Reflections on Week 5 – Power and Responsibility

As part of this week’s readings and lectures, we were asked to consider the power and responsibility of photographers. I have considered below the following questions that were posed at the end of the first presentation.

As an image maker or author, what moral dilemmas do you encounter in your own practice, or more broadly, around the medium of photography?

I often find a moral dilemma in taking photographs of people in the street without them knowing. There is nothing sinister to the photograph and it is usually the only way to get a truly natural photograph of people in their environment, however it does sometimes feel like you are stealing a photograph. These days I try to at least explain to any subject why I am photographing (before or after).

Do you have any models of your own to assess the appropriateness of an image or how it is used?

I haven’t used a formal model to assess the appropriateness of an image or how it is used. One way of thinking that I have developed is to put myself in the subject’s shoes and ask myself would I be ok in his or her position to be photographed and would I be happy for that image to be shared on whatever platform I am considering. It also doesn’t harm asking the person when this is possible too!

One of the most striking images taken recently was the photograph of Alan Kurdi on the beach which prompted the tutor to raise the following questions of the cohort:

Do you recall any memories or experiences at the time of the publication of the photographs and footage of Alan Kurdi’s death? What are your own views on the appropriateness of the publication of these, or similar kinds of image? What is your own assessment of the impact of these images?

I was shocked at the photograph when I first saw this and incredibly saddened by the situation. I remember that this photograph did help change the perspective of a lot of people on the migration issue and it created more sympathy towards the migrants. Sadly nothing has changed apart from the view of a number of European’s on the migrants’ plight. Since then there have been hundreds if not thousands who have suffered the same consequences as Alan.

It is a highly sensitive subject but I think it was ultimately right to share this image given the circumstances (nothing could have been done to change anything at that moment in time) to highlight the realism of what was going on in Syria which was perhaps to some just another war in the Middle East. It is sad to see what is happening there and the plight of the people. Another more recent image taken in Syria is that of the bloodied Syrian boy, Omran Daqneesh (Links to an external site.), in the ambulance shell shocked. Whilst this is a still image from a video it is still an image which in this case seems to have been taken with a view to prompt a public reaction – upset and shock. As a father of two young boys I found this very difficult to deal with and it made me feel that the person creating the image should perhaps have done more in this case to comfort the boy rather than capture the video.

What has challenged me this week?

The biggest challenge this week has been in researching the legal frameworks in photography which I hadn’t really looked into until now given that I have not been producing images for clients before the course. It was also interesting reading up on different ethical stances with respect to photography.

What have I learned this week?

Having considered photojournalist Jeff Mitchell’s image of refugees crossing from Croatia to Slovenia in October 2015, which was used controversially by the UK Independent Party during the 2016 referendum campaign to leave the European Union, I have learned that I need to take greater care with the way in which I engage with future clients to protect the way in which my images are used.

The NPPA Special Report: Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography provides some useful guidance on the way in which a photograph is used.

“As William J. Mitchell points out in his book, The Reconfigured Eye, Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, we are experiencing a paradigm shift in how we define the nature of a photograph. The Photograph is no longer a fixed image; it has become a watery mix of moveable pixels and this is changing how we perceive what a photograph is. The bottom line is that documentary photojournalism is the last vestige of the real photography.

Journalists have only one thing to offer the public and that is credibility. Without credibility we have nothing. We might as well go sell widgets door to door since without the trust of the public we cannot exist as a profession.

Credibility – some questions to ask

In what Context is the photo being used?

Is the photograph a Fair and Accurate Representation of the information being presented?

Does this photograph Deceive the reader?” (1)

When a photographer sells an image to a large company such as Getty then I think you have to be prepared to accept that you have lost control over the way in which an image is used. In this case, perhaps one could question whether Jeff Mitchell considered whether his image was suitable for mass circulation and whether in fact it would have been better to consider other routes for sale of his work? Getty’s terms state “Your images may be altered by our customers, distributors or us to suit the use for which it is marketed or licensed” (2) so you basically lose control of how an image will be used. There is only a carve out for any use that is defamatory, pornographic or otherwise illegal.

