Posted on November 17, 2017
I learned a lot about photography while living in China and it is unsurprising that many of the photographers I have studied spent significant time in the country. Shanghai does not do things by half, there were many exhibitions there, showcasing work from some of the greatest artists that have lived. If you are in Shanghai, be sure to visit the Shanghai Center of Photography (SCoP), it often has small, but significant exhibitions. One such showcase featured the work of Bruno Barbey.
Bruno Barbey became a full-fledged member of Magnum Photography in 1968. He is a photographer with dual nationality of French and Swiss and was born in Morocco, a background that screams for an adventurous life! Barbey has traveled and photographed extensively across five continents, and while not classifying himself as a War Photographer (or a Street Photographer) he as covered numerous conflicts, including Vietnam, the Middle East, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Having lived in Bangladesh, I cannot imagine the horrors of having to cover a war in the country. However, it is through his work in China that I discovered his work.
Barbey was one of the few photographers allowed into Mao’s Communist China, with his first visit being in 1973. Since then, he has returned many times. One reason I find his work so inspiring is that he used colour film (Kodachrome). This medium captured the contrasting green and reds of the army’s uniforms as well as the ever-present communist propaganda posters. Morocco is another country covered extensively by Barbey, and the strong colours and harsh shadows instantly reminded me of Alex Webb’s work. A second area that we can study is Barbey’s ability to create candid images. There are few people whose pictures appear uninfluenced by the photographer’s presence. Finally, look at how he repeatedly uses patterns and repetition, again, Communist China with its rows of identically dressed citizens with red cravats around their necks would have been an ideal for this style of composition.
As ever, there are links at the bottom of this page to help you discover more about this inspirational photographer. If you enjoy purchasing photography books, I recommend ‘China, From Mao to Modernity, Bruno Barbey”. Next post will be on Monday, although I have no idea who I am going to write about. I may well look closer to home. Have a great weekend.
Keep Clicking, Chris
Posted on November 16, 2017
Martin Parr takes satirical photos of everyday life. On the surface, his work can be humorous, scratch a little deeper and you will start to discover messages relating to life and society. Parr is much more than a Street Photographer, yet his work will usually fall tightly within this category. Magnum Photography accepted Parr as a member in 1988, and he made it by just one vote. He is now the group’s director. He has published too many books to mention, and I don’t yet own any. I feel another Amazon shop coming on!
Posted on November 15, 2017
Yesterday’s article caused a lot of self-searching. The day ended with a shopping spree on Amazon, where I purchased a book by Nan Golding, a photographer who also took photos on the fringes of society. Today, I am playing it a little safe and telling the tale of Dorothea Lange and the Migrant Woman. It is a tale often told with a happy(ish) ending and stands as a lesson for Street and Journalistic photographers. Spoiler – by the time I finished the article I found out more than I wanted to.
The Migrant Worker
Lange worked as a photojournalist for the American government’s Farm Security Administration. Her photos would help shape policy and create working documents; these documents soon stood as pieces of art. Lange gained her position with the FSA through her photography of the homeless and unemployed, visiting soup kitchens during the American Great Depression. As a child, Lange contracted polio and walked with a limp, citing the disease as something that, “instructed me, helped me and humiliated me.” Perhaps it was her non-threatening stance, caused by the disease, which led to the migrant worker dropping her defences and allowing her photo to be taken. Maybe the migrant women could read that Lange was there to help. Alternatively, the lady was just too tired as she had been feeding her family on frozen vegetables plucked from the soil, and wild birds caught by her hungry children.
Posted on November 14, 2017
“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” – Diane Arbus
For a series of articles on Street Photographers, I appear to be working hard to avoid anybody who would have described themselves using this term. However, what is Street Photography if not a tool to look at the world? Diane Arbus focused on those living on the edges of society; dwarfs, those with intellectual disabilities, the LGBT community, nudist and circus performers. Arbus suffered severe bouts of depression throughout her career. She ended her life in 1971, slashing her wrists after taking barbiturates.
Susan Sontag, in her book, “On Photography,” is critical of Arbus, expressing frustration at the lack of compassion for her models, writing that her work ‘shows people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive, but it does not arouse any compassionate feelings.’ Further afield she is described as a predator who exploited those she portrayed. However, Arbus spent a great deal of time developing relationships with those she photographed and was also an ‘outsider,’ with her own, very different, issues. As a viewer, the pictures have the power to disturb and, as photographers, to question our motives for what we do.
Thoughts for Street Photographers
I feel this is an area that I need to study further. Arbus stands accused of shooting from the viewpoint of the privileged. This accusation relates to a time when photography was (and arguably still is) dominated by White males. The question of exploitation is an issue that resonates, and I question my motives when walking away from shooting in a slum, or an area of poverty. Within out Street Photography community there are other questions to ask. Down and outs and the homeless often feature in Street Photography groups, and there are countless examples of images taken at Holocaust memorial sites and areas of past atrocities. A photograph is the amalgamation of the viewer, subject, and photographer. With a camera in our hands, we are in control of two of these variables.
I believe history is unkind to Arbus; she is not the only individual to have focused on the margins of society. I feel more sympathy for her viewpoint to that of Bruce Gilden, whose work I believe takes wider strides towards exploitation. As for my work, I have started to print the photos of those I have shot, and aim to provide my subjects with copies. Providing people with pictures (particularly of their children) may be one way to avoid the feeling of exploitation, and work towards photography doing greater good for society.
Tips to Take Photos Like Arbus
To end on my ‘top tips’ after such a heavy article (it was never meant to be, honest) feels a little lame. Whatever you have taken a photograph of, don’t beat yourself up over it, and if it is a great photo, enjoy it!
Arbus got to know her subjects well, to the point of friendship, so most people would not class her work as street photography at all. However, there is the well-heard phrase, ‘if you want to take better photos, stand in front of more interesting stuff.’ Arbus certainly did that.
Keep Clicking, Chris
If you found this an interesting read then you may enjoy Manilla Slums and Ethics. Ten things to think about…
Posted on November 13, 2017
“Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” – Marc Riboud
I am a little daunted writing this piece. I first came upon the work of Riboud at a small exhibition in Shanghai. The exhibition left me speechless, in particular, the photo below which was the headline of the show. Riboud did not subscribe to the model of ‘Street Photographer’ and his Times obituary described him as a humanist. Studying his photographs, you can see strong connections with his subjects, whom he often revisited after their photographs were published. Riboud also had the Magnum ‘magic’, enabling him to blend in and create powerful candid images. He was a core member of Magnum and died aged 93. His work in China was groundbreaking, and he gained access to many locations previously out of bounds. A photo of a nude at a Chinese art school led to controversy, with the Chinese government claiming no such place existed.
Posted on November 12, 2017
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is some of the great pictures happen along the journey and not necessarily at your destination.”
McCurry would probably not call himself as a street photographer and has described himself as a visual storyteller. He has also undertaken various journalistic projects, is a Magnum Photographer and has published numerous books. McCurry has worked extensively in India over the past 30 years, and published a book called; wait for it, ‘India’. This is a book I have recently purchased, treasure and dribble over.
Posted on November 11, 2017
“Most of my projects seem to start as exploratory journeys with no visible end in sight.”
— Alex Webb
Recently I have had one of my photos compared to the work of Alex Webb. This compliment was praise indeed and came from an accomplished photographer, who has spent a significant amount of time as my mentor and teacher. It is amazing how a kind word can help push us all to create further images.