Assignment Four Planning and Preparation

Prior to Assignment Four, I decided to do some planning to fully prepare and thus produce a strong base in preparation for this essay.

– Assignment Brief

The brief for Assignment Four asks that we “Write a 2000 word critical essay on one of the many debates that you’ve explored so far in this course.”

I feel that the best way to begin planning for my critical review is to explore all the requirements that are outlined within the brief, stating how I intend to fulfil these through my essay. I have outlined each of these requirements below, explaining how I plan to meet each. 

The brief stipulates that our critical review is an opportunity to;

  • Explore in greater depth a topic or theme that has informed your journey throughout this course, for example the work or ideas of a particular photographer, an area of photographic practice, a body of work that demonstrates certain ways of working.

This first pointer leads me to decide on a theme of choice for this critical essay. I feel that throughout this module, the controversial issues surrounding ethics within documentary and reportage photography have really intrigued me. Continually whilst researching documentary photographers I have been left with the question of ethics regarding photographing the vulnerable. Should photographing these people sit so comfortably with photographers? Are we removing their rights as humans, and even making ourselves ‘God’ in a way? Therefore this leads to the question and potential title of my essay;

“Is it ethical to photograph the vulnerable?”

I intend to expand this theme to explore what truly makes people vulnerable. Simply being captured unawares creates a vulnerability in itself surely? Along with the obvious elements of vulnerability in the form of photographing nudity, people on the fringes of society, the homeless, the needy, children etc.

  • Engage with some of the theoretical issues explored in the course

I feel that the above issue and title of my essay fulfils this point well, as the ethics of photography was an issue that was explored continually throughout the course.

  • Demonstrate that you’ve developed academically as well as creatively.

I plan to incorporate a great deal of research from both work previously explored on the course, as well as work carried out specifically for this essay. I will use the recommended reading materiel to fully expand my knowledge, and to build a solid argument that explores all the various elements of my debate.

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Exercise- Tribal Portraits: Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent

This exercise asks that we browse the catalogue: Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent, writing a brief reflective commentary in our learning log.

Tribal Portraits is a collection of over two hundred rare images from 1865 right up until today, that work as a large celebration of the African culture. It’s aim is to show this beautiful collection of photographic portraits as art. 

A wide range of contrasting photographers are included in the exhibition, with renowned vintage photographers such as Irving Penn, George Rodgers and Leni Riefenstahl, contrasted with contemporary African photographers such as Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita. This mixture of both Western and African photographers provides a very well rounded and non-bias view of these people throughout the collection.

One of my favourite photographer’s throughout the collection is George Rogers. His images are both deeply fascinating, yet unpretentious. Rogers simply photographs the truth of what he sees. This simplistic and honest style is greatly attractive to me, and I feel that his work truly stands out because of it. His strong compositions work well in photographing the African people subtly within their own culture and setting. An example of this is Rodger’s series of four photographs entitled, ‘The Acholi tribe in Uganda’, capturing the traditional Bwola dance. One of the four has a caption on the back of the photograph: ‘In the dance it symbolises a continuous, unchanging element in the lives of the people – their ancient traditions and tribal lore’.

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“The only “style” George Rodger cared about in a photographic sense was its truth. As a result, his own pictures have a special quality: direct, straightforward, but strongly composed, usually taken at a sufficient distance to show men and women active in their own setting.(1)”
 
This natural and candid style is exactly what attracts me to Rodger’s images throughout this collection. I feel that in my own documentary work, photographing people naturally, truthfully, and un-posed is my preference, and indeed my passion. He continues to show this throughout the collection capturing the ‘Boys from the Wagogo tribe in Tanzania’ wearing special headdresses for the circumcision ceremony. Throughout his work, Rodger’s celebrated ritualistic and ceremonial lifestyle that was key to African tribes.
 
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Leni Riefenstahl who in 1975 had spent sixteen weeks in a great heat among the Kau Nabu said: ‘It had been a time of almost unbearable difficulties and physical strain. Without the urge deeply rooted in me to chase after the unusual and beautiful those pictures would have never been made’. Emphasising the passion that these photographers needed to have for the subject that they were photographing. This knowledge makes the images appear even more beautiful to me as the viewer, as I’m aware of the stuggles the photographers must have faced simply to make beautiful images that did this culture and it’s people justice.

