Reboot your practice with Yan Preston

Today I attended a workshop and portfolio viewing hosted by the Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Ten photographers from a variety of backgrounds and experience attended the workshop. The guest photographer and speaker was Yan Wang Preston, who is currently exhibiting her work ‘Mother River’ in the gallery (see OCA visit notes here), and the members of the gallery staff also provided advice and feedback on portfolio presentation and the process of curation.

The day started with a brief tour and discussion of the Mother River exhibition, with Preston explaining the background to the work, which had left me with unanswered questions following the earlier OCA visit. The project was four years in the making and involved photographing the Yangtze River at 100km intervals along its over 6000km route. The photographs are banal and not necessarily visually stimulating, without an apparent message or perspective. However, I learned that it was Preston’s intention to subvert the typical images of the river, whether iconic, based on traditional myths or environmental perspectives on pollution or the damming of the river and clearance of local populations. To show the river just how it is – her process of selecting ‘y’ points at 100km fixed intervals was designed to facilitate this view, along with some unwritten rules (eg not photographing ruins). The work as received wide critical acclaim and been exhibited in several countries. At this point in time, I find the work more interesting conceptually than visually but also admire the determination and commitment in delivering this challenging body of work. It was also a great lesson in how to talk well about one’s own work.

Next, there was a presentation by Yan Preston on planning, researching, and funding long-term projects with an opportunity for questions.  Here, a few notes from what was a very interesting presentation:

Be able to clearly explain your project:

  • what exactly is your subject?
  • what are you photographing? / is the aesthetic appropriate to the subject. In this context, a point was raised on Nadav Kandar’s Yellow River and the mist always being slightly yellow (as that is the aesthetic of his pallet); Preston observed that this can mean the mist is perceived as pollution (yellow smog), rather than white mist, which it mostly is in her experience.
  • what is your relationship to your subject? Preston considers this as fundamental to a project / something that represents an artist’s unique perspective.

‘Taking pictures is not that hard – it’s the bit that goes before’.

From the curator, after the discussion on the importance of research around a subject; worries when photographers approach her saying that they are ‘doing there own thing’ without reference to what has gone before. It is not that she is expecting original ideas (there are none) but something that builds on what has gone before, and that the work has substance, supported by research.

On getting known (in Yan Preston’s order of preference):

  • Portfolio reviews
  • Competitions
  • Personal relationships
  • Exhibitions / publications
  • Social media
  • And overall, be selective, strategic and effective in approach
  • Above all – make good work.

In the afternoon session, there was a portfolio review / discussion. I took along my work on assignment 5, so have made a separate post in that section of the blog here.

A very enjoyable day, and I would certainly attend future events.

References

Impressions Gallery [website]. Mother River. Available from: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=80 [accessed 3.6.17]

Robert Harding Pittman

Robert Harding Pittman’s work is referenced in the OCA course material. I was drawn to his work and look at it more closely in this post.

In his interview with Sharon Boothroyd (Photoparley), Pittman discusses his work Anonymization, referring to the urban sprawl of large-scale developments that have little connection with the spaces that surround them. He says’ with this anonymous type of development not only comes the destruction of the environment, but also a loss of culture and roots, as well as alienation.’ This is something I have witnessed as western style shopping malls spread to other parts of the world – in side these places it is difficult to know whether one is in Moscow or somewhere outside of Manchester!

Source: www.roberthardingpittman.com by Robert Harding Pittman

Pittman is closely engaged with the environment, originally an environmental engineer, and says of his photographic process, ‘Usually my approach to photography is impulsive and instinctive. The more I can connect with what is around me, without thinking too much, the better it is for the photographs.’ This ‘not over-thinking’ is something that has become important to my own practice over the two years since starting my studies. It is not a question of being ignorant of context or technique, but not allowing it to hinder the instinctive creative flow when making pictures.

There is an absence of the human figure in Pittman’s work, yet he explains how evidence of humanity also dominates the work, ‘In the images we see how we control and dominate the earth, by reshaping it, by flattening it and by covering it with roads, parking lots, lawns in the desert and with large-scale developments.’ This sounds self-evident, but I wonder how many of us are numbed by overwhelming human presence and therefore do not recognise it for what it is.

The personal appeal in Pittman’s work is it’s pushback against sameness and lack of sympathy for natural surroundings and locality. It is something that impinges on many aspects our our lives – the imposition of uniformity, often in the name of efficiency and economic sense, with little regard to other sense.

