Paris Photo, Feedback and the Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

Paris Photo was my first experience of the global photography industry at what is the largest photography festival of the year and it didn’t disappoint. The number of different exhibitions on show was staggering as was the grandeur of the main event at the Grand Palais.


What really struck me walking around the main exhibition was the care taken with and the quality of the work presented. Printing and the display of photography seems to be another art form in itself and I was fascinated by the different types of prints on display, with the silver gelatin print a stand out amongst many quality works. I hadn’t really given much thought to this previously but it certainly something that I was looking at closely through the main exhibition and will no doubt be going forward. Having researched a little bit more on the silver gelatin process I was pleased to discover that such prints are possible from digital files also.

I was particularly drawn to Elliot Erwitt’s work. Whilst there were only a few photographs on display, I enjoyed viewing these and will be looking for more of his work in the future. Aperture has produced a nice retrospective of his work which will be a good place to start. Other works that captured my attention included those of Rodrigo Moya, Enrst Haas, Ray Metzker, Tom Arndt, and William Eggleston, amongst others. So much inspiration to draw from.

But Photo Paris is not just about the Grand Palais. There is so much quality on show at the various exhibitions across the city and there is a great buzz all around from day through to night such as at the marvellous Offprint photobook event on a boat on the River Seine.


From the powerful Soulèvements (“Uprisings”) exhibition at la Jeu de Paume (with great works by the likes of Gilles Caron on Londonderry) to the amazing collections at la Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Harry Callahan, Andres Serrano stood out) to the groundbreaking work of Provoke magazine at Le Bal, there was something for everyone in Paris and plenty of inspiration for the aspiring photographer. I’ll certainly be coming back.

The Paris trip also provided opportunity to meet the tutors on the MA and my peers on the course. Having conversed remotely for the last two months it was pleasant to spend some time in person.

The MA cohort were treated to an overview of the work of Dr. Helen Sear, our Professor of Photographic Practice at Falmouth University, and the use of different media in her wonderfully diverse work.

We rounded off the field trip with a portfolio review of our work in progress that provided some invaluable feedback on our proposed projects and work so far. Dr Helen Sear encouraged me to find a position within the work and channel into a couple of stories. David Evans pointed me in the direction of La Musée National de l’Histoire de L’Immigration which I had some time to visit on my last day in Paris before the flight home. I was very glad that I did as it provided me with a lot of food for thought for my own project – some of the takeaways from the exhibition are noted below.


“Emigration is seldom a spontaneous phenomenon, far less an easy decision. Reasons for leaving are varied: political, economic, cultural. The choice of France is a response to its geographical proximity; an emergency flight; the choice of freedom; the attraction derived from the long history between the countries; and, above all, the chance of finding work. Emigration is therefore a phenomenon in which different factors exceed the individual level, but which nevertheless occurs on an individual scale.”

“In all the economic sectors, since the nineteenth century, male and female immigrants have participated in the construction and modernisation of France. Periods of crisis and employment do not stop immigrants working. Very often, low wages, long days, difficult working conditions, undervalued occupations and poor opportunities for promotion were the lot of foreign and colonial workers. Some escaped from this condition, climbing the ladder, or becoming self-employed. The world of work is also a place for solidarity and struggle, sometimes together with French workers, for better wages, better living conditions and equal rights.”

“Immigrants gradually developed lasting ties with their adopted country. Everyday life and the workplace created the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. For some, participation in the collective struggle, for others, joining the army, or even family life, sometimes as the result of marriage out of their ethnic group, accelerated their taking root in the host country. For the younger ones, who came with their parents, school became, from the 1920s, an essential place for socialisation and integration. Access to French nationality too, since 1889, was a strong anchor. From generation to generation, these roots shaped a country with a diverse population.”

“Sport is not just about champions. Sport became a gateway to the host society, and sometimes a way to succeed in escaping from working conditions.”

