Assignment Four – treatment

Assignment four of People and Place called for me to take photos for a travel orientated publication. This should be a ‘serious’ travel publication (I was thinking along the lines of National Geographic Traveller or similar) and as such some thought and consideration needed to go in to the final product. The place in question should be an area that I knew well. I needed to produce 6 final images but with double that available for the ‘editor’ to choose from if needs be. I was to show the character of the place and of the people who live there. I also should produce a variety of subject matter and scale.

The immediate place that sprang to mind when thinking of areas that I ‘know well’ in Singapore was Little India. It is an area of Singapore which is home to, unsurprisingly, many of the Indian contingent of Singapore. In the main it is home to Tamil residents and indeed this is how the area grew to prominence from the 1820s onwards. It is one of few areas of Singapore not to have been drawn up by Sir Stamford Raffles and delineated for the use and inhabitation of certain races (Little India: Historic District. (1995). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority) such as Chinatown was. This was due to the the originally drawn up area expanding a such a rate that it no longer suited purpose and Little India developed. As such, especially in the designated conservation area, it has much less of the structure and rigidity of the rest of Singapore.

This made it attractive to me to photograph for this assignment. As well as having a very interesting background it is also a very photogenic area with as I say, less of the obvious organisation and shine of many other parts of Singapore.

One of the things that always stands out to me when walking around the area are the street signs which purport to times past and evoke thoughts of a century past when things would have been very different to today’s area. The main names that stand out are twofold; those that are colonially related and those that are cattle related. The colonial families (Dunlop, Dickson, Clive) settling in the area were drawn, in part, by the race course in the early 1800s. The cattle related names (Kerbau, Buffalo, Belilios) hale from the trade of the Indians who were drawn in by their expertise of trading in the beasts in question. I further focused my attentions by looking specifically at the previously mentioned conservation area. This contained many fascinating and evocative names.

Given the nocturnal nature of Little India’s inhabitance, it would seem a good idea to photograph the area at night. Although normally one might expect to see day time photographs in travel publications, I felt the evening photography would better reflect the nature of the area I was exploring. The locals tend to come out to eat, shop and socialise after work, so it made more sense to see them at this time rather than the tour groups during the day.

Digital Photography

Ritchin (p.20 – ‘After Photography’ 2009) points to the convenience of comparing digital photography with photography. He identifies them as almost separate entities. As analogue photography imitated painting and Pictorialism, he argues, so digital photography borrows from photography in the same vein. But we must be wary of focusing upon initial similarities for fear of overlooking the differences. Only in this way will we transcend its beginnings and move towards its futures, in whatever direction that takes us.

What I take from this is that the rich diversity that digital photography offers us is tempered by its history, high-brow and otherwise. The speed at which it progresses, along with other digital formats such as video, dissuades and even scares people from trying to find the edge of the envelope which it invites us to test. As I commented on in a previous post, everyone who uses a digital camera of any type is complicit in this process, yet I suspect few would accept that they are. For them it is simply a case of convenience. They aren’t seeing it as photography, they are just seeing their world, digitally. They have themselves been digitally manipulated as have the images which they make with their devices.

Ritchin and the photographer as a paid researcher

An interesting observation made by Fred Ritchin in ‘After Photography’ (2009, p.27) is that of whether the photographer is merely becoming a paid researcher who enables the photo editor to complete the required brief? It was a short (one paragraph) philosophical point he makes after being told that his own image will be manipulated at the editors behest after the shoot by the photographer. His feeling is that post-photographic processes have diminished the need for both photographer and subject (in this case a human being). Now while I think he is maybe over stretching the point (at this moment in time at least), it does make for a good discussion point and has prompted me to think about it regarding my assignment for this part of the module.
Does photography still require a camera and/or photographer?
Currently photographer’s are clearly still in demand. Who will take the photos if not the photographers?
What is Ritchin’s approximation/definition of a photographer and what is mine, in this instance?
As he gives no definition in his text, I assume Ritchin is talking about a professional photographer in this case. On the basis that this means ‘paid’ then the market is saturated with us. However, given the proliferation of cameras and images and the quality of those cameras taking the photograph, I think that we have hit an age whereby almost anyone can claim be a photographer even if it is with a portfolio of just one image. It is the photographic version of Andy Warhol’s assertion in 1968 that, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes“.  The image that goes viral, that gains 5000 ‘likes’ or obtains it’s own hashtag becomes, for that fifteen minutes, famous. In this case it is the image which has it’s fifteen minutes rather than the person (ironically somewhat further supporting Ritchin’s claim). Ritchin’s ‘After Photography‘ was published in 2009. This was only three years after Twitter and Facebook started up with Instagram a mere digital babe making it’s debut in 2010. All these sites along with the myriad other photos sites (many of which existed before these big three but then had to play catch up with them and enter the viral game having previously been fairly sedentary ‘holding’ sites), have completely changed the direction and intent of photography even since Ritchin’s book was published a mere six years ago.
So, my summation of this is that, it is not the photographer who will be redundant per se, it is that more photographers (by my definition of ‘photographers’) will need to take less photographs to achieve the same result.
The digital distribution of these images has also changed giving editors the chance to obtain them from myriad different sources whether ethically or unethically. Again this is something which I feel I could feed in to my assignment.