A truly beautiful and insightful collection with some very interesting portrayals of these African people.

 

(1) AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER (2014), George Rodger 1908-1995- Iconic Photographer, Available from: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/how-to/icons-of-photography/534652/george-rodger-1908-1995-iconic-photographer [Accessed 18/08/14]

 

Exercise- The Power of Images; The War Photograph

This exercise asks that we read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work and the curator selected for the exhibition, writing a short press release in our learning log.

The Brighton Photo Biennial’s 2008 programme “Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War“, explores and critiques the transformation and developments within war photography. It consists of over thirty-five various photo-journalists, artists and amateur photographer’s work. This wide range of works explores the hidden elements of war photography, the censorship and the elements of warfare that cannot be represented by a photographic image.

Within the programme, Julian Stallabrass explores photographic images of war, looking at their production, distribution and currency within contemporary society. Stallabrass fears that a mixture of commercialism and staged photography is marring the reality and sincerity of the war photographs published by the media. He worries that this use of censorship, of embedding and staging events, has led to a view of the war that is one-sided and inaccurate.

“Given all the circumstances laid out here, it is unsurprising that widespread suspicion surrounds such photojournalism. News management by the state and the military has made people rightly sceptical of the manufactured images that they see in the newspapers and on TV.”

Therefore, we see that war photography is regularly manipulated in order to show the public only what the media wants them to see. This leads to suspicions and a lack of trust within the public; as we wonder how valid and accurate the images portrayed are.

“The photographs take their place in a press that has become degraded in public opinion, and is (often rightly) thought of as unreliable, gullible, mendacious and venal.”

Assignment Three- Tutor Feedback

 

I was very pleased with my tutor feedback for assignment three. I chose to capture a narrative based on the Belfast Continental Market, and carried out great planning and preparation for this task. I feel that all my research prior to shooting resulted in a well structured and well photographed assignment that was of a high standard. My tutor agreed with this, and I was delighted with his comments. Below you will find some of my tutor’s positive and negative comments, along with any changes which were implemented in accordance with these.

Positive Feedback

“The assignment conveys a good sense of the atmosphere of the market with imagery that shows very good conceptual progression. The images show development in your approach and the positive effect on your image making of your researches.” I feel that this highlights how my work is improving throughout this module, and emphasises how my research prior to photographing impacted positively upon my photographic work.

Image 2-

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“Of the stall holders I think this is your strongest image. It’s not a conventional moment that most people casual photographers would choose; it’s much richer and more engaging. Well done!” I loved this image, and so was very pleased with this comment. I feel that my own unique style and perspective is beginning to burst through in my work, and this is shown through this image.

 

Image 6-

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“The burger shot is very atmospheric with the steam and smoke and in tribute to Winogrand feels very New York and candid. It’s another strong one in the series in terms of evocation. It’s making me hungry!” This image is a strong example of where my research prior to photographing paid off. Using tips from fellow photographers such as Winogrand, I was able to produce an evocative and atmospheric image that gave a great sense of the feel of the event.

Images 7&8-

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“They’re a strong pair which again show how your research has moved on your image making and the efficacy of using a wide angle and getting in close. The second one of the character is glasses is the most sophisticated image you’ve produced on this module so far.” Again, very high praise from my tutor which truly encouraged me forwards in my documentary photography. I took a few risks within these images; using a wide-angle for image eight in order to get in close to the subject. I feel that coming out of my comfort zone when photographing street photography really works to improve my imagery; and these comments are proof of that.

 

Negative Feedback

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“This is one of the ones that I feel could have benefited from a bit more processing. The cheese in the foreground is rather blown out and the shadows in the background rather blocked up, so I’ve used the Shadows/Highlights control on it, overall and selectively to put more tone into the highlights and more detail into the shadows. I’ve also cropped it a bit tighter to lose some distracting extraneous things just clipping the edge of the frame.” I took this advice on board, and made the suggested changes to improve the quality of the image. You will find my before and after images below.

