Category Archives: Part 1: The Photograph as Document

Exercise: Street Photography style

Exercise
Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why? OCA

I chose a street in Marseilles which is about two kilometers long. In fact the street name changes but it is still the same street. This is a fairly tough area so I had to be very careful especially in the light of recent events  in Paris. There were as many gendarmes on the street of Marseilles as ordinary people. Everyone was watching everyone else. It was very disquieting. I love Marseilles with a passion and I especially love the areas which have not yet been gentrified.

I was reasonably happy with the set of images and printed out the contacts sheets. I put these into my physical learning log. This enabled me to see which images looked best in colour and which in B&W. I will put in a couple after the contacts with the reasons why I think they work best in one or the other genre.

Contacts for Marseille street in colour

Contacts for Marseille street in colour

Contact for Marseille street in B&W

Contact for Marseilles street in B&W

Blvd Athens from Gare St Charles

Blvd Athens from Gare St Charles

I chose B&W for this image because I think it gives an old fashioned look to the srteet. there is nothing singled out in the original coloured image.

Red watering can

Red watering can

This had to be coloured as the red watering can brings out the action of the man washing his sweeping brush outside the very colourful Bollywood creations shop….

young man on the steps

young man on the steps

The ‘colour’ in this image added nothing so ‘take it out’..

The Family

The Family

The woman’s cloths and the little fellow’s yellow jacket added to the vibrancy of this image. it had to be coloured.

I used this criteria to study all my images and I circled those I though best either in B&W or colour, in my physical learning log. I will add an image of it here.

phtsical_log_sm

 

marseille_37_bw_smThis is one of the street scenes. The children spotted me raising the camera and behaved as children used to do – one of them pointed a pretend gun at me. I wish I had been closer or had a better zoom but here it is with the children cut out and highlighted.

marseille_37_bw_cut_out

 

P3: Reportage

We are asked to

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.
• What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly
black and white?
• Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s
work)?
• How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

Before reading the introduction to this research in our notes I would have always thought of reportage as news story reporting.

I started by looking at the work of Joel Sternfeld. and came across his book entitled On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam (1). I struggled to find a purpose in it. The images are of  sites where tragedies have occurred and are apparently untitled. So if the viewer is not familiar with the place or indeed the tragedy then the images have a beauty but no meaning. In reportage I think meaning matters so the text on the opposite page is, in my view, absolutely essential. It is a sort of indulgence project. He uses large format images and they are indeed starkly beautiful. They fit, in my opinion into the genre of “late photography”.

Helen Levitt is, in my opinion, the epitomy of a “street photographer”. Her images are full of life, interest and information. People within are unconcerned with the photographer they are going about their business, children are playing unselfconsciously also unaware or uncaring that they are being photographed. Children today are very conscious of being photographed. They tend to pose as they are being continuously photographed by their parents.The article on Levitt in Atget Photography.com (2) offers  the following possible explanation for the lack of spontaneity of modern street images.

..children have forgotten how to pretend with style, and the women how to gossip and console, and the old how to oversee

Another possible explanation for the candid nature of her images is that she apparently used a ‘winkel sucher’ on her Leica which allowed her to point the camera in one direction while taking a photograph in another. An interesting fact about Levitt’s life, also learned from  Atget Photography.com(2), was that she spent most of her life as a cinematographer. This site also contains links to a number of videos of Levitt’s work. Levitts work in the 30’s and 40’s, like the other work of this period, was in black and white.

Levitt seems to have moved seamlessly from black and white to colour. Her work lost none of its vigour The following two images I feel demonstrate this. I don’t think she was ever concerned with surrealism. Her images are captured moments as they happened or as she saw them.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 13.10.04                               Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 13.09.46

Levitt was Joel Meyerowitz’s senior by twenty five years but I would think she was ahead of her time in adapting so easily to colour. Meyerowitz was an early advocate of colour and according to Wikipedia

he taught the first color course at the Cooper Union in New York City

Meyerowitz started his career as an art director and designer and it was following a meeting with Robert Frank that he realised that he wanted to become a photographer. He could not wait to go out and capture the sensual, aesthetic moments on the street which, after watching Frank at work, he could suddenly see all around him.(3)