Having sold the license of the image to Getty, Jeff Mitchell lost control over most of what is posed in the three questions above, perhaps apart from question two in that he documented what was going on at that point in time. However, the questions are still relevant for reseller of the license and publisher of the image. In respect of Getty, their business model is unlikely to enable questioning of the use of each and every sale of licenses to images on their site – they will just rely on their terms and take action afterwards if needed. The publisher of the image in this case UKIP does however have the ability to consider the questions posed but chose not to. The way the image has been used clearly does not provide a Fair and Accurate Representation of the information being presented and does Deceive the reader.

Interestingly, in this particular case, I came across a comment from Tom van Laer (Marketing Lecturer at Sir John Cass Business School) who stated that:

“Ethics become a great concern when storytelling is adopted for the promotion of political views … It is unlikely that already vulnerable voters will resist the power of stories in general and political, mediates stories in particular. This reinforces the need to restrict voters’ exposure to this type of political advertising, especially in situations in which these vulnerable people are likely to be lost in the story. [But] political advertising has been exempt from the Advertising Code of the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s independent regulator for advertising across all media. The Electoral Commission, which oversees British elections and referenda, has rejected the idea of regulating political ads.” (3)

As another student commented, it does pose a lot of considerations for photographers in how they can improve the way in which they license their own work to ensure that any such agreements include appropriate ethical issues. Definitely something I need to look at more closely myself.

(1) https://nppa.org/node/5127 (Links to an external site.)

(2) https://contributors.gettyimages.com/article_public.aspx?article_id=2719 (Links to an external site.)

(3) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/06/brexit-anti-immigration-ukip-poster-raises-questions-160621112722799.html (Links to an external site.)

I came across a good Lynda.com article which is a good resource for photographers on licensing which also references a number of other associated resources so this will be a good place to turn when I do get to that stage.

Reflections on Week 4

During the week’s presentations, we were posed with a number of questions relating to the topic of “rethinking photographers”:

How do you think popular representations of photographers contribute to perceived social and cultural values of the profession?

The worst popular representation of photographers that I can think of is that of a paparazzi photographer who in some extreme cases with stop at nothing to get a photograph which sadly played a significant role in Princess Diana’s death and did a huge amount of damage to the public’s perception of the social values of the profession.

Do you have a favourite, or least favourite, movie about a photographer? What does this film say about the medium and the practitioners?

Whilst not about a famous photographer, I really enjoyed the Brazilian film “City of God” which was portrayed through the eyes of a young lad (Rocket) from the favelas who liked photography and was documenting unique images of the goings on in the favelas that were difficult for any other person to get given the dangers for outsiders. I think I just like this film because it demonstrates how accessible photography has become which I have said before is a good thing as it should not be something only enjoyed by those of better means.

I have a large list of films on photography and photographers that I posted in my blog during week 2. I have yet to get to this due to other priorities on the course but I can’t wait to get stuck into a few of those!

In relation to you own practice and professional activity:

  • what is the impact of ever changing technology?
  • what challenges has this presented you with?
  • how have you embraced (or rejected) changing technology in your own practice?
  • how do you think the way that cameras are marketed affects people’s perception of the value of professional photography?

As a photographer that likes documentary photography on the streets, I have to say that the impact of ever changing technology has been fantastic. The quality of the smaller cameras available now is excellent with great mirrorless options now and also superb mobile phone cameras these days which enable so many more opportunities to photograph. I work with a Canon 5D Mark II and it is a great camera but I also invested in a Fuji XT1 a couple of years ago and I haven’t regretted it in the slightest. Superb for out and about on the streets. All that being said, I am slightly sad that I didn’t get to fully explore photography in the film days and one day I would like to experiment with film also. Perhaps a project during the holidays at Christmas.

The biggest challenge is keeping up with the latest innovations. I don’t think we all need the latest and greatest camera models (I can’t see me changing my two for some time except for perhaps dabbling with a hired medium/large format) but there are many changes in technology for post production which is as important aspect of any photographers workflow. This is something that I haven’t focused on a huge amount to date but an area that I want to improve upon dramatically during this course. Lynda.com is going to become a very important tool for me.

