Response to tutor – assignment five

Overall I was very happy with the feedback for assignment five. You can find the full transcript here. The overriding comments were on shot-selection and their relevance to the narrative. I shall address this first.

I have decided to change some of the images as suggested my tutor. In turn, this may invite more viewers to understand where it is in the world that I am shooting which will bear more relevance to the narrative. I have set out the series again but this time substituting the images I felt needed changing after feedback with comments on that decision where necessary. Any extra information (e.g. extra captions and reason for change) will be in red.

Cover

Cover

People start to gather at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after hearing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death. Mourner's flowers of condolence mingle with the 'get well' cards and balloons.

People start to gather at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after hearing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. Mourner’s flowers of condolence mingle with the ‘get well’ cards and balloons.

LKY-IMG_1999150323

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s omnipresent image keeps a watchful eye over Singapore’s future generations at SGH where he was cared for until his death.

The grief of the older generations was palpable.

The grief of the older generations was palpable.

LKY-IMG_1828150323

In a city known for it’s capitalist ideals, LKY still turns a profit with state owned newspapers in the Central Business District in the aftermath of his death.

Messages of strength in the ever extending lines of people.

Messages of strength in the ever extending lines of people.

The organisation of the massive numbers paying their respects soon turned in to a military operation.

The organisation of the massive numbers paying their respects soon turned in to a military operation.

Signing the book of condolences at Tanjong Pagar GRC (Group Representation Constituency). Mr Lee Kuan Yew led this constituency throughout his political career until his death in March 2015.

Signing the book of condolences at Tanjong Pagar GRC (Group Representation Constituency). Mr Lee Kuan Yew led this constituency throughout his political career until his death in March 2015.

LKY-IMG_2161150323

“A journalist at Singapore General Hospital readies herself to report amidst the media interest generated by LKY’s passing”.   I am not convinced the initial series image did not work. There is an interview in progress which takes place in front of the long line of mourners. So I would see this one as a possible alternative. It also shows I was thinking along these general lines when shooting initially.

lky-IMG_5145150326

Mourners file along the river and past the towering banks of UOB and Bank of China as they make their way to pay their last respects“. I have changed the image and the meaning here to better reflect the city in which this event was happening. It ties in better with my capitalist remark earlier in the series too. Less complicated aesthetically than the initial image, it still brings a sense of scale to proceedings.

…..and by night. Some waiting for up to twelve hours to pay their last respects.

…..and by night. Some waiting for up to twelve hours to pay their last respects “as the tourist boat continues to ply it’s business on Singapore River“. Again reflecting trade going on as usual in a city that is mourning.

LKY-IMG_3602150324

Mourners pay their last respects at Mr Lee Kuan Yews’s home GRC, Tanjong Pagar. I have replaced this image as it is more pleasingly balanced and nearly made it in to the original series. It shows a clear generational gap in age, respects and clothing. Cropping the original image led to a wholly unacceptable result.

 

The other main feedback picked up on a point/question I raised on reflection:

“Maybe another concern would be to find the truly individual moments in amongst the thousands of other photographers all doing the same thing. Obviously the nature of photography dictates that each image is unique, but with circumstances being the same for most of the photographers, it stands to reason there will be many similar images out there all shouting for attention. My concern is that mine fall within that gamut.”

My tutor comments:

The same question exists for every photographer and now, as you’re approaching the next module, is a good place to ask it. To me, the overall feeling of your series is humanist – life cycles (pregnant lady next to old man in wheelchair), citizenry, trade. But an event doesn’t have to be recorded just as social documentary. Some other possible points of departure may be found within the shots themselves – raw emotion and extreme heat, death and commerce, text and the city (‘messages of strength’ is a great shot), the military (contrasted with the citizen), news media people looking bored (contrasted with seriousness), the night.

Within my shooting criteria I stated that:

” I need to challenge the viewer with something unexpected.”

and that I needed to:

“Be more creative in my approach, freer with my expression of the camera.”

