Evaluation

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.

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Test Images 2

Below is a combination of some test images I have been able to use to refine my approach and practice over the past couple of months. (These are not the same images that were physically submitted).

Please note, there are some photographs which are ‘perfect’ in their edit and how they were captured but they have not been included here as they give me nothing to talk about and improve for the next few months.

Points of improvement

  • Image 1 – will have to be replaced with a ‘straighter’ architectural photograph, the clouds in the background produce a nice moody effect and the contrast is quite nice. Possibly brighten up the area at the bottom a little bit.
  • Image 2 (top right hand side) – the lamp post and the building behind have been aligned, the bottom of the picture has too much cropped out of it. Try re-shooting with more ‘grounding’.
  • Image 3 (right, middle) – this image is quite powerful on its own, possibly re-shoot with bars in focus to imply the feeling of being locked out, or not supposed to be there.
  • Image 4 (right bottom) – brilliant use of natural light in this portrait, as well as showing the environment (kitchen), possibly get in closer to the subject.

Overall, these images go well together, and even without the above advised improvements, go well visually as a series. A building connected to a person/people is being suggested here through these photographs. To refine my work visually, I will be/have taken on board the above criticisms and will be posting ‘finished work’ from the middle of next month.

 

Artist Study – Alec Soth

Alec Soth (b. 1969) is a photographer born and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published over twenty-five books including Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), NIAGARA (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015). Soth has had over fifty solo exhibitions including survey shows organized by Jeu de Paume in Paris (2008), the Walker Art Center in Minnesota (2010) and Media Space in London (2015). Soth has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2013). In 2008, Soth created Little Brown Mushroom, a multi-media enterprise focused on visual storytelling. Soth is represented by Sean Kelly in New York, Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis, Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, and is a member of Magnum Photos.

Hi most recent solo exhibitions were in Douglas Hyde Gallery (Dublin, Ireland) 2016 and
Scotiabank CONTACT (Toronto, Canada) 2016 with an upcoming one in FotoMuseum (Antwerp, Belgium) 2017. His most recent press review was in April 2012 by Decter, Joshua for the Sean Kelly Gallery. Soth is also a visiting artist lecture in 46 venues across America and Europe.

Customers waiting for Walmart to open on a Sunday afternoon. Williston, ND
Walmart. Williston, North Dakota, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Alec Soth who was notorious for his more isolated portraits has recently turned his lens toward community life in the country. To aid his research, Soth assumed the increasingly obsolescent role of community newspaper reporter. From 2012-2014, Soth travelled state by state while working on his self-published newspaper, The LBM Dispatch. Whilst doing this, he was on assignment for the New York Times. From upstate New York to Silicon Valley, Soth attended hundreds of meetings, dances, festivals and communal gatherings in search of human interaction in an era of virtual social networks.

With Songbook, Soth has stripped these pictures of their ‘news context’ in order to highlight the longing for connection. Fragmentary, funny and sad, Songbook is a lyrical depiction of the tension between American individualism and the desire to be united. I find this a very inspirational project. I was unsure what I was looking at when I saw the exhibition last year and after an internship at Magnum, I feel my understanding of this project has deeply improved. My project is long term and of a personal nature which is why I will be looking at Songbook, in my last artist study.

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Facebook. Menlo Park, California, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Execution. Huntsville Prison. Huntsville. Texas. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 1

  • This is a brilliant image.
  • The lighting in this image is even – it was taken at night time, though the light reaches the subjects closer to the photographer (left hand side of the image).
  • The main focal point is the line of men in uniforms. The whole picture in focus allows the reader to picture the next parts of the story or even what happened before. Moreso, than a picture of an electric chair or a noose would.
  • The light in this image appears to be artificial  – flashgun or continuous lighting. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the viewer allowed to engage in the photograph to piece together a story from what is happening.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach combined with leading lines (the men and the cables above their heads) has been taken. Without the light illuminating the left hand side, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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The Key Hotel. Kissimmee, Florida, Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 2

  • This is one of my favourite images.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful – possibly taken at sunset. The lighting draws attention to the top of this building and slowly the eyes fall to absorb what is happening in the picture.
  • The main focal point is the clouded skyline. The whole picture (the details of the building and parking lot) plus the woman going into the hotel, form part of this urban environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background or getting closer.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter insinuated cleverly – the theme of loneliness and vast surroundings – in nature and in the town/places in it.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre and slightly cropped. Without the skyline, or lady in the photograph, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
Off Highway 23, ND (Williston Basin)
Near Williston. North Dakota. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 3

  • This is my favourite image.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful and idyllic. It frames the house more interestingly than an evenly lit photography would. The subject matter is clear by the emotion it connotes – loneliness.
  • The main focal point is the house. The whole picture (the details of the grass, skyline and the land around) form part of this country environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated not by what is in the image but by the feeling it evokes. Getting closer, further away or changing perspectives would have utterly altered the image and its meaning.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach has been taken. Without the light illuminating the building, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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Brian. Williston. North Dakota, Songbird, Alec Soth

Artist materials and processes

Soth is quite a ‘slow’ car photographer. He uses large format cameras like Wista and sets up in spaces he feels curious about. He fits his personal work around his commissioned work and this gives him the freedom and flexibility to explore. In a Vimeo interview, he says “the great thing about photography is what it can communicate when you let it”. All he does is set up the parameters in which he will operate. He will go to a place he is curious about, go an knock on a door he wants to know what is going on behind and that, he says is when the rewards start to come.

He left the photography style quite open, there are close portraits where he considers spatial awareness between the subjects and then there are photographic ‘miracles’ like the picture with Jesus in the skyline or establishing photographs where the distance matters a bit more. When the images are placed together in a gallery, there is something for everyone to take away from it – the more alone pictures related to human instinct or the contextualised portraits (oil worker).

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Songbird, I will:

  • Become a bit more creative in my photography practise. I will not worry about the type of materials I am using or how I photograph things to the point of obsession. I will allow my curiosity and instinct to guide my documentary photography.
  • Consider how else I can communicate in photography – leaving the story wide open and at other times quite closed, say things by how the photographs make people feel as opposed to focusing more on visual arrangements?
  • Consider which other publications – besides a book, can used to present the story of the people and communities represented and initiate a positive change

info (no date) Songbook (First edition. First printing) by Alec Soth. Available at: http://mackbooks.co.uk/books/1057-songbook.html (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Gallery, F. (2016) Alec Soth: Songbook. Available at: https://vimeo.com/120211809 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Soth, A. and LensCulture (no date) Songbook – photographs by Alec Soth. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/alec-soth-songbook (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Written and Davies, L. (2015) Alec Soth – songbook. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/03/alec-soth-songbook/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

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.

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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.

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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.
matt-black-modesto
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.
matt-black-allensworth
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).