Before:

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After:

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 Image 4-

“I think the ‘pasta moment’ was well chosen; he’s looking at it as if he’s wondering what it is that he’s pulled out of the water. Again perhaps a little more shadow detail is in order.” I made the following changes to the shadow detail in accordance with this comment. Please find my before and after versions below.

Before:

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After:

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My tutor was pleased with my narrative flow throughout, feeling that there was a strong connection between the images, and that they portrayed the theme well. However, he felt that the final two images would have been stronger had they also been food related.

“We are presented with the theme which ostensibly seems to be visually about food, eventually we see two people eating the food but apparently in a different location and then we go back for a couple more non-food stalls. Having established the focus as food then from a thematic narrative point of view it might have been better to stick with the making, selling and consumption of food; with more shots of people eating distributed through people preparing and selling. I think that would have seemed to have more of an intention, a story about food consumption. The last two images, while being effective in their own right seem like part of a different story.” I loved my final two images; and whilst upon reflection, I agreed that I could have chosen a food consumption theme and ran it throughout, this was not what I had planned and prepared for, and thus to change the images now would be to remove my honest experience and view of the event. The market was very much centred around food, but there was definitely a great deal of crafts and other stalls available; so to portray anything other than this would be to do the event itself an injustice. I feel that I photographed the event exactly how I saw it, and how I feel that other visitors would also see it, and therefore this was the narrative which I portrayed.

Final Tutor Comments

Good research that has really improved your outcome in terms of image making and approach; often students don’t manage to really reflect their research in their finished results, you have. Well done!

To conclude, I feel that this was one of my strongest assignments thus far, and I am extremely pleased with the comments and feedback given by my tutor.

 

For further reference, you will find my tutor’s feedback in full below.

Overall Comments

The assignment conveys a good sense of the atmosphere of the market with imagery that shows very good conceptual progression.

Feedback on assignment

The images show development in your approach and the positive effect on your image making of your researches.

It’s a very good introductory image, the character is open and friendly, addressing us directly and welcoming us to the series.

The head set and the stall tells us a lot about the situation already.

It was a technically challenging situation which on the whole you’ve handled very well, getting what was important to get sharp in focus.

The series could have amounted to a lot of ‘to camera’ portraits of the stall holders, good for the first image but variation was needed and you’ve supplied that in the second image and I think this is one, as you say, where the influence of your research particularly shows.

Of the stall holders I think this is your strongest image. It’s not a conventional moment that most people casual photographers would choose; it’s much richer and more engaging. Well done!

The next one transcends the typical portrait because of the boar’s head in the top right corner.

This is one of the ones that I feel could have benefited from a bit more processing.

The cheese in the foreground is rather blown out and the shadows in the background rather blocked up, so I’ve used the Shadows/Highlights control on it, overall and selectively to put more tone into the highlights and more detail into the shadows.

I’ve also cropped it a bit tighter to lose some distracting extraneous things just clipping the edge of the frame.

I think the ‘pasta moment’ was well chosen; he’s looking at it as if he’s wondering what it is that he’s pulled out of the water.

Again perhaps a little more shadow detail is in order…

I think the paella is the weakest shot both in composition, interest and technical quality.  Also the sudden change to a portrait format is jarring.

One can use that as an intentional effect to give one’s audience a jolt but in general it’s best to maintain the same, if not very similar, aspect ratio through a whole series.

The burger shot is very atmospheric with the steam and smoke and in tribute to Winogrand feels very New York and candid.

It’s another strong one in the series in terms of evocation. It’s making me hungry!

The two eating shots have a very different feel to the rest because the preceding ones feel night time and closed in whereas with these we’ve been chucked out into the street and surprisingly it’s a bright cold day.

They’re a strong pair which again show how your research has moved on your image making and the efficacy of using a wide angle and getting in close.

The second one of the character is glasses is the most sophisticated image you’ve produced on this module so far.

A point on the previous one; the sky is blowing out in the top left hand corner so the frame is bleeding into the border. A quick fix for this condition is to reduce the white point to 247 with the Levels control.

In terms of sequencing I’m not sure whether putting them together is the best strategy or not. I can see they make a buffer between the food counters and the other sorts of goods.

