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]

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]