Sunday, 14 September 2014

What makes great photography?

Throughout the history of photography, there have been countless great photographs taken by great photographers who have made such an impact on the art of photography, or the way we perceive the photograph that each time a photographer exhibits a new piece of work, we are enthralled by the way the photograph was taken, or what the photographer has left out by means of artistic intent.

So Saul Leiter for example was one such photographer who photographed the street at differing times of the day in all weathers literally, though his great photographs ere shot in such an abstract way, that the photograph becomes much more interesting.

Dorothea Lange when photographing for the Farm Security Administration, alongside others when she happened upon one Florence Owens Thompson, she photographed her in so many poses using wide angles then opted for a close-up which later became one of the most iconic photographs of the century, Migrant Mother
Migrant Mother Farm Security Administration
© Dorothea Lange

The portrait depicts a woman during the great depression and her children, though clothed are enduring the hardship of life, not unlike the children of other regions across the globe.

They are hungry and have moved across the dustbowl of America, the crops in the area offer very little. So Lange documented the daily lives of these people, to inform the affluent of the US, what was going on in their own backyard so to speak.

It does make compelling viewing, is it the fact that the children face in towards their mother whom offers support in the warmth of her bosom. Whilst the mother wears an outward appearance that seems to evoke such emotion, a worried face that draws upon the uncertainty of tomorrow.

What does this tell us; it states that on the surface America may seem glamorous yet this is actually a pretentious state, it is the art of deception. Making others think that everything is okay when actually it is not. 

A lot of photographers document the high rollers and the low lives; Garry Winogrand had this subject matter to a tee. Winogrand would pound the streets of America, he roamed so many places, and he would act as though he had a problem with his camera a trick he developed over time.

Does this make him a great photographer well yes and no, just like America he had an art of deception about him.

Broken nose in car
© Garry Winogrand
This is how he made such photographs, though he did also shoot remarkable stories that would be encapsulated in just one photograph, I would love to go through the immense catalogue of his works. 

However I would just like to share just this one photograph, which for me is unadulterated Garry Winogrand, he had a unique style not seen or practiced today.

Though to be honest one habit which seems to follow Leica® users is that they carry their camera slung around their necks, were as some people like myself will wrap around the wrist and arm which prevents someone trying to steal the camera, and thus your hard worked photographs.  

Another point about Garry Winogrand he is known for stating many points about his own photography,

Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.

One photographer who hails from New York who thinks that this statement is ‘bullshit’ is Orville Robertson. Robertson is a co-curator of the committed Contemporary Black Photographers in the Brooklyn Museum.

He also goes on to say that Winogrand wasted a lot of film too, from a photojournalist perspective you want to make the shots count. McCullin would not have wasted film neither would Robert Capa.
Contemporary Black Photographers
© Orville Robertson

You get the shots but you do not shoot without regard to plans or inclination, so you have a greater understanding of the subject. Though when I first started out I was shooting anything really.

You get home and you view your shots and realise that some of them just look like happy snaps, and some do not. Now when I view my images they have improved in subject matter and some actually tell stories. This is what you should aim for when going out to the street.

You want your photographs to have a higher hit rate, so a good way to get into practice is to shoot film, because when I shoot film I limit the subject to may be one or two frames, but try and make those shots count, you want to aim for impact from the shoot.

So you want to have great photographs that will interest the viewer for years to come, you become more attuned to your surroundings, one way of doing this is to get out and try and shoot everyday, and to engage with your subjects.

The photographer Dougie Wallace makes a point of this which is clearly visible when viewing his works, his photographs are outstanding and are so in your face will be great photographs, in years to come he will be seen as one of the great photographers of the twenty-first century.

Photojournalist James Nachtwey
© James Nachtwey
The spirit of the human condition is captured throughout history by many photographers, some have witnessed the invasion of countries in Europe others elsewhere some have witnessed the horrific events of September 11 2002. James Nachtwey captured some incredible images during and after the event some thirteen years ago.

Some time later the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, or even Hurricane Katrina would give up several interpretations of great photographs. Even today many aspiring photojournalists travel and document these areas of interest.

So what makes a photograph great the photographer or the moment they have captured? In reality it is the photographer who composes a photograph, though in this digital age everyone owns a phone with a camera, whom may be in the right place at the right time can capture a great photograph (London riots). 
London Riots Tottenham AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld
(AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

Though I do try to influence the moment, if I am caught off guard by persuading the subject to pose a particular way, so as to not look like it was taken in a staged manner.

Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not. Though if you have the confidence to build a rapport with your subject, you never know the outcome could be a great photograph. 

I must admit living in a city also helps, not just because they’re a lot people, and subjects to photograph but I have access to transport links which can take me out of the city and maybe go to another city a couple of hours away or farther.

If you’re feeling adventurous then you could plan a trip may be with a few other photographers or you could attend a photography workshop. Check out noticeboards on photography websites, or the magazines themselves.

Another way of getting involved with other photographers is to approach them if they’re shooting the street, or landscape or whatever they may be capturing at the time. I am always bumping into and socialising with other photographers. 

I always tend to watch them at first to see what they’re photographing you find out quickly if they’re street photographers, or just your run of the mill happy snapper. If they are shooting in an enthusiastic erratic manner, then you can safely bet the photographer is interested in what is happening before their eyes.

Many street photographers will create a montage of people, and interesting stories to create a great photograph. I have found that the Greek photographer Zisis Kardianos shoots definitely for storylines, and layers the photograph with interesting juxtaposition, and geometry the subjects seem to relate to each other somehow.

Zisis Kardianos
© Zisis Kardianos
This is how I have tried to inject this manner of shooting into my own style, layering subjects or mirroring certain content, try to look for similarities in hand gestures, colours etc. All these converge into the human element in the photograph.

This may be one of my last posts for a while also, as am back in to University and I am going to be working on a dissertation for a while.

I may pop by soon, until then laters!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Empire Strikes Back

From time to time we share our knowledge of literature, photography, film or any other form art. So when someone you follow and admire begins to share some literature, which is also accompanied by some of most prolific photographs of places, I have only ever heard of and not seen with my own eyes, well you begin to listen with ears pricked.

The context of the book is at first uncertain so I decide to look up the photographer, to get an idea of the person, I realise of course that the photographer is also published on Dewi Lewis Publishing, founded in 1994 its internationally known for its photography list.

I then investigate further and see a name I am familiar with after visiting the Open Eye Gallery, at Mann Island. That name is Charles Fréger he photographed a series of images that depict a link between man and beast and the cycle of life and that of the seasons too.

His work Wilder Mann is an outstanding piece of work, it focuses on the transformation of man into beast through the interpretation of traditional pagan rituals, these rituals differ slightly from region to region as do the images of the beasts.
© Charles Fréger

It reminded me of a conversation I had with British photographer Iain McKell, and the relationship between British identity and traditional beliefs. The conversation took place after meeting Iain at a seminar at Calumet photographic shop in Drummond Street, London.

When you view Iain’s works Beautiful Britain and The New Gypsies we begin to understand the link to identity and the way the people live, all photography is thus a documentary it is a portrait of life.

This style of photography has always had me hooked from the start; I guess it’s the learning process, the education of viewing another culture and learning from that experience through education and stimulation of ones intellect.

I like to think that is what drives me to progress further with my own photography, as I wish to produce much more work, work that will interest a future generation. Who knows it may become something much more than that. I also like to read other blogs too, though am the type of person who likes to censor what blogs I do follow or read, so I specifically choose something of which is relevant to the direction I wish to choose.

So if you’re into wildlife photography, you could follow blogs relative to that subject, so that you become more accustomed to that genre or style of photography work. It is the best way to interact with those you wish to follow.

Other books I found of interest on the list was one that Dougie Wallace had also shared on his own page, this book was relative to the identity of Britain and that of the Britishness that describes our tribe and associates that identity to the old empire, hence the title Empire, the book by British born photographer Jon Tonks is a remarkable collection of photographs that evoke so much emotion considering the current state of the empire. 
© Jon Tonks

Empire is a fascinating journey across the South Atlantic exploring life on four remote islands – the British Overseas Territories of Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and St. Helena ­– relics of the once formidable British Empire, all intertwined through their shared history. - Christopher Lord

Now when I refer to the current state of the empire, I am of course referring to the possible independence of Scotland. Glasgow has recently enjoyed huge success with the commonwealth games. All these people from a wider colonial empire, and in some manner still representing a state of mind of a wider colonial empire whether it is from an Australian perspective or from an Indian.

It’s hard to think if you are only in your youth that Britain was once a huge empire that covered a quarter of the globes landmass. Since that time photography has documented so much and it is great to see that some British photographers, still think of Britain in such a way as to document its ever-changing face.

Which brings me on to the next piece of photographic literature and Dougie Wallace’s third book entitled Shoreditch Wild Life

The new book by Dougie is full of fantastic shots captured in the usual in your face style that has become Dougie’s inspiring, fresh, and evocative trademark. If any you follow his work you will know of his works including Road Wallah which is a fascinating look at the black and yellow Fiat taxis driven in what was known as Bombay now Mumbai, India.

The reason for this was the gradual phasing out for the new sleeker vehicles that would meet European Emission Standards. So those iconic cars had to be documented some how and so it was Dougie Wallace who takes up the mantle and thus creates an interesting look at the culture of Mumbai from a cab drivers perspective. 
© Dougie Wallace

With Shoreditch: Wild Life Dougie Wallace not only proves he’s here very much a street photographer, but a great photojournalist who has the inclination of capturing images that we can relate to in our own little mannerisms, we see ourselves in everyday life, those little nuances of humor we recognise in ourselves that seem to amplify, when captured at 500th of a second.

We begin to see time stop and these moments forever held with the incongruous and evocative style we have come to love from Dougie.

These photographs are very touching and quite dramatically so. If you have not seen his work I suggest you look at “Stags, Hens and Bunnies”. If you have ever been to Blackpool on a weekend for a night out or Stag or Hen weekend you will know how this is for so many couples across the UK and beyond. 
© Dougie Wallace

I myself am always bumping into Stags and Hens in Liverpool, Manchester, and London. I did a couple of trips around the United Kingdom last year for shots on my own book We The People I found Blackpool a great place to shoot as a street photographer, so if you ever venture north of Watford you're in for a great shoot.

Keep your wits about you, and you can progress onto greater things, one thought that always crosses my mind when I am shooting.

What I have learned from Dougie Wallace is be tenacious in your beliefs and you will be rewarded. The human condition opens up all possibilities, so many characters, and so many stories.

All the afore mentioned photographers have developed these skills and honed them to look for and capture the human condition, any gesture a couple hugging, a dog peeing against a piece of street furniture, a cabbie shouting. 

All these things add to the everyday drama unfolding in our lives.

Until the next time, keep clicking. 


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Street Photography Now...

A couple of weeks ago on Flickr, I decided to join the group SPNC. Great groups of street photography enthusiast’s people like you and me who have a love of photography. Although to be honest there are some photographers on there who exclusively just shoot street photography, there are some who shoot random style. 

These random style photographers do have a mind of their own when it comes to this kind of work, they look for multiple layers, negative space in certain locations. Those of you who know me know that too, I enjoy photographing geometry or geometrical shapes in certain situations.

Whilst my main sort of photographic composition, usually involves focusing on triangular and linear compositions, other photographers seem to have the knack of layering with shapes and others combine light and shadow into their work.
I have come to realise something lately, when I look at a past master photographers work, the question which is beginning to form in my mind is this: Is there work still relevant in todays marketplace?

So I go through my list of photographers’ books that I do own or have read their bibliography at least viewed some of their portfolio.  So I typically looked Robert Doisneau and AndréKertész, two very different styles although both shot black and white photographs, Kertész concentrated more on the artistic style of black and white photography photographing a lot of subjects.

Where as Robert Doisneau photographed a lot of street photography, he also shot similar locations to Henri Cartier-Bresson. He focused on shapes, however they’re a lot of photographs shot by Robert Doisneau that one could argue they are actually staged photographs in the street. Indeed one of his most famous photographs Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville)”, was staged although the photograph is not as iconic as Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Sailor kiss on V.E Day it is none the less a fascinating image.  

It is also surrounded by such a huge controversy in today’s street photography ethics; some photographers do not like the use of staging a street shot. Certainly in the case of Doisneau it lead to court battle.
However interesting debate does ensue in this case: 

What this has lead to is me asking more questions about other photographers works, after all those who have studied photography have at some point done some work in a studio.
So does that mean all the past master photographers staged their iconic and most memorable photographs, possibly to some extent.

The irony of it all though for me is if am serious about creating art or am I serious about creating staged art? It’s a dilemma to stage a photograph and make it look as though it is not staged or to shoot some street scene and await something to happen some story to rear its head in such a manner that it does not look contrived.

Such was the dilemma I found to create a photograph that was staged. I decided to try and create a photograph with a couple but not like Doisneau or Eisenstaedt, and re-create the kiss.

I wanted to shoot something like a couple pointing in opposite directions sort of like to imply a couple who don’t ask for directions but use the hands and gesture to each other which way they should go.

What this then states it that all couples eventually go their separate ways? It’s an observation and yes this was a lighthearted one but it is true nonetheless.

If you read the Eric KimStreet Photography blog, you will know that Eric is always focused on what past photographers have taught him by his own observation and study of those photographers.

Eric comes across, as some one who like me, is just as passionate about photography as you and me. This is great stuff okay I admit not every photographer I know owns a Canon 5D or a Leica M for example, two separate pieces of kit on so many levels. The 5D makes a great photojournalist camera, for street photography though it is not practical. 

If you look at the likes of Gilden, Mermelstein, and Meyerowitz they all use Leica cameras, owning a Leica does not make you a great photographer, capturing great moments in time, makes you a great photographer or in the words of André Kertész, it makes you an eternal amateur.

Incredible to think that such a man would consider himself in this way, when his works are still highly regarded today, but is that because to know photography, we have to understand the history of photography.

Yes of course it is, but if we fast forward fifty years or so, and we look at the works of Eggleston and Herzog, we can see that their influence are so far removed from what Kertész was shooting at the height of his career.
They relied heavily on the use of colour and shapes to inform of the world of an art form, which would open your eyes to a new perspective.

The use of colour has greatly influenced me I too have a fondness for colour film and colour digital however with digital I get my instant fix of viewing my images once I get home. Though with film it is a different process and that process of producing a print is one that will stay with you forever once you process your first roll and then produce a series of prints.
A few street photographers combine this art of splicing together a few prints juxtaposed against each other, which is the focus of the next instruction on SPNC.

So why not take a look and get involved, you may remember I talked about the photographer Ray K. Metzker and his combination of splicing together these composites, his works would focus on light and shadow, he would over emphasise the subject matter in such a way that makes it abstract, the overall composition would be focused on shapes depicting a story which included some human element.

Not always did it feature a human element but he concentrated on the geometry of linear, triangular and curves, at differing angles to give a very artistic new wave of interpretation of street photography.

What I would suggest is to look at a series of works by these photographers, then implement it into your own work.

Practice these techniques; look for the groups on Flickr.