References

Perspectives on Place [blog]. Robert Harding Pittman: Anonymization (June 2015). Available from: https://perspectivesonplace.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/robert-harding-pittman-anonymization/ [accessed 30.3.17]

Photoparley [website]. Robert Harding Pittman (May 2015). Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/robert-harding-pittman/ [accessed 30.3.17]

Robert Harding Pittman [website]. Available from: http://www.roberthardingpittman.com/photography [accessed 30.3.17]

Photographers suggested for A2

As a part of the feedback on assignment 1 (see here), I was recommended to look at the work of 3 photographers in preparation for assignment; Joel Sternfeld (1944), Katy Grannan (1969), and Phillip Lorca diCorcia (1951).

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-16-46
source: vice.com, by Phillip Lorca diCorcia

I consider three aspects of the photographers’ work:

  • ‘Procurement’ of subjects. An important part of the process of portraiture is finding subjects that are willing to give their time and image to a photographer. The quid pro quo. In Sternfeld’s work Stranger Passing , the approach to the work seems to be described by its title – strangers passing through seemingly random locations, photographed within the context of the moment and engaged with the camera but at a distance (the subjects are aware). The photographs were taken over a period of fourteen years (1987-2001) (Fadedandblurred). In contrast Kern explains diCorcia’s approach; ‘To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting’. diCorcia paid his subject the same amount that they would have charged for their trade in sex, with the project funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grennan
Source: http://www.npg.si.edu, by Katy Grannan
  • The style of the photographer. Eric Kim quotes Sternfeld as saying, ‘Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world. Color is the real world. The job of the color photographer is to provide some level of abstraction that can take the image out of the daily.’. This is an interesting perspective; Sternfeld’s work contains a limited colour palette, which provides a level of abstraction that is not immediately apparent as it is with black and white photographs. Grannan also works in colour, with a limited pallet; it is this that allows us to focus on the portrait subject without the distraction of noisy colours, which can quick overwhelm a subject and themselves become the focus of our gaze. diCorcia’s colour palette is subtle, with the look a classic chrome film; muted and with warm shadows.
screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-14-08-25
source: artblart.com, photo by Joel Sternfeld
  • The story or narrative of the works. Sternfeld’s Strangers Passing feature ordinary people, dressed in ordinary clothes, doing ordinary things. They are not photographed close up to reveal the expressions of their faces or hands but put at a distance in the context of their place, with Sternfeld’s large format camera showing details of both people and place. Similarly Katy Grannan uses the everyday in her work, again within the context of their environments, but with a specific message to the work, for example, the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, or teenagers serving time in adult prison facilities; there is an element of photojournalism. diCorcia stages his images and uses lighting artificial lighting in making his images; though they are staged in such away as to make them look not obviously staged.

There is careful attention to the story told by portraits in the work of these photographers, either through staging or careful inclusion of the context of place. Limited colour palettes bring an element of the abstract to the work despite it’s rendering in colour.

References

American Suburbx [website]. Photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia Talks (2003). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/09/interview-photographer-philip-lorca-dicorcia-talks-2003.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Erik Kim Photography [website]. Kim E (2014). 6 Lessons Joel Sternfield has taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/02/14/6-lessons-joel-sternfeld-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fadedandblurred [website]. Put a frame to the world: Joel Sternfeld. Available from: http://fadedandblurred.com/joel-sternfeld/ [accessed 8.10.16]

Fraenkelgallery [website]. Katy Grannan. Available from: https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan [accessed 8.10.16]

Luhring Augustine [website]. Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger. Available from:  http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield [accessed 8.10.16]

National Portrait Gallery [website].Feature Photography/Katy Grannan. Available from:  http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html [accessed 8.10.16]

Vice [online magazine] (2013). Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ (November 13). Available from: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers [accessed 8.10.16]

Faces – Jane Bown

I first looked at the work of Jane Bown (1925–2014) during the Context and Narrative course (see here), when I watched the documentary Looking for Light. Bown was a staff photographer for the Guardian newspaper for much of her working life and the reputation she gained for portraiture was such that celebrities would request sittings with her (an interesting twist for a newspaper photographer).

