Project 3 ‘Reportage’

Find a street that particularly interests you – It may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.

During the month of August, there is nowhere in Edinburgh more suited to street photography than the ‘Royal Mile’. With the ‘Edinburgh Fringe’ underway, tourists and locals alike flock here to soak up the festival atmosphere. Applying the ‘traditional’ approach to street photography – photographing people – I planned to document all those associated with the festival – street performers, stallholders, baristas and the crowds themselves.

As I have a ‘love, hate’ relationship with street photography, I was a bit apprehensive going into this exercise. Photographing people has always provided me with the most enjoyment. However, in a ‘street photography’ environment, the fear of ‘getting caught’ by those being photographed can affect my confidence and prevent me from taking an image.

My initial idea was to take just thirty photographs, and compare the same image in both colour and black and white. As I never predetermine whether the image I’m about to take would be better suited to colour or monochrome, I felt this approach would reflect my usual methods. However, as we are being encouraged to think about why we may shoot an image in black and white and what our results may show when viewing a scene this way, I understood the importance of sticking to the brief.

I had originally planned to shoot with my Fujifilm X20, as it’s an incredibly small and discreet camera – ideal for a nervous street photographer like myself. But as I wanted to conquer my fears once and for all, I opted for my much larger and obtrusive Nikon D7100 with Sigma 18-35mm lens. As I have a relatively low success rate in capturing what I would consider to be a decent ‘street photography’ image, I knew I would need to take many photographs. I took my photographs over a period of three days and decided to shoot in JPEG, as the idea of editing 60 images seemed extremely time-consuming. I wasn’t consistent in terms of which format I shot in, and when I saw a scene that I felt suited black and white, I set my camera to monochrome.

Of the two formats, I enjoyed shooting in colour more and found it to be an easier process. This is because I never shoot in monochrome from the outset, and will only look at an image in black and white when in post-production. I found the process of shooting in monochrome extremely difficult, and, though it displayed such things as shapes, forms and patterns in greater detail than colour, I believe this is a practice that can take years to master. Shooting in colour was the obvious choice, if the scene was naturally vibrant, though, at times, colourful background objects did pose as a distraction when photographing a single subject close to the foreground. By using monochrome, this problem could be eradicated, as colour is no longer a distraction.

“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls”

– Ted Grant

While I believe both sets contain an equal amount of acceptable ‘street photography’ images, I actually prefer the set which was shot in black and white. Although I found it difficult to picture a scene in this format, it wasn’t until I viewed the final images that I saw the unique characteristics and qualities that it has over colour. I noticed that the light in some of my photographs is presented differently in monochrome, and factors such as its direction and brightness are more evident. I particularly like how the simplicity of the black and white format has helped bring focus to my subjects and their emotions – something I think colour doesn’t offer.

After all the apprehension, I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise. With each shot, my confidence grew, and I feel I have produced a good set of ‘street photography’ images. Although I still think viewing the world in black and white is very difficult and unnatural, I have taken away a great deal from this process, and hope to use what I have learnt on my next ‘street photography’ outing.

References

ShawAcademy. (2015). “Black and white vs colour photography: When should you convert an image to monochrome?” [Online] Available from: http://www.shawacademy.com/blog/black-and-white-vs-colour-photography/

Research Point

What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

Colour photography has many benefits over black and white photography, and a photographer may choose to present their work in this style for a number of reasons. The vibrancy of a coloured image will be an immediate attraction to the viewer. Viewers will be able to get a better sense of when the image was take i.e. era, time of day and seasons and familiar objects will become easily identifiable which, may have been harder to do so if shown in black and white. For example, strawberries. In the book “Behind the image”, authors Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana, describe the occurrence of ‘colour temperature change’, when shooting at different times of the day with colour film. As this can affect the tone of the final image, photographers may use this as a ‘technique’ for stylistic purposes. Fundamentally, images presented in colour, have an authenticity that people can relate to. Black and white images appear ‘unnatural’ to us, because we don’t view the world in monochrome. In his book “Photography: the key concepts”, David Bate, refers to colour images becoming the “new reality” during the 1980’s – a practice described by many as “cosmetic”, less than a decade before. The ‘snapshot’ craze during the 1960’s, most likely helped modernise documentary photography and many viewed William Eggleston and later, Nan Goldin’s work as “authentic access to reality”.

Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

Though the term ‘Surrealism’, was coined by French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, it was his counterpart, Andre Breton, who founded the movement. Breton defined surrealism as “pure psychic automatism”, meaning, an artist would suppress their conscious control and allow their unconscious mind to take over. Though evidence of surrealism was first seen in art and literature, photography soon adopted its practices. Early surrealist photographer, Man Ray, used techniques such as double exposure and blurring, as seen in “Marquise Casati” and was known for using ‘photograms’ – all ways to create extremely surreal and dreamlike images. Henri Cartier-Bresson, was a great believer of Breton’s surrealist movement. Starting out as a painter, he soon learnt the theory behind surrealism and carried this over to his street photography. I believe surrealists like Ray and Cartier-Bresson, have left their mark on today’s photographer. And though their ethos may be similar, the advances in photography tools have resulted in new techniques being used. Swedish artist / photographer, Erik Johansson, uses ‘Photoshop’ extensively, to create “mind-bending”, surreal images that still manage to obtain realistic qualities.

How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

During my research, I came across an article called “Picturing Irony: The subversive power of photography” by Dr Biljana Scott. The essay describes various forms of irony that can be related to photography, and though there are many examples, there are two that seem more relevant to the question being asked. ‘Word based visual irony’ is probably the easiest to interpret. Irony is created when text i.e. billboards, conflicts with the rest of the image. A photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White, as part of her ‘American way of life’ series, is a good example of this. The image is ironic, as it portrays the ‘perfect’ family in America as being rich, well fed and white. Where in reality, the real Americans being shown are poor, hungry and black.

margaret bourke-white

‘Wordless visual irony’, as the name suggests, is opposite to that of the previous example. But can irony be communicated through an image alone? I believe it can. Martin Parr, shows great examples of ‘wordless visual irony’ in his series ‘Last Resort’. His image, ‘New Brighton’, shows a young women sunbathing, directly in front of a JCB. To me, this image depicts irony, as it shows the determination and possibly the desperation of the British public, to take full advantage of good weather – even if it means doing so on a construction site. The ‘beauty spot’, usually associated with sunbathing, has been overshadowed by ‘ugliness’.

GB. England. New Brighton. From 'The Last Resort'. 1983-85.

References

Fox, Anna & Caruana, Natasha. (2012). “Basics creative photography: Behind the image”. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA

Bate, David. (2009). “Photography: The key concepts”. Oxford: Berg

Wikipedia. (2017). “Nan Goldin” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nan_Goldin

Wikipedia. (2017). “Surrealism” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealism

Wikipedia. (2017). “Man Ray” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Ray

Tate. (2008). “Explore the exhibition” [Online] Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/duchamp-man-ray-picabia/explore-exhibition

Johansson, Erik. (2016). “Impact” [Online] Available from: http://www.erikjohanssonphoto.com/#/impact/

Widewalls. (2017). “The emergence of surrealism in photography – How creators of surreal photos shaped the past century” [Online] Available from: http://www.widewalls.ch/surrealism-photography/

Diplomacy. (unknown). “Picturing irony: The subversive power of photography” [Online] Available from: http://diplomacy.biscott.co.uk/publications/PICTURING%20IRONY.pdf

Wikipedia. (2017). “Margaret Bourke-White” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Bourke-White#/media/File:Kentucky_Flood_by_Margaret_Bourke-White

MagnumPhotos. (2014). “Martin Parr” [Online] Available from: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL5357TF

 

 

 

Project 2 ‘Photojournalism’

Socially driven photographers, according to Rosler, help widen the divide between rich and poor – a theory I disagree with.  Although economic inequality is a long-standing issue, I cannot see how photographers such as Hine can be blamed when there are more socially-damaging matters to consider, such as high taxation, poor education and housing, and lack of economic development. Further, it would be interesting to know what Rosler’s perceptions of ‘poor’ were, when writing her article, and did she use this label too readily when describing those who spent their days and nights at ‘The Bowery’?  After all, even in today’s society, the rich can still be “drunks”. This raises the question of how accurate socially driven photographers are in their perceptions of the poor, and do they really know the social status of their subjects?