“The wide diversity of economic situations from which the immigrant population comes leads to a diversity in the places they live, including housing. Some families moved into expensive homes such as town houses or villas by the sea. They took advantage of the leisure areas reserved for a comfortably situated class. However, many immigrants ended up in the most precarious housing areas. From barns to furnished accommodation, in run-down areas and refugee camps in shantytowns, they suffered the constraints and rejection linked to substandard housing. Solidarity among themselves, however, helped them to make a place to live. Access to adequate housing is thus a sign for the immigrant of his progressive installation in the host society. From the 1950s onward, the State undertook an active public housing policy. For the French, this was the beginning of secure rent-controlled housing. Some homes were built for isolated immigrant workers. Gradually, immigrant families gained access to rent-controlled housing. Social problems sometimes turn them into new places of exclusion. But in many districts, the melting-pots of contemporary urban diversity, people feel at home.”

“You don’t wipe out your past when leaving your country. Every immigrant brings with him his mother tongue and his culture. On arrival, immigrants try to join their fellow countrymen, and to recreate a micro-society with them. This was the case for the Italians and the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe from the end of the nineteenth century onwards, then again the Poles, the Armenians, the Russians who came in the period between the wars, then the Spanish, the Algerians, and the Portuguese during the post-war boom, and today the Africans and Asians. Most often, the ties begin to loosen with the following generation.”

“Two centuries of immigration have made France a land where multiple cultures come together. From the Little Italy of yesteryear to today’s Chinese Quarter, diversity can be seen at the corner of every street. Cultural traditions, language, songs and stories, the religions, the daily life of cooking and the great celebrations of life’s milestones are essential to migrants, who seek to pass this part of their heritage on to their children. By doing this, between daily exchanges and mutual influences, they contribute to the perpetual renewing of a common, shared culture. Today, while the differences appear more clearly, the input of distant cultures contributes the construction of a society with all the colours of the world. Exile and immigration are also strengthened the movement of artists and writers from other places, which never ceases to enrich France’s cultural heritage.”



Critical Perspectives


In today’s world, it has become increasingly important to develop critical perspectives with respect to photography. Photography has become so common place that we see hundreds, if not thousands, of images every day. I often find myself flicking through various materials containing photographs, be it a magazine, on instagram, a blog etc., without really taking time to think about the image. There is so much content out there that we often only have enough time to be passively consuming rather than consciously viewing images. The experience of the viewer will of course be different from person to person and not all viewers will have the same positive or perhaps negative opinion of a photograph particularly given the many different genres of photography that exist.

As a practitioner, it is important to consider critical perspectives with respect to photography as only with an understanding of these can we improve our own practice and avoid being dismissed as just another photograph in the sea of images seen from day to day. There is onus on the photographer to ensure that the images created “matter” (as Francis Hodgson said in the ‘Quality Matters’ interview at Fotoboekenmarathon in 2012) given the omnipresence of photography today.

I need to further educate my own critical eye and this has begun to improve further during our studies in the first module of the MA, the recent visit to Paris Photo (more to come on that) and through my own research and readings. I have a growing list of books, journals, blogs and magazines to get through which I intend to make a dent in over the Christmas holidays!

In terms of my own practice, I am thinking more and more about the purpose of each image. Not just the subject, the composition and the lighting but what is the image about and has that been portrayed accurately? What am I trying to achieve with each image? What is the story being told? Last month I took a photograph (see below) that could be interpreted very differently depending on the viewer and without context the meaning or purpose of this image could easily be misunderstood. The challenge with documentary photography is to avoid images that can be misconstrued and, in Burgin’s words, to bear in mind the visual choices we make when creating images. Context, as noted in a previous post, is also key in the production and dissemination of our images to provide clarity and to compliment the image.



Tutorial, Feedback and Further Research

I had a useful tutorial this month with the course leader to discuss the course and what I intended to focus on for my main project. I shared my work in progress through my website and we talked through this as well as my main project.

Whilst my project is relatively broad in terms of the theme at present I don’t think that this is a bad thing as it gives me room to explore different approaches over the next three modules – Informing Contexts, Surfaces and Strategies, and Sustainable Prospects. I have started to look into each of the Module Information Forms to consider possible approaches with my project for each of the next three modules and this will be outlined in my project proposal – Home Away From Home.