For Meyerowitz it is all about relationships within the frame and indeed continuing outside into the 360 ° panorama. It is for this reason he uses a Leica which has the viewfinder to one side allowing him to use the uncovered eye to take in what is outside the camera’s frame. There is nothing surreal about most of Meyerowitz’s images as with Levitt they are a capture of what happened in front of him. Except perhaps his images of ground Zero.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 14.07.13

Joel Meyerowitz New York City 1963

I am not sure if irony about nationality was intended in his images but certainly in this image it could, for me, only be of an American even if the title of the book “The American Character” was not legible. On this subject of irony the late street photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, has a wonderful image which, for me, is full of irony:

Gay Parade Manhattan, New York 1997Gay Parade, Manhattan, New York 1997

 

 

The photographers we have been asked to research are all well know in the genre of Street Photography but I wanted to see other photographers so I asked Dr Google… I found the following interesting street photographers.

Zack Arias, Street, London

Zack Arias, Street, London

 

Zack Arias (4) who works mostly in colour but he did have one image in B&W on his street gallery. I studied it to see why he had made this particular image B&W. It’s a great image but why he chose to make it B&W I don’t know

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 13.44.37

Shots (5) works both in colour and B&W. It is more obvious in his work which images he published as colour and which in B&W. many of his colour images have really blue skies, others have graffiti or colours on the background. His B&W images are cleaner, simpler. Maybe that’s the key…

Anna Delaney

Anna Delaney: Delicious Shakes

 

I found Anna Delaney’s work amazing. (6). It is all B&W, all close ups, mostly of black subjects. In the index “Places” there are sometimes people but they are part of an overall image not necessarily the main subject of the whole.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 14.16.11

Richard Sandler

 

Richard Sandler’s work (7) is also impessive. I love it but I found his site frustrating to use. It is all B&W. The work is stark and gritty, often funny and containing social comment.

 

 

I had decided to look at the above photographers before I look up Martin Parrs work with which I was already fairly familiar. He works (I think) exclusively in colour. His colour is vivid and garish which accentuates the subjects. The images are often full of fun. His Benidorm images are an amusing look at, almost certainly, British tourists in Benidorm. The people in the images are very white and often very fat. These images may be fun but they are a pretty grim statement about his fellow countrymen. In general I do not particularly like Martin Parrs work.

Since I was looking at street photographer in colour I looked at the images of Matt Stuart (9) which I find more interesting than Parr. It is funny without resorting to the grotesque. Many of his images appear to be just happenstance but he was able to seize the moment and the resultant images are superb.

None of the above photographers images are in the style of Cartier Bresson. Most photographers, working today, have their own style and don’t feel the necessity to follow the C-B style. For me these photographers’ work is more interesting than Cartier-Bresson. He used a 50mm lens which is fairly unforgiving and restrictive but he managed to produce exceptional work. Modern cameras and lens help photographers to work at a distance while still producing sharp images. The scope of their work is wider.

I struggle with the decision of when to make an image in black and white and when to use colour. James Maher in an interview with Eric Kim (8) says the following:

If color doesn’t add anything to a scene, then I take it out

However he does admit that:

Color can enhance a humorous or playful situation.

Colors can enhance any mood if used correctly. Blues can help a photo feel more melancholy, reds more vibrant or angry, browns or muted colors more gritty or dreary.

 

  1. Sternfeld, J, 1997. On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam . 1st ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  2. Helen Levitt / Biography & Images – Atget Photography.com / Videos Books & Quotes. 2015. Helen Levitt / Biography & Images – Atget Photography.com / Videos Books & Quotes. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Helen-Levitt.html. [Accessed 07 December 2015].
  3. Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time | Photography | Phaidon Store. 2015. Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time | Photography | Phaidon Store. [ONLINE] Available at: http://fr.phaidon.com/store/photography/joel-meyerowitz-taking-my-time-9780714865027/. [Accessed 07 December 2015].
  4. Photography By Zack Arias. 2015. Photography By Zack Arias. [ONLINE] Available at: http://beam.zackarias.com/#!/index/G0000d6rczdaBCK4. [Accessed 11 December 2015].
  5. Photography by Shots 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://9shots.co/blog
  6. Photography by Anna Delaney 2015. Photography by Anna Delaney. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.annadelany.com/ [Accessed 11 December 2015]
  7. Richard Sandler. 2015. Richard Sandler. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.richardsandler.com/. [Accessed 11 December 2015].
  8. Black and White or Color in Street Photography: How Do You Make the Decision?. 2015. Black and White or Color in Street Photography: How Do You Make the Decision?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/06/07/black-and-white-or-color-in-street-photography-how-do-you-make-the-decision/. [Accessed 11 December 2015].

P1: Documentary & Social reform (on documentary photography) (1981)

It must be noted that Rosler’s essay on Documentary Photography,(1) was written in 1981. We are reading it with the gift of hindsight.

She sets out to review the path of Documentary photography from its first appearance but the path she weaves is a bit convoluted. She was not impressed by the work or the effectiveness of the early documentary photographers. In her notes she seems to make an exception for Hine although this is not evident in the main essay. I don’t think she takes into account the circumstances under which these early photographers were working. They were very often working to a brief. This is especially the case for the FSA photographers. As we see from our notes:

Stryker would give the photographers lists of photographs he wanted them to find, for example. One such list for ‘Summer’ (Dyer, 2006, p.4) included:

  • Crowded cars going out on the open road. Gas station attendant
    filling tank of open touring and convertible cars.
  • Rock gardens: sun parasols; beach umbrellas; sandy shores with
    gently swelling waves; whitecaps showering spray over sailboat in
    distant horizon.
  • People standing in shade of trees and awnings. Open windows on
    street cars and buses; drinking water from spring or old well; shady
    spot along bank – sun on water beyond; swimming pools, rivers, and
    creeks.

 

However these restrictions do not excuse the blatant ‘staging’ of many of these ‘sets’ to obtain images which would ‘force’ change’ by confronting the middle classes with photographic evidence of the plight of the poor. Although Rosler claims that nothing was ever won by someone for someone else, through documentary photography, unless it is the collection of funds for those suffering in far away places, the FSA photographs did, in fact, influence change.

We need to ask if ‘change’ is the sole purpose of documentary photography. Can it not also be seen as a historical record. Rosler admits that this can, in fact, be the case when she considers the photographing of the Native American Indians. The descendants of these people would have had no record if it had not been for these, albeit staged, records.

She describes the people in many of the early documentary photographs as ‘victims’. There is something in this as in the case of Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Mrs Thompson. the ‘model’ for this image, tried, unsuccessfully, to get the photograph suppressed as she felt she had got nothing from it. It is hard to say if Rosler in on the side of Lange, the photographer, or on that of Mrs Thompson when discussing the image. She quotes Lange as saying of Mrs Thompson

“She thought that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.”

but Rosler does not voice her own opinion as whether she thinks Mrs Thompson had been exploited or not preferring to use the opinion of an unnamed ‘ehtical’ photographer friend who claimed that Mrs Thompson had not, in fact, been exploited as she had agreed to have her image taken.

However I do not think one could describe the people in Jacob A Riijs Bowery images as victims. They were willing participants in the staged imagery, probably for very little recompense though.(2)

Rosler calls this early type of documentary photography “Liberal Documentary” Its message was to carry information about poverty, oppression and misfortune from powerless people to the socially powerful people with the intention of stimulating their conscience without their having to get involved with reform.

Her review jumps from these early documentary photographers to the 1960’s and 70’s when concerned travel documentary photography became ‘fashionable’. Photographers like the Smith’s, brought to her attention by Alan Sekula, went to Minemata, Japan, to photograph the devastation caused by the Chisso chemical firm. She is cynical about how the editor, Jim Hughes, portrays the Smith’s work in Camera 35 magazine. However in her notes she admits that their work seemed to have brought about change to that region.

It is evident Rosler was trying to make a case for ‘truth’ and ‘ethical standards’ in Documentary photography. She worked with Alan Sekula to try to introduce these standards. However her language often portrays very little understanding of misfortune. She mocks the new political correctness of the ’80s when alcoholism is referred to as ‘substance abuse’. Throughout her review of the early documentary photographers she  refers to ‘drunks, bums and down and outs’. What she fails to see is that alcoholism or drug addiction is no respecter of class. It is just more evident in poorer neighbourhoods, like the Bowery. it still remains behind closed doors in the wealthier parts of New York and elsewhere but the poor are out there to be exploited photographically perhaps for the price of a bottle of beer.

She introduces her own images of the Bowery, made in 1974-75,  as an attempt to show the area without victimising anyone. However I found them sterile. I do not think they would have brought about any social change for the region.

The move in the ’80 towards creating ‘art’ type documentary destined for gallery walls appears also to be anathema to her sensitivities.

I agree with Rosler’s observation that it was easier to deal with the images of poverty than with the reform required to change the situation. I do feel she has done a disservice to past documentary photographers who, in many cases, seemed to be doing their best to show the situations, they chose or were dispatched, to photograph.

I also agree with her observation, that images of poverty are more common than images of revolutionary politics. But I am not sure that  we do not yet have a real documentary

  1. Rosler M (1981). In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography). Available from: http://web.pdx.edu/~vcc/Seminar/Rosler_photo.pdf [accessed 27.9.15]
  2. Early Documentary Photography. 2015. Early Documentary Photography. [ONLINE] Available at: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/photos/early.html. [Accessed 11 October 2015]

 

P1: Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?

Exercise 1

Look up some of the examples mentioned above online – or any other news photographs of emergencies.
Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?
Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably) didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined the choice of final image?

The first image I looked at, not one in the suggested list, was the Syrian child on Bodrum beach in Turkey.

author unknown

Syrian child refugee -author unknown

I have avoided looking at this images until now as I was repulsed by the idea that any photographer would use the dead body of a child to get his image into the public domain. I have not been able to find the author of the image. Why did it take this image to awaken the conscience of the west to the plight of the Syrian refugees. while the body of a child, on a Gaza beach, killed by Israelian bombardment, did not cause any alarm.

author unknown

Gazan child

Are we being manipulated by what the media chooses to show us? Did editors choose the image of the Syrian boy because the colour contrasts attracted the eye? Was it chosen to increase newspaper circulation or television numbers?  Was the decision to publish one and not the other political?

The photographers of each child would, I feel, have brought their personal feelings to the scene. Maybe the shock of the scene forced them to try to get their image out there so the world would wake up to these continuing tragedies. We would have to know what were the authors doing at the scene. Were the photographers there to get the ‘scoop’ photo or there to help? In the case of the Gazan boy I doubt this as there are very few photographers on the Strip. What went through the heads of each of the photographers as they clicked the shutter? . A decision had to be made to put the image into the public domain. We cannot know why this was done. What we do know is in the case of the Syrian child the political classes were goaded into some sort of ‘rabbit in the headlights’ action to try to sort out the Syrian refugee crisis. In the case of the Gazan child we continue to keep our eyes wide shut….

The Abu Graib images were definitely influenced by the personal feelings of the soldiers taking them. There is a sense of triumph and boasting. The persons being tortured have no value in the eyes of the perpetrators. These images were first shared on social media as trophies of war. They were then picked up by humanitarian organisations and the press and went public. This was authorised abuse which we were not supposed to see. Did the decision to bring these images to the public attention change the abuse regime in Iraq? We have no way of knowing without going there.

I then looked at the London Bombings images. I found these less disturbing as most were from a ‘safe’ distance. They were very composed and I would imagine heavily sensored by the photographic editors of the various media. Again there is a sense we are being manipulated. Don’t show too graphic an image as the public might be repulsed, panicked or worse still turned off buying the newspaper…

So now to try to answer the questions:

  • Are these images object?
  • Can pictures ever be objective?

The definition I found for objective was as follows”:

(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

I would think that the only objective images were those of the London bombings. A professional photographer was probably sent to the scene and did his/her job of recording the scene. In the case of the child images we must look at the objectivity of not only the photographer but also of the press. The answers are impossible to know for sure without being at the scene and in the press room. The Abu Graib images were recorded originally for private viewing and burst into the press unplanned. I would hazard a guess that the decision to publish these, by the press, was with the object of stopping these types of atrocities.

I can come to no definitive answers as to the obfectivity or otherwise of these images but Michel du Cille puts forward a convincing argument in this video of Michel Du Cille, (1) for getting the story out there.

1. What real war is like:’ Post photographer on Afghanistan – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWImUPmW74o. [Accessed 09 October 2015].

 

 

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