From April to August 2020, our small co-operative of photographers decided to apply our documentary photography skills to tell a story about what seemed to be coming together as one of the most unique summers in recent memory. We started out with the intention of documenting an account of life under the shadow of an emerging pandemic, along with the adjustments required to prevent its spread. We looked at the consequences of lockdown, social isolation, supply shortages, and a permeating sense of unease towards the status quo.
While teaching a recent workshop I joked that street photography was the only genre where people would buy £3k worth of cameras and lenses and then deliberately use them to make out of focus, grainy, imperfect images. This led to a pretty interesting discussion about the merits to imperfection, and I think some of those points are worth sharing here, as it really helped contextualise some of the students ideas about their work, and allowed them to shoot a little more freely, chasing down perfection in moments rather than technicalities.
Figure to ground means that a subject or idea (figure) is clearly defined against a background. This can be achieved through technical means, ie depth of field, or compositional means. My preferred method is to make sure that everything in my photographs fit neatly in place. Unless elements are specifically interacting then they do not need to touch. No lampposts coming out of heads in portraits, no walls going through bodies.
Everything where it needs to be, like pieces of a puzzle.
I started my journey in film photography in late 2016, and have since been working my way through the various film stocks I can get my hands on; in production, expired, experimental or alternative. Kodak Tri-X is usually at the top of most peoples list for films to work with, so when I recently loaded my first ever roll, three years after I started with film, it gave me pause for thought.
Conversations around photographic style have always felt a little odd to me for a few reasons. It’s something I get asked about a lot by my students, as they feel that without a style, a visual signature, then they will fid it very difficult to differentiate themselves from other working artists. So much of today’s communication is done through brands and visual identity that it’s a natural response for photographers to seek to find some way to make these things work for them, and as so much of the photographs themselves act as both product and advertisement many are looking to make their brand inherent to their images. [Read More…]
One of the most powerful applications of photography has been as a tool to document some of the most important moments in recent history, whether that’s in terms of a shared history of the world in the form of photojournalism, or in the more personal history of family snapshots, personal photography, and street photography.
Photography for personal use is prevalent in everyday life perhaps more today than ever before; every dance-floor selfie on a night out is photographic storytelling, every published snapshot in some way contributing to the wider communal pool of stories being told. It is accessible to anyone with a smartphone, and the barrier to entry-level dedicated camera units is immensely low secondhand. Photography is essential in messaging apps, a part of daily communication like never before.
Introduced in 1988, the Nikon F4 was the world’s first professional autofocus camera, and it made its way quickly into the hands of many working photographers. But despite the incredible leap in technology it represented, it was apparently quickly overtaken by the competition, which built on the solid foundation the F4 offered.
Early reviews were kind, but the advances in all areas of camera technology since then have left it more a cult option for today’s users.
After some recent discussions with my peers, I’ve started to feel that “honesty” is an underrated quality in many genres of photography. I’ve given the topic a lot of thought, in order to take some personal steps to ensure my integrity, especially when it comes to what is shown in my images.
When it comes to the idea of honesty I feel there are many different approaches, and that the concept of honest photography is fairly nebulous to begin with. Unless you are a true journalist I don’t think it is always the most important thing to approach subjects with honesty – for example, fine art imagery, landscapes which can use long exposures and filters to manipulate the scene, or fashion where the subject is posed and presented.
One of the best exercises for street photography I ever adopted was to focus my internal monologue into a process of constantly describing what I am seeing. I have always been introspective about the way I work, when it comes to what influences my overarching approach, what draws my eye moment to moment, and what I look for while curating.
I think the question of whether something is or is not art is a bit disingenuous, and can be used more as a tool for gatekeeping than true analysis or critique. There is no objective standard for what makes something enjoyable as a piece of art, whether that is a photograph, music, sculpture, or a blade of grass in a field. However when it comes to the deliberate creation of an artefact I think that the intention of the creator is very powerful, and can offer some strong insight into the way that work can be interpreted.