Assignment 2 – Preparation and Planning


1. Photographing the unseen

Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.

Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in or curiosity about. Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond. Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the photographer you’re becoming.)

Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images.

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Image from C&N Notebook

Of the two options available for this assignment I quickly settled on the first. Although bot presented a challenge and new territory, I quickly started to think about ideas for the first option. That said I then spent a considerable amount of time pondering the challenge of this assignment. In fact I had a  big psychological block and spent far more time thinking and rethinking that I should have done, I may have been overthinking things too. I have been trying to take a more in depth approach to assignments in this second OCA module for me, but there is a balance to strike that i may not have achieved yet.

As a result of all of this thinking I began to pursue a particular  idea, based on my reflections of childhood and significantly  influenced by Jodie Taylor’s work referenced in the course materials. This work struck a real chord with me. I got as far as making a  number of the images  but felt unsatisfied on a number of levels with what I was doing and how the work was developing. As mentioned above I am spending far more time in deeper thinking about the work I am producing and with a newer and more challenging idea for the exercise in mind I decided to start all over again, but I am glad that I did.

An implication of this was that I ran out of time and had to ask my tutor for an extension on the original date. To compound my challenge I also changed jobs during this period and this brought some additional challenges in that I was ‘time poor’ for much of August and a good part of September. The new day job has greater demands than my already demanding work so  have also had to reorder many priorities. I know this goes with the territory when undertaking personal study.

The challenge I had was thinking about a strong enough and engaging enough idea, particularly one which would be recognisable by others. The case studies in the course materials are all bold and inspiring and I think I managed to think myself into a space where I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees. What follows therefore in this blog entry is a review of my initial thinking and ideas.

Themes I initially considered and explored:


Marks on the the land

I live in a very rural, but heavily farmed landscape. As an outsider, although I have been here for 17 years, I don’t hold any notions of the idyllic or the pastoral about the English landscape. The land around me is a man made construct and an industrialised space, far more the product of human intervention than of the topography that underlies it. The massive fields are exploited to their limits by men and machinery and shaped and governed by GPS technology, yield algorithms and the needs of the markets. I was introduced to the work of Manfred Willman and Gerhard Stromberg through my earlier OCA studies and I thought in particular about Stromberg’s work ‘Unterwegs-Along the Way’ and its exploration of themes about our place in the landscape offered some insight into exploring the unseen in the landscape. From my perspective the landscape carries an imprint of  how it has been used and abused and I thought this might be an interesting idea to pursue and explore. I reflected on this sort of issue in my very first OCA assignment, and have continued to record my square mile for personal exploration and development. In part for this reason I decided not to pursue this work just yet!

Journey from childhood to where I am now

Jody Taylor’s work I found very engaging and thought provoking and evocative, in truth more the themes and ideas within her work than the images necessarily. It proved to be inspiring and at first I settled on this as my theme for the assignment. In fact I did some outline work exploring this concept.  As a professional in my mid 50’s I reluctantly have to admit to  moving towards the final phase of my career, one in which I have enjoyed reasonable degree of success. I think it was this that struck a chord when I looked at and reflected on Taylor’s work. I live 175 miles from where I grew up but I invested some time and travelled to the streets of my childhood, including going back to the gates of my primary school and retracing my journey to the house that was my childhood home. It was an interesting and emotional journey through an urban space that was simultaneously alien and familiar. As I walked the two miles I was reminded of a conversation between my parents and the headteacher of my primary school just before I left to go to secondary school. Although more than 40 years ago it was a strong memory, a conversation in which I sat as a silent witness. In short my parents were told that  if I kept my ‘nose clean’ I might just get a job in one of the many factories in the industrial midlands. On leaving primary school this was the highest expectation and best hope  for my future. This conversations contents shaped my parents and my own view of my capacity and capability until I left home in my late teens. This seemed a rich vein to explore but also felt too big and frankly too complex project to do justice in the time available and although I had already invested some time and energy I decided to stop and change track. But it is a theme to which I may return too at some point.

