OCA Major Project - New Focus

After all the reading I have been doing of late, I have been reflecting upon the focus of my Major Project for my OCA course. At the start of my course, when I first introduced the idea of doing my project on 'Workers', my tutor said that I may need to refine it, and he was undoubtedly right. This has been reiterated in the advice I received during my portfolio review, and was a major theme coming out of David Hurn's book - the need to be specific, with strong subject matter.

I have, therefore, refined my project to specifically focus on workers in uniform, particularly those that give of themselves for the greater good of others, such as in the Armed Services, the Fire Service and the NHS. Through the images I want to explore the work they do, and the conditions they find themselves in at times - sometimes cramped, cold and uncomfortable and at other times dangerous and/or immensely stressful. I have already started the project with a look at the RAF Regiment training for a deployment to Afghanistan, and also a brief glimpse into the lives of the Royal Gurkha Regiment in Kandahar. These images will form the basis of my next assignment, which will be followed up with work on Fire Fighters, Nurses and the Lifeboat Service.

An example image from this project is shown above, depicting a young airman (19 years old) trying to operate in the back of an armoured vehicle, during an Exercise in which the team were training to patrol against the ever-present threat of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

Unusual Forms of Inspiration

It has been an incredibly hard couple of weeks in terms of workload. I seem to have done an inordinate amount of reading, but little picture-taking, which is rather frustrating. However, I have set aside some time this week to get out and work on some of my projects.

Aside from reading David Hurn's book (see previous post) and researching for my essay on Martin Parr, most of my reading has been for my Masters degree in HRD and Performance Management. I have an essay to write for next month on Learning Organisations and the research has taken up a great deal of my time. However, time learning is never wasted and you never know where inspiration reveals itself sometimes, which can cross subjects and disciplines. I was reading an article by Pak Tee Ng (2004) called The Learning Organisation and the Innovative Organisation, when I happened upon a couple of sentences that summed up the strive for the perfect photographic image:

"Glamour is associated only with the occasional success; failed experiments are the silent majority. Failure is one of the biggest struggles an individual will face in his efforts to be innovative. It takes personal mastery for this individual to keep on trying until he is successful."

The importance of learning, and of striving to be better at everything we do, is as important in business as it is photography or indeed any subject - including life in general!

On Being A Photographer

I have read (and re-read) On Being A Photographer by David Hurn and Bill Jay, and have found it truly inspirational (although, it must be said, a little 'opinionated' at times - but I suppose, that's the point). I will take away from it the following 'key messages', which for me will help to define my future photographic output:
  • On selecting a subject ask yourself:
  1. Is it visual?
  2. Is it practical?
  3. Do I know enough about it?
  4. Is it interesting to others?
  • I need to put my own visual stamp on my work (although without thought of self - let the subject speak freely and style will develop).
  • The subject needs to be continually accessible.
  • The subject needs to be as specific as possible.
  • Subject matter is everything - don't need visual 'pyrotechnics' with a great subject.
  • Decide on position and timing, and analyse contact sheets for the way you work.
  • Keep focusing in on the subject with subtle changes.
  • Always reach for your goal (the perfect image), even if it is rarely achieved.
  • When composing a picture, keep an eye on the main element, and then choose 2 or 3 sub-elements by position and timing.
  • KNOW what you are looking for; don't leave it to guesswork.
  • Good design is essential when its purpose is the clear projection of the subject matter. Design is secondary; the first priority must be to reveal the subject.
  • There is no such thing as a picture being 'too good' - the photographer's aim is to create beautiful pictures, of any and all subject matter.
  • The making of a perfect contact sheet is essential. One of the best learning methods is to ruthlessly examine contact sheets and analyse the reasons why shots were taken.
  • Photography demands a lot of work before and after shooting.
  • Photography is learned by continuous and dedicated (DIRECTED) practice.
  • On shooting a picture essay:
  1. Visit and absorb without a camera (or use purely for reference shots).
  2. Write down images you need to complete the project (what are your impressions?).
  3. Go back and attempt to shoot the images (once you have captured the image you want, tick it off and don't continue to waste time photographing it).
  4. Don't be afraid of tackling difficult subjects.
  5. Shoot outside the list if things come up, but then return to the list.
  6. Know when you have finished.
  7. A 7-picture essay equals (for David Hurn) about 720-1000 shots taken.
  8. 1 exhibition-quality image will be taken per 3600 shots (100 films).
  • It is important to have the right equipment for the purpose at hand and for the personality of the photographer.
  • All the technical decisions in photography should be so thoughtless that the act of shooting pictures is solely concentrated on the image in the viewfinder.
  • Truth is like a photograph in which thousands of different shades from black to white, and including both extremes, were necessary for full revelation.
  • Web displays need to have purpose, ideas, linking themes and cohesion.