Monday 31 March 2008

Profile: Philip Jones Griffiths

A wounded woman during the Tet Offensive in 1968

This month saw the loss of one of the UK’s finest and most respected photojournalists, Philip Jones Griffiths to cancer. He was 72.

A photographer since the early sixties, Philip Jones Griffiths will be best remembered for one of the best photographic pieces to immerge from the Vietnam war that became the best-selling 1971 book ‘Vietnam Inc. - a book that helped turn the American public away from supporting the Vietnam war. He was, and still remains one of my top five favourite photographers and has been a major influence on my photography for many years.

Philip Jones Griffiths was born in Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, Wales in 1936 and it was there that he started to learn about photography via Henri Cartier Bresson’s work. Amazingly Griffiths didn’t become a professional photographer until 1961. Previous to that he had been working in the science industry for ten years after studying chemistry at Liverpool university. His photography career would cover the globe and eventually lead to being president of the Magnum photo agency which he had joined as a full member in 1971.

Griffiths work covers a broad spectrum of subjects from photographing the people of Wales to his fantastic work documenting the suffering of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam war. While many journalist were in awe of U.S firepower, Griffiths managed to see past the spectacle and realise that it was hearts and minds that would win the conflict. The comments made in the late 1960’s are all too relevant in the new 21st century battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan; making Vietnam Inc’s message even more poignant, forty years after the images were taken. Many of the images in Vietnam Inc deal with the poor hearts and mind strategy employed by the US military - something often mentioned today as a failing in the Iraq and Afghanistan

Philip Jones Griffiths encountered many problems during his time in Vietnam but the biggest he faced was credibility as much of his work was never published. The US armed forces accreditation used to take into account a journalists past track record for putting the news across to the public. With Griffiths, this often led to not being seen as an important figure in the media coverage of the war. The Vietnam Inc project was an important piece of work because it was an ongoing record showing the increasing cultural chasm between the US/ARVN forces and the ordinary Vietnamese person. This was best demonstrated by the images of troops destroying Vietnamese villages because of possible links to the Viet Cong - a policy highlighted as hurting US war efforts because it didn’t understand the basic social principles and values of the rural Vietnamese.

I had the pleasure of viewing his work at an exhibition in Cardiff about ten years ago. The images were printed as large photographic prints and were just breathtaking to view close up. The disturbing image of the Vietnamese 'little tiger' boy who had reportedly killed two Vietcong ( his mother and a schoolteacher it was reported) has always stayed in my mind. It seemed to reflect everything that was wrong with the war. It is no surprise then, that several of the images taken were used to form scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now.

The increasing criticism of the Vietnam war, combined with the public’s shifting support for the war led Griffiths to be be banned from returning to Vietnam. In later years , Philip Jones Griffiths would return to photograph the ongoing effects of the war. Agent Orange had been used in huge quantities during the war and had contaminated vast areas of Vietnam. Griffiths work concentrated on the legacy of the war left for future generations of Vietnamese to endure. In 2005 he returned to photograph the country for a book entitled ‘Vietnam at Peace’. The recent photographs are just as powerful as his war images.

Philip Jones Griffiths images of the war still have relevance today; to such extent that it led Noam Chomsky to comment that: "If anybody in Washington had read that book, we wouldn't have had these wars in Iraq or Afghanistan". Whilst I would disagree with the notion that it would have stopped the wars from taking place, I certainly believe that a lot of people would have thought twice before commencing. Such is the power of the images and the strength of Philip Jones Griffiths vision.

Philip Jones Griffith 1936 - 2008

All images by Philip Jones Griffiths
Top left - Philip Jones Griffiths - Image by Graham Harrison
Middle right - Injured and tagged Vietnamese woman
Middle left - Ten year old ARVN soldier
bottom right - US soldier with Vietnamese child


Friday 28 March 2008

Beside the Quayside..

The Quayside market, Newcastle upon Tyne

A recent assignment reminded me how much digital photography has radically changed the way professional photographers work today. The ability to photograph a subject and see what you've taken, there and then, is brilliant but the real radical change has come with the delivery of the images to the client.