Reflections on my late father in law

This was a very personal and potentially upsetting theme to explore, but one that offered some challenge in stretching me creatively and technically. In 2004 my wife lost her father in a road accident. Following the acrimonious divorce of her parents some years earlier  she grew even closer to him and it has taken many years to come to terms with the tragic circumstances of his death. When we cleared his house and subsequently sold it, my wife was keen to retain a small number of his possession as mementos and reminders of him. I thought of Stephanie D’Hubert’s work referenced in the course work and her reflections on the presence and absence of her mother and I had also recently seen John Upney’s work, “I look for him’ about his own father and his dark relationship with him.  Reflecting on these work and the assignment brief it seemed an interesting idea to explore the part my father in laws possessions  play within our lives. Their impact seemed to be a good example of the unseen and one in which I might seek to meet the expectations  of the assignment. Ultimately it was this theme that I used of the assignment.

Work, Work, Work

I lead a very busy life and as stated earlier I tend to be time poor. I wondered about trying to illustrate this idea through a collection of images of my work environment. it would involve recording fragments of my working day. A big challenge because I needed to think about how I create a sense of the pace of work without it being a literal representation. Added to that I would not be able to just make photographs of what I do for a host of reasons. That said there are traces of my world of work that might be recorded that together could create a sense of a busy working life. I got as far as scoping out some locations and ideas, but ultimately felt this was just too abstract at this stage for me to successfully complete in the time available.

The photographers shadow

I have for some time experimented with my own shadow when making images. Shadow play and self portraiture are well warn paths and not particularly original but I thought exploring the notions of capturing my own shadow while making images might be a way of showing the image maker as the ‘unseen ‘ element in many images. I was reminded  of several  shadow self portraits by Ansel Adams. There is something about these images that anchor the artist in his work without them being physically present and although I know that I will explore self portraiture as part of the third element of this course. Again I decided not to pursue this theme further at this stage.

Traces of time, people and place

Although I live in a rural area, I am 20 miles from the city of Norwich. I have had an ongoing project looking at the contrasts in the built environment of the city. A city which has many buildings dating back to medieval times juxtaposed with some magnificent but hated brutalist edifices. I think the built environment offers insight into how the powerful feel we should all live and in this there is something about class , culture and politics. I have recently completed a personal photobook on the topic. I initially thought I might begin some further work around the theme. I did however think this might be in breach of OCA regulations about using previous work or theme and although I would have created entirely new work I felt I should move on from this theme.

Distant roots and family ties

Although I have lived in England for most of my life and I even have a blunted, but still distinct regional accent, I am still an immigrant, all be it arriving with my parents as an infant. My heritage has always been in the background but over shadowed by my sense of the influence of England and Great Britain on me. That said I remain a dual national and this was brought into sharp relief with the Brexit vote earlier in the year. I was deeply disappointed by the outcome, but respectful of  the voice of the majority. My  18 year daughter is far less sanguine about the outcome of the vote which has led to us taking action as family that I had never thought would occur. Feeling that she as a UK citizen may in the future be cut off from the wealth of opportunities currently available to the young in Europe, particularly study, I began the process of getting dual nationality for her, so that she will retain EU citizenship when the UK leaves the EU. This has been an interesting journey and I thought recording this might prove a fruitful subject. There is a lot of paperwork and I envisaged and almost collage type presentation for the final assignment. However it has been a time consuming process and I felt if I pursued this theme I might again run out of time.

Sally and Illness

This was another potential theme that was close to home and potentially emotional. My wife has not enjoyed good health over a period of time and hospital appointments, medication and adjustments to family life have been a feature of our world. Clearly this  sort of theme is a well worn path for photographers, but each set of personal circumstances is unique and I thought that this fact alone offers the opportunity to create work that meets the brief. I discussed the idea with my wife , which I thought was appropriate given that she, all be it indirectly, would be the subject of the work. She was not averse to the idea but did suggest that elements might be upsetting to her. After a setback in her current round of treatment I decided that this was not an avenue to pursue.


