) changes the way an image is interpreted is quite a remarkable eye-opener for me, and I find myself almost embarrassed that I have never considered it in any depth before. Of course, I have always debated whether one of my images looks better in colour or black-and-white and have changed it accordingly, but I have never really took the time to fully experiment with tone, contrast, narrative etc within the black-and-white medium. As such, the images that I have taken to date for my major project, I am going to work on in both colour and black-and-white and analyse the differences. I am looking forward to seeing the results.

All in all, I am very happy with the encouragement received and will be working to get my next assignment in by the end of November.

Dryden Goodwin - Cast Exhibition

Dryden Goodwin's exhibition - Cast - at The Photographers' Gallery is a superb example of how the interrelation of different visual media can be used to explore themes and ideas. The photography itself depicts strangers captured in moments of contemplation in London, with expressions that implore you to enter their heads to try and decipher their thoughts. The etches drawn into the images by Goodwin seem to depict this need for clarification of his subjects; to try and understand through his own caressed contemplation what is going through their mind.

The exhibition was quite enlightning for me in that I have been experimenting over recent months with the interrelation of drawing and photography, and whilst I knew that many artists have also explored this relationship, this was the first exhibition that I had seen that connected with what I was also trying to do. It is an area which I intend to explore further, and the exhibition has inspired me to not only look further into Goodwin's work but also that of other likeminded artists.

An example of a piece that I did last year (which I shall post once I photograph it) is called 'It's In The Eyes'. This was a self-portrait (4 portraits within a revolving circle) inspired by the Venice Carnival, exploring the 'Mask' as the key to a hidden realm of feeling and emotion. I photographed my face with 4 different emotions (sadness, anger, happiness and illness) and then 'coloured' the images with corresponding 'emotional' colour (red for anger, green for illness for example). The eyes were then cut out in the shape of a mask and pasted onto a drawn face of each portrait to see whether the eyes as photographed would change the expression of the drawn face. We are always drawn to the eyes of a person, and no matter what they feel, the eyes always give away the truth.

In the picture with Liu Heung Shing

I went to an extremely fascinating presentation at the Frontline Club last night by Liu Heung Shing (HS), called 'China - Portrait of a Country'.

HS, a pulitzer-prize winning photographer, spoke about the 'development' of China over the past 60 years and then displayed a selection of images from the book (of the same name as the talk) accompanied by Chinese music.

The images, many of them taken by HS himself, gave a fascinating insight into the work of 88 Chinese photographers chronicling arguably the most intense and World-changing period in Chinese history. Interestingly, many of the images were propaganda, and when asked about them HS said that many of the photographers needed a lot of convincing to allow them to be shown, because they felt they showed China in a poor light.

HS's intention with this book was to 'save' many of the images from being lost. Many of the photographers are now very old and HS felt that once they had passed away, their archives may also 'pass away' without ever being shown (which would be a travesty). When asked about modern China and the Olympics, HS commented that China is trying to find comfort with being part of the wider World. Up until now, China has done everything to try and 'prove' itself to the World, with as much fanfare as possible, but in time HS feels (and the Olympics may have helped here) that China may find happiness through less fanfare. However, as has been proved time and again, China is still uncomfortable with open media, but the proliferation of new media and the growth of media/photography courses in Chinese universities and colleges, is helping to overcome this.

All in all, I thought the images were startling, providing a unique insight into an almost secretive world, and they have inspired me to want to see the real China for myself.

A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan

A few months ago I was talking to the journalist and writer Anthony Loyd at a media event. He enthused about a photographer he had worked with in Afghanistan called Seamus Murphy, who I discovered a month or so later was having an exhibition at Asia House Gallery in London called A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan to accompany his book of the same name.

There is nothing quite like seeing images 'in the flesh' at a scale worthy of their status, and this exhibition did not disappoint. Spanning from 1997 to 2007, Murphy's black-and-white images portrayed a poetic landscape, at once both beautiful and harsh, alongside the people who live within it displaying all the scars of living within a war-torn and unforgiving country. Murphy's book is a treasure, but the exhibited images are truly something else; when the deep, proud eyes of an Afghan man holding his baby close to his face look down upon you in that quiet and dim exhibition space, you feel truly humbled.

Richard Mills

I was extremely saddened to hear of the recent death of Richard Mills, a sore loss to photojournalism. I met the man only once, at a media event at London's Frontline Club, but we shared many beers that evening and talked until the early hours putting the world (and photography) to rights. He was a big man, with a big personality and in those few hours I thought I had made a friend that would last for years to come. My condolences go to his family.

Richard's talent was there for all to see, working for The Times in many of the world's 'darkest' places. His photographs have certainly inspired me - I strive to emulate the emotion he captures within his portraits, especially the innocent children from war-torn countries. He will be missed!

John Moore in Afghanistan

I found a fabulous clip on YouTube, which has inspired me to look further into producing multimedia packages with my photographs. I have already toyed around with the idea, and am in the process of producing a slideshow with a 2-minute audio clip in the background edited from some interviews that I took at a wedding recently, but John Moore's Helmand piece below, really helps to bring together stills, video and words with fantastic impact. It really shows the possibilities available to the photographer looking into the 'New Media' market.

The Places We Live by Jonas Bendiksen

The Places We Live by Jonas Bendikson is a small book - almost pocketsize (certainly for my jacket pockets) - but it packs an enormous punch and is my favourite book of the year. It is a remarkable testimony to the hard work and dedication that Bendikson took to realise its completion, taking images of startling honesty and vibrancy that celebrate the people who live within appaling conditions throughout the world's slums. The word Slum, however, should be used very carefully in this context. To quote Andrew Dirango, one of the residents of Kibera in Nairobi, who Bendikson interviewed in order to place his photographs amongst the words of the people in them, "I don't know how you see my house, but to me it's beautiful. I appreciate it even if it is small." The human spirit is ever enduring and full of pride and life, and Bendikson's images portray this in abundance. As with all 4 of the slums that Bendikson visited, Kibera is one of the most overcrowded and destitute places in the world, as can be seen in the video below:

Aperture have done an exceptional job in the book's production, displaying each house photographed as a 4-sided, fold-out page, allowing the reader (if they should so wish - as I couldn't help myself) to lay the book upright, join the pages together and create a 'mini', almost 3-dimensional room. Beautiful! This book is certainly an inspiration to any photographer or any person with a social conscience.

Survival of Photojournalism

Relaxing on holiday is a marvellous luxury, especially when I happened to be in the Maldives in August and was able to absorb my PDN magazine from cover to cover and really take note of the advice given in some of the articles.

Of worthy note was an article on the survival of photojournalism within the modern world, and in particular a focus by Edgar Allen Beem called Towards a New Language of Photojournalism. It looked at new ways of shooting documentary images without 'the pain and horror of personal tragedy [that] has been the traditional subject of humanistic documentary photography for decades'. He quotes Martin Parr in saying 'I shoot interesting subject matter, but disguise it as entertainment, but still leave a message and some poignancy. That's what people want in magazines'.

The articles further discuss new ways of getting imagery 'out there', including using the web and the 'art world'. For my own photography, I think I am keen to look at as many ways as possible to get my images known. However, I need to stay true to myself and what I enjoy doing. There are so many ways to take (and make) images that it can become a minefield unless one remains focused. If clients come my way because of the work that I do, then I'm happy with that - but of course the clients need to see the work in the first place - that's the challenge.

John Moore and the 'Punctum'

Below is a transcript of some jottings I made back in June (2nd), which I scribbled in a pad that I had available:

It has been a rather enlightening evening. I am travelling home after attending a photographic lecture by John Moore at The Frontline Club in London. He is the senior photographer for Getty Images, based in Islamabad in Pakistan and was the only photojournalist to capture the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (for which he won a World Press Photo Award). As fascinating as Moore's discussion was, what struck me more was the concept of 'punctum' within the images he showed.

Whilst travelling to the lecture, I read several passages from Roland Barthes's 'Camera Lucida'. in which he discusses the concepts of studium and punctum; a rather fortuitous read, considering the nature of the lecture. What came across through the images - despite many of them being very grainy and almost unrecognisable - was the sense of 'sting' within the image. Its very being was as much at one end (the greater end) of a continuum as the lack of composition was at the other end, especially in its uniqueness, with regard to no other photographers being present. The richness and power of the image material far outweighed the compositional element of the image itself and made me realise just what Robert Capa meant when he said, 'if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough' (interestingly, Moore also received the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for these images).

Another (anonymous to me) photojournalist once commented on his craft that to get the right images it was a case of 'f8 and be there', which is not to belittle compositional elements of an image, but more to emphasize the importance of being in the right place at the right time, and being intuitive enough to anticipate the 'moment' unfolding.

What also interested me, however, was that without Moore's explanation, some of the images' punctum would have been missed; rather, the punctum was individual and only truly existed in its truest sense, or certainly much more acutely, for Moore himself (not unlike Barthes's Winter Garden images (quoted within both Barthes and Marjorie Perloff's What Has Occurred Only Once essay).

This is an area that I intend to study in more depth as it has real meaning and application to me. For example, I shot a wedding a few month's ago and produced a variety of images for the couple to choose from for their album. I was surprised at some of the images they had chosen over others (which I would have regarded as superior in terms of both composition and quality). What to me was mere studium, and included in the overall choice merely becaise I had taken them so 'why not show them', turned out to be interpreted quite differently by the couple; a punctum was established, whether in an unknown (to me) facial expression, or a feeling that they associated with the time that the photograph was taken.