My work in progress so far has focused on exploring different communities across Dubai such as those in Al Satwa, Al Karama and Deira to understand a little bit more of the city. As I spend more time in the different communities my hope is to get closer to the people to be able to document more about their lives here in Dubai in a more personal way and not just objectively.

The tutor referenced two photography projects in the tutorial as being worthwhile reviewing.

The first project is Stranger by Olivia Arthur ( which imagines a shipwreck survivor returning to Dubai fifty years later and what they would see on their return. What struck me most about Olivia’s work was the use of transparent paper for the photographs in the book. This makes each image blend in with the next image and then it slowly fades away in reverse as the page is turned which has an almost dreamlike feel to the viewer. The ordering of the images has also been carefully considered. This highlights the contrasts in Dubai such as that of the man half buried in the sand and the DeLoreon car on the next page. Olivia also uses archival pictures and text to supplement her own photographs which is very effective given the story being told. Given that we recently explored contexts in the course, it is perhaps not surprising that I found these aspects of Olivia’s work most interesting. Olivia gave me a timely example of the importance of photography’s context.

The second project is Open See by Jim Goldberg (Open See). It was interesting that this was raised by the tutor as this was one of the documentary photographers that I had referenced in my first draft of my oral presentation but I took this out to cut down on the material so that it fit in the ten minute limit. I had referenced this photographer as I like the way in which he gets very close to his subjects through his long-term and in-depth collaborations with the types of populations that he focuses on – typically those that are marginalised, neglected or ignored. It is this sort of depth that I am looking for in my project.

GREECE. 2003

Goldberg, J. Albanian Beggar. 2003

Reflections on Week 8 – Exploring Contexts

During the week’s presentations we learned more about the different contexts in which photography can be placed. This is something that is in some respects unique to photography compared to other art forms as there is so much diversity in the way in which photography can be presented. There are many different homes for photography such as in a gallery exhibition or in the various forms of print (journal, magazine, newspaper or a book) and also online on photographer websites and blogs. There are also many different ways in which photographs can be displayed in each of these homes – large scale single photographs, a series of photographs, photographs with or without text, photographs accompanied by audio, the list goes on.

Personally I am not sure right now quite how my main project will be displayed although a few commented when reviewing my work in progress in Paris that there was scope for a book. The presentations have given me food for thought and it is an area that I want to explore much further. I have just ordered a book about context and narrative in photography to learn more about this and it will be something that I pay attention to much more when viewing other photographers’ work going forward.

This week we also started to build our own galleries for our work in progress. I used my Wix website to put together a quick gallery with some of my work from my wanderings in Dubai to facilitate the tutorial discussion and also get some initial feedback from my peers (

The feedback received was quite positive. I have since researched a few websites of documentary photographers and have concluded that I prefer the images to be full screen to the extent possible. I think my current gallery showing all of the images is too distracting and that there are better ways in which to display work. Links to some examples of websites that I think are really effective are copied below. I will be aiming for something more like these in the coming weeks. I also need to consider to what extent narrative will accompany my work as well as how I can best protect my personal work that is displayed on my website.

Reflections on Week 7 – Strategic Choices

The strategic choices that I make today are probably mostly due to personal circumstances and the equipment that I currently own.

In terms of personal circumstances, I live in a hot country that places certain restrictions on outdoor photography – particularly in the summer. When I began the MA, the outside temperatures were consistently above 40 degrees in the daytime and rather humid in the early mornings and evenings. Once the humidity calmed down I was able to get out shooting in the evenings – otherwise I had to take to the indoors. This will be a challenge next summer and so I will have to come up with some solutions for the very hot times between May and September. A night time project for those evenings where the humidity is not too intense and lots of indoor photography. Hopefully by then I will have a few good contacts/ families for my main project that will allow me to focus more indoors than outdoors. I have also started to intern in a photography studio in Dubai so perhaps that will also give me a few more options in the summer for continuing my photography education in those months.

