Photographing Africa – Harry Hook

This documentary, aired on BBC4 on 10 March 2014, followed the search by Harry Hook for five Samburu women he had first photographed as young girls in 1984.  This journey was, in the main, to find out whether they had kept to tradition and remained in the same rural areas or been swept up in the now common migration to the cities.  This also gave him the opportunity to photograph, amongst other subjects, tribal rituals not often seen.

The photographs are absolutely stunning and capture the real essence of Africa and the people he encountered.  What was of great interest to me was seeing the way Harry went about his business and, in particular, his interaction with the people.  From the technical perspective I was intrigued by his use of a portable studio, not least due to the logistics but not what I associate with this type of project; given the beliefs of some of these people I would imagine it might be difficult to persuade some to step into the studio, essentially a black cavern.  His achievements, in my view, notwithstanding his technical skills, expertise and experience, are very much testimony to his whole approach to interacting with the people, both those who become the subject of his photographs and those who are in some way involved.  I am still quite apprehensive when it comes to taking photographs of strangers and remain in the discovery phase, albeit I realise it has much to do with confidence.  What stands out in Harry’s approach is the absolute respect he has for everybody, each and every one is treated as an individual having his absolute attention; no photographs are taken without permission and sincere thanks always given on completion.  I think this must have been pivotal in him being allowed to photograph in the areas he did.  I am photographing a street market tomorrow and intend to engage with the stall holders at the outset!

I very much like the images he creates, they all tell a story either through the eyes of the people and their pose or the dramatic scenes he captures.  The use of the black background to set off the very colourful clothing and accessories, coupled with the lighting gives great character to the portraits. One particular technique that struck me was getting people to mimic objects in the landscape, not obvious at first sight but then it hits you as you study the image.

This programme is well worth a look.

Reference List:

Photographing Africa Dir. Harry Hook.  BBC, UK, 21.00, 10/03/2014, BBC4, 60mins.

Bibliography:

Hook,H. (2014) Harry Hook photography.  Available from: http://www.harryhook.co.uk/ [Accessed 10 March 2014]

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RPS International Print Exhibition 156 – Museum of Somerset

This exhibition of 115 framed prints covers a wide range of styles ranging from traditional to contemporary in both colour and black and white.  It is a very eclectic set of prints and I found it quite difficult to understand what some were trying to portray without reading the accompanying text and even then, in a number of cases, making the connection still eluded me.  With such a mix of subjects I found quite a few images that caused me to move on swiftly which just goes to prove how subjective such exhibitions can be.  From my experience of the study visit to ffotogallery to visit Michal Iwanowski’s ‘Clear of People’ and Paul Gaffney’s ‘We make the Path by Walking’ some of the images would be better presented in a body of work with a theme as, for me, they did not make for a stand alone photograph.

Notwithstanding my comments, this was a good experience as it exposed me to such a wide range of subjects in a single exhibition and the range of emotions that are generated; in my case from absolute delight to abhorrent.  It also makes one think about how the images are selected, what are the drivers for those who make the final choice when faced with such a diverse selection of prints.

Study Visit Michal Iwanowski and Paul Gaffney – ffotogallery, Penarth, 28 February 2014

This study visit was to view the exhibitions by Michal Iwanowski (Clear of People) and Paul Gaffney (We make the Path by Walking).  This was an excellent opportunity to see the work of both photographers in close proximity to compare and contrast their individual approach to their subjects, both in terms of the selected images and how they chose to display them.  For me, as one with limited experience of exhibitions, this visit reinforced the fact that seeing a body of work in a gallery really does so much more for the viewer than seeing the same photographs on-line, or even in a book.  I was also struck, once again, by the impact the layout of the exhibition and the mounting of the individual photographs has on the viewer.  Whilst both of the exhibitions were of landscapes the intent was very different, which, I thought, was reflected in the individual images and their presentation.