Bown’s book, Faces: The creative process behind great portraits, is both introduced by Bown herself and she provides brief commentaries on each of the photos. The book includes 120 black and white portraits, covering several decades; subjects including Woody Allen, John Lennon, Anthony Hopkins; it is like a who’s who of newsworthy personalities.

What draws me to Bown’s work is that while she took an uncomplicated approach to photography, using an Olympus OM1 and almost exclusively natural light, working under tight time constraints, her photos are captivating. It feels as if one is looking into the real character of her sitters, with little artifice. Bjork is quoted on the dust cover of the book, saying:

She can look at a person and she knows, instinctively, straight away, who they are.’

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-10-26-44
Source: Guardian.com

Things I’ve learned from looking at the book:

  1. Bown always shot on location, rather than in a studio and worked to address different set of practical constraints where ever she worked. This flexibility to deal with the sometimes less than ideal, and improvise seems important.
  2. Bown stayed with her manual 35mm Olympus OM1 and 50mm lens throughout her career. A camera that can now be purchased on eBay, including lens for around £100. There can be a tendency for photographers to fall into the ‘gear acquisition’ trap thinking that the latest gear will make the difference to their work, when it is really what goes on behind the camera that makes the difference. Bown’s approach is a powerful example of this maxim. She says, ‘I don’t use lights, flash or light meters. This means that I travel light and don’t waste time setting up. I like to have as few barriers as possible ..’ (Bown J (2000), p8).
  3. Bown’s preparation for a session in a new location was focused on looking for light; ‘once the light is dealt with, I can can get on with the business of   taking the picuture’ (ibid, p9). She comments that in situations she could not find natural light she would improvise, for example by putting a 150 watt bulb into a table light. Photographing in black and white offers more leeway in lighting than colour, where the temperature of light needs to be more carefully considered.
  4. Bown describes how she moves around her subjects to explore the framing of the shot and the context of the portrait. Each portrait in the book includes Bown’s explanation of the framing and what she liked about each image. There seems to be a clear intention and an attention to detail. This is perhaps what is needed to take great portraits; a great awareness of what is occurring within the frame. I’ve noticed in my own work that I’m sometimes prone to miss small distracting details in the frame, which could have easily been removed physically or by reframing at the time of shooting. The discipline of considering the whole frame, not just the subject is particularly important in portraiture.
  5. While some of Bown’s work comprises head shots (important for newspapers), much includes context, which was perhaps not included in newspaper prints. Hands and features in rooms or outdoor spaces form an important part of the narrative for Bown’s portraits; whether they are directly connected to the subjects or to aid with the composition.

This book is a great inspiration for black and white portraiture. Highly recommended.

Reference
Bown, J. 2000. Faces: The creative process behind great portraits. London: Collins & Brown Ltd.

Gone Astray by Clare Strand

Clare Strand’s (b 1973) Gone Astray project is described on her own website (link below). The project (in two parts) was a part of the output from a year-long residency at the The London University Of The Arts (2002/3).

Strand explains her inspiration for the project:

The title of the series is taken from a Charles Dickens text, Gone Astray 1853 which is an account of a young child lost in the City of London. A story filled of references to anxiety and vulnerability and to people leading double lives.

source: clarestrand.co.uk
source: clarestrand.co.uk

The two parts of the project are portraits and details. Portraits show people who appear to have been pulled from the street in everyday clothes, but photographed against a traditional C19th painted mural thatwould have been used for street portraits. The subjects are posed as if they are going about their daily business, some showing signs of anxiety referenced by the title. The subjects’ gaze is not engaged with the photographer, mostly looking down or away. When viewing the photographs, this creates a visual irony; care has been taken to set up a traditional painted mural, against which subjects would traditionally be carefully posed. However, Strand’s subjects are portrayed as disinterested in the photographer.

The second part of the project, Details, shows (as its title suggests) details. This time they are photographed outside the studio, on the street using a harsh flashlight to highlight the details. The ambient light is closed down, keeping the backgrounds to the details shadowing and dark. Our eyes are drawn to the details, highlighted in the chiaroscuro.

source: clarestrand.co.uk
source: clarestrand.co.uk

For my own practice, the two main aspects of interest in Strand’s work are the visual irony created by the mismatch of background and subjects in portraits and the use of flash to highlight details and cut ambient light in details.

