14 Oct 2020

sacred cows

The topic of ethics is never far away from documentary photography, and street work in particular, so my presentation on Post-Production to my local London Independent Photography group was a great entry point for me into that theme. I opened by apologising I'm the least qualified person in the group to talk to this topic, working in film as I do with no overt digital manipulation. Yet the very nature of photography is a manipulation of time and space so...anyway you're see where I'm going.

Since being introduced to The Corners by Chris Dorley-Brown discussed at a Street London event I'd been intrigued by reactions to it. I personally found it an exciting evolution of street photography, accounting for new technology - as street has always done - but retaining a fascination with the serendipities of people and place. I confess to have been taken in by the conceit until paying attention to the titles of the photographs and also listening to a great interview with him by Ben Smith.

This reminded me of the work of Peter Funch, someone else who had provoked questions about the legitimacy of composite images as street photography. I found the relationship between his series Babel Tales and the later work 42nd And Vanderbilt really interesting as the former threw doubt on the latter which, arguably, "fitted" the traditional definition of candid, non-manipulated photography more closely. At this point I was drawn to give some historical perspective and, to my opening premise, highlight examples of post production from other genres of photograph i.e. the surrealists including Dora Maar who herself bridged documentary and art in an inspirational way.

Falling headlong back in time we then found ourselves on the battlefields of the Crimea where the primacy of staged above found images give another dimension to the debate. Pre-Production perhaps? Roger Fenton's arrangement of cannonballs set a precedent that also bridged the realms of documentary and art into one of story-telling that runs until this day. Who is telling whose story has for me always stood in the shadows of photojournalism and this has now become such a topic of debate. It felt apt to close with an example of the work of Steve McCurry which for me is now a watershed from that Life magazine tradition which so inspired me growing up but which I now see with much more social and political context.

So, quite a meander through a history of photography but one I enjoyed researching at least! Here it is for the record.



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