In terms of the equipment that I own, I have been working exclusively since the start of the MA with the Fuji XT1 and the fixed lenses (16mm, 23mm, 35mm, and 56mm) that I own – in fact about 75% of my work so far has probably been with the 35mm which I have found to be the most suitable lens when walking around the streets of Satwa, Diera and Karama over the last few weeks. I have enjoyed shooting with the fixed lenses. I think they have brought a good discipline to my work as they make me think more about getting into the right position for a good composition. The XT1 has been great for street photography as it is so easy to carry around all of the time but I have just got back into using the Canon 5d Mark II again (having solved to mystery of the failing autofocus – embarrassingly this just needed a setting changed!) and I used this at a recent event that I covered. I can see myself getting back into this system and I need to as I had forgotten so much about the camera’s operational system in such a short space of time. It’s just such a big camera! However, I can see this being my go to system for portrait and studio work in the future….and perhaps with lighting which I have started to learn more about and experiment with this week.

These are obviously both digital systems – I have never ventured into the world of analog photography but this is something that I am going to embark on over the Christmas holidays. I want to continually challenge myself and I can see analog photography helping me to slow down a little bit and think more about the images that I capture. The other benefit of analog also is that I won’t spend any time post processing over the holidays and so more time with the kids. I will also get a nice surprise when I get the films developed! I am currently researching some analog camera options. Any tips welcome!

One of the topics during the week’s presentations was around the role of chance and serendipity in photography. I think that this really depends on the photographers practice. A model shoot for example is much less likely to incorporate an element of chance in a shoot compared to perhaps street photography where there it really is chance as to what the photographer may come across in his day to day work. As such I see this a key element of my current practice. I have shot many photographs in my street walks which relied upon the people that I came across and the situations that they are in. Chance will certainly play a big part in the people that I meet and stories that I document along the way for my main project.

Now that the weather is much better, I am going to give myself a small project each week to get myself out photographing more, continuing to learn the art and craft of photography and to really push myself further. I have bought a book (The Photographers Playbook, Aperture, 2014) that provides over 300 different assignments and ideas for photography mini-projects and I will be making sure that every day I am always working on a photography project or some sort – be it my own mini-project, a peer commission or my main project. This will provide me with certain parameters for each project and hopefully also help me to expand my creativity over time.

Micro Commission

This week I was provided with a micro commission from one of my peers. The brief was as follows:

What/who to be included in shot – Produce an image of a public transport vehicle, example, bus, train, etc., as long as it’s a form of public transport. Can include people, but not a requirement as long as it creates the look expected below.

What’s expected – The pictures need to show the energy & mechanical aspects of the vehicle. I want the image to be viewed from an engineering aspect as this image will be used to advertise the work of Engineers and recruitment of new engineers. So in other words make the Vehicle stand out or the aspects of the workmanship for young engineers to be inspired.

It was hard to be get very close to the mechanical aspects of the public transport. I was ushered away by security at one point. The photographs show the three main aspects of the public transport system in Dubai, the metro, the tram and the bus network, as well as some of the supporting infrastructure. I tried to be a little creative in the time provided for the exercise (just 2 hours – although I had to spend a little longer than this given the need to move around the city a bit) and tried to get as close as possible in the circumstances. Hopefully the photographs may provide a little inspiration to young engineers.

Week 4 – The Filters of Citizen Journalism

The readings for this week included some articles about the different uses of technology within photojournalism – namely the iphone and the app hipstamatic.

I read these articles a bit later than everyone else but I agreed wholeheartedly with a fellow student’s comment “why such a fuss? If I eat a beautiful meal in a lovely restaurant, I really don’t mind if it was made in a century’s old pot or the latest Sous Vide. It’s how it looks and tastes that matters. Surely then it is only how the image looks and feels that matters, not the means chosen to create it.” 

David Alan Harvey mentioned in a recent talk that I went to that the best camera is the one with you. This is often said by many photographers but it is so true. If we appreciate a photograph for what it is then why does it matter what camera has been used to take it? It is still a great photograph.