As for the marketing of new cameras and equipment – it does my head in! You don’t need the latest cameras to make great photos. “All the gear and no idea” springs to mind here. I would much rather invest in a book, a course or my time assisting and learning the ropes from experts in their field. I went to a photography event recently in the UAE and I was so disappointed that there were so many photography retailer stands and not one book for sale. I think that some people expect that a professional photographer will always have the latest technology. In addition, some of the marketing techniques used imply that the latest technology will guarantee a good photograph and so sadly devalue the hard work of the professional photographer.

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Edward Steichen

 

 

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.

Week 4 -Rethinking Photographers

One of the tasks for Week 4 was to consider what we think non-photographers make of professional photographers – what are the conceptions and misconceptions?

For me, it is difficult to clearly define what is meant by a professional photographer. The simplest definition could be someone that solely works and earns money within the photography industry but then there are also photographers who are excellent at their craft who have an extremely “professional” approach to their photography and are highly knowledgeable and experienced but do it for the love of it perhaps alongside another career. There are many different ways to define a professional photographer and photography is somewhat unique as it can be a hobby for some that eventually turns in to a business.

The most common misconception that I have come across about “professional” photographers is that a photographer turns up for a job, points their camera and presses the shutter a few times and hey presto they have completed their work. These days everyone is a photographer and can take their own photographs easily with a point and shoot or mobile phone. A lot of non-photographers assume that the work of a photographer is similar to what they would do when taking a picture, i.e. just aim and click.

The reality, of course, is that there is a lot more work involved for professional photographers. For those working for clients, there is the marketing to gain business, the planning of a shoot that meets the client’s brief, the day of the shoot itself, editing of the work and the delivery of the final output in digital or print form. For those photographer’s working on personal projects, there are other elements of the work such as the planning and research required well before any photographs are taken.

Aside from the manual work involved, there is also a photographer’s personality, vision and sense of emotion which is something very unique to each and every photographer. This cannot be bought and sold, it is something that develops over time and is one way in which one photographer can be distinguished from another.

“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”

Robert Frank

“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”

Paul Caponigro

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”

Don McCullin

“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

Alfred Eisenstaet

I have also come across people who assume that a professional must have the latest and greatest camera to be a professional. I often use a fuji camera as it is lightweight, compact and great to keep with you at all times rather than a full-frame. I did a shoot for an event last week and some non-photographers as well as some so-called professional photographers looked down on this as inferior equipment and a sign of an inferior photographer. I have seen some of the best photographs taken with some of the most basic cameras or mobile phones because it is not always about the camera but what the photographer sees and captures.

As a few others have commented, it also really bugs me when someone sees a photograph I have taken and says you must have a great camera….

As a follow up to my response a fellow student commented on the importance of the vision of a photographer and brought to my attention the work of David duChemin (a humanitarian photographer) who states that vision should be the focus of photographers. One for me to take a look at further. Apparently he has his own youtube channel called “vision is better”.

My Purpose as a Photographer

I am a photographer that seeks to educate through a lens on society. As a photographer I strive to be humble and to treat all subjects with respect and dignity. I seek to avoid stereotyping individuals and groups, as well as to recognise and avoid presenting any of my own biases in my work.

I am responsible for working within the boundaries of the relevant national laws that relate to my photographic practice.

I am answerable to my subjects and I will deal with any issues that are sensitive in an appropriate manner so as to not put them at risk of reprisal.

My subjects, my clients and the public are answerable to me as an image maker. My subjects should provide written or verbal consent to being photographed. My clients should respect the terms of our agreement and respect the ethics that I stand for as a photographer. The public should respect the work that I create and the ownership rights to the images.

Week 4 – Work In Progress

In last week’s post “Visit to the Metropolis Exhibition at the East Wing, Dubai” I mentioned that I would like to explore more about the various nationalities who make Dubai their home. This week I explored this further and presented to our cohort during the Friday webinar.