I think this points out a weakness in terms of narrative flow…

‘Present your viewer with the theme, further developments and complications and, finally, a resolution…’

We are presented with the theme which ostensibly seems to be visually about food, eventually we see two people eating the food but apparently in a different location and then we go back for a couple more non-food stalls.

Having established the focus as food then from a thematic narrative point of view it might have been better to stick with the making, selling and consumption of food; with more shots of people eating distributed through people preparing and selling.

I think that would have seemed to have more of an intention, a story about food consumption.

The last two images, while being effective in their own right seem like part of a different story.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

Good research that has really improved your outcome in terms of image making and approach; often students don’t manage to really reflect their research in their finished results, you have. Well done!

Exercise- To Print or Not to Print

This exercise asks that we read Claire Cozen’s article about Guerrero’s photograph, stating what we would have done had we been the editor of a British broadsheet newspaper.

The decision making process on what does and does not get published does not always lie with the photographer, but in fact, the editor or the publisher of the media outlet itself. The photographer simply shoots for their individual project or assignment, then hands the images over to the editor to do what he or she feels is appropriate with the image. In the following case outlined, many editors took varying decisions on publishing a specific photograph from the 2004 Madrid train bombing.

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The graphic image appeared on several newspapers, in several different forms. The offending object within the image was a bloodied limb, which some editors either removed, replaced, or coloured in, in an attempt to make it less offensive to the public. We are asked in this exercise to consider our reaction to this editing, and state what we would do in a similar situation.

I feel that the context of the actual image has not been dramatically changed. The image still shows the aftermath of the horrific event in full; with great emphasis on the victims who are being treated. It has however still been changed and adjusted to ultimately remove some fact from the image to suit the editor’s own tastes. This is not something I would personally have done. For even without the accusing limb, the photograph itself is still extremely harrowing and upsetting to the viewer, and so therefore I feel that the inclusion of the limb would really not have made much difference, except to keep the integrity of the image in tact. For where is the line drawn when manipulating images in such a way? And how can the public ever hope to trust the media when they alter facts to suit themselves?

All photographs that portray violence or terrorism are going to offend the viewer, but the editor’s decision must simply be whether to publicise that specific image or not. The decision to alter the image to remove ‘some offence’ should never be an option. Perhaps in this specific case, the image should not have been published at all. For who really wants to see their loved ones stray body parts splattered all over the newspaper?

 

 

Exercise- The Ethics of Aesthetics

This exercise asks that we read the blog post- The Ethics of Aesthetics, writing a comment both on the blog page and in our blog.

This post discusses the worst drought in Africa in 60 years, and explores one specific body of photographic work by Alejandro Chaskielberg that focuses on this plight within the region.

Chaskielberg’s work uses a mixture of flash and moonlight to create a three-dimensional quality that holds great visual appeal. His images blur the lines between reality and fiction; containing a dream like element that depicts the subjects as characters in what could be their own magical dream land. However, do these moonlit images depict the plight of the people accurately?

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There seems to be a strong sense of contradiction between these calming, magical images, and the realities and struggles of the people in them. The two simply don’t co-inside. For a charity-appeal, these images contain little to no urgency; but only work to make these issues seem almost fictional to the viewer; undermining the message completely.

When discussing aesthetics within images, Martha Rosler states that “The very notion of fundamental ‘aesthetic rightness’ is flawed, and notions of classical beauty lead one away from the real world into an aesthetic eternality.(3)” This highlights the theory that aesthetics within these type of images remove from the real messages that are pleading and crying out to be portrayed.

However, one could argue that whilst Chaskielberg’s images are somewhat unorthodox; they do in fact portray the subject with total dignity. This is something that many other photographers, such as William Willoughby Hooper do not do. But surely there must be a balance between the two? For the subject’s dignity has remained in tact, yet the message has been completely lost in the fiction of the whimsical aesthetics of the image.

I think photographers such as Rankin and Stoddart reach a compromise between the two, as they photograph the issues in a starkly honest, yet beautiful way, but the dignity of the people still remains in tact. Their work portrays the issues honestly and effectively with minimum use of pleasing, yet fake aesthetics to do so. For to truly capture the plight of a subject; one must not worry about the aesthetics of the image, but must simply capture an honest and sensitive interpretation of the subject and the issue outlined. The image below by Rankin underlines the issue of lack of food within South America. It portrays a woman holding an entire days worth of food in her hands. The message is brutal, but the image is beautiful. Thus we see the perfect balance that every photographer should strive to adhere to in order to accurately and effectively portray an issue.

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(1-2) BBC NEWS (2012), In pictures: Combating drought in the Horn of Africa, Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-16582481 [Accessed 14/08/14]

(3) Grange, Ashley la (2013), Basic Critical Theory for Photographers, Taylor & Francis

(4) THE GUARDIAN (2011), Rankin Photographs Famine in East, Available from: Africa http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/gallery/2011/oct/14/kenya-rankin-famine-in-pictures#/?picture=380426311&index=1 [Accessed: 14/08/14]

Exercise- Imaging Famine

This exercise asks that we read the booklet ‘Imaging Famine’, carrying out research across printed and online media, finding examples that illustrate or challenge the issues highlighted in the document.

‘Imaging Famine’ initially discusses how various disasters including the Ethiopian Famine were portrayed within the media, and the controversy or success of the methods used. This leads to a deep discussion about the portrayal of famine throughout the media; aiming to draw the publics attention to these issues, and to encourage further reflection from all involved in producing these images. Imaging Famine aims to draw attention to the morality of the images that portray famine; endeavouring to reignite debate on the topic, and ultimately set codes and guidelines to those who are photographically documenting these sensitive issues.

The shocking images used as illustrations throughout the article consistently show emaciated, naked and vulnerable people with what appears to be little or no dignity. Whilst this does work effectively as a shock tactic to report the issues, and raise awareness of the plight of these regions; do the individuals photographed need to have their dignity stripped away so dramatically? And does this ultimately just distract the viewer from the real message of the photograph by dramatizing and embellishing on the actual issues themselves? Portraying the truth is indeed vital, but doing so in such a drastic manner surely only works to undermine and mock the very people for whom we are trying to help.

Documentary photography has the power to instigate change within our society, thus photographers have a huge responsibility to accurately and sensitively portray controversial issues. However, this is not always the case, and there are many differing methods used throughout the photographic community. Photographer Tom Stoddart’s iconic image below captures a real life act of greed.

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A well-nourished Sudanese man steals maize from a starving child during food distribution at a medecins sans frontieres feeding centre, Ajiep, Sudan, in 1998 (2)”

This image does not expose any unnecessary nudity; nor does it sensationalise on the issue. It simply highlights the facts, emphasising the plight of this third world country, and bringing it to the attention of the western world’s media. This image alone forced the world to act to help this country. It did not sensationalise, it did not embellish, it simply told the real story as it happened; no posing, no staged photography; just facts. When speaking of his photograph, Stoddart says the following;

“The picture shows something that happens every second in Africa and other Third World countries. My job is to bring back telling images. This one moved people and still does, so I did what I was there to do. I’m very proud of my work from Sudan.(3)”
 
In stark contrast to these methods, we have photographer William Willoughby Hooper, an amateur photographer who had the famine sufferers of Madras (1876-78) brought to his studio where he took documentary photos of them, after sorting them by age, gender and status. He would then proceed to send these poor victims back to their homes without giving them food, help or treatment!
 
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Thus we see that not only can photographer’s exploit through their images, but also through their methods of capturing these images. This photographer’s eyes were so set on making great photos that he completely lost sight of any concept of humanity whilst doing so. These starkly cruel and callous methods surely completely undermine the value of Hooper’s photography? Whilst his images truly do shock the viewer to action, his lack of respect for the dignity of his subjects shows a method that exaggerates and revels in the issues portrayed rather than sympathising with and accurately representing them.
 
 
(1-3) AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER (2014), Famine in Sudan by Tom Stoddart- Iconic Photography, Available from: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/how-to/icons-of-photography/535579/famine-in-sudan-by-tom-stoddart-iconic-photograph [Accessed 14/08/14]
 
(4-5) WORDPRESS (2011),  Iconic Photos, W. Willoughby Hooper on Famine, Available from: