Saturday 31 May 2008

Profile: Sebastião Salgado

Oil well, Burhan, Kuwait - Image By Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado is arguably, one of the most successful contemporary photojournalists of recent years with accolades and awards for his projects stretching back over twenty five years. His photographic work reflects his deep humanist feelings towards his subjects, many of whom are from very poor backgrounds trying to scratch a living in a tough and unforgiving world.

Sebastião Salgado was born in 1944 in Aimorés, Minas Gerais,Brazil and studied economics before moving to Paris where he completed a Ph.D. in economics and was employed as an economist for International Coffee Organization until 1973. During a trip to Africa, Salgado borrowed his wife's camera and it was after this period that Salgado decided to go into photography, first joining the Sygma agency (1973-74) and then going to Gamma (1975-79). He later joined the Magnum photo agency in 1979 but left in 1994 due to his unhappiness with the way his work was being used/sold. After leaving Magnum Salgado launched his own photo agency called Amazonas Images which currently represents Salgado and his work.

Salgado used Paris as his base to cover various stories around the world including the wars in Angola, the Spanish Sahara and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan -the revenue from the image sales of the last story helped Salgado fund his photographic projects. For seven years between 1977 and 1984, Sebastião Salgado roamed Latin America photographing remote mountainous villages and peasant cultures of Indians and their descendants in Mexico and Brazil. The resulting images were used in a book and exhibition called Other Americas.

His next large scale project was called Workers which took five years to create. Many of Salgado's best known images come from this project where he photographed, in over twenty five countries , the end of large scale labour. Very few photographers, these days, have completed works on such large scales but even more amazing are the powerful images, that reflect the bleak and miserable existence for many workers during that period. Many of the photographs look at industries that employed vast numbers of men to do back breaking work; the sheer numbers of men in some of the Brazil gold mine images is just staggering. Further projects after Workers included photography about migration and the plight of displaced persons, refugees and migrants in over 40 countries. The success of Salgado's work is down to the quality of the images and his pragmatic ability to be able to show his work outside of the usual photojournalistic areas; he is certainly not afraid to exhibit and be called an artist which can make some photojournalists start to froth at the mouth! In an era when the human interest story is sidelined for the constant demand for celebrity images, Sebastião Salgado has managed to keep a small traditional sector of photojournalism alive and least on a small scale.

Various charities and aid organisations have benefited from Sebastião Salgado's photography over the years including Doctors without Borders and the United Nations, where the photographer documented the UN's fight against Polio in Africa and India. The photographs looked at the daily struggle against polio with a background of conflict and cultural considerations, continuing to complicate further the immensely important task of inoculation. The strength of Salgado's work comes from its sympathetic look at the subject, while informing the viewer about the issues involved. Salgado never looks down on his subject matter- if anything he is a motivator for social change, using images to get across what is happening in the world. I've loved his work since i first saw some of his images in the mid 1980's. The fantastic use of light in his images is just one outstanding feature of his work; the complete package of style and message is a powerful element to Salgado's work. Hopefully this great photographer will continue to produce his powerful and thought provoking images for many years to come.

All Images by Sebastião Salgado
  • Top left - Sebastião Salgado
  • Middle left - Refugee from Gondan, Mali, 1985
  • Middle right - Gold mine, Serra Pelada in the federal state of Pará, Brazil
  • Bottom left - Sahel - The End of the Road


Friday 30 May 2008

Broad selection

The boats on the Norfolk Broads at Wroxham, Norfolk, UK

I can' remember the last time i was at Wroxham and the sun was shining. The last few visits have always been during either rain or dull overcast skies, but regardless of what the weather is like, Wroxham is always a fun place to visit.

It is getting close to the 2008 Norfolk visit and I've been thinking about what film to take with me. Last year, i posted an article about how I was going to use a broader mix of films in 2008 - i still intend to follow that plan. I'm going to stick my neck out, hope that the British summer weather is sunny and bright (yeah right!), and take 125asa and 50asa as the main stock. I will also take some Ilford HP5 400asa (a standard film of mine anyway) just in case the weather isn't that good.

One format i intend to shoot more of this year is medium format 120 in 6x4.5 & 6x6 formats. I do enjoy using these types of cameras and the image quality is just superb. Other than that it will be the usual mixed bag of digital, 35mm film and medium format.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Northern Prince

Here's another image of the Northern Prince - featured in a post last week. I just love the light quality in this image...the pinks and purples are just gorgeous.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Bottle tops

This is the final post of the colour week series. I was rather surprised to see that only three of the images posted were from digital sources - and i picked the photographs!

I still use colour film, although mainly in 120 roll formats rather than 35mm. The rest of my colour work is done digitally and it is digital that, i believe, has made me view colour image making in a new light. I was never a big fan of colour during my student days but now it accounts for a good proportion of my work. Digital just makes colour photography so much easier.

The image above was taken in the studio as just a bit of fun but i like how it's turned out. The warm light was shining onto the beer bottle caps from a nearby window. The lens was a Nikkor 55mm macro lens which is one of my favourite lenses for studio work.

Friday 23 May 2008

Plane and simple

A Cessna taxiing back to parking

Someone once asked me why i took photographs. It was a difficult question to answer, and at the time i wasn't able to give a good reply. After some thought, i realised that i take photographs out of curiosity; it's a process of trying to understand what i see around me. It is also a way of expressing myself artistically. And finally, a camera is something i can psychologically hide behind, away from the world and everyone.

In some respects i am being judgemental about things i see, but most of the time i am trying to get a message, event or story across. I am a witness, storyteller and artist all rolled into one but there is also an element of luck. Sometimes i capture or miss a picture due to one thing or another which often makes me think ' was i destined to get (or not) this image?'.

Last year, i saw a brilliant image of a Catholic cardinal in full costume, engrossed in a conversation on his mobile phone, walking down an old Norfolk village street. Unfortunately i was in the car and couldn't get the shot but the resulting image, if i could have shot it, would have been superb.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Big wheel

Blue sky and a fairground wheel. I waited for the bird to come into the shot, just to add an extra bit of detail to the image. The gull was using the sea breeze to glide about, and looked like he hadn't got a care in the world.

Sudden change

The images coming from the earthquake zone in China's Sichuan Province have been traumatic to look at but this series of images really took my breath away.

One minute you are photographing a couple's wedding, and the next you are in the middle of a major earthquake. It is just amazing that the photographer and guests all survived the incident. To have the presence of mind to continue taking pictures, while the terrifying earthquake occurs for three minutes, is even more remarkable.

You can view this remarkable set of images HERE

Wednesday 21 May 2008

The rising waters

During a flood in York

This is another shot taken on slide film using the Bronica ETRS. It was taken during one of York's many small floods that affected areas down by the river. I'm not sure about the date but i think it could be around October 2000, when North Yorkshire received a massive amount of water over the space of a couple of weeks.

Certain local towns like Malton and Norton, had some of the worse flooding the town had ever experienced with millions of pounds worth of damage caused to businesses and housing by rising river levels. Soon afterwards, a large scale flood defence system was built costing millions of pounds.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Reclaimed ground

Abandoned van door surrounded by woods

Nature has a way of reclaiming lost ground. This photograph was taken while staying just outside Norwich, near a wood that was dotted with abandoned vehicles just rusting away. It just seemed such a waste; many of these vehicles would be prized by collectors looking for a new renovation project. Nothing had been done to hold back nature, so gradually, the long bracon and grass were taking over.

This image was taken on a medium format Bronica ETRS using Fuji Velvia 50 transparency film. Velvia 50 is no longer made but a Velvia 100 version is still available. Very nice it is too !

Monday 19 May 2008

Written in dust

The doors to All Saints Church, Newcastle

During my walk around Newcastle a few months back, i came across a wonderful old church called All Saints that dated back to the early 19th century. The images of the graveyard have already been posted on the blog but the first image i took was of the front doors.

They looked very old, maybe as old as the building itself. All over the door, written in the thick dust were peoples names, nicknames etc. Nothing rude from what i could see; it just looked like various people had wanted to leave their name as if to say 'I'm here!' It was as though they might be forgotten by everyone if they didn't do so.

Maybe that's what we all want...a way to be remembered, some way of marking our time here, where we are or who we are with. Personally, I believe that everything fades with time, regardless of things like money and fame. As the late, great George Harrison sang ' All things must pass'.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Colour week

The Northern Prince during a warm sunset

This week i will post a colour image, each day, taken from digital and film sources. Although i love shooting black and white images, colour offers a lot of creative possibilities and over the years i've grown to love it more and more.

This image was taken in Thornham Staithe, Norfolk where the Northern Prince was located, aground near a car park. For years, the boat remained in a poor condition but about ten years ago signs of some care and attention started to appear - starting with the boat's name being painted proudly on the hull.

Within three or four years, the boat had gone; repaired, repainted and returned to sail on the sea.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Review: Billingham 445

The Billingham 445 camera bag

Billingham bags are a popular choice for many photographers looking for a robust way of carrying their expensive equipment around. Classic design and solid construction have given these bags a fierce reputation for quality. For this review, I have used my five-year-old Olive green 445 which I use to carry a mixture of medium format and digital/35mm equipment.

The first Billingham bag I purchased was a 550 which I used throughout my student days. I would later swap to a 445 due to the difficulties of carrying the huge 550 in confined areas. The solid construction of the Billingham 445 is just superb and gives you the nice feeling that your gear will be perfectly safe inside the bag. A solid base plate is located at the bottom of the bag to provide protection when on the ground. The plate can be removed which makes the bag into a softer travel type bag. All of the zips and brass fasteners are top quality, providing a solid seal against the weather. A mixture of olive canvas and tan leather is used on my bag but Billingham currently only offer the 445 in a khaki canvas, black canvas and khaki Fibrenyte material. The olive colour is no longer available which is a shame - I always liked that colour. Dirt and mud can be brushed off and the more persistent marks usually come off with a bit of soap and water. These bags are very tough and will last years - in fact, you may never have to buy another bag again, if it's looked after correctly.

Storage offers a range of options, depending on what you want to carry. A bit of time is needed to work out what will go where when you first buy the bag; getting a good layout is often quite time-consuming but essential for getting the best use of space out of the bag. The 445 is easily capable of carrying the larger pro digital/film SLRs as well as larger medium format equipment like the Bronica SQAi. I use mine to carry both types of cameras. The extra height in the 445 means it is perfectly capable of carrying a large upright hammerhead flashgun in the bag. Billingham's super flex inserts are used to cushion the equipment during transport and they work brilliantly. My 445 is divided into sections with the cameras located at both ends of the bag. Lenses, flashguns and other items are placed in the middle. This layout works fine for me but there are plenty of variations that you could use. As the internal image demonstrates, one great feature about the Billingham design is the extra protection the flaps offer from prying eyes and bad weather. The bag has LOTS of pockets for items including a large front pocket that will carry a laptop, lots of bits and pieces or a large 35mm size camera. A huge amount of gear can be carried safely and if extra pockets are required, Billingham offer Delta pockets that fit onto the bag. Extra super flex inserts are also available should you require more.

Carrying the 445 bag is a comfortable experience but users of modern bags like the Tamrac Pro 12 may find the design of the strap not to their liking. The location of the padded shoulder pad is rather awkward at times; especially when carrying large amounts of equipment. The Tamrac Pro 12 is easier to carry due to its angled shoulder pad that takes some of the weight away from the shoulder. When fully loaded, the 445 is certainly less forgiving on the shoulder than the 'modern' designed camera bags on offer but the solid, rugged feel of the bag's strap and shoulder pad makes up for this. Like the rest of the bag, the finishing quality is just superb. These bags are designed to take all sorts of punishment - the most common of which will be water. The waterproof nature of the 445 is remarkable. I've been in storms and downpours which have thoroughly tested the bag, with no problems encountered at all. I even accidentally dropped this bag into thick harbour mud (I was with it!) with no damage done to the bag or the gear inside. The bag is about as waterproof as you can get!

In conclusion, I would have to say that the Billingham 445 is one of the best bags on the market. In many respects, the bag offers a different, classic type of look, compared to the modern bag designs that we see today. The weight of the bag is something that needs mentioning. The materials used certainly adds to the weight of the bag - I would estimate that it's a third heavier than my Tamrac Pro 12 bag. The weight does, however, reflect the amount of protection offered by the bag. 

The Billingham 445 is not cheap, retailing in the UK at around £390.00 but if you want the best possible protection for your camera equipment - I would recommend that the Billingham be first on the list when it comes to a new camera bag.

The Billingham website can be viewed HERE

The next review, to be posted in early June, will look at the Tamrac Pro 12 camera bag.

[Review updated in August 2021]

Monday 12 May 2008

Blue carpet

Some images of Bluebells taken yesterday. The woods near me are covered with this beautiful carpet of colour. Just magical !

Sunday 11 May 2008

Two and a quarter II

Looking towards Hunstanton along Holme Beach, Norfolk

Another square image taken on a quiet Norfolk beach about six or seven years ago. I had the beach to myself and stayed until the sun went down.

