Thursday 31 January 2008

Enemies all

The VII photo agency website is one of the best places to see cutting edge photo-journalism. Especially worth a look is the photo story by Ron Haviv about gang violence in the Jordan Downs/Nickerson Gardens section of Watts, an area of Los Angeles regarded as one of the most dangerous places in America.

The photographs bring into sharp focus the vicious circle of gang life; look out for the images of a fight breaking out at a gang member's funeral and the poor pastor trying to calm things down.

The photographs webpage can be found HERE

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Emotional message

Uberlingen am Bodensee, West Germany, 1965 - Image: Leonard Freed

Today 2.30pm. I decide to take a break after a couple of hours in the studio and pick up a book I hadn't looked at for quite some time. The book i choose was 'In our Time' by William Manchester which features a vast collection of images shot by Magnum photo agency photographers. As i flicked through the pages, one large full page image suddenly made me stop in my it always does.

Leonard Freed's image of an old couple visiting the grave of their (only?) son is for me the greatest anti-war image ever shot. The photograph has always been a favourite image of mine purely for the strong message it conveys across to the viewer. The image was shot in 1965 in West Germany but perfectly reflected the horrible ramifications of World War II on one individual family.

Photography is about emotional feeling as well as seeing. This image by Leonard Freed is one of the best examples of a photograph portraying an emotional message.

Saturday 26 January 2008

Capa cache uncovered

A suitcase full of lost Robert Capa negatives, shot during the Spanish Civil war, has been recovered according to the New York Times. The case is also believed to contain images by Gerda Taro, the love of Capa's life, who died tragically when she was runover by a tank in 1938.

More details on this remarkable story can be found HERE

Robert Capa is regarded as one of photography's most iconic figures and is widely thought to be one of the major influences on modern photo-journalism. The blog's Photographer profile series will be looking at Robert Capa and his work in the next couple of weeks.

Friday 25 January 2008

Hide and seek

Fish tank on a shop floor in York

The gusts of wind were rattling and banging the windows of the house last night as though mother nature was venting her fury at anyone who'd listen. The noise reminded me of a saying i read about recently. Ho Chi Minh, a hero of the Vietminh during the 1950's and later national leader of North Vietnam once said that 'you must be like bamboo and flow with the wind - if you stand upright and fight it - it will only break you'.

From the many blogs I've read this month, one theme stands out - a lot of people feel like bamboo in strong wind, battered and bruised by the events taking place around them.

One question that is often asked about photojournalists is how do they come to terms with the events they are witnessing, often violent and at close range. The answer is usually a simple one. The camera physically and psychologically acts as a barrier, a form of defence from the horrors they may be witnessing. All photographers suffer from this regardless of what field of photography they are in. Once behind the camera they feel safe.

One photographer in Iraq recently commented about using a new small Leica digital camera. He was use to the big modern pro Canon/Nikon types which he stated were 'better to hide behind when the action started'. That statement says as much about the photographer's psychology as it does about the various camera sizes.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Soviet star III

Fence still-life

Here is the final shot taken using the Russian Kiev 60 6x6 camera - a remarkable camera that's fun to use. I've really enjoyed using the camera to shoot these images but even more thrilling has been seeing the results which i think are just fantastic.

Russian cameras tend to be looked upon as poor imitations of their western counterparts but I've always believed that a good photographer should be able to take great photographs regardless of the camera he is using. The Kiev is a basic but solid camera that delivers what its designed to do but I've been lucky to get a good one. A look on the Internet gave some insight that some Kievs are better than others - Kiev's can suffer from poor assembly which can lead to light leakage, film advance problems and more. If you intend buying one check the camera thoroughly before purchase.

I would recommend buying a Kiev to anyone interested in photography. With a good Kiev camera, you have to work to produce images; point and shoot, this camera most certainly isn't but you will learn (or remember!) the basics of photography and have fun.

Soviet star II

Windy day in Autumn

This is the second image of three taken using a Russian Kiev 60. The Volna-3 lens was a pleasant surprise - i actually expected the lens to be not that good but the sharpness and contrast of the lens is impressive.

Basic camera handling is somewhat more rough and ready than your average Nikon or Canon but the build construction feels solid. The shutter firing has a nice mechanical feel, like using a reliable machine rather than a piece of flashing electronics.

Monday 21 January 2008

Soviet star

View from the end of my garden taken with the Russian Kiev 60 camera

A few months ago i purchased a beautiful russian (?) Kiev 60 camera from a local charity shop. I decided to take a series of test photos with the camera to show what it can do. Here is the first of three images taken using the Kiev 60.

