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.