Rosler feels that the relationship aspect of documentary photography is important, but has now been largely forgotten. But is it feasible for photographers to build relationships with everyone they document? In most situations, I feel that this is impossible to achieve. However, in others, there is no excuse for not making a particular effort, as in the case of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”. I would also argue that, on occasion, details of the subject’s personal background aren’t actually needed, or wanted. Personally, I sometimes prefer an image to be just that – an image – in order that I and other viewers can make our own interpretations of it.

In her essay, Rosler implies that images that show society at its worst are more fascinating to look at than other areas of documentary photography. She is trying to address the moral issues that surround this genre and, more specifically, the exploitation of its subjects. Although I don’t necessarily agree with her statement, I think her message is important. I believe that photographing individuals, often without their knowledge and in environments no-one should be subjected to, is exploitative. It violates human dignity and removes any aspect of privacy which they may have enjoyed. On the discussion of photographing dying children, Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, said in an interview for the ‘Financial Times’, “It’s exploitative. Even children one day old have the same right to privacy that we would want if we were dying”. He then goes on to say, “showing exploitative pictures doesn’t work…the shocking image no longer shocks”, which I found to be a most thought-provoking statement. I believe the fascination that Rosler was referring to was, in fact, this ‘shock factor’. People intrinsically have an inquisitive nature and most want to view things that carry a shock value. However, if we have become accustomed to seeing these types of images, according to Lake, why are we still being subjected to them? Is it to educate, in the hope that the image may provoke change, or is it purely to boost the photographers’ careers or income?

I feel photography can help raise awareness of problematic situations and start the process of change. However, photography alone can’t eradicate these problems. For example, an image of a homeless person isn’t going to stop people from being homeless. I believe the biggest change which documentary photography can create is in people’s opinions. At the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, by no means everyone was sympathetic to the plight of those concerned.  However, opinions changed dramatically when images of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi were published, and a number of European countries opened their borders to offer the refugees a better life. Charitable aid seems to be a benefit received most by the vulnerable. It was felt by Rosler that socially driven photographers were “making a strong case for charity rather than self-help”, but I would argue that this is no bad thing. It’s photographers, though, who I believe benefit more than their subjects – both financially and professionally. I think it’s important for them to be recognised for their efforts and rewarded accordingly, but only if their work is carried out and presented in the proper manner. Profiting through ‘art’ work which shows, for example, social deprivation, death or famine should not be permitted. Whether the subjects should themselves benefit financially is a difficult matter. In most cases, I would say it shouldn’t be a requirement but, fundamentally, it will depend on the photographer’s code of ethics.

References

Rosler, Martha. (1984). “In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)” [Online] Available from: http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf

La Grange, Ashley. (2005) “Basic critical theory for photographers: Martha Rosler, In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography). Oxford: Focal Press

WordPress. (2012) “Exposing truth or exploiting the powerless? Debating ethics and photography at PICS 2012” [Online] Available from: https://developingpictures.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/exposing-truth-or-exploiting-the-powerless-debating-ethics-and-photography-at-pics-2012/

Wikipedia. (2017). “Death of Alan Kurdi” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Alan_Kurdi

‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’

Written in 1981, Martha Rosler’s essay, explores how documentary photography has changed from a practice which, attempted to promote social reform, to one that, in Rosler’s eyes, exploited its subjects. She starts the essay by writing about an area in New York City which, at the time, was famous for its documentary photography – ‘The Bowery’. Rosler describes this neighbourhood as an “archetypal skid row”, where photographers took advantage of their “victims”, who were usually photographed when in a docile or unconscious state. She goes on to explain that it’s these types of images – where society is shown at its worst – which people wanted to see. As part of the “New Documents” exhibition, American photographer John Szarkowski wrote, that the new role of a documentary photographer wasn’t to “reform life, but to know it” – a type of work which he thought “betrays a sympathy” to those being photographed. In the book, “Making of America”, photographer Jacob Riis, writes about the invention of flashlight photography and how “the darkest corner might be photographed that way”. But it was this “careerism” attitude from photographers such as Riise that Rosler disliked the most. By using a tool, such as a flashlight, to take advantage of something or someone, the “compassion” that documentary photography once had, would be lost to “voyeurism”. But Riss would argue, and others like him – Lewis Hine and Margaret Sanger – that they were social reformers who, believed through their work, could make a difference in the world. Rosler believes however, that though their work could provoke sympathy towards the subjects, it was gaining the interest of “polite society” which was at the forefront. By documenting such things as poverty, crime and disease, they showed the privileged what health and security risks they potentially faced, thus reinforcing the gap between rich and poor.