The main questions I have posed to myself in thinking about this project so far have been:

  • What makes so many people from so many different countries make Dubai their home away from home? What are the push and pull factors?
  • How do people from other countries integrate into Emirati society (or not)?
  • What sub-cultures have developed in the U.A.E. as a result of this diverse melting pot of different nationalities? For example, are there distinct sub-communities of different nationalities such as a little India or little Philippines?
  • How do they cope being away from family and friends?
  • How do expatriates generally go about life in their home away from home?

I don’t have answers to these now and the questions may change over time but at this point in time these are some of the questions that I want to tackle during the project.

Earlier this week I went on a walk to discover some new places and I started off at a fishing marina nearby home to try to meet some of the fishermen and learn a little more about this. The first photograph is of a couple of lads repairing the fishing nets behind the scenes in the marina. There were a lot of Indians working on this whilst I was there, getting the nets ready for the next fishing trip.

fishing-net-repairs

There were some interesting parts to the inner workings of the marina but security weren’t keen on me taking photographs of this part of the marina and I was soon ushered back to the water’s edge which wasn’t too interesting. I am more interested in finding out more about the day to day lives of people here in Dubai, not so much the yachts in the marina. The fishing boats may have been interesting but these were moored up in a zone that was restricted and the entrance to this part of the marina had a sign saying “no photography or video” so that ruled that part of my walk out.

_dsf3801

My second encounter was with a Pakistani gardener who was having a rest and a cup of tea in the fishing marina after his morning shift. He was a pleasant man and happy to have a chat with a side discussion about any gardening work available near where I lived. I liked the simplicity of this photograph with the cup of tea just hanging on the edge by his side. I imagine I will come across this chap again during my walks in the area. If so, I hope to give him a polaroid of this.

gardener-having-a-rest

After this first day, I decided that the walk, whilst beneficial in that I was out and about shooting different nationalities, needed more of a structure and so I started to build out a mind map for my main project outlining a number of the different nationalities represented in the U.A.E. and then focusing on researching the Filipino community as a starting point. I thought I would start with Filipinos as I already have some connections with a few Filipinos and also there tends to be less language barriers than some other nationalities. I produced this mind map from a number of online sources which I hope will provide some structure to my work going forward.

Melting Pot.png

I found this quite useful as it made me think about and research a number of different aspects of Filipino culture which will help provide structure to my project and will hopefully also ensure that my project considers all these different elements of their lives here in Dubai to give a relatively complete view. The above is just a starting point and will grow in time once I get a little bit more immersed within the Filipino community. Most of the elements of this mind map were identified through my own online research. Hopefully this will be supplemented soon with some more local insights.

I have been using the MindNode app for this which I found quite useful as I could add to it via by iphone, ipad or laptop and it syncs between the three. This makes it quite handy to update as and when I have a brainwave or insight into something I had not considered previously. My mind tends to wander a lot and if I don’t get something down on paper or the electronic equivalent then it can be easily forgotten!

So after putting together the initial mind map for the Filipino community, I took the streets again but this time with an agenda and the first location was the basketball court in Satwa Park. Basketball is a very popular sport in the Philippines and there is a public outdoor court in the middle of Satwa which is an area where a lot of Filipinos live here in Dubai along with a number of people from South Asia. I thought this would be a good initial point to shoot as it was the coming together of the community at the end of the day after work. It was a hive of activity, and there was a pretty intense game going on.

This photograph was taken from outside the basketball court looking in through the metal bars surrounding the court. I found this nice to portray as it is showing a group doing something they truly love outside of their day to day work. The metal bars here could be somewhat symbolic as whilst they are inside a cage you could perhaps interpret that as being on the other side of the metal bars in a place where they are free from the pressures of work. Whilst the players are blurred out, you still get the sense of an important game taking place given the positions of each of the players.

basketball-bars

The next photograph was taken this time inside the court looking from the perspective of those watching the game (there were quite a lot watching on this side of the court). Here I wanted to show some motion with this picture to bring it more to life. Not perhaps the greatest photograph but may be an indication of the particular style that I would like to bring into the project.

making-a-charge

I again used motion in this last image which was of a lot of people returning to Satwa crossing the road on the way home from work with the Burj Khalifa looming in the background on the left. Perhaps some influence here from the work by Martin Roemers and the motion he deploys in his photography?

coming-home

I suspect that over the course of the next year I am going to experiment with a lot of different styles as I become more immersed in photography, connect with other photographers and study other art forms.