Michal Iwanowski, in retracing the journey of his grandfather and great uncle made after escaping from a prisoner of war camp in Russia, portrays very inhospitable landscapes with the occasional glimpse of what must have appeared to those men as absolute luxury in respect of protection from the elements and an opportunity for rest, although it is highly unlikely they would have been able to take advantage of many for fear of capture – is that what Michal is hinting at in his photograph of the bus crossing a somewhat barren landscape or the occasional isolated house?  The photograph of the discarded cabbages lying in a pool of dirty water summed up the survival aspect of this epic journey, living off the land.  Having undertaken some winter survival training in Norway I found myself easily slipping into the landscape and imagining what it must have been like for those two men and all that they endured; puts into perspective just a few nights ‘surviving’ in the open in those conditions.  Certainly for me Michal’s desire to “encourage viewers’ reflection of their own histories and relationship to landscape as an anchor for personal and family experience” came true.  In respect of the layout of the exhibition, I am still unsure as to whether the lack of any indication as to the geographical location of each shot, or indeed having them in sequence with the route, detracts from the impact; on the one hand there is the uncertainty which invokes the imagination but on the other, for those who like to relate things it could be a cause for some frustration – I guess it depends upon which Myers-Briggs Type Indicator you are!

Paul Gaffney’s exhibition, in contrast to Michal’s, is a lot more varied in both content and layout (use of differing heights for displaying the photographs giving some indication of the angle of view and thereby drawing the viewer in and also placing certain images at strategic points to guide the path of the viewer).  Since this reflects a walk of some 2000 miles of varied terrain in order to explore “the act of walking as a form of meditation and its power to induce a heightened sense of awareness of one’s surroundings” it is not surprising that the images are varied as they are surely portrayed to induce different feelings depending upon the landscape being viewed.  Clearly Paul is an exponent of ‘mindful walking’ which, if you try it, does heighten your senses and the surrounds do influence your feelings.  As with Michal’s exhibition there was no indication of the location, although I thought there were groupings of similar terrain and, as you travelled through the exhibition, I felt there was an indication of passing through differing regions as indicated by the topography in the photographs.  As I sit here reflecting on the exhibition I am still unsure as to whether what is being sought by Paul is delivered for me.  Yes, the images are captivating and I know from personal experience that walking in different terrain does influence the inner being but this is also enhanced, or otherwise, by other senses.  In this case I found myself engaged more by the question of where it was and, in some cases, why desecration of the landscape was being perpetrated rather than inducing the concept of meditation as I understand it.  With knowing what this exhibition is seeking to do I accept that the viewer might be encouraged to explore the concept and thereby achieve its aim; perhaps the viewer’s own definition of meditation will influence the feelings these images induce. From a personal perspective, whilst certain photographs, or indeed paintings, are conducive to meditation and one can envisage walking that ground and being mindful of all that is present, I would have to physically walk the ground shown in the majority of Paul’s photographs to discover the concept being postulated – so if it encourages the viewers to try it for themselves then perhaps he has achieved the aim.  Something of a ‘ramble’ on my part but I think, in summary, many of the images in this exhibition generated ‘questions’ rather than ‘feelings’; consider Thich Nhat Hanh (2011, p.197):

During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking – not only the talking outside, but the talking inside.  The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on inside.  Real silence is the cessation of talking – of both the mouth and of the mind.  This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us.  It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence.  It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.

My thanks to Jesse and Helen for running this study visit and it was great to meet other students and exchange thoughts both on the exhibitions and in the following seminar.

Reference list:

Hanh, T. (2011) Your true home the everyday wisdom of thich nhat hanh. Boston: Shambhala Publication, Inc

Bibliography:

Gaffney, P. (2014) We make the path by walking.  Available from: http://paulgaffneyphotography.com/We-Make-the-Path-by-Walking [Accessed 24 February 2014]

Iwanowski, M. (2014) Clear of people.  Available from: http://www.michaliwanowski.com/#/clear-of-people/4577315405 [Accessed 24 February 2014]

 