The piece itself is fairly political and throughout, references are made towards liberalism and more specifically, “liberal documentary”. Rosler talks about how the liberal state has been “dismantled piece by piece” and been replaced by “mean-minded Spencerian sociobiology”. Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher and liberal political theorist, well known for coining the phrase, “survival of the fittest” or in layman’s terms, ‘natural selection’. Rosler explains that under this new form of meritocracy, the “poor may be poor through lack of merit” and, the misfortunes of the poor are caused by “natural disasters”. She goes on to state that, “liberal documentary” has become mainstream, not only finding its way into magazine, but also into high-end art galleries, where the wealthiest of individuals can receive some reassurance of their social status.

Rosler manages to raise questions regarding the real relationship between documentary photographers and their subjects, and feels that their “historical interests” have been lost. On many occasions, both the photographer and viewer will know nothing about the subject and, subsequently, what has happened to them since. And though an image may have been well received, potentially benefiting the photographer, it is those being photographed that have been forgotten. In 1936, photographer Dorothea Lange, took a series of images of Florence Thompson and her family, at a pea-pickers camp in California. Lange wrote in her field notes “I did not ask her name or her history” and according to Thompson, Lange “never asked any questions and got many of the details incorrect”. The images taken, were supposedly promised, never to be published. But within days of them appearing in the ‘San Francisco News’, alongside reports of migrant workers starving, 20,000 pounds of food was sent to the camp. One image in particular, named ‘Migrant Mother’, became “the worlds most reproduced photograph”. But it took nearly 40 years for the identity of the ‘Migrant Mother’ – Florence Thompson – to be known. And even up until Thompson’s death in 1983, she received no payment and failed numerous times to get the image suppressed.

Overall, I found this essay to be a very interesting read. However, there was a lot of content and it took me a number of attempts to fully understand its meaning. It’s hard for me to say if I fully agree with Rosler’s views, as I have very little knowledge of documentary photography and its developmental change. She did however, provide good examples of the criticisms she had for documentary photography, but I felt there needed to be more examples from others who shared her views. Also, I do see this essay as being slightly biased. She attacks photographers such as Hines and Riis about their photography practices, but there is little defence for their actions. To get viewpoints from both sides of the argument, would have been helpful for me to make a conclusive decision.

References

Rosler, Martha. (1984). “In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)” [Online] Available from: http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf

Wikipedia. (2017). “Herbert Spencer” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Spencer

Wikipedia. (2017). “Florence Owens Thompson” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Owens_Thompson   

 

 

Project 1 ‘Eyewitnesses?’

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 be objective? Write a list of 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?

Before starting this particular project, ‘citizen journalism’ was a term that was unfamiliar to me. Although it is fairly self-explanatory, I still felt it necessary to do research into the concept. The definition of ‘citizen journalism’, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by the means of the internet”. Although ‘citizen journalism’ is generally regarded as a relatively new concept, according to some sources its practice dates back to the 18th Century. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay gained recognition for writing the ‘Federalist Papers’, in which they successfully rebutted wide criticism of the recently-drafted Constitution of the United States.  Their 85 essays were published in newspapers between 1787 and 1788 and worked in a similar way to today’s blog.