References

Clare Strand [website]. Gone Astray. Available from: http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100 [accessed 2.9.16]

Worlds in a Small Room by Irving Penn

In Image on Paper, Tim McLaughlin reviews Irvin Penn’s (1917-2009) 1980 book Worlds in a Small World, telling the fascinating story of how the work came about. He quotes Penn’s comments on working in a temporary studio:

The studio became, for each of us, a sort of neutral area. It was not their home, as I had brought this alien enclosure into their lives; it was not my home, as I had obviously come from elsewhere, from far away. But in this limbo there was for us both the possibility of contact that was a revelation to me and often, I could tell, a moving experience for the subjects themselves, who without words—by only their stance and their concentration—were able to say much that spanned the gulf between our different worlds.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 23.51.34
source: sangbleumagazine.com

From Penn’s words quoted in this review and in Sang Bleu Magazine, it is apparent that Penn paid many of his subjects for sitting. He was interested in photographing different types of people (the example above is from a group of Hell’s Angels) by bringing them into ‘pop-up’ studios (or ‘day-light’ studios as Penn refers to them).

We should note that Penn was a highly successful commercial photographer for Vogue (for slide show of photos see link below, or here). At least some of the Worlds in a Small World work was made in between commercial shoots; it is likely that he had both the means to pay people to sit for him and the necessity because of time constraints.

source: vogue.com
source: vogue.com

We learn of Penn’s practice from the Image on Paper article:

His trips were commissioned by Vogue … He finally perfected a portable outdoor natural light studio with a custom built tent. This structure was 11 feet high and had a 10 x 18 foot floor. He augmented the set-up with an 8 x 12 reflective screen … could be set up quickly by a team of assistants, and could fit on the top of a jeep … Penn took five Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras and a compliment of close-up lenses.

So, pop-up studio with its suggestion of informality, is arguably a misnomer in this context; more like an on location shoot with entourage.

Although the subjects in Penn’s personal work are very different from the Vogue models, we can see the cross-over in his approach in that the sitters were tightly staged and directed. This creates an intense dynamic between the photographer and the sitters that is not necessarily present in a more observational style of portraiture, involving subjects who are not public personalities. This is something I’d like to experiment with in my own practice.

References

Guardian online [website]. Irving Penn obituary. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/oct/08/irving-penn-obituary [accessed 1.9.16]

Image on Paper [website]. Classic – Worlds in a Small Room. Available from: https://imageonpaper.com/2013/07/21/review-worlds-in-a-small-room/ [accessed 1.9.16]

sangbleumagazine.com [website]. Iriving Penn’s portraits of Hell’s Angels and his description of the experience. Available from: http://sangbleumagazine.com/2014/04/03/irving-penns-portraits-of-hells-angels-and-his-description-of-the-experience/ [accessed 1.9.16]

Vogue Magazine [online]. Irving Penn Photos. Available from: https://www.vogue.com/slideshow/photographer/irving-penn/#2489619 [accessed 1.9.16]

 

Project 1 – the unaware (reprise)

In the original post, summarising research on four photographers (see here), it was mentioned that I had no information on the approach to covert photography by Lukáš Kuzma. Subsequently, I contacted him direct by Facebook messenger and the communication chain is below, with links to a short description of his book and a YouTube video, in which he discusses his photography.

In terms of approach, Kuzma uses an intuitive response to the environment around him, following what interests or surprises him, taking his camera everywhere. This reminds me of Tom Wood’s approach, who also sets out with no specific intention. In the video, he seems to make no attempt to mask that he is taking pictures, but walks quietly around with a small inconspicuous camera (what appears to be a Fuji X-pro or X100T).

———————————

Hi Lukas – I hope you don’t mind the direct approach. I’m a BA photography student with the OCA and I guess you know that your work is featured as part of their course material. I’ve just written a short piece on approaches to covert photography, including your work alongside 3 other photographers. I’d be grateful if you could share a brief explanation of your approach to Transit London? My blog post is here – http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/2016/08/29/project-1-the-unaware/

Lukáš Kuzma accepted your request.

Hi Andrew, I prefer direct approach. My approach. I’ve sent you a link where you can read in my books {blurb.com/lukysta} about the work I’ve done. On that page you can read Continuum where it is described. there is also a short video that includes more information >https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjxkYtJlOsA< My approach is to go out with a camera and see where it takes me. Its a process that is driven by curiosity, intuition and involves a lot of different approaches to a current situation. Underground in London is a great place for candid works. People are rushing through the same route everyday leaving me plenty of space to explore and to capture that world. Hope it helps, and good luck with your study.

