Practitioner Case Study – Mike Abrahams

Mike Abrahams has worked as a freelance photographer for over 30 years having become renowned for his sensitive eye in documenting the lives of ordinary people. In 1981, he was a cofounder of Network Photographers which is an internationally and his work has taken him around various parts of the globe. His photographs have been published in all the major international news media and his ability to work in difficult situations made him a highly sought after photographer. His work on Faith – A Journey with Those Who Believe, published in 2000, was a 5 year project, documenting the extremes/passion of Christian devotion in 14 countries. Awards for this work included the World Press Photo Award in 2000, and the book Faith designed by Browns, was a finalist in the Design Week – Editorial Design: Books.

Colin Jacobson, picture editor of The Independent Magazine, described his body of work from the conflict in Northern Ireland and published in the book Still War, in 1989 as “Documentary photography at its best – …comprehensive,… and concerned”. His coverage of the troubles in Northern Ireland was the subjects of a Television documentary “Moving Stills”. Other important assignments have included coverage the Berlin Wall, the Cult of Assad in Syria, The Jews of Damascus and Bradford’s Muslims.

He has completed both photojournalistic and corporate assignments. Some of his Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects have taken him to parts of Africa and Asia. Whilst these works have been commissioned, he retains a sensitivity whilst documenting various experiences. One of the most poignant for me was a portrait of someone living with HIV in India and fighting the stigma.

Fighting the stigma of HIV in India
Rajakumar, 2013, India, Mike Abrahams

Abrahams is quite an important practitioner for me because of his extremely unique and far-reaching approach. He moves fluidly between corporate and personal assignments whilst retaining the ability to tell ‘the story’ effectively.


Mike Abrahams (no date) Available at: http://www.mikeabrahams.com/about (Accessed: 9 December 2016).nursery-school-in-burma

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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.

matt-black-el-paso
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).

Research & Development – Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall is an artist renowned for large-format photographs with diverse subject matter. It encompasses urban environments and tableaux vivant that mimics the complexity and size of nineteenth-century paintings. This aspect of his practise lends itself to his training in art history at London’s Courtauld Institute.

Wall started producing large, backlit photographs after seeing an illuminated advertisement from a bus window. He had recently visited the Prado, Madrid, and combined his knowledge of the Western pictorial tradition with his interest in contemporary media to create one of most influential visions in contemporary art.

Jeffwall070305_560
A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993

Wall calls his photographs, after Charles Baudelaire, ‘prose poems’. This description emphasises how each picture should be experienced as opposed to illustrate a pre-determined idea or a specific narrative. His pictures may depict an instant and a scenario, but the before and after that moment are left completely unknown. This allows the viewer to become involved in the deciphering of the photographs meaning. Naturally, it follows that diverse interpretations would emerge upon different audiences responding to his work.

The prose poem format allows any truth claims of the photograph – the facts we expect from journalistic photography – to remain suspended, and Wall believes that in that suspension the viewer experiences pleasure. In addition to the light-boxes, Wall has made, since 1996, black-and-white prints, and has recently begun to print large-scale colour inkjet photographs.

Below are the 5 images of his that I find the most interesting/relevant to my intended body of work. Following that are evaluations and influences for my practice to consider.

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Each image is uniquely composed and loaded with societal issues. What is most interesting is that the majority – if not all of these images, were composed by Jeff Wall to convey a particular issue. Yet, without being told that they were ‘directed’ they are assigned a meaning. For example: ‘racism/racial slurs’, ‘apartheid within the USA where segregation of black individuals was prevalent’, the importance of unpaid workers etc. Each of these images, if put on posterd/ads and ran as campaigns would be successful visually for the clear theme they seem to stand for.

My next concern would be of how ethical it is to direct an image that may stand for a prevalent societal issue. The end result would be similar if not identical to street photography however, a lot more instruction and ‘bias’ was involved in the directed photograph.

For my personal practice I wish to envisage the size and scale of the images I take and not wait until ‘printing/post-production’ to consider those factors. In addition, I would like to pay as much detail as possible to what is inside of my frames when shooting – what adds detail, what enhances and what detracts? This is particularly hard when doing fast paced street photography but, it is not impossible.


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Research & Development – Alec Soth

USA. Vasa, Minnesota. 2002. Charles
USA. Vasa, Minnesota. 2002. Charles
I fell in love with the process of taking pictures, with wandering around finding things. To me it feels like a kind of performance. The picture is a document of that performance. ”

 

Alec Soth b.1969 is a Magnum Photographer whose distinct style is documenting performance photography. When I first saw his images I felt like I was ‘waiting for the next scene’ almost like watching a movie. When I did some research into his photographic style the reason became clearer.

He photographs large geographical territories (Mid-West USA) with various subgenres – nature, people etc but has a way of making the process seem like an adventure and the photograph becomes the document. His photograph reminds me of childhood movies like Huckleberry Finn and bear a feel reminiscent of that story. He currently has a brilliant exhibition at the New Media Space, Science Museum – Gathered Leaves (review soon to follow) and was featured in the British Journal of Photography October 2015.

Below are some of his images I found interesting as well as a personal reflection.

Reflection:

I will be considering his technique of capturing a still and making it appear ‘as a scene/living picture’ in my personal practice. Sometimes a photographer is unable to translate a sense of movement without obvious tools such as shutter speed simply because one frame does not always tell the whole story. Instead of using this point of view I will consider how my ‘one shot’/series can tell the most exciting part of the story.

Another iconic thing that Soth has done is find the most ironic juxtapositions/locations for the relevant portraits [see above the Palm Sunday photography]. Whilst street photography should not be directed as such – locations and subjects will be carefully considered in my framing.

Continue reading “Research & Development – Alec Soth”