I must admit that i am impressed by the quality of the image. The Volna-3 lens seems to have a good balance of contrast and sharpness. I used Ilford 3200 film which can be a little unforgiving if exposed badly but the shutter speeds seem very accurate.

Overall I'm very impressed by the results and the next film i want to put through the camera will be much slower - I'm just waiting for the horrible rainy weather to go!

All at sea

Pilots on the bridge

This image was taken as part of my first photo documentary project about ship's pilots in May 1992. A project that i will always remember for a couple of reasons.

Getting permission to accompany the pilots onto a ship wasn't too difficult. No, the main problem i encountered was staying focused taking images. So much was going on and the thrill of being on a large ship really affected my image taking.

A photographer should see the world via the viewfinder - i unfortunately just got carried away by the excitement of the moment. Maybe my love of the sea, the clean air and the waves also distracted me. Somehow i managed to get enough good images to finish the project.

After about 20 minutes on board it was time to climb down a long rope ladder fastened to the side of the ship and jump onto the small pilot boat - all this as we are moving along at several knots. Exhilarating would be the best way of describing it - a bit daunting too as you climb out onto the forty foot ladder. I was just glad it was a calm day at sea !

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Against the sun

Burnham Overy Staithe Harbour, Norfolk, UK - July 2007

Years ago the golden rule in photography used to be 'Don't shoot into the sun'! It was a good rule then but as the film and lense technologies have improved, the rule has become far less relevant.

This image was taken with my little old Yashica 124 6x6 camera. Light, self contained and portable, it's just right for carrying about over long distances and doing images like this one.

Monday 14 January 2008

Top of the world

Tenzing Norgay achieves the summit of Mt. Everest, May 29, 1953. Photograph taken by Edmund Hillary.

The image of Sherpa Tenzing standing at the summit of Everest remains one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Sir Edmund Hillary took the photo of Tenzing during the fifteen minutes spent at the summit, instantly capturing on film the moment when the Everest summit was finally reached.

No pictures of sir Edmund Hilliary at the summit exist - Tenzing didn't know how to operate the camera. How many people would take an image like that knowing that they would not be photographed themselves? The image is a fitting legacy to the remarkable achievements and friendship of Sir Edmund Hilliary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Image copyright of The Royal Geographic Society

Friday 11 January 2008

Celluloid snapper

Photographers on film: (L-R) Dennis Hopper (Apocalypse Now), James Woods (Salvador) and John Malkovich (The Killing Fields)

Ah the humble photographer on celluloid. I've always found the portrayal of photographers on the big screen something to smile at. They usually fall into two categories of either being a truth seeking maverick or a seedy sleazebag glamour photographer. Sometimes though, a really good photographer character can appear. Here are my three favourites and not surprisingly they are all photojournalists, all of whom have been based (somewhat loosely in some cases) on real people.

The photojournalist has been one of the most popular characters to pick up a camera on the cinema screen. Three of the best representations of the photographer in the cinema portray photojournalists working in the desperately violent and tense situation of a war zone. The classic and most famous portrayal must go to Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now whose spaced out character, just called 'the photojournalist' in the film, was reputed to be based on the British Vietnam war photographer Tim Page. If that is true then the film's director, Francis Ford Coppola, may have been influenced by a 1979 BBC film made at the time of Apocalyspe Now's filming called ' Mentioned in Dispatches' which showed Page dealing with his Vietnam past in a basement flat in London. Alcohol and memories playing a large part of Page's life at that time.

The other two popular cinema portrayals of photojournalists have had similar characteristics to Hoppers. The Killing Fields released in 1984 had Al Rockoff, beautifully portrayed by John Malkovich . Both Malkovich's and Hopper's characters were deeply involved in the stories they were covering but Malkovich's Al Rockoff retained a deep rooted compassion for his subject - much like the real Al Rockoff who would later disassociate himself from the film due to the inaccurate portrayal of certain scenes. Hopper's character in Apocalyspe Now remained more detached from events. He was along for the ride....and to get some great photographs regardless of what happened.

Oliver Stone's Salvador was released in 1986 and featured a terrific performance by James Woods. Woods played a real person, Richard Boyle, who had co-written the screenplay using his own experiences from the civil war in early 1980's El Salvador. The result is an uncompromising look at a bitter civil war through the eyes of a photographer, mixed with a knowledgeable grasp of the political complexities of El Salvador. Of the three films mentioned here, Salvador remains, for me, the most disturbing and thought provoking.

Some more films with photographers in them can be found HERE

Tuesday 8 January 2008

The real me?

