I subscribe to BJP and each month as read through the articles and look at the photos something will always make me stop and think. This month (BJP no. 7862 August 2017) so far (I haven’t read it all yet!) it’s a short interview with Donald Weber. In a few short answers I became intrigued about this guy. He was saying stuff that caught my attention but curiously none of his work was included in the interview. Does that matter? If it turned out that I was turned off by his work how then would I relate to his words?
Amongst the comments he made that appealed to me were:
- Trust yourself. Allow yourself to open up and view the world as you see it. Experiment, don’t get caught up in photographic decorum
- Let your curiosity get the better of you
- Photographic practice is more about collaboration with others than the singularity of the ‘heroic artist’
- Photography is a completely subjective experience.
Even though I’m still learning and by that I’m willing to try new approaches and techniques, I’m still developing my own vision. It is something I feel strongly about and so Weber’s comments have strong resonance for me.
I then went on to look at his work. Interested in Russian and Ukrainian life since he was a boy he has visited many times as a photographer. His series on Ukrainian police interrogation was just jaw-dropping. These images (at least the ones I’ve seen) were not voyeuristic, nor patronizing or sensationalistic, but demonstrated great empathy towards those being interrogated. It was also interesting to read his thoughts on the police, recognising that they were only doing what they were trained to do, so criticism is directed to the State and the power within bureaucracy.
An interview with Weber where he talks about his early influences to be come a photographer
Book review of Weber’s Interrogations
Jan’s post on the OCA Photography FB page read:
Hi everyone. I am back to working on my photography course and my assignment was to create a photostory of 10 images from my local community. I had to show myself as an observer-participant and my impact within this community. I chose work…mainly as I am so sad I don’t do much else and why would I want to go outside and mix with the real world? Anyway…I digress….I have chosen these final 10 images which are based in and around school showing the frustrations/difficulties faced by some of the students with individual educational needs, some are more obvious whilst others are metaphorical with lots of semiotics. Hopefully I have also demonstrated how we also help these frustrations to be overcome and have hidden myself in there too….. Before I submit them to my tutor for feedback I have to write my own summary of how successful I think they have been. I have friends both inside and outside of the educational system and it would be really interesting to see if what I read into them can be read by others…and based on a previous exercise I am not going to give any captions or explanations …so if you love me and want to treat me on my birthday give these a once over and comment on what you see. “they look good” or “they look shit” may be true but not the question I’m asking xxxxxx Ta in advance xxx
Jan’s photos on FB can be found here:
My response feedback posted on FB:
Jan, firstly I must say I liked your photographs as a series and they are technically well executed. It is interesting how you have chosen to exclude members of the community in a project that is about the community and your role within it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that and I imagine you’d have all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles to overcome to include the school children in the series.
The dichotomy between the frustrations and the attempts to address them is captured in the 10 images. I’m not sure how you see the balance in this but for me, and I am someone with a particular mistrust/dislike of institutions – so I have a bias – is that the balance tips more towards the frustration.
I am curious about your use of triptychs and diptychs is the series. For me they seem to disrupt the narrative flow – although I did particularly like the door sign image. I’m currently on the Foundation in Photography course and hence I’ve still got a lot to learn. You may have a good reason for the inclusion of this device and I’d be interested to hear your reasoning behind it.
Lastly, I spotted you twice! Was it deliberate act to ‘hide’ your self in some of the photographs or a happy accident? I appreciate the brief was that you had to include yourself but you are quite well hidden. Perhaps the most difficult question of all, by including yourself in this way are you part of the frustration or the attempts to address it?
Thanks for giving the FB group the opportunity to provide feedback. I hope what I’ve written makes sense and is helpful and constructive. You’ve produced a strong set of images and good luck with the assignment.
Jan’s Blog entry:
Using an OCA Students’ Facebook page Allan has requested some opinions on this photograph from ‘new and emerging’ photographer Marta Soul. I have not researched the photographer or looked at any other responses Allan’s request may have generated but here is my response to his request.
Firstly, the location. It looks like a garden. There is lawn, there are shrubs and other plants and a rectangular pond. From the shortness of the shadows I guess the location is well south of the UK. The male figure is reading a Spanish newspaper and from the intensity of the light perhaps this is southern Spain in high summer.
The image seems to speak about the superficiality of differences. We have two figures separated in so many different ways: gender; age; seated-standing; relaxed-active. There are further differences: in colour he is predominantly beige while she is vibrant with pink, white and orange; he choses to sit in a chair while she has a blanket on the lawn. They drink differently too: him from glass with an ice bucket by his side while she drinks from the neck of a plastic bottle.
Yet despite all of these differences it is the drinking that unites them. At a fundamental level all humans need water and access to the systems and infrastructure that provides it in modern industrialised society. Perhaps this image is a commentary on what we have in common rather than differences that polarize us.
The FiP work book asked us to look at the work of two photographers: Dan Holdsworth and Tom Hunter. My initial reaction to both of them was a little guarded. It was easy to appreciate the technical merit in both and I could see how they used their work to reflect an impression of a given place. However, neither grabbed my attention – I simply didn’t warm to their work. That said these were my initial impressions but they were, in part, due to change later.