Ukraine in Flames – The Sunday Times Picture Special

They say a picture paints a thousand words, these certainly do.  With just 15 images the photographers Igor Kovalenko, Brendan Hoffman, Jeff J Mitchell, Andrey Stenin, Jonathan Borzicchi, Efrem Lukatsky, Alexander Sherbakov, Bulent Kilic, Petr Shelomovskiy and Sergey Dolzhenko have captured the real essence of what it meant to be on the streets of Kiev in recent days.  Each picture tells it own story but those of people are the most revealing as you look into their eyes and see a range of emotions; fear, defiance, grief.  Other images are brutal in their depiction of the horrors of the violence on both sides and say a lot, not only about the ferocity of the violence but the inner strength and bravery of the photographers who witnessed the scenes; they obviously put themselves in great danger to record the events at close quarters such that we are able to gauge for ourselves what this nation is going through.

Whilst the majority of the photographs are “graphic” there are two comparatively  tame images which, when viewed alongside one another, I found most telling.  The first shows a line of riot police behind their shields, but protruding between two parted shields is a sniper’s rifle; the second image, a very simple composition, shows a helmet with a hole in it where a sniper’s round has penetrated, placed next to a bunch of flowers.  I was very much reminded of the work of Don McCullin, I wonder how he would have chosen to present this conflict to the world; would he have used Black and White which I think would have made these images more impactful, even darker, as opposed to the colour images here which I imagine is the choice of the newspaper.  Whilst the news footage we see on TV is shocking, sitting here looking at these photographs is more thought-provoking as the more you study them the more they draw you in, it is not a fleeting glimpse quickly put to one side as we move on to the next item.

Research – The work of Don McCullin CBE FRPS

Following the review of my Assignment 2 work which contained one or two fairly “moody” shots and my stated preference for landscape photography my tutor pointed me towards the work of Don McCullin; a photojournalist who covered extensively some of the most brutal wars and conflicts of recent times including Vietnam, the Congo, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Biafra and Bangladesh before developing a profound interest in protecting our countryside and turning his considerable energy and talent towards that goal and, of particular interest for me, his support of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a single website that gives the full spectrum of his work but I found many examples, predominantly his images from the wars and conflicts he has reported.  However, it was very revealing to watch the film produced by Canon, as they courted him into digital photography during a trip to France, which gave an insight to the man and an understanding of his pictures which are, in the main, dark.  Having watched the film and some interviews on YouTube I found myself revisiting his images and being very drawn to them.  His war images are brutal, honest and shocking; they tell the story as it is and despite the horror they convey they are captivating and make you question humanity.  It is therefore not surprising that, as he turned his attention to the countryside, his landscape images also convey a similar darkness but are also captivating and caused me to gaze long and hard at each one;  his use of light is fantastic and in particular the black and white images convey a magical use of tones and textures.  I am truly in awe of the photographs this man makes; look at his work, sit back and reflect.

Bibliography:

BBC. (2013) Don McCullin in his own words. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNeVZjMVn0o [Accessed on 14 December 2013]

Google. (2013) Don McCullin landscape photography.  Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=don+mccullin+landscape+photography&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=KWDJUtKJN5OShgehnYDoBQ&ved=0CDAQsAQ&biw=2560&bih=1235 [Accessed 3 December 2013]

Canon. (2013) Don McCullin feature.  Available from: http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Don_McCullin.do [Accessed 5 January 2014]

Planning and executing coursework

A few lessons learnt in the last week worth recording.  Having previously quickly read through all the exercises leading up to Assignment 1 I thought I had a grasp of the amount of work involved and time required – not so!  As such, I have found it beneficial to produce a mind map of all the exercises so that I have a clear view of what is ahead on a single sheet of paper.  This has enabled me to see where a single location can be used for more than one exercise and the equipment needed, as well as how the exercises build on one another.  Allied to this is the need to get that list of possible locations documented which will save time in matching location to exercise.  Also at this early stage it has become evident that I do not know as much as I thought about photography in general, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and using a blog as a learning log; even what a first seemed fairly simple tasks do not always go to plan, you would have thought that I would have learnt that by now! Finally, cut the procrastination and free up time for reflection!  I guess I have had that “wake up and smell the coffee” moment.