Know who this is?

Most people hate having their photograph taken. I know i do. Most of this hatred stems from the fact that we have a perceived idea about how we look to other people. Photography often doesn't reflect the way we think we look. The concept is called Residual self image and was popularized by the 'The Matrix' series of films.

As a small project over the next week I'm going to photograph myself everyday. The final favourite image of mine will be posted on the blog on Tuesday 15th. Will i think that the photograph is a good representation of me? Probably not. Will i have digitally manipulated it? Almost definitely! Will i pick one of the images from the later shoots when i've become comfortable to being in front of the camera? Don't know!

For those curious about the photo booth image, it's a self portrait of the great photographer Ansel Adams taken in a photo booth during the 1930's. Just goes to show that even great photographers can only get passable results from a photo booth!

Friday 4 January 2008

New resolutions

New Year is always the time for making resolutions, that annual promise we all try and keep but sometimes fall way sort on. Photography is no exception with many photographers making promises, with the start of the New Year, to change something about their work or how they work.

I'm no exception. I've decided to try and do MORE studio photography.......well actually more photography generally. Maybe that's pushing it when i think about the amount of work i do already. Quality and not quantity should maybe be the motto for the year.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Profile: Peter Korniss

Nightshift for András Skarbit - Image by Peter Korniss

The final photographer in this trilogy of posts looks at the work of Peter Korniss, a Hungarian photographer who made a name for himself during the early 1970's photographing the traditional peasant culture in Transylvania.

Korniss started the project called 'Inventory' in 1967 and over 31 years photographed and recorded the customs, the unique clothing, the music, the dances - of a remarkable people isolated due to geography from the outside world's influence. Even in the late 1980's, many of these people continued to keep traditions unchanged for decades alive and as such, a strong community spirit bound the community together. Korniss realised that it was just a matter of time before these old traditions would disappear; he decided to record the day to day life of these Hungarian and Romanian villages.

Peter Korniss was born in Kolozsvár, (Cluj, Romania) in 1937 but in 1949 his family moved to Budapest. After being expelled from university for political reasons, he managed to get a position as a photographer with a popular Hungarian women's weekly magazine called Nők Lapja. He worked at the magazine for thirty years but worked in various positions with photographic organisations including The World Press Photo Exhibition. Korniss has won various national and international awards for his work over the years with his most recent award being the Pulitzer Memorial prize, awarded to him in 2004.

Although the Transylvanian images are his most widely renowned piece of work, Korniss also photographed another long term project called ' The Guest Worker' that followed the lives of migrant workers who had broken away from agriculture to work in the city. During the 1970's, over 250,000 lived an existence of having to find work in the city, living in workers hostels during the week, leaving family living in the village and taking the train at weekends back home.

Eventually Korniss singled out one man, András Skarbit, who he photographed from 1978-1988, only finishing the project when András retired. The photographs not only reflect the complicated life of one man but also show a people, community and country in economic transition. By the late 1980's the rural migrant worker had all but gone. András Skarbit died in 1999 at the age of 74. Up until he was photographed by Peter Korniss, he had only had his picture taken 14 times. I've always believed that the story of the ordinary (or in the case of András Skarbit should that be extraordinary?) person is vastly more important (and interesting) than that of a celebrity. The fact that the images were taken over ten years is remarkable and offers a much broader perspective of András Skarbit's life during that period.

Korniss tapped into an area of photography that was immensely popular during the 1930's - the human interest story where the lives of ordinary people, cultures etc were documented for magazine readers to see. Many magazines like LIFE and Picture Post used human interest stories, often running them side by side with the celebrity stories. Sadly the human interest story died with the magazines that made them so popular - Picture Post closed during the late 1950's and LIFE folded in the early 1970's.

Peter Korniss is another photographer i discovered during 2007 along with Roman Vishniac. Korniss had written an essay about his photographic work for a book and mentioned Curtis and Vishniac as influences. I studied documentary photography for a number of years and i find it rather sad that both of those names were never mentioned during all that time. All of the photographers covered over the last three 'profile' posts had one thing in common - they were recording unique cultures with unique traditions, colour and characters for future generations to see. Sadly, for one reason or another, these cultures were destined to disappear until only the photographs and memories remain.

The next photographer profile post looks at the legendary Robert Capa whose life was as fascinating as his images.


All Images by Peter Korniss

Top right - Dancing couples - Szék (Sic) 1967

Left middle - Peter Korniss

Right middle - Rush hour traffic

Bottom right - Shephard with his flock - Szék (Sic) 1974