As my tutor points out, this is still quite a safe series of images which though pleasing are ‘comfortable’, both for me and the viewer. He also points out that there may be jumping off points within the some of the shots already taken. Indeed, raw emotion would have been an interesting direction to take as Singaporeans are not known for expressing grief, particularly openly and in this case raw emotion was certainly on display. I think I got tied up in trying to make a balanced and honest report on what I saw (I believe I stated this) and didn’t take any alternative direction.

McCurry, Salgado et al

One of the most iconic photographers over the last fifty years must be Steve McCurry. He was one of the first photographers to come to my attention in my formative years (along with other luminaries such as McCullin and Salgado). What I immediately enjoyed about his photography was his use of colour. Later in life I realised that it was his use of light to form that colour that caught my eye. Latterly and after buying his book ‘Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs‘ (Phaidon, 2013) I realise that it is his whole approach to photography that I enjoy, from the world famous ‘Afghan Girl‘ (1984) to his work in Kuwait in 1991 and beyond. The two years mentioned were very much during impressionable years for me. In 1982 I was ten years old and had just sat, riveted, through the Falklands conflict under the impression I was seeing unabridged access to the war. It was only later I discovered that the media coverage was very much censored both by the government in Whitehall and at source by the commanders of the convoy. Brian Hanrahan’s classic quote ‘I counted them all out and I counted them all back again‘ came about because he wasn’t allowed to give the numbers of aircraft that had set out on the mission. So by the age of ten I was becoming inducted in to the media coverage of war zones (the cold war was also still raging at this point). So at the point where Steve McCurry’s photographs started to come to my attention I was already using a 35mm Praktica MTL5 (the name sticks, I have had many cameras since, but this was my first). Of course I couldn’t work out at that point what I liked about his photos, much less disseminate them. But they were there, in the back of my consciousness.

Fast forward to Desert Storm in 1990-91 and I was at college studying, amongst other things, photography and media in general. All of a sudden these amazing images started coming through of the infamous burning of the oil fields in Kuwait as Saddam Hussein retreated from Kuwait. What struck me in these photos was that, although McCurry was still using the trademark colours, his photography had taken on a very dark intonation. Many of his photographs, although taken with colour film were almost monotone or duotone, the amber burning oil fields lighting up the oil darkened sky. His use of light was incredible, shooting at very slow speeds just to get an exposure such was the darkness he found there (both physically and metaphorically). The mix of pitch black oil and flaming reds are fundamental to the series. In fact these colours are practically all that appear; the red of the flames, eyes of a bird, blood on a body, Red Adair’s fireman’s uniforms, all juxtaposed against the hideous oil blackened landscape. This slide show with commentary from McCurry gives a good overview of the kind of images I am trying to describe here. It’s a great example of the consistency needed to produce an outstanding narrative and McCurry is king of this art.

The other thing that started coming to my attention was that, as fantastic as these photographs were, there was something else. This person was actually there, in the thick of it. And here I think is the crux of what makes a great documentary photographer and something that is generally overlooked when the viewer sees the images in front of them. The ability to make these photographs is not just a technical one, it is a mental one. The drive that these various Nat Geo, Magnum and many other agency photographers have is to tell that story. Many photographers have lost their lives doing so (Tim Hetherington springs to mind). Some photographers have realised in time that they are treading a fine line and have got out in time (Don McCullin comes to mind here). But in all cases these renowned and also relatively unknown photographers are driven, occasionally to their own destruction, by the unsurmountable intent to get that story and show the outside world the truth. The single most outstanding quality that these photographers have is tenacity. Like a dog with a bone they cannot and will not stop until they have told the story or, in some cases, have quite literally died trying.