It was one of those 'spiritual' moments that you sometimes get. Photography is not just a technical excercise in composition, exposure, focusing etc; sometimes it's an emotional connection to the subject too.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Two and a quarter

Out and about near Wolverhampton race course

The weekends were often dull during my student days. You had to fill in that spare time so I would often go out for walks with a camera just to see what i could find; this image was taken during one of those walks.

I don't think that this guy ever knew that his picture was being taken. He was so deep in his own thoughts that he was oblivious to me taking his photograph. I was just walking along by the canal and saw him leaning against the bridge wall. I took two images in quick succession and then left him to his thoughts.

The camera was a Yashica 124G medium format camera that produces 6x6cm ( or two and a quarter inch) negatives. This summer will see me shoot more on this format which I've really grown to love.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Photography and truth

Manipulated NOT faked - Raising the flag over the Reichstag, May 1945

Truth and photography. You attempt to deal with this little issue at your peril, but after reading an article on Spiegel online, i was just amazed about how puritanical the writer, Michael Sontheimer, was about photography.

Images do not equal truth; the old saying that 'the camera never lies' is just wrong. It's a fact that all photographers, to one extent or another, are manipulating the viewers perspective of the subject. I'm not talking about digital manipulation here. The choice of camera, lens, colour or black and white, image cropping, angle of the viewpoint and the lighting, not to mention other factors, all have an affect on the final image and how it is viewed.

Spegiel Online's article focused on the Russian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei who photographed the famous scene of the Soviet flag being hoisted above Berlin's battered Reichstag in May 1945. The article uses the rather misleading title 'Iconic Red Army Reichstag Photo Faked'. What had the photographer done to the image? He had added some smoke, replaced a flag and scratched out a watch on the wrist of one of the soldiers; the officer had TWO watches, taken as loot during the conquest of Berlin. Manipulation of an image? - Yes. The faking of an image - No!

Monday 5 May 2008

Vietnam tribute

Lost Over Laos from Digital Journalist on Vimeo.

This is a beautiful presentation dedicated to the memory of the photographers, Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Keisaburo Shimamoto and Kent Potter who were killed when their helicopter was shot down over Laos in February, 1971.

Sunday 4 May 2008

Coming up...

No photo today but i do have some details about posts coming to this blog in the coming few weeks. As always I'll be trying to have a mix of all sorts of photography related subjects including a number of images from projects I'll be working on.

A number of linked reviews are planned including a couple of looking at the Billingham 455 and the Tamrac Pro 12. Both bags are of a similar size and i thought it would be interesting to compare the two against each other. I also have a number of useful gadgets that I've been testing that will also be reviewed. The first bag review for the Billingham 445 should be up by the second or third week of this month.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Sixties snapper

Lord Lichfield circa 1968

This is an image i came across on a fashion website, while researching material for the Don McCullin profile. It's an photograph from the late sixties of Patrick Lichfield that i think represents nicely, my idea of the working sixties photographer; cool, charming and glamourous. Austin Powers he certainly isn't!

In Britain, people have a tendency to jokingly refer to famous photographers whenever they see someone with a camera. "Here comes David Bailey/Lord Lichfield" is usually the 'witty' comment mentioned ...grrr. If i had a pound for everyone who'd called me David Bailey or Lord Lichfield over the years...well i wouldn't have to work!

Sadly Patrick Lichfield died in November 2005 at the age of 66. Unlike many other famous photographers, Lichfield always seemed to keep his photography fresh and original looking; he was at the top of his game right until his death.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Razzle dazzle

HMT Olympic photographed during WWI

This is the 200th post so i thought a bit of razzle dazzle was needed :-) I spotted this on one of the forums i visit and i think it's a fascinating image. The ship is the RMS Olympic, the sister ship of the famous Titanic that sank in 1912. This ship was 882.5 feet (269m) long which gives you an idea of the work involved painting the ship....and this wasn't the only dazzle camouflage scheme used.

The camouflage was called dazzle, designed by Norman Wilkinson, although various other artists were put to work designing camouflage schemes during the First World War. The purpose of the dazzle paintwork was to confuse and not hide the ship; the aim was for the patterns to disrupt the visual rangefinders on enemy ships and U-boats from estimating distance and speed accurately.

Did it work? Well, some believed it did and others weren't so sure, but it was improvements in optical rangefinders and the introduction of radar technology that eventually finished off the groovy paint jobs. I think the Royal Navy should bring it back!