Since then, ever-developing technology has played a huge role in how ‘citizen journalism’ is distributed and received. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter mean instant sharing of important and sometimes tragic events from around the world. It’s now commonplace for the general public to be aware of these events through ‘citizen journalism’ before hearing about them from professional news sources. Over the past few years, we have unfortunately seen a common story led by ‘citizen journalism’ – unarmed, black males who have been shot by police officers in the United States. In 2014, Twitter-user @TheePharaoh uploaded a picture, immediately after a police officer had shot and killed a teenager called Michael Brown. Along with the image, @TheePharaoh wrote, “I just saw someone die OMFG” followed by “Dude was running and the cops just shot him. I saw him die bruh”.

o-MIKEBROWNDEAD-570

There have been conflicting reports surrounding events on that day. However, one incident which did occur, and which was reported by a number of eyewitnesses, was a scuffle between Brown and officer Wilson. Wilson claims that Brown had tried to reach for his firearm, though this has never been proven. Three separate autopsy reports stated that Brown had been shot a total number of six times. And, although some early statements claimed that Brown had been initially shot whilst running away, this appears to be false. In fact, as all entry wounds were to Brown’s front, according to the autopsies, this would suggest that he was facing officer Wilson at the time of the shooting. Since then, Wilson has twice been exonerated of criminal wrong-doing, with the conclusion that his use of force was “defensible”.

So what can we tell from the image posted by @TheePharaoh and does it, if at all, affect the story we now know. I think the biggest problem with the image lies in its ‘internal context’ and that it does not show any of the key incidents discussed in the news reports. There is no evidence of the scuffle, nor of a shooting.  Though we do see a lifeless body, it’s impossible to interpret what has happened without further information. I actually believe it’s the text (tweet), which affects the story more than the image itself and, though it may have provided viewers with possibly inaccurate information, it does help raise the question of who is telling the truth?  Could this be a classic case of ‘us v them’, where the black community is bringing to the public’s attention yet another shooting which could be racially motivated and where the abuse of power from the police appears paramount.  Could members of the black community been tempted to exaggerate their stories?

David Bate describes an ‘objective’ photograph as a “neutral camera view”. But can photographers and their images related to ‘citizen journalism’ really be unaffected by personal feelings, interpretations or prejudices? For the most part I would say no, but fundamentally it comes down to why the photograph was taken and what’s its purpose for being shown. Was @TheePharaoh, for example, simply reporting what he was seeing from an unbiased standpoint, or did he have another motive? Could he have been part of this ‘us v them’ movement, where he was hoping to change or influence other people’s opinions regarding police shootings of black males – who knows?

Advantages of ‘Citizen Journalism’

– Instant sharing of news on a global scale.

– Free information.

– Empowers local communities.

– Helps report stories which professional journalists disregard, or which they may arrive too late for

– Helps professional journalists with their own stories.

– Provides written reports, photographs and video in real time.

– Can help provide evidence on high-profile cases, e.g. police shootings.

Disadvantages of ‘Citizen Journalism’

– Information may not be factual / can we believe what we are reading or seeing?

– Smaller audience than mainstream media, i.e. radio and television.

– May be affected by personal feelings / bias in opinions.

– Images / video may have been doctored or edited.

– Content that is offensive, inaccurate or sensationalised has the potential to be accepted unreservedly

– Not professional / of poor quality

References

OxfordLivingDictionaries. (2017). “Citizen journalism” [Online] Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/citizen_journalism

WordPress. (unknown). “Professional journalism” [Online] Available from: https://teamwork09.wordpress.com/stacey/

Wikipedia. (2017). “The Federalist Papers” [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Federalist_Papers

DigitalTrends. (2015). “The citizen journalist: how ordinary people are taking control of the new” [Online] Available from: https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-citizen-journalist-how-ordinary-people-are-taking-control-of-the-news/

TheGuardian. (2014). “Ferguson’s citizen journalists revealed the value of an undeniable video” [Online] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/16/fergusons-citizen-journalists-video

TheTelegraph. (2014). “Dramatic pictures emerge of Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri” [Online] Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11038527/Dramatic-pictures-emerge-of-Michael-Brown-shooting-in-Ferguson-Missouri.html

BBCNews. (2014). “Ferguson protests: What we know about Michael Brown’s last minutes” [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-28841715

HuffingtonPost. (2014). “Witness claims photo of dead man in street is Michael Brown, Ferguson teen killed by cop” [Online] Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/15/witness-michael-brown-photo-dead_n_5683166.html

Bate, David. (2009). “Photography: The key concepts”. Oxford: Berg

TheNewYorker. (2015). “The cop” [Online] Available from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/the-cop