In parallel to investigating the themes above I was reading a re-reading the case studies in the course material to try and gain a deeper understanding of the task. As highlighted in the ideas above and set out in the references, I  looked at and considered the work of a wider range of artists to help me think through the options.

One not mentioned yet is an inspiring collection of images by Polish artist Michel Iwanosski; ‘Clear of People’. This is a record of the epic journey his ancestors made in escaping from capture during the second world war. Retracing their journey through Eastern Europe he records something about the tension and fear they must have felt by documenting the land along the way. To me this work absolutely captures the unseen, using landscape as a metaphor and record. Although I finally settled on  a very different project I was very much influenced by the words Iwanosski when I heard him speak at an OCA Symposium particularly when he spoke of his family history and the power of images to evoke meaning far beyond the contents of the frame.

In summary I did a lot of preparation and had more than one false start before I settled on a final theme for the assignment. 

Reflections on my late father in law became the final choice. It is hard to define precisely why. The course had encouraged some wide thinking and as mentioned already I had initially settled upon and started another theme, but my research and reading drew me back to this idea and with the additional time agreed by my tutor I set about making the work.

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

D’Hubert, S.  (2013) What Remains, found at: http://www.stephaniedhubert.com/what-remains

Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found at:www.michaliwanowski.com/clear-of-people/4577315405 (Accessed August 2016)

Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at: https://johnaorroca.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/manfred-willmann-das-land/

Orr, J. (2016) In the Lands of Prasutagas-Unpublished Photobook

Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at: http://www.oldbergkunst.format.com/gerhard-stromberg#1Willman, M (Accessed August 2016)

Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: http://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ (Accessed September 2016)

Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: http://www.johnumney.co.uk/i-look-for-him.html (accessed August 2016)

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Henri Cartier Bresson: Paris – Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts

HCB 1-0530

August 6th  2016

To link with the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts significant exhibition Alberto Giacometti – A  Line Through Time, The Sainsbury Centre were also displaying 83 images of Paris made by Cartier Bresson between 1929 and 1985. I also visits the Giacometti exhibition and my brief review can be found here. The exhibition was organised by Magnum Photos and the Foundation Henri Cartier- Bresson.

Although I was familiar with Cartier Bresson’s work this was a a rare opportunity to see a range of work displayed together and all printed with traditional silver gelatin processes. To add to my interest, the beautiful traditional prints had been made under the supervision iof cartier Breton himself,  so unlike other reproductions of images by the artist, these I assumed must approximate to the product that cartier Bressson visualised himself for the final image.

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The 83 monochrome  images, printed to about 20×16 were all displayed in a large well lit but not too bright gallery space. All were very simply but classically mounted and framed. There was a clear consistency  to the presentation of the work that to my eye allowed me to see past the display medium and really focus on the work itself.

I was also really struck by the very sharp consistency of the tonal range in the prints, this was fine art monochrome printing at its best.

The images were all arranged chronologically and there was a clear sense of development, in particular the artists shift to using 35mm which liberated him from the constraints of the earlier larger format cameras.

I am trying hard not to think about the photography involved and shift my thought process to the finished images and see through and past  the process. I found this very hard in the exhibition because I am a fan of 35mm film as a useable format and the  engaging images in the collection present such a strong argument about the power and efficacy of 35mm film in the hand s of a master!

I was alo really delighted to gaze upon a Cartier Breton supervised print of ‘Behind the Gare Saint Lazare’. I had looked at this work many times in books and of course had deconstructed it as part of my studies on the OCA course -Expressing Your Vision, my blog entry about it can be found here. I have to say the 20×16 in the frame looked really quite different to the versions in books and on the web. Far more subtle detail and tonal range.

The collection contained a rich mix  of images ranging from  street scenes,  people , couples, humour and well well observed moments of human interaction, joy and sadness. Cartier Bressons eye for the subject but also the tight and structured compositions that is a hallmark of his work. It is hard to describe the sense of completeness that I felt in seeing  his work arranged in a very well curated collection. The exhibition catalogue alerted me that some of the images in the collection had never before been displaced, i was not surpsperibd by this given there were many images I had never seen before even after looking at his work in books for 30 years.

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© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos.

Of all the images in the collection it was the groups of people in his work that really drew me in . He must have made himself near invisible to have made some of these images given his proximity to make the work, yet the impression that he had not changed the scene by his close presence.

Henri-Cartier-Bresson-Flea-Market-on-the-boulevard-Richard-Lenoir.-1952-x600

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos.

What also took my by surprise was that the later images (late 1970’s to early 80’s ) did seem less strong and less focussed on individuals and more about the composition of a scene. i am not suggesting the images were weak as photographs, more that his attention and perhaps even inters had waned. This fits with things that i read suggesting in later life he lost some of his interest in photography and was far more interest in painting.

All in all this was a fantastic show that afford me the opportunity to look at Cartier Bressons work as he had intended, this gave insights into the impression he was attempting to create with his work that simply can not be seen in the same prints in books.

I left the gallery with a real enthusiasm to make more work of people in the streets, it was an object lesson in being inspired by an artist to go away and make work, tempered with thought that i need to try and create ab original take on his approach and not merely to go and try and replicate it. Either options still seems a real challenge!!!

 

 

 

 

Exercise – Choose a poem that resonates with you

The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it..

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.

You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.

The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:

  • Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?
  • Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?
  • Do the images sit well together visually?
  • Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?

I consider myself lucky to live in a house where poetry is an important feature for my wife and my daughters lives. The challenge  I had however was selecting a poem to use for this exercise from the many that were available. I was also mindful of the need to choose something that would test the ideas being explored in this section of the course and that would allow for  a suitable exercise. For a variety of reasons that it would take too long to describe I eventually settled on a work by a less well known war poet that had a very personal link to my family. I was also pondering and planning the exercise in my head as the 100th anniversary of the Somme arrived.

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The poem I used is found in a  small green book that is a treasured possession of my wife.

‘Verse and Prose in Peace and War’ by William Noel Hodgson is not a well known book and there is much that I could write about how only a handful of war poets work ended up in general circulation, but that is perhaps for a different course! That said it did influence how I set about making the images of the exercise, indeed the notion of the post Great War establishment harvesting a few  from the many became a central theme to the work of the exercise.

This small volume of poetry and prose was given to my wife by her mother, who had been given it by her mother. And given to her by her mother. Passed down through generations of daughters. Originally given to my wife’s great Grandmother by the father of the author as a christmas gift in December 1921. Of the many moving poems amongst its leaves I found this the most poignant:

Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By Beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, lord

By all of all mans hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages store
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss
Help me to die , O Lord

The poem was written on June 29th 1916 as the author prepared for for the British army’s offensive in Northern France. William Noel Hodgson the author, fell two days later at the Somme,  one of the 19,240 to die on the first day of the battle. His writings along with his personal possession were returned to his father after his death and it was he who secured a publisher and the work was published posthumously.  

The poem has a strong reflective and melancholic narrative that is poignant and in the context of its creation, prophetic and bitterly sad.  To me it is emblematic of the lost youth in a distant but not forgotten war. The imagery of the poem at first glance appears to describe a landscape but also alludes to times passed and to someone facing certain death reflecting on their life, all be it a short one. I memorised this poem and carried it for sometime in my head before I picked up my camera to try and make any images. I also read  Zeepvat (2014) which offers a wider context on the work and the author. I felt I needed to know more about the Hodgson and the context of the work. I must confess to being left with a deep anger in discovering more about the fate of so many young men and the lack of value placed on their lives. I had to manage that anger as I made the work for the exercise.

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The thoughts that came to my mind where the distance between the authors world and contemporary society, I thought about young people enjoying the pub on a summers evening (as I went to collect my daughter from such an event on several occasions).

‘And the cool evenings benison,
By that last sunset that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,’

I thought of the freedoms we enjoy that generations before did not, I thought of class deference and the misplaced sense of honour in the face of what  might now be regarded as war crimes. In the battle of the Somme generals used military strategy that was 150 years old and it might be said unfit for the first mechanised war. I thought of aftermath and the land and how time heals the land, although the scars might be found by looking just below the surface.

‘The laughter of unclouded years
And every sad and lovely thing;’

I thought about the countryside around my home and its similarly to that of some of the battlefields of France. Also Chloe debe Matthew’s work  ‘Shot at Dawn’ came to mind as did  the oblique and ‘Aftermath’  photograohy of Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie.I spent some time looking at their works and reading the poem aloud. In particular Seawright’s haunting image of discarded shell casings in Afghanistan  and its homage to  Fenton’s 1855 work: ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death.

‘Must say good bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss’

Over time though I distilled my thoughts and ideas about the poem in the a short list of themes that would be the basis to begin making images.

  • Young people at leisure
  • The land at the end of the day
  • The land being worked, the aftermath of the harvest
  • Light, evening and dawn light
  • Harvesting and the reaper
  • Life going on

I pondered on a number of ideas and while doing this noticed that in the land around my house the farmers, having harvested the wheat in the fields  were now producing rectangular hay bales and stacking them high. Tall singular sentinels standing out in the landscape. This was really unusual in that for as long as I can remember hay has been collected and made into what had been up until now the ubiquitous circular bails.  I was struck by these tall monolith like towers that spread across the land. I spent some time walking about without taking a picture, this has become of feature of my approach, to think much more wisely about when to take the camera to my eye. I then formulated an idea around the harvest clearing things away and the solitary sentinels of hay looking out over the land.

After some experimental images I settled on the following short set in response to the poem. In choosing the final images I tried to take account of the bullet points in the brief, encouraging a careful reflection on the selection of this or any set.


Images

c Poem 3-5804

c Poem 5-5799

c Poem 7-5818

c Poem 6-5813

c Poem 1-5848

c Poem 8-5843

 

References

Fenton, R. Valley of the Shadow Of Death (1855) found at: blog.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/remembrance-day-part-1-photographing-war-fenton-crimean/ (Accessed August 2016)

Hodgson, W, (1915) Verse and prose in Peace and War. Smith and Elder. London

Matthews, C (2014) Shot at Dawn- Found at: http://www.chloedewemathews.com/shot-at-dawn/ (Accessed August 2016)

Wylie, D. (2011) Outposts  found at: https://steidl.de/Books/Outposts-0818213552.html?SID=SVFLuijda6e9 (Accessed August 2016)

Seawright, P. (2002) Hidden found at: www.paulseawright.com/hidden/ (Accessed August 2016)

Zeepvat, C. (2014) Before Action-William Noel Hodgson and the 9th Devons-A story of the Great War, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley

Trent Parke- Minutes to Midnight

Minutes to midnight 1-5745

Magnum photographer Trent Parke has spent his career turning his camera on his native Australia. Parke, who’s presentational preference is to create hand made photo books has published a number of very engaging works of art in this form.

Minutes to Midnight was the first of his books that I encountered and I have to say I was drawn not only to the edgy evocative images on each of its pages but also his approach to art practice and indeed the philosophy that underpins his work as an artist.

Minutes to Midnight is the product of  a road trip across Australia and is an eclectic mix of gritty black and white images that shines a light on the emotional state of Australia during a time of national and global change.

