Some things become a habit and one of mine is to call up Daily Dose of Imagery. This is a site run by a Canadian photographer,
Sam Javanrouh. Many of the photos are symmetrical often including a small and very specific detail or subject Often architecture. The colours are very much set in his style (like the symmetry). I think they’re great, and what a discipline to produce a new picture every day.
I love it when the sun is low in the sky and there a storm in the air. With the autumn colours this is a great combination. And there’s nowhere better to see the effect than at Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale.
From a recent visit to the V&A I picked up some quotes from photographer Roger Mayne. Mayne has taken many photos in Southam Street, London W10 – I like his style. He describes himself as a fine artist.
"The two qualities that are really decisive are austerity and tension…. for me tension is not only the very life blood of art, but also that which can make art uncomfortable and disturbing"
"To paraphrase Susan Sontag – the fascination of photography is as a trace of an event that has actually happened"
"One has to start with what photography does which is to take records of things. So I think you take a record and if, for various reasons, everything comes together, then the record will raise itself to a work of art"
I like the sentiments in these quotes, and certainly the last one where the value of a piece of work can take the creator by surprise.
Lots of looking
My driving instructor years ago used to chant at every junction and manoeuvre "lots of looking, lots of looking". It seems to me that "lots of looking" is a good strategy for traversing any piece of terrain, whether it be just a road or a whole pathway in life.
Looking at, reflecting on and collecting work by other people is, I suppose, one way of absorbing good practice. We may not know why we like something but our gut response tells us there’s something we should emulate. Of course the temptation is to imitate, which is what we do when we haven’t quite absorbed the deeper essence of what we are looking at.
My parents hauled me and my brothers round art galleries at an age when we thought galleries were the most boring places on earth. Their hope was that we would subliminally develop a taste for good things. It has taken me years to recover but now, in middle age, I quite like art galleries. I also like churches full of visual richness – though the church thing is more a response to having been brought up in Methodism where there really isn’t anything to look at at all.
Now my suggestion is that you take a look at these links to photographers. I think their work is quite good. Then perhaps you could comment and offer other links with RSS feeds.
This photo by Russell Davies reminded me how valuable our viewpoint can be to others who are denied the same opportunity. I don’t know if Russell had special privileges but it looks like a dangerous place to be (an aircraft engine).
The value of some photographs comes not from their technical quality but from the unique way they are able to transport the viewer to a time or place otherwise inaccessible. This inaccessibility can be to do with time or location and is why we have photo-journalism. Indeed the technical quality can be an obstacle to the credibility of some pieces of work.
The introduction of the digital Beta-Cam format to television newsrooms presented one such issue. The sparkling, crisp quality of news images from war-zones made the coverage look like a TV drama rather than a hastily shot news piece. I remember seeing Jeremy Bowen reporting from Israel and thinking it was a specially shot promo with lighting!
Paradoxically, the clearer the image the less believable it is and this is a fact which is being considered as High Definition is being introduced. In some cases the deliberate degradation of image quality is desirable for achieving an appropriate style. I guess we have come to associate grainy black and white images with reality and full resolution colour with marketing.
Those revolutionary shots taken on a mobile phone during the London bombings have shaken traditional journalism. News teams are realising that the public is now able to capture more immediate and intimate images of events than reporters. Importantly, they are also able to distribute them to a worldwide audience. In some cases a bloke with a phone can, without any planning, capture a human drama and transport us into a unique and private world effortlessly. Technology has pulled the rug from under journalism’s ability to control the way the world is seen and events reported.
The point I’m trying to make is that we should not underestimate the value of our own view of the world and the opportunities we have to capture what we regard as very ordinary images. I’m excited by the way people are grabbing shots ‘on the fly’ with little concern for the technical quality and yet the impact and interest of such shots can be very powerful.
To someone on the other side of the world even the most ordinary shot can seem extraordinary; the challenge for us on this side of the world is to understand that.
Tell a story
"If your pictures aren’t good enough," war photographer Robert Capa used to say, "you aren’t close enough."
Of course it’s not essential for a great photo to tell a story, but some of the most memorable photos do. Think of our own family albums in which generations of family experiences are told in narratives which move from children’s parties to silver weddings – or less conventional events!
On a international scale some photo’s have helped define an era. Photos that changed the world is worth a look. Here we see (largely from an American perspective) significant moments from history.
You might ask what role a powerful photograph plays in making events historic – is it a chicken or an egg, a horse or a cart? If the events were not recorded in such a powerful way, would they be seen as so significant?
It is interesting that through the selection of images we can edit our own stories and the way we remember or past. Happy memories of times on the beach or the pride of a graduation ceremony can become defining images in our own story. With the growth in digital photography will our stories change or become less well defined in so far as we have the freedom to record every step of our journey?
So what makes a great a great piece of photo journalism?
I don’t know the answer, but perhaps you do? I can only say what I have observed from working with TV designers who have an amazing talent for injecting meaning into every detail of costume and set dressing. What is the setting? The location in which the photo is taken can place the action in time as well as place. The characters can be vividly portrayed by their body language, dress and relationship to the events and other people in the scene.
The power of a strong photo telling a story is not so much in what is portrayed but how clear the preceding and following action is. It is often in what is not shown that carries the most power. In that sense we participate as viewers.
Being on the spot at the right moment is, of course, essential (though somtimes not nice). But so is the relationship between the photographer and the event itself. Often we can understand as much about the person taking the photograph as we can the scene shown. For example, what can we say about the people able to take the photographs shown above? Are they really detached? should they get involved? Tough one.
Kill Your Darlings
I had some interesting conversations over the new year about what makes a great photo.
Apart from the subjects themselves, I’m particularly interested in composition which I’ve resolved to learn more about. Implementing some of the classic rules of composition does produce some fantastic results. I’ll post more about these as I explore further. In general terms, though, it always pays to have an inbuilt set of criteria by which to be objective in assessing the quality of work – especially if you are doing it for a customer. Straight opinions often aren’t good enough in a business relationship.
David Bailey, in a talk I heard him give, said that he didn’t like to get emotionally involved. He turned down photographing Picasso because he felt he would be emotionally overpowered by the experience (though he said he regretted it)
As a TV Producer, approving work has always been a challenging business. It’s stressful when you are faced with a creative bod who has just put their heart and soul into designing a piece of work and you have to tell them it can’t be accepted. What do you say? Why? Emotionally great, objectively rubbish! So, in the next short while I’m going to develop some ideas on what makes a good piece of creative work.
For starters please have a look at the attached word doc. kill_your_darlings.doc This provides a check list by which to tick-box photos and a test for your gut reaction.
I’ve made the assumption that it’s a bad thing to have favorite techniques (darlings) and that these inhibit our ability to be objective. I don’t necessarily think suppressing emotion and passion is a good thing but it’s an interesting conversation to have.
PS Links to add to the mix
Joseph Rowlands on Obejctivity in Art
Michael R Nelson
Photography Composition Articles