28 Apr 2019

street theatre

I've been inspired lately by hearing some photographers talk about their work. An interview with Alex Majoli and talks by Jillian Edelstein and Clare ParkEach of these photographers presented bodies of work developed over time. Despite the diversity of their subjects I was drawn to a common theme of the "openendedness" (if that's a word, you know what I mean!) of their work. 
Majoli was candid about the challenge to find a point where his project was complete. Perhaps complete isn't the word. Ready to share/show perhaps? It still leaves the mental door open on continuing without absolutely closing it shut. Even if that's the reality. The consequence of this approach was revealed when it came to publish and exhibit his work. The inspiration for the project came from literature, the play Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello, which lent itself to presenting the work itself in a three act structure. I loved the idea of this, permitting multiple narratives within a broader story. However the final curatorial decision was to segment the images into the countries they were made in. Understandable but I feel missing an opportunity to trust the audience to be able to experience what Majoli himself called the ambiguity of these scenes...
It's real. It's not real. 
It's real. It's not real.
This theme of narrative was also illustrated by Edelstein discussing her life as a photojournalist, weaving personal projects into the professional. The nature of news photography is often around the single, defining image so it was fascinating to look at a more essay type approach, revisiting a place again and again to build relationships, deepen understanding and create a more personal response.
The personal is the absolute centre of Park's work. It was disarming to see her refer to her book of photographs and then say it was the only one that existed as the project itself was never meant for public distribution. The photographs were a testament to a set of relationships that used symbolism, private meanings and allusions to portray love and life in a powerful way. For me they represent yet another dimension to story telling and one that's just as rich.
So all in all valuable points for me to reflect upon.  
Two people with ID cards image
I have an affinity with all the approaches. The need to give shape to my work - for myself at least - is one of the motivations behind my current project. It certainly has its roots in documentary photography but my work casts itself adrift off from that source. It's certainly not so obscure that any meaning at all is impossible but the practice of it must have some deeper personal motivation. It certainly feels like I'm approaching a crossroads. 
Whether I'll make a deliberate choice is another matter!

11 Apr 2019

looking at me?

In vain I'm trying to control my collecting of books, in particular ones which reflect city street life, especially London, so I try to choose ones with an original take. I'm pleased to say Nigel Shafran's The People on the Street is one of those.  
Like a lot of great ideas, it's very simple. It's becoming more common to encounter homeless people on the street. For me they have no choice in the matter so I don't purposely take pictures with them as a subject, however in its own way that's ignoring their existence. There's already an argument that self censorship in this way will mean future generations won't have a record of children on the street so I like seeing projects where they can document their own lives. Following similar logic Shafran empowers homeless people by giving them a camera to take pictures not of themselves but of himself.
People on the street book cover
The resulting book is a powerful commentary on a societal responsibility but also, if it's not too indulgent, on documentary photography itself. There's an important debate about the best photographic practice in documenting people's lives all around the world which doesn't simply objectify them or worse. We're not now living in a time where Life or National Geographic ran photo stories of exotic other worlds, reinforcing stereotypes of difference, and yet that form of representation is hard to shake off. Homeless and, more broadly, other disadvantaged people occupy a similar status of otherness in this country today whether that's a kind of "by the grace of god" or "it's their own fault" attitude. It's worth mentioning two other current UK photography projects that directly address this, J A Mortram's Small Town Inertia and Paul Sng's Invisible Britain. Not worthy or patronising photographs. Work that's part of a broader context of social engagement and change. Inspirational stuff.