My work in this project so far has been quite good. I started research early, from a variety of sources and had a general idea of what I wanted to document. This was further refined through group and individual tutorials as well as through research. I used a variety of sources – more than I have ever used for any one given project. This included a range of photojournalistic/narrative photography sources, where historical and contemporary practices are implemented. In addition, TEDx talks, videos/documentaries, Magnum Contact Sheets, traditional photography, books, Professional Photography magazines, the BJP, art based multi-media practitioners as well as material from exhibitions (for example Photo London) informed my research and practise.

I found it quite difficult to get a balance between commuting to attend so many lectures and finding time to take new material. It is common that final year students only attend taught sessions for 2 days a week in order to allow time for creative processes but our course is different from that approach. Whilst we are creative practitioners in training and still developing our own styles, it has been argued that trying to emulate other established photographers work can help discover techniques faster. Conversely, photographers such as Peter Marlow highlighted (in the November 2016 issue of Professional Photography) that his style began to develop when he stopped trying to copy Henri Cartier-Bresson and did his own thing. Balancing all of this industry advice as well as more traditional tutor advice was a little difficult. Lastly, in the same magazine, an art director anonymously cited the gender imbalance in industry photographers being on agents lists for representation and how the emerging photography style of today is too homogenised – “we need creative and fresh thinkers”.

Documentary projects of this nature, are at best, very time consuming and are rarely completed in a year. Some of the photographers I have analysed have spent up to 8/9 years on a personal documentary project whilst I barely have 9 months to realise and execute mine. One must also consider the ethics of the research I am doing and the type of photographs being taken, potential and past eviction experiences related to gentrification are not topics in a petri-dish, they are real, and those who experienced it will naturally have feelings about it.

Living in London (born & bred), in particular, the borough I am in, engenders interest and a reputability more than living where my University (Hertfordshire) would have. The project has developed quite nicely, considering all of the above factors, and I will capitalise on making further contact with the relevant potential subjects before everything slows down for the Christmas holidays. This will be with a range of people gentrification affects/involves and not just ‘victims’ will help to widen the story a bit more, an provide access to more people. Lastly to continue developing the story, shoots need to be occurring more regularly so that I can have more material to refine the ‘final story’ – especially continuing my spatial arrangements of printed photographs.

Artist Study – Matt Black

Matt Black is a 46 year old documentary photography born in California. His work focuses on poverty, migration and the environment. He has received a World Press Photo Award, Robert F Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism (2016) and the W. Eugene Smith Grant (2015). He is also a nominee member of Magnum Photos. He usually works in his native area in Southern California and in Mexico. Black has photographed over 100 communities across 44 US states for his project, The Geography of Poverty. His projects often feature short films. Black has been named a Senior Fellow at the Emerson Collective, received a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and other professional acclaims.

Matt Black 1.jpg
Fallowed Tomato Fields, Corcoran, California, Matt Black

Black’s work appeals to me because it is in black and white, political and socially engaged. His work deals with issues affecting a large proportion of society everywhere and he adds another element to his documentary photography – short films. Black has had to gain access to a range of communities and this takes both time and personal funding. Whilst I am at a stage where I can still personally fund my long term documentary project, I do not have as much time.

The ability to use the camera as a tool for telling stories of marginalised communities is one that takes time and a lot of dedication and personal interest. For this assignment, I will be focusing on the series, The Geography Of Poverty. This series was done using census data and then geo-tagging his photographs.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

El Paso, TX. The population is 649, 121 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. Matt Black 

Image 1 – El Paso, TX

  • The lighting in this image creates strong contrasts, especially behind the man in the centre. It appears that this photograph used natural lighting and the sun was quite high in the sky (daytime as opposed to sunrise/sunset).
  • The main focal point is the column in front of the building with the number 1500. This is overshadowed by the darker contrasts evident in this picture.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and with the presence of clouds. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (a person, surrounded by shadows and items common to a road – street sign, lamppost, etc).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. Without the column/lamppost in the foreground the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the lines in this image imply an idea of overarching system or structural error. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story,the story is just as strong as a series as well as this image on its own.
Modesto, CA. The population is 201, 165 and 20.8% live below the poverty line.

Image 2 – Modesto, CA

  • The lighting in this image creates an interesting effect though it is more even than in the previous image.
  • The main focal point is the man in the foreground, after which the competition for my attention is between the horizontal line, the Stop and Save Sign and the man in the background.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by the subjects of the image (2 men) as well as the sign on the building and the horizontal line working almost as a divider.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. There is a relationship/narrative between the visible and connoted factors inside this photograph. This image is very strong on its own but also, with the series.
Allensworth, CA. The population in 471 and 54% live below the poverty level. Matt Black 

Image 3 – Allensworth, CA

  • The lighting in this image creates a strong and moody photograph.
  • The main focal point is the hand on top of the pillar in the fields.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite dynamic (the shadow on the underside of the subjects hands) and the clouds in the sky.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (human hand on a pillar) in contrast to the background (expanse of empty land).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.

Artist processes/materials used

Black works only in black and white. His earlier work in Kingdom of Dust has different shaped images – so I am inclined to say he used a medium format 6×9 camera. His Geography of Poverty series is in square format. I can speculate and say he used a square format film camera such as a Mamiya, or a Bronica 6×6. Alternatively, he could have used  Canon or Nikon DSRL/medium format, and edit and crop his images. Long term documentary photography projects where one is required to live in an environment other than their own, means a change in access to amenities such as electricity (important for photography battery charging). This implies, that it is more practical to complete such a project on film photography.

The fact that short films often accompany his documentary projects suggest that Black travels with a film maker or uses a camera which can produce short film footage – digital camera.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Geography of Poverty, I will:

  • Produce an edit of analogue styled  black and white work
  • Combine other elements into the final story besides photographs
  • Compare a consistent (fine art versus photojournalistic approach) in both aesthetics and content

Geography of poverty (no date) Available at: http://www.mattblack.com/the-geography-of-poverty/idp5g8h3xnyw3afef56puvetzhu1k8 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Laurent, O. (2014) Matt Black is TIME’s pick for Instagram photographer of the year 2014. Available at: http://time.com/3615902/matt-black-instagram-photographer-of-2014/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Matt Black • photographer profiles • magnum photos (2016) Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/matt-black/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2016) ‘Poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/29/matt-black-photography-poverty-geography-california-us-sean-ohagan (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Written and Sritharan, B. (2015) Matt Black’s ‘moral’ photography of America’s sprawling poverty. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/08/matt-blacks-moral-photography-of-americas-sprawling-poverty/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).