Made in 2003 , the images of rural and urban scenes capture people and place in shadows and light and all the works in the book say something about how Australians were facing the impact of issues such as 9/11, the Bali bombings and the huge bush fires and drought in the the country at the time  There is a sense of the uneasy about the work, not least because there is a simile narrative in some very disparate images locations. It’s worth noting that the  work was in part created in response to a newspaper article suggesting that 60% of Australians believed the country had lost it’s innocence.  

There are a wide range of pictures in the book, from scenes of people living in challenging circumstances in remote outback communities to scenes of commuters in the cities of the vast country. Parke creates a strong and coherent narrative of ‘unsettlement’ about a country of contrasts and one that is not without challenge and tragedy. His use of black and white grainy film is in my view very evocative and even in some of the harsher images there is an intrinsic sense of beauty .

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Parke was awarded  the W. Eugene Smith Award for humanistic photography for this body of work. To my eye Parke is a master in using light creatively to capture an instant  in time that says more than just the elements contained within the frame.

Parke himself suggests that a single image can contain a narrative and although he creates strong themes (using recurring motifs such as; young children holding babies, rural and urban landscapes presented in a very high contrast manner, dead animals, scnes with a single figure bathed in light) in individual images, there is a strong and coherent narrative of unsettlement, change and uncertainty that runs through this work.

A particular  draw for me to his work is that he uses film and controls all aspects of the production of his black and white work.  He  takes many shots and repeatedly visits the the same locations to achieve the image he wants, the image he has visualised based upon some discovery or some moment of inspiration when reviewing his developed negatives.

The image below typifies his approach. On just one negative he saw the effect of the lights and shadows naturally projected onto passing vehicles. The silhouettes  of people on the street at a particular time of day create a haunting and almost unreal set of shadows and light. He returened again and again to the same location at the same time for several  months to finally capture the image that he imagined. He is a object less on patience, application and perseverance!

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Copyright Trent Parke

Parkes background is interesting and has  elements of profound sadness about it.  Although as the video listed in the references below demonstrates he has an incredibly positive outlook on life and making images is central to his life.

trent_parke

At the age of 13 while at home with his mother, she had a fatal asthma attack and died. There was nothing the young Parke could do and this had a profound impact on his future. His mother had a small darkroom and she made and sold images to local newspapers. Following her death he picked up her camera and began to make pictures. He eventually worked as a photographer for a newspaper whilst also playing cricket professionally. Eventually he had to choose between the two career paths and selected photography. He then went o to be a sports photographers for one of the Australian national newspapers. His experience and skill as a sport photographer I believe  can be seen in some of his work. Choosing not to travel beyond his own country he has taken an immersive approach to recording his country in his own way.

Learning Points from Trent Parke’s work

  • Persistence and perseverance, he keeps returning to themes and ideas until he gets them right, this is by far the biggest lesson that i take from his work. 
  • Contrast in the narrative, he uses a wide range of themes from landscape, to group shots to protests to tell the story of a people and a land, i thought buyer were real parole ( although their work is quite different) to the philosophy and motivation behind is work and that of Alex Soth.
  • Film still has a place and a role to play, pardon the pun!!

References

Parke, Trent (2013) Minutes to Midnight, Steidl

Interview with Trent Parke by David Hanlon found at: https://vimeo.com/106406707 (Accessed May 2015)

In Public Interview -Trent Parke found at: http://www.in-public.com/TrentParke (Accessed May 2015)

Project 1 Eyewitnesses? Exercise (1)

Find some examples of news stories where ‘citizen journalism’ has exposed or highlighted abuses of power.

How do these pictures affect the story, if at all? Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?

Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably) didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined the choice of final image?

Think about objectivity in documentary photography and make some notes in your learning log before reading further.

In researching for this exercise and considering citizen journalism in relation to the abuse of power it is an uncomfortable truth that the internet is full of images of apparent brutality at the hands of Law Enforcement Agencies. It is perhaps the contradiction implicit in brutality dealt out out by those charged by society to protect us that sits uncomfortably.