Every now and again, I get a phone call from a local supplier of packaging asking about what my needs for sending items through the post are. My reply often surprises them. The vast majority of my work is transmitted via E-mail to whomever wants it, whether it's a magazine publisher, website developer or business person. I rarely post items these days and if i do, it's usually on optical media like a CD-ROM or DVD and not prints.

I am a big fan of film and i do believe that it's still an important part of photography that all photographers should try and use but digital has the key benefits of speed and convenience on its side. For a working snapper these features are critical when tight deadlines and fast delivery are involved.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Over the Tyne

Tyne and Wear Metro train passes over the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne

This was taken using a Nikon F5 with a 35mm Nikon wideangle lens - a favourite camera/lens combination of mine. I just love the whole process of image making using film.

The black and white film was Ilford HP5 rated at ISO400 that was developed in Kodak TMAX chemicals for 7 minutes.

Monday 24 March 2008

Detached space

Consett bus station - February 2008

I spotted this photograph whilst walking through Consett bus station. The spacing between the people says a lot about how we like our own space even when standing in public places with people all around. We are becoming a more detached society; a growing detachment from each other fueled by things like the Internet and text messaging.

I always find it rather sad when i see people walking about with their iPods playing, the music's tinny sound blasting out to everyone in earshot like a portable soundtrack to this modern urban world. It's like these people want to shut out the environment around them, using the music as a wall to block out the world. I always like to hear what's going on around me and soak up the sounds.

I like listening to the sounds of the street. The brakes squeaking on a bicycle, the shout of a market stall holder selling their produce and the occasional brief listen to a passing conversation. Am i just being nosy? Yes probably!

Saturday 22 March 2008

Monochrome magic

Ilford HP5 film developed using TMAX chemicals

The one piece of advice that i always give to people who ask about film/developer is 'find a film/developer you like and get to know them inside out'.

Why? Well quite simply you can get to know how a shot will look from past experience. It's also much easier to diagnose problems should you run into them. Quite simply it just makes the job of producing images that bit easier! This photograph was produced using Ilford HP5 rated at ISO400 and developed in Kodak TMAX developer for seven minutes. The results are just superb!

Walking through the All Saints graveyard in Newcastle was a very interesting experience. There aren't many places that give the impression of passing through time but this was certainly one that did. I realised as soon as i went through the black gates that i was onto something good. You could almost smell the history and see the people who'd visited the graveyard in years gone past.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Working restrictions

Here is a great little film by Rajesh Thind documenting the growing camera paranoia here in the UK. It's interesting to note how the Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) back off when they realise they are dealing with someone who knows the law better than they seem to do.

I've never been stopped by the Police, maybe due to the large pro Nikon cameras i carry, but i was once stopped by a guy who thought i'd photographed his car. A car screeched up to the side of me and out popped two men. Both started firing off questions and during their outburst of accusations, it turned out that one of them had had a previous vehicle stolen recently and obviously thought that i was photographing his new one so that that could be stolen too. A student ID card proved to him who i was but if he'd have pushed further i would have taken it down to the local police station. Both men were reacting to me due to their own paranoia - just like the PCSO's in the film did to Rajesh's presence.

The car wasn't in any photo and i had a 200mm lens on the camera at the time. If i had tried to photograph his car, all i'd have got was a closeup of his Vauxhall badge!

Wednesday 19 March 2008

True cost

The night before the burial of her husband's body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time - Image by Todd Heisler/Rocky Mountain News

I often forget how powerful a great photograph can be. An image can cut through all of the hype and spin to hit where it really hurts. The images linked below do just that... and more.

Many of the best photographs about the conflict in Iraq were taken where the biggest impact from a soldier's death occurs - back home. John Moore, a Getty Images photographer, perfectly captures the true cost of war with this superb image. Moore's image reminds me of a similar painful series of excellent Pulitzer prize winning images taken by Todd Heisler of the Rocky Mountain News.

If you only ever click on two links on this blog, make sure it's these two!