Below are some notes I made in my ‘sketch book’ having looked at the works of the two photographers.
I have been giving a lot of thought and attention to the subject matter for my first assignment – Square Mile. I understand the brief but forming a rationale for my approach has been a little tricky. The subject of my Square Mile is going to be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ reserve at Minsmere. This place is very much a flagship for the RSPB and rightly so for it has a varied range of habitats in a small area and thus had a fantastic variety of wildlife. As a keen birdwatcher living close to Minsmere I spend, and have spent, a huge amount of time here. The relationship I have to it fits the Square Mile brief perfectly.
The difficulty I’ve had is due to the ambivalent relationship I have to the place and thus also to the RSPB. Minsmere is a very popular destination for a lot of people and families. This has increased considerably over the last three years due to the BBC hosting its Springwatch series from the reserve. But my interest in birds and wildlife is not always served when there are lots of people around. Being outdoors and watching birds for me at least does have a restorative effect. A sense of solitude and engagement with the natural world is a balm that soothes the stresses and strains that ever day work and life inflicts. When Minsmere is at its busiest it feels like a high street or shopping mall and not a place to experience the restorative effect of nature.
But I don’t want to produce a range of photographs that emphasise this sometimes negative aspect. The reason why so many people visit is because it is a wonderful place rich in wildlife, which is the reason I like to visit too. It would be cynical, parochial, and hypocritical to criticise the ‘bloody tourists’ when that’s exactly what I am! I don’t want to be seen as grumpy old man, though I may have my moments, I have a richer albeit ambivalent relationship to my RSPB Minsmere. So how do I reflect visually my favoured square mile? I pretty much instantly rejected the idea of producing a series of landscapes. That wouldn’t be what I wanted to say about the place. My relationship with it is more than admiration for any perceived natural beauty. The relationship to wildlife and birds transcends this. Photographing birds is not going to happen either. My visual relationship to birds doesn’t rest easily with conventional bird photography – looking at my experiments of photographing Gulls might help here. It was when reflecting about the role of the RSPB in the popularising Minsmere that my approach to assignment began to take form.
When I was a schoolboy birder about 40 years ago it wasn’t unusual for organisations like the RSPB to keep you out of their reserves. They were for the birds and not the public or even their own fee-paying members for that matter. What access was allowed was highly regulated and restricted. A limited number of permits were issued and these could be obtained by sending an application form through the postal system. Money is the driving force behind this democratisation of access. Greater footfall brings money: spent in the gift shop or the café. With this has come a broadening of the RSPB’s work. Nature conservation is a key function but it has also become part of the local tourism industry. Running Minsmere will involve a careful balance between creating and maintaining bird-friendly habitat and the encouraging and subsequent management of visitors.
So, it is this balance that has informed my photographic approach to the Square Mile. The people who run Minsmere have to ensure that visitors can engage with wildlife without disturbing or disrupting the thing they have come to see. How this balance is facilitated is central to my assignment
A passing comment in a telephone call with my tutor, Jayne Taylor, became a catalyst for photographing the gulls in this way. I wasn’t too sure if it met the brief of capturing Stillness and Movement but Jayne said “yeah, go and do it”.
Having posted the blog entry I then took the advice of the FiP work book and printed out some of the photos and having lived with them for a few days I began to feel I there is more experimenting to be done with this idea.
I like the square format. With no horizontal or vertical dynamic the movement of the gulls seems circulate within the image, perhaps emphasising the movement further. However, I did feel as though some of the images needed a little more ‘bite’ to them, maybe there are a little too soft. In order to try and explore this notion I took one of the images and rendered it black and white and played around with it adding some grain – see below.
Jayne’s original advice went further. “Go back and photograph then again, and when you’ve done that go back and keep doing it.” I now understand what she was driving at. When the opportunity next arises I will be back on the shingle beach and experimenting more with those wonderful gulls. Things to think about include; a slightly faster shutter speed (1/4 of second or even faster), placing the camera a little closer to the subject, or even taking two or more rapid shots at, say 250th second then over lapping them in photoshop – a kind of double exposure approach.
This week I have looked at the work of the late Gabriele Basilico as a preparation for ‘Exercise 1.9 Soft Light Landscape’. I wasn’t familiar with his work before this. I was so impressed with his depictions of buildings. Photographed in early morning light he captures a great tonal range. No doubt also aided by the use of medium and large format film cameras.
As a record of the built environment the near absence of people is intriguing. Perhaps the presence of people would be a distraction and hence the viewer can assimilate the image without the very human reaction of wondering about who the people are and what they doing.
The war-zone images shows us buildings as survivors, or otherwise, of conflict. In this sense they seemed ‘too obvious’. I’m sure most of us we would be curious about these. So for me it was his other architectural images, those of factories and docklands that drew me in more.
Recently, I been taking some images of redundant old buildings and others that have undergone changes in use. And now feel inspired by Basilico’s work to raise my standards of image making – as best I can with the equipment I’ve got.