With the spread of phones as cameras and recording devices perhaps we are just being more of what has always been there but this makes the reports of brutality none the less disturbing.

In considering citizen journalist it is perhaps alleged police brutality in the united state that has mad the news and the wider media. Few people will not recall the infamous Rodney King case. King was a Los Angeles taxi driver who was beaten by four police officers following a high speed chase on March 3 1991. 

king

A nearby observer, George Halliday record the incident with a video camera and sent to footage to a local TV station.

That King was beaten seems to be beyond doubt, but the motives of Holliday are unclear. He made the tape and was clearly a witness to the event. I suspect he didn’t feel he could call the police about what was going on. Sending the tape to a new outlet seems on the face of it a pragmatic choice. But not knowing anything about Holliday leaves some gaps in intertepring his actions.

That said, the images of King led to widespread Rioting and a nationwide outcry about police behaviour. The story that developed did not just focus on the police officers involved but sections of the media also presented less than favourable in formation about King. I this sense the image shaped multiple stories in spite of what appears to be prima facia evened of brutality.

There have been many more similar examples of brutality, particularly against black men and boys and there is a growing archive on the internet of examples of such brutality. It appears to only be matched by a similar number of related articles reflecting the lack of prosecutions flowing such incidents. One contribution that citizens journalism unmistakably makes is that many of these incidents would have gone un recorded but for the presence of camera and came phone. In this sense there is a real contribution made to evidence gathering by citizens. What impact that evidence has is unclear though.

A more oblique take on this theme of abuses of power and citizen journalism is the recent resignation of the Icelandic Prime Minister following revelations about his tax affairs and the use of off shore accounts revealed by the release of records in Panama.

People demonstrate against Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson in Reykjavik, Iceland on April 4, 2016 after a leak of documents by so-called Panama Papers stoked anger over his wife owning a tax haven-based company with large claims on the country's collapsed banks. REUTERS/Stigtryggur Johannsson

REUTERS/Stigtryggur Johannsson

Crowds assembled in the capital to demand his resignation and under pressure the pressure Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson did resign. In this case the abuse of power is around tax avoidance amongst the political class, suggesting one rule for them and something different for the rest of the populace. The spread of images of the gathering crowds on social media s well as the news media may have contributed to peoples choice  to go and join the protest. In this sense such citizen images contributed to the intended effect in quickly spreading the scale of the protests. 

Objectivity in documentary photography

“…documentary photography shows the camera at its most potent and radical”

Clarke (1997)

Clarke’s statement highlights the power of the image perhaps more than that of the camera. The two examples I used above demonstrate how an image can influence people, particularly when they are spread quickly to the masses.  None of this though says anything about objectivity. This is an altogether more problematic idea. Yes Rodney King was beaten by police officers and crowds did assemble in reykvic

Can picture be objective?

Arguments for:

  • There is an immediacy about the images I have selected.
  • The photographers were  present and witnesses to the events
  • there was an element of opportunism
  • Events are being captured that might have gone un noticed in a time before cameras and social media
  • There is an element of truth in these images

Arguments against

  • Are we seeing the whole story?
  • What bias might be present in the image maker
  • We don’t always know the image makers intention-for example what was Holliday’s motive for filming the King assault?
  • A documentary photograph may well have a very specific intent on the part of the photographers that may not always be obvious to the viewer

Summary Learning Points

 

References

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, Oxford Publishing, Oxford

Love, D. (2015) Study: In Civil Rights Cases Involving Police Brutality, Federal Prosecutors Fail to Indict 96% of the Time-Atlanta Black Star  Found at: http://www.atlantableckstar.com/2016/03/Study-In-Civil-Rights-Cases-Involving-Police Brutality-Federal-Prosecutors-Fail-to-Indict-96-of-the time/ (Accessed April 2016)