Salgado’s latest monumental exhibition and subsequent book, Genesis (2013), took him eight years to photograph and compile. His resolve was to find the still pristine parts of the planet and photograph them by any means at his disposal. Salgado says that he ‘followed a romantic dream‘ making it sound like it was something easily achieved. I would suspect on the contrary. The exhibition when I saw it in both London and Singapore was immense, almost too big to comprehend (maybe that was the idea). So large that, by the end of it, I was actually photo fatigued. As always with Salgado the technique was flawless and the images both mentally and physically awe-inspiring but, perhaps more notable than this, was the tireless pursuit of the ever disappearing natural world and it’s photographic treasures. This was not by any means his first foray in to long term projects, others include Workers (1993) and Migrations (2000). These, among his other works, show the massive commitment that he makes to his photography and more than that, to his core beliefs and ethics. While Salgado may be one amongst few who take their photography to these sort of lengths, most documentary photographers give up huge lumps of time to achieve their ultimate goal of starting and finishing a story.

Assignment 3 – Southend-on-Sea – A review

I had been through a few location options in the run up to this assignment. Thoughts ran through void-decks in HDB blocks (public housing in Singapore), car parks soon to be pulled down and finally, as the opportunity arose, the English seaside. All of the above gave me the chance to shoot for a high-graphic, high-contrast approach to the images.

In setting out to take these photographs I hadn’t anticipated what a fantastically sunny day I would be shooting in. It made the job a lot easier than anticipated as the strength of the sun combined with the blue sky made the definition that I was after much easier to obtain. A shoot on a darker, more overcast drizzly day would have produced a completely different feel to my photographs (more noise, less definition, higher ISO). As I described in the main piece, I had fond memories of my times shooting in Southend before and this was to prove an equally as evocative time at the seaside.  Hopefully this has come across both in my photographs and my body of text.

For all the money which has clearly been spent on the seafront here it only graphically manifests itself in the two images containing the theme park’s silhouetted corkscrew and the Fish ‘n’ Chips restaurant. The rest of my images contain very similar content to those of twenty years ago.

After the industrial overtones of the rest of the images, the most organic shot of the series is the seagulls wheeling overhead, almost regaining their rites over the now empty beach and skies.

The day finished with the most amazing sunset. The clouds helped to soften the rays and allowed me to gain plenty of detail as well as the silhouettes of the seagulls now settling to roost on the groyne. I thought it would be interesting to see whether a monochrome sunset would have the same impact as a conventional full techni-colour version. I believe it does.

I enjoyed the recurring patterns that were to be found all around; layers of horizontal lines delineated by the difference in tonal quality, chaotic patterns of seagulls wheeling, waves and pebbles on the beach all pushed in the same direction by the tide, occasionally interrupted by footprints and seaweed.

People, if present, are taken at distance and anonymous to the point of blackness. Indeed in one photo, the figure is just represented by a ghosting shadow. I am trying to give a sense of space and emptiness to the beach and front.

The longest pier in the world appears at points through the series, a thin strip skulking in the background. A hulking tourist attraction suddenly dormant but still dominant on the horizon.

As is the way, many photographs fell by the wayside during the edit in which I wanted to stick with the pre-arranged ten final images for the series. There images amongst them that I would like to have displayed but felt didn’t suit the final ‘story’ that I was wanting to tell.

Technically, I shot in RAW format enabling me to get the most out of my final images in post-processing being aware of the high dynamic range I would be dealing with. I was not concerned with with the blown out highlights or the ‘black’ blacks. They were intentional to give maximum impact to my final images. They were all shot at around 50-60mm focal length to give a street photography ‘feel’ to the final images. The ISO was low to give the cleanest image possible to reflect the bright, clear sunlight I was shooting in.

I think I have succeed in my aim for the assignment. The high graphic representation loses nothing and the minds eye need not work too hard to work the story out, even though it is something we cannot mimic with our own eyes.

 

INFLUENCES
Sebastiao Salgado – Genesis exhibition & book.
Bill Brandt – high contrast and Britishness of 1930s Britain, people and buildings.
Weegee – high contrast to the point of blown out faces and absolute black backgrounds etc.
Ming Thein  – clean, high graphic, industrial reportage as seen in my review of his work.
Raghu Rai –  not only for his black and white street photography, but also his amazing photos. My review of Raghu Rai is here.
Paul Strand – high contrast abstract.