John Moore link found via The Online Photographer

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Fifth year

From A UH-1N Huey helicopter, Corporal Andy Vistrand, scans the countryside of Anbar province from behind a .50-caliber machine gun. Image by Ed Darack

It's five years this week since the start of the debacle in Iraq. The debate still rages about the success of the past five years; both sides of the political spectrum pressing the same old arguments but neither, it seems, with any resolve or answers, to actually sort out any of the issues. Is it any better in Iraq now? The answer depends on who you ask, what you watch and who you listen to.

The Reuters news agency has posted a rather good 5 minute film (along with fifteen others in the timeline section) featuring some of the images captured over the last five years of conflict. Be warned that some of these images capture the true horrific nature of the insurgency in Iraq. Many of the photgraphs were taken by freelance Iraqi photographers who operate in areas deemed too dangerous for the western media - often at great risk to their own personal safety.

Click HERE to view the Reuters/MediaStorm multimedia site, with profiles on three of their Iraq based journalists and to view the other various videos, maps and features on offer.

Signs of faith

My church sign images have certainly caused a reaction when viewed by people. It seems that the signs can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on whose looking at them.

Thanks go out to Sara, who spotted this collection of amusing church signs at the Timesonline website. Some of the signs certainly made me laugh. Click HERE to view.

Monday 17 March 2008

Secret agent?

It was the look on the assistant's face that said it all. Washing agent? What on earth is washing agent? That's the digital generation for you. Go anywhere near the old Victorian method of taking images and they haven't a clue but ask them about the digital image sensor on a 'Nikanon DS4000D' and they suddenly become a fountain of knowledge. Sad when you consider that this baffled shop assistant works for THE major high street photographic retailer in the UK.

For those of you who don't know..... washing agent is a liquid that stops water marks appearing on the negatives when your film is drying. It's not unlike a very mild washing liquid but a hunt over the last few days has turned up that it is rarer than the Transylvanian plywood beetle. The best offer I've had has been a delivery in three to four days. A bottle costs under £4 and used to be readily available. Obviously that is no longer the case!

Sunday 16 March 2008

Feedback feedback

I've noticed this last few days that people have been giving feedback using just the blogger anonymous setting and leaving no name. Well sorry folks but if you want that comment to get by the moderator you have to leave a name - its the rules. Just a first name will do but a name you must leave.

I've also had some 'feedback' about the photographer profile posts. All of the information comes from published sources via my rather large collection of photography books. If some of that information in a blog profile is believed to be wrong or inaccurate, then it is because the various book sources i get the information from are wrong.

Northern light

Dark clouds pass over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge

One of my favourite shots from the recent Newcastle trip. I just love the mixture of dark clouds, sunlight and blue sky that reflects the nature of the changeable lighting conditions that day.

Within an hour of this picture being taken, the dark clouds had completely cleared, it was blue sky, white fluffy clouds and bright sunlight - perfect photography weather!

Friday 14 March 2008

Written in stone?

Is this a photograph of a fascinating old headstone.... or a comment on my own mortality?

'Photographers think too much'. That was the bold statement i made to my fine art photography lecturer during a work review on my degree. A thin smile and barrage of theory to the contrary was what i got in reply although he didn't change my views. Maybe he saw it as saying 'Fine art photographers think too much'. They do.... in my humble opinion.

To get to that image taking moment, a photographer goes through a lot of processes but many images are taken via instinct. OK, I may think about what i want to put across in the image I'm taking but for some image makers, the process goes much deeper. Some photographers have to create deeper meaning, a message via a visual metaphor for the reader to understand. This is what is meant by 'reading an image'. It was this reading of images that i perceived as photographers thinking too much because often the intellectual reading of an image can be way off what the photographer was actually trying to say. Sometimes the viewer ignores the subject itself and concentrates on the technical makeup of the photo instead.

During my HND we had to do a ten minute presentation on a photographer. Robert Capa was one such legendary figure to come under the gaze and scrutiny of my group and it was fascinating to see how different people read the images. One person commented on the lone GI on Omaha beach image concentrating their view on the visual elements that 'constructed' the image. "You can see how Capa constructed the image by making the metal debris lead the viewer to the lone GI in the water" exclaimed one of the viewers. It was after this remarkable statement that i decided to add to the debate the fact that Capa was in the middle of a hot killing ground with dead lying all around, bullets whizzing by everywhere, up to his waist in cold sea water. Probably his only real thought was getting the HELL behind some cover before his head was blown off!

Did Capa really think at that decisive image taking moment 'oh those metal pieces of debris lead the viewer to the lone GI'? Or was it a fast, terrifying scramble for cover, through deep water, while very quickly taking some images? I leave the final interpretation of the image to you, dear reader.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Capa cache uncovered - Update

At the end of January I posted news that a remarkable collection of Robert Capa negatives had been uncovered. The Digital Journalist website has posted an excellent update revealing some more details about the 'treasure chest' of negatives.

The Digital Journalist update can be viewed HERE

Saturday 8 March 2008

Odd one out?

This fascinating poster is currently being used in London by the Metropolitan police. If you click on the image you should just about be able to read the rather interestingly phrased smaller text. Just what is 'odd' behaviour? It seems from the poster's text that you inform the authorities and then THEY decide.

During my HND, a friend of mine called Martin, photographed the location of various CCTV cameras/security systems that were springing up in Milton Keynes. The project's aim was to show the growing use of electronic surveillance in the urban areas - most of it operating without any public awareness that it was there. Undertake a photography project like that in London and you may find yourself trying to explain your college work to an anti-terrorism officer.

The problem for many professional and amateur photographers is how to prove that you ARE a legitimate photographer, interested in creating images when and where you see them. Could you prove that you were just photographing something because it was your job or hobby? I've been in professional photography seven years and carry virtually no official identification for who I am, who I work for or what I do - unless you count a driving license and a business card as ID. In light of the current security issues, I'm looking into rectifying that..... if I can !

Thursday 6 March 2008

Linux lineup

Linux in the lineup?

I am engaged in two experiments at the moment. The first is trying to get a old DELL laptop back to some sort of reliable status. The jury is still out on this matter but i think that i may be able to get the old DELL laptop to work with the addition of some new cheap components purchased from eBay. I hate waste and we already dispose of too many computers and electrical items without thinking of recycling or reusing them elsewhere. Hopefully this computer may have a second chance with Richard Flint Photography.

The second part of the experiment is the operating system which, due to the nature of the computer's uncertain future, is a free Linux based system called Ubuntu. So far I've been impressed with this free 700MB downloadable operating system that includes email, Firefox Internet browser and multimedia utilities within the package. I've always used (and preferred) Microsoft operating systems but Linux definitely offers a vast choice of alternative systems for running your computer - just type Linux into Google and see what comes up! Best of all, most (if not all) of them are available for free.

The first stage of the experiment is complete and now its down to finding some great software for photography use. Ideally I'd like something that is easy to use, flexible but, most importantly, offers good image file transfer compatibility between Microsoft XP and Linux. More will be posted on this and the future of the DELL soon.

Monday 3 March 2008

On message 2

another sign

Regular visitors to the blog will remember a shot taken a few weeks ago at the same church. Out and about today in the same area of York i came across the church again complete with a new sign.

I must admit that i do like the contemporary 'phone texting' approach to the signs although how much impact they have on the public is anyone's guess. They do make you think though. Am i living a lie?

Saturday 1 March 2008

Fabulous February

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge a.k.a The Winking Eye

If a survey was carried out for photographs taken during February in the UK, it would probably reveal a sudden upsurge in photo taking activity. The month was not only wonderful for the quality of the light, it was also quite warm which makes it a lot nicer for getting out and about and snapping away.

The photograph above was taken from the Tyne bridge which was rather daunting due to the gusty wind and the height.... I don't like heights much! The Gateshead Millennium Bridge was developed for the Millennium celebrations in 2000 and was one of the few large millennium projects to be delivered without any problems. Not only is it a brilliant piece of engineering that's beautiful to look at but it also serves a useful purpose, giving the public easy access to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead.