Photographic Literature

Well I have been doing a lot of research lately mainly for the process of attending University to study Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. So even though I have not been given a reading list as such as yet, I thought I would purchase a few books to get me started.

The first book on the list is Don McCullins’ book, which features an introduction by Harold Evans, former Editor of the Sunday Times and The Times, a leading authority on photojournalism, who worked closely with Don McCullin during most of his career with the Sunday Times Magazine.  The introduction also features an essay by Susan Sontag, the distinguished novelist, essayist and author of On Photography (1977).

Don McCullin
© Don McCullin
The book pans out over thirteen photo chapters depicting some of the most compelling and evocative photographs one will ever see from this era of photography, captured by one of the most unique photojournalists the world ahs ever witnessed.

It starts with McCullin gaining status through his work covering the gangs of Seven Sisters Road, London to the late winter sun of the north against the backdrop of working class towns like Bradford and Hartlepool. 

What’s more McCullin shows us how even the most non-believer can experience a spiritual moment in the embattled war theatre of Huế, Vietnam. One of his works depicts a US Marine being supported by two others as though he was the Christ, being taken down from the cross.

The ability to convey such emotion in one photograph leaves one yearning for more. I can see those little facets of life, throughout his works. He is an incredible photographer, the evocative style though dark manages to capture the harsh reality of these places, a series of images from Biafra, really struck a chord with me especially since I view the date and realise I was born when these photographs were captured. 

Don McCullin
© Don McCullin

Though I was young some of the images in Belfast and London I can relate to, I remember these places from my own childhood. So is this how I should view them? That reasoning alone seems very isolated and maybe I should look closer to the works he shot in Bangladesh as I plan to visit this region of Asia myself.

It is known that Bangladesh has held the captive audience of the world for many reasons; one is a realisation that the people though poor are very hardworking during the floods of 1971; McCullin captured some of the most harrowing images of the region. The monsoon season on the Indian border with Bangladesh depicts the people living with the epidemic of Cholera.

Ten million people were displaced during this time, 10,000 refugees arrived daily some showing signs of the disease Cholera. Similarly too, the photographer Bruno Barbey captured the refugees setting up makeshift shelters from the irrigation canal tubes in the suburbs of the city 1971.

All these images convey differing emotions for the respective viewer, whoever he or she may be. When one views the photographs, its not hard not to see how these moments could haunt you. So is the explanation for why McCullin captures the most dramatic photographs of the beautiful picturesque Somerset landscape? 

Though McCullin has gone to the fore as they by visiting Syria with his cameras, he has captured what is unquestionably his style that we have known him for all these years. 

Yes there are other photographers, but how do other photojournalists compare to McCullin? He shoots exclusively in black & white, when shooting B/W one key aspect of this is how we are not bombarded with mixed messages conveyed in the work. No colour to confuse the viewer instead we get the opposite we get the ‘truth’ because in old money everything in black and white was perceived as such the truth.

Another aspect to Don McCullin is he had the inclination to follow up a story, just as other photographers like Bruce Gilden staying in Haiti, after the earthquake. He managed to subsequently follow up the aftermath, which resulted in a prolific piece of work, and add another string to his bow in the process.

Looking at these past photographers we begin to see how photojournalism starts to pan out, on the other hand documentary photography is something of which the photographer Vladimir Milivojevich (AKA Boogie). Boogie has documented his homeland of Belgrade, Serbia during the crisis that ravaged his country of birth.

He found his style whilst shooting and documenting the civil war, going on to places such as Sao Paolo, and Istanbul to document life in those regions of the globe, he was granted in 1997 a Green card for United States lawful permanent residency through its Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery program. 

This then gave him the opportunity of photographing gang culture in the US he became closely involved with people on the margins of society, and this created another monograph entitled Its All Good a gritty and graphic account of the gang culture, the photographs depict some gang members holding Glock pistols some customised to reflect the owners gang membership. Others the harsh reality of those who are addicted to drugs. 
Vladimir Milivojevich
© Vladimir Milivojevich

Obviously the only so called street photography Don McCullin has captured is those scenes in Britain during the fifties and sixties. Would you call it street photography or documentary photography a lot photographers who shoot in the street will tell you they do not like that term.

Opting for documentary photography, it is after all a coined phrase from those who shoot elsewhere such as a studio or a landscape.

Though there is one photographer whose work is solely based on the London Underground. I first found the likes of photographer Bob Mazzer through keeping up to date with Hoxton Press, and Dewi Lewis publishing

Who feature many British photographers; namely Bob Mazzer, and the likes of MartinParr, Brian Griffin, Chris Killip and Graham Smith among others.

In Underground we find British photographer Bob Mazzer whom began working as a projectionist in a porn cinema in the seventies, Mazzer began photographing on the tube during his daily commute, creating irresistibly joyous pictures alive with humour and humanity. 

The photographs take me back to my childhood when I used to go and visit my grand parents in Wandsworth; my grand father was a Prison Doctor. So he used to look after the inmates and obviously, so many characters from that time, used to commute around London too.
Bob Mazzer
© Bob Mazzer

I remember the toilets on the underground would have a guy who could shave you, or even polish your shoes. Times have changed but these wonderful photographs from Bob Mazzer take me back. 

Its great to view these photograph’s, from a British perspective. Similarly the photographs of Iain McKell give the same elated feeling, it is the connection one gets when you can relate to the subject matter.

Either by association of placement i.e. living in London or by a connection to the subject through the medium itself, and that of photographing people. This is the main reason I moved from photographing landscape to photographing people.

Unless you can capture some form of evocative emotional content in the landscape, then it just a landscape; meaningless sometimes tranquil yet totally inept of conveying a message so desired, which could be much more if it showed some human element. 

A number of collaborations were conceived during the fifties, sixties and seventies by a number of well-known photographers. The book Three From Britain contains a number of photographs from Chris Killip, Martin Parr and Graham Smith. They cover areas of interest such as Lynemouth (Chris Killip) documenting the people who would collect sea coal off the beach from the nearby power station.

Whilst Parr shows us his unique perspective on life in Britain, sharing with us he composes deeply saturated photographs, which highlights the seeming prosperity of the era, and the ever burgeoning of a middle class Britain and its newfound wealth.
Martin Parr
© Martin Parr

The photographs depict garden parties, and shopping trips, which have become the pageant of a comfortable middle class life. Next up Graham Smith and his collection over a period of a decade shows us the working class, some family and friends and the pubs they frequented.

These images can be a keepsake of Britain, not just because since the turn of the century, but rather the millennium people nowadays are witnessing the ever decreasing working men’s pubs, and social club closures that reflect a Britain that was living through a darker period, a time when strikes were rife, electricity shortages were being rolled out. 

These images are a stark contrast in relation to each other, though albeit they make for a unique portrait of Britain. This area of photojournalism is a very broad view, as a photo documentary they show differing stories that make up a bigger picture.

I have purchased a few books for my own private collection, so I am always on the look out for new or old work by British photographers.
One thing to remember then is no matter how trivial your work or subject matter may be, the stories far out way the length of time it takes to be discovered. The discovery of Vivian Maier proves that.

Until the next time, laters.