Thanks – very helpful. I’ll share with the OCA group, so you don’t get pestered with the same question too much!
Great I appreciate it, best of luck
end.
—————————
References
Blurb [website]. Transit
by Lukas Kuzma. Available from: http://www.blurb.com/b/5798286-transit [accessed 30.8.16]
Youtube. Short film CLICK – IP production and Lukáš Kuzma. Available from: https://youtu.be/IjxkYtJlOsA [accessed 30.8.16]

Project 1 – the unaware

In this post, I examine the work of four photographers whose work includes covert photography (‘not openly shown, engaged in, or avowed’ – Merriam-Webster.com). There is an important distinction between this and candid work (‘relating to or being photography of subjects acting naturally or spontaneously without being posed’ – Merriam-Webster.com), which is not necessarily done secretively. The works are Tom Wood’s Looking for Love, Martin Parr’s Japonais Endormis (‘Japanese Asleep’), Walker Evans’s Many are Called, and Lukas Kuzma’s Transit London.

Issue magazine features a full-length interview with Tom Wood, touching on various aspects of his work and his motivations. Wood’s work is eloquently described:

Wood’s photographs convey much more than they literally depict. He not only shows us the people who make up the fabric of his day-to-day existence, but his manner of photographing forces us to recognize his subjects as sentient individuals. As a result, we are asked to contemplate their difference, the thoughts and emotions that inspire their actions and make them who they are. Tom Wood sets out to capture the complexity of being. His photographs succeed in isolating fragments of the sensual world, and exposing the human impulse to both negotiate and make sense of it. (Issue Magazine)

source: paperjournal.co.uk
source: paper-journal.com

As a teenager of the 1980s myself, I found something autobiographical in Looking for Love, even though it was shot at the opposite end of the country to my teenage years in the South West. Wood’s approach to covert work is to blend in, so that after a while people just accept him as part of the scene and don’t take notice of what he is doing. This requires a significant investment of time to be successful, and some of Wood’s projects took place over several years. Wood explains, ‘I don’t have agendas. I go out and take the pictures and you figure out what they mean afterward when the project’s finished. The camera is asking questions. You put it all together and you see what it adds up to. Whenever I’ve gone out with something specific in mind, it never works for me.’ (Issue Magazine). Wood offered subjects copies of their photos on his return visits to locations, and the reciprocity appears to pay-off in terms of continuing cooperation (Bruce Dickinson does the same – see here).

Magnum Photos explain Martin Parr‘s book as, ‘in ‘Japonais Endormis’ (‘Japanese Asleep’) Parr travels the Tokyo subway photographing sleeping commuters, many of whom travel for hours every day. Photographed from above, the 24 colour images give the impression that one is standing on a busy commuter train looking down at those lucky enough to get a seat.’

Stuart Franklin (Magnum President) is quoted in the Tokyo Times,saying, ‘It’s not hard to take photographs, it’s not even hard to take good photographs. What is hard is to put them together in a way that says something compelling’.

source: https://pro.magnumphotos.com
source: https://pro.magnumphotos.com

Here Parr’s approach to covert photographs is simple – he subjects are asleep (or as good as) and therefore incapable of being aware that they are being photographed. There is little risk of the photographer being caught-out taking a covert image. It is that Parr produces a series of photographs with a story that makes the work compelling – there are many similar one-off photographs of people unaware through sleep on Flickr, but they do not form a coherent story. Examples here:

Make-up

ASX explains Walker Evans‘s project:

Walker Evans’ Many Are Called is a three-year photographic study of people on the New York subway. Using a camera hidden in his jacket and a cable release running down his sleeve, Evans snapped unsuspecting passengers while they traveled through the city. Evans said that these photographs were his “idea of what a portrait ought to be,” he wrote, “anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.”

source: asx.com
source: asx.com

Evan’s project was shot in 1938, when cameras were not ubiquitous as they are today, nor as technologically advanced. His approach falls somewhere between that of Wood and Parr; Wood with a high degree of risk of being challenge with his ‘blend-in’ approach, and Parr with very little chance of challenge as his subjects were asleep. Evans’ subjects were alert and awake, but he relied on hiding the camera to mask his photographs taken at close proximity. Evan’s only had control over when to press the shutter release; even framing was directional only, rather than composed. Despite the covert nature of the photographs, we still see some subjects looking back at Evans – this gaze is the general confrontational attitude on the New York subway, rather than a deliberate gaze between the subject and photographer.

The New York Times explains, ‘the furtive nature of the photographs adds to their sense of authenticity, as does the fact that the people in them are so obviously and absolutely unposed.’ It also provides an interesting Evans’ quote that expresses his philosophy on photography:

“Stare,” he commanded. “It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

Lukas Kuzma studies BA (hons) Photography at the University of Chester, UK. He also shot a series of photos on the underground (London, rather than New York like Evans). I currently have no information on how Kuzma approached the covert aspect of the work.

source: lukaskuzma.com
source: lukaskuzma.com

Though the photographs mostly appear to be carefully composed, so I suspect that his approach was more akin to Woods than Evan’s. People are mostly in their own worlds on the London Underground, desperately avoiding any communication with fellow travellers, so it is easy to image how these photos could be taken covertly with without the need to hide away the camera.
Kuzma’s series has a broader theme than that of Evans’s or Parr’s, which focus specifically on subjects facing the photographers in the carriage. Kuzma’s theme is ‘transit’ and addresses different aspects of a journey.

Covered in a separate blog post is another piece on subway photographs by Bruce Davidson (see here). However, Davidson did not adopt a covert approach to his work, so it makes an interesting comparison.

In summary there are various broad approaches to photographing ‘the unaware’: subjects that cannot be aware (as they are not conscious of their surroundings); subjects that have general awareness of their surroundings but do not notice the photographer as he blends into the environment while not masking his activity; subjects who are aware of their surroundings, but the photographer masks his activity – Evans with a hidden camera and cable release, but now with wireless technology (eg iPhone app) that allows a much greater degree of control.

References

ASX [website]. Walker Evans: ‘Many are called’ (1938). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/05/walker-evans-many-are-called-1938.html [accessed 29.8.16]

Issue Magazine [website]. Tom Wood: Making Sense. Available from: http://issuemagazine.com/tom-wood-making-sense/#/ [accessed 29.8.16]

Japan Times [online]. Magnum’s 60 years of Tokyo. Available from: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2007/03/29/arts/magnums-60-years-of-tokyo/#.V8QFTWVYH0d [accessed 29.8.16]

Lukas Kuzma [website]. Transit London. http://www.lukaskuzma.com/transit-london/ [accessed 29.8.16]

Magnum Photos [website]. Available from: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2TYRYD12G4T2 [accessed 29.8.16]

New York Times [online]. Review/Photography; What Walker Evans Saw on His Subway Rides. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/31/arts/review-photography-what-walker-evans-saw-on-his-subway-rides.html [accessed 29.8.16]

Paper-Journal [blog]. Interview: Tom Wood. Available from: http://paper-journal.com/tom-wood/ [accessed 29.8.16]

Untapped Cities [blog]. Photography: Walker Evans’ NYC Subway Portraits. Available from: http://untappedcities.com/2012/11/20/photography-walker-evans-subway-portraits/ [accessed 29.8.16]

Vimeo. Looking for Love (Sorika Productions). Available from: https://vimeo.com/71627593 [accessed 29.8.16]

Seydou Keïta

Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) was a Malian photographer, whose work is the subject of an Paris exhibition, as Jeremy Harding explains in his review. We are told that Keïta took over 10,000 portraits, which were mostly formally posed.

The Grand Palais, which is exhibiting the work, offers the following eulogy: ‘now considered one of the greatest photographers of the second half of the twentieth century. Showing off his subjects to best advantage, his mastery of framing and light and the modernity and inventiveness of his compositions all earned him a huge success’.

Source: http://www.seydoukeitaphotographer.com, by
Source: http://www.seydoukeitaphotographer.com

Keïta’s work is generously available on the web, through his official website and Instagram account.

Generalities that stand out are that all sitters are highly dignified; there is no trivial smiling, just a sense of relaxed concentration and gravity. Aperture quotes Keïta reacting to this observation, ‘“Having your portrait taken was a big deal, it was really important to give the best possible image of each person,” Keïta stated in 1997. “Often they took on a serious air, but I think it was probably because they were intimidated—it was new.”

In the background are simple drapes to mask the scene behind the sitters. There is no sense of context in the work, it is focused on the image of the person, with distractions minimised. Some of his portraits do feature props, but these are perhaps more symbols of status rather than natural context of the sitters. For example, in one portrait there is a motor scooter and in another a large transistor radio, which the sitter is leaning upon.

The image to the left caught my eye as the sitter has her back to camera and looks over her shoulder towards us; in all the other portraits viewed, the sitters were formally front-facing or 3/4 facing. It is impossible to know the reason for the exception; perhaps to show the elaborate pattern of the lady’s dress and head scarf? The lighting is interesting, illuminating the front of her face from above; with catch-lights to the top of her eyes and deep shadows under he cheekbones and below her shoulder. Perhaps some natural light fills her back to help show the details on her dress.

Source: aperture.org

There is perhaps a real danger that modern photographers in the affluent societies can get become pre-occupied with the need to have certain equipment to get the job done. There is the marketing from the camera and equipment manufactures to reinforce that perspective. However, Keïta created wonderful images with simple equipment and backdrops; this is a valuable lesson to remember – learn to work well with what one has, and focus on creative skills.

References

Aperture [website]. Revisiting Seydou Keïta. Available from: http://aperture.org/blog/revisiting-seydou-keita/ [accessed 25.7.16]

Grand Palais [website]. Available from: http://www.grandpalais.fr/en/event/seydou-keita [accessed 25.7.16]

Harding J (2016). London Review of Books [website]. At the Grand Palais (30 June).  Available from: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n13/jeremy-harding/at-the-grand-palais [accessed 25.7.16]

Instagram [photo sharing site]. Seydou Keïta. Available from:  https://www.instagram.com/SeydouKeitaPhotographer/?ref=badge [accessed 25.7.16]

Seydou Keïta [website]. Available from: http://www.seydoukeitaphotographer.com/en/ [accessed 25.7.16]

Eamonn Doyle

When the latest email magazine from Lensculture arrived, it was intriguing to see the words, ‘street photography revisited’; the title offered the suggestion of something different or new, but in such a well-established and relatively traditional genre?

Lensculture described the show of Eamonn Doyle as a ‘small but potent exhibition, “End.” which leads the way in the generally excellent section of the program titled “Street Photography Revisited.” Sean O’Hagan adds to the praise, and mentions that Martin Parr described Doyle’s photo book, i , as ‘the best street photo book I have seen in a decade’.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 17.52.16
source: michaelhoppengallery.com, by Eamonn Doyle

One of the things that makes Doyle’s work so interesting is the usual point of views used when making the images; he is often above head-height or near ground level, offering us a different perspective on street life. This is accompanied by unusual framing, with the images appearing to be formalist in a situation that is anything but formal. The images are also tack-sharp, something that is not always the case with street photography. Doyle appears to be using a wide-angle lens and is up very close to many of his subjects – he must have the knack of looking through people or appearing to be photographing something that is not his intended subject. The unawareness of the subjects of the camera, when they are so close, gives a surreal impression of people walking the busy streets, disconnected from what is happening around them.

ASX eloquently describes the work, ‘Mostly all of the people are seen from above and behind, as if Death is looking over their shoulder. They are portraits in absentia of familiar strangers.’ The idea of ‘death looking over their shoulder’, gives the work a cinematic feel – how could we be looking with this view-point if the subjects were aware of our presence. Perhaps they are actors, performing a role for the camera?

Doyle’s work is refreshing and certainly has inspired me for whenever I next have the opportunity for some street photography.

References

ASX [website]. EAMONN DOYLE: “i” (2014). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2014/06/eamonn-doyle-i-2014.html [accessed 25.7.16]

Eamon Doyle [website]. Available from: http://www.eamonndoyle.com [accessed 25.7.16]

Lensculture [website]. Arles 2016 In Review: Street Photography Revisited and More. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/rencontres-d-arles-arles-2016-in-review-street-photography-revisited-and-more?utm_source=General+List&utm_campaign=2bcf076688-Newsletter-General-7-22-06&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f1724e682d-2bcf076688-89331069#slide-13 [accessed 25.7.16]

Michael Hoppen Gallery [online]. http://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/artists/35-eamonn-doyle/overview/ [accessed 25.7.16]

O’Hagan S (2016). The Guardian [online]. The amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle (23 July). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jul/23/eamonn-doyle-street-photographer-dublin-arles-martin-parr [accessed 25.7.16]