For this week’s reflections, I want to discuss my Practice, and where it is going.
My work is ‘Unfinished Stories’. Life is always in motion, every moment creates a sense of place or personality. Having travelled and worked all over the world, my photography is informed by my view that we are more the same than we are different – yet differences reveal stories. Details matter.
I seek intimacy, rapport with and understanding of the subject, whilst asking questions about who people are, what they’re doing, and what concerns them. I deliver to the best standard that I know how: technically, artistically, respectfully, ethically.
The aim is to delight and challenge audiences with engaging and creative story-telling.
Stepping back from this, I locate my practice fairly clearly in ‘documentary story telling’. I do a few professional assignments, most often in the events and reportage category, with an infrequent portrait shoot. I have commented on such shoots before – Andrew Mlangeni, for example.
In that post, I also detailed how I go about interacting with my subjects.
Usually, my portrait work is environmental, such as this shoot of Claire with Digital Camera Magazine.
Occasionally, I shoot more formally, such as for Ellie, an actress who wanted a new ‘head shot’ series.
However, whilst I enjoy portrait work, I prefer to be shooting a story which includes portraits, whether that is an event, a workshop I am giving or a more formal documentary project.
For example, this, of Helen, from a workshop I gave recently on Street Portraits.
I noted my desire to improve my portrait work within the Cambodia project, as part of my recent Oral Presentation. I seem to be pathologically incurable of creating totally ‘deadpan’ images, as I think emotion is part of everyone’s story.
This, from the last Cambodia visit.
Kampong Thma, Cambodia, 2018
I would like to relate my Artist’s Statement to my ‘Professional Location of Practice’. In the statement, there are several key ideas which are particularly important to me.
In this post, I want to explore just one idea.
I have done quite a lot of street photography, and now do workshops on the subject. There is the inevitable debate about the ‘ethics’ of taking street portraits – ranging from ‘I love Bruce Gilden’s work’ to ‘I will never take a photograph which embarrasses someone’, and detours through ‘Don’t take pictures of homeless people’. Personally, I will not publish images which show people in a bad light, if I can avoid it.
This image was well-regarded online, winning a couple of prizes. There is a very direct connection between the subject and the photographer, which I believe adds to its power as an image. I also believe whilst fun, it is a respectful image – it shows the girl’s happiness, and is not making fun of her.
I am not aiming to be a journalist, nor a paparazzi, though when an opportunity arises, I try to take it – even then in a respectful manner.
During the UK Referendum campaign, I came across a UKIP parliamentary candidate who was a little the worse for wear after being at Ascot, and the image was offered to the press. But this is an exception to demonstrate my ‘rule’, and I thought the image ‘fair game’.
Today, I want to tell stories, and any portrait or candid I shoot does not need to embarrass to tell the stories I want to tell. I have separately written on my pursuit of intimacy – defined as rapport with and understanding of my subjects, as in the artist’s statement above. I see this as a natural extension of respect.
I consider this one of my more successful recent portrait series. Arng Yon, Sarath’s mother, and Genocide survivor.
Arng Yon, 2018
As my photography developed, I have found a pretty decent, formal, compositional eye, which reflects my shooting with slide film. You only get one chance, and cropping after the fact is not easily executed.
China, 1979, Agfrachrome
That said, my compositions tend to be ‘formal’ and would benefit from more energy and tension. I do fear this may be cramping my spontaneity.
Today, when I am shooting, I am still conscious of formal composition.
When covering an event, I am mindfully following the sequence of things happening, to be sure I record for the client the critical moments. I also aim to create at least a few images which are out of the ordinary, which offers the viewer a perspective or a drama they might not otherwise get.
A couple of years ago, I was covering an opening night at The Printspace Gallery, for friend and colleague Gavin Mills. He is a professional photographer, but also a successful DJ (one half of ‘Defected’). I wanted to show the fun of the event, and Gavin’s ‘other’ job.
Gavin Mills, London, 2016
That said, did I really capture the photographer side of Gavin? I think not.
I have had Bath for Europe as a Client for a couple of years, and I cover a large number of their events. Like other photographers, I spend time with the client beforehand, to assess more exactly what they are looking for.
The brief always includes branding, capturing the key participants, the flow, audience reaction and so forth. I always include portraits where possible, for example in last year’s coverage of Owen Smith MP.
Owen Smith, 2018
This past week, I did another event shoot, for a group of South West MPs and MEPs, in a public forum on the state of the Brexit negotiations and possible outcomes. Here’s the Client Gallery.
Whilst there were four MPs / MEPs (Claire Moody, Wera Hobhouse, Molly Scott Cato and Julie Girling), I was particularly asked to include ‘action portraits’ of Wera, for social media and her website.
The light in the venue was pretty terrible, and the panel sat most of the time behind a large desk. Not really conducive to great images. And, whilst Wera is a striking figure, she does have a habit of always looking like she is in deep thought.
Bluntly, trying to create candid portraits was really hard work.
Wera Hobhouse MP, 2018
And in the local newspaper (despite their acknowledgement of my copyright – being pursued):
So, what lessons do I draw from all of this.
First, I believe I have captured what my photographic practice is and should be about, in the Artist’s statement. In particular, I think I am getting to grips with what I mean by ‘intimacy’ and ‘respect’. Thanks to this module (and my Cromarty buddies) for pushing me to do more.
Second, my technique is solid and improving. But I need to think about creating tension, and further exploring my own spontaneity.
Third, I need to be even more ‘interactive’ with my clients. For example, I should have insisted on changing the podium around (easy to say in retrospect), to meet their actual brief.
And, fourthly, I have offered to work directly with Wera.