Whilst my intention, at times, is to lead the viewer to a photograph's interpretation, it has taught me that where high emotions play a role there is always great flexibility with the image and its associations to the individual.

Exhibition Musings

Back in May (Monday the 18th to be precise - it seems so long ago now) I visited 4 exhibitions, and wrote my thoughts down on a scrap of paper. Having now retrieved said paper, I have decided to scribble my musings down here (for want of not losing it again). The exhibitions that I went to visit were:

1. Once More With Feeling at The Photographer's Gallery, featuring the Columbian photographers: Milena Bonilla, Maria Elvira Escallon, Juan Pablo Echeverri, Juan Manuel Echavarria, Oscar Munoz and Maria Isabel Rueda.

2. Yousuf Karsh portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

3. Modern Muses by Bryan Adams at the National Portrait Gallery.

4. Shutting Up Shop by John Londei at the National Portrait Gallery.

Londei's images were my favourite of the exhibitions that I saw, not just because of the timescale within which he worked (over 15 years) but because the images seemed to resonate with me more. It felt like he had captured a piece of my own history - albeit a 'distorted' memory - and transfixed it. He has captured a sign of the times with the dominance of the supermarket and shopping malls taking over the local shop. It's interesting, however, that many people I know are now 'fighting back', and are becoming more self-sufficient; the increasing demand for allotments are testament to this.

Karsh's and Adams's portraits were simply stunning and have inspired me to return to a photographic project that I started some years ago, taking portraits of my family. However, I am a great advocate of natural light, so the challenge is really to create the same effect, in terms of aura and power, as Karsh and Adams but without the use of artificial light. A challenge indeed!

I was quite unsure of how I felt about the Columbian exhibition. Whilst I think the ideas are quite unique and have a sound artistic basis, I was not enamoured with the images themselves. They did not inspire anything within me. I think the reason I like photojournalism so much is because of its purpose; its need to tell a story. Whilst the Columbian images are themselves telling their own story, they are much too subtle and 'hidden' - I don't mind working hard to read an image, but I suppose I like the story to want to surface more readily.

Photography Degree with the OCA

I began studying with the Open College of the Arts (OCA) a few years ago, with the initial intention of simply 'scratching-up' on my photography and writing skills; however, with the introduction of the degree-level course, accredited through Buckinghamshire New University, I have taken the step to complete the full degree (BSc Hons in Creative Arts). I have been shooting in a semi-professional capacity for some time now, but the OCA courses have really helped me to hone and craft my skills and the results can be seen in the work that I produce. In addition, it helps me to critically analyse my work and search for improvements, thereby pushing me to continually improve. Without a doubt, the OCA has been a fabulous stepping-stone, catapulting me into a career in photography that seems to blossom more with each passing day.

Part of studying with the OCA is the need to continually reflect upon your work; the completion of a journal is therefore a compulsory part of any assessment. Having started this blog recently, to tie in with my website, I have decided that this would be the perfect vehicle in which to scribble my photographic/artistic musings and give my tutors (and any interested soul) the opportunity to comment on them. The next few months, therefore, will see a variety of postings, reflecting upon exhibitions, books, stumbled-upon images and pretty much anything that crosses my mind that bears relevance to my photographic journey and the pursuit of my degree.

A Flying Start for Stu and Lucy

HaVe Photography were priveleged to be the photographers for the recent wedding of Stu and Lucy. After a beautiful service in a small village church in Lincolnshire, the couple shared their day with family and friends at a stunning country hotel, once home to the famous 'Dambusters' Squadron of the RAF - a fitting venue for the start of their married life.

For more images of wedding, lifestyle, travel and documentary, go to www.havephotography.com

HaVe Photography in the Maldives

A recent trip to the Maldives, an island paradise in the Indian Ocean, had the HaVe Photography team reaching for their cameras to capture the lives of both the indigenous islanders and the army of workers who work a 24-hour shift to provide paradise for the thousands of visitors each year.

Going behind the scenes, HaVe Photography documented the chefs, the kitchen-hands, the gardeners, the porters, in fact just about everyone involved in providing the grand illusion of a 'Paradise on Earth'.

For images of the Maldives, and to see a documentary picture-story of 'Providing Paradise', go to www.havephotography.com

Weddings - Documentary Style

HaVe Photography have brought their documentary style of shooting to the wedding arena, capturing those wonderful fleeting moments in a 'fly-on-the-wall' fashion. This style is becoming more and more popular, with both young and older couples alike wanting to shake the shackles of the traditional 'posed' wedding that used to thrust the betrothed away from their guests. The result is a wonderful moment-by-moment diary, bound within a coffee-table book, that will be enjoyed forever.