Whilst I had a purpose to photograph a particular element of the Filipino community, I found that as I was out and about, I came across other communities during that time. This will no doubt happen over the course of this project and I don’t want to ignore those moments even if the focus that day is on a particular community. As an example, before I even got to the basketball court in Satwa, I came across an impromptu cricket match on a bare patch of land just on the outskirts of Satwa. There were a few different nationalities playing so it was nice to see that mix. There was a bit of agro too as it got a bit heated after an LBW appeal!

labourers-cricket

Satwa is a really interesting place and there is a lot going on there at night with many different nationalities living in the area. Whilst I was watching the basketball, a Kenyan couple (Collins and Vyona) playfully asked if I would take their photography which I obliged and sent them a copy via whatsapp. We got talking about Kenya and struck up a good conversation. Kenya wasn’t actually on my list but it probably will be now too. 🙂

vyona-and-collins

One aspect that I was struggling with and asked the cohort during the week’s webinar was to do with black and white vs colour photography and whether there is a place for both in a single project. Dayana provided some great thoughts around how both could be incorporated in the same project but perhaps by splitting the images in black and white, and colour by certain themes. She wondered whether one theme could be in exploring how different cultures behave in similar situations e.g. work, sport, nightlife etc. All good thoughts. Jedd also thought that it would be good to explore the extent to which there is interaction between communities which is an extension to my initial question about what extent they integrate (or not) with Emirati culture. Certainly the first experience in Satwa has provided ample opportunity to explore this aspect further.

After the initial challenge in finding a suitable subject, I am pretty excited about this project now that I have some clarity on where I am going with it. If anyone has any good contacts in any communities in Dubai then do please put me in touch. I need to build my network 🙂

Week 3 – Micro Project

Last week we were given the challenge to work with one or two other peers in a creative partnership and deliver a ‘micro project’ at the end of the week, to be discussed and critiqued in the webinar. To find our creative partner(s), we had to post a single sentence or a single image to the forum that could form the starting point for a piece of photographic work.

I was drawn to the idea of “A Stranger and One Wish” which was expanded on by my fellow student as follows:

For most of us, approaching a stranger is a difficult proposition. Even more so, if you want to take their picture. I was thinking we approach a stranger or two, who is visually interesting, ask them to make one wish, write it down and then take their portrait. A small marker board with pen is ideal or even a piece of paper. It’s a micro project with so many layers. First, you have to establish the all important connection and gain their trust, at the same time you have to be thinking on a visual level regarding composition, light, backgrounds and the expression you are seeking from the subject. Also, having to do this in public and in an unfamiliar environment adds to the the difficulty of capturing one still image. Collaboration between two people at its best 🙂 It’s definitely not an easy micro project but one that once completed will feel rewarding on all levels for all involved. For the viewer, we are giving them more than just a simple portrait as the wish can add a deep connection between viewer and subject.

When I saw the post I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to push myself outside of my boundaries and to shoot strangers up close in the street which I hadn’t done before. I haven’t done many close up portrait shots except with my family and it is a genre of photography that has appealed to me but I never really explored. My photographs of people have always been of a more candid nature and not very close up so this was a great chance to do something different, learn more and improve myself.

When it got to the first day of shooting, I then thought I must be a nutcase for choosing this project. Street photography in Dubai where there are no pedestrianised streets, few pavements, everyone drives around in cars, there is no city centre so to speak of as the city is spread across many areas and it was touching 40 degrees so even those on foot were not hanging around.

I had grand plans at the start to shoot images across a diverse cross section of the population but it soon became clear that the best option here was to focus on the labourers who didn’t really have a choice but to be outside. Each wish that I was told left me more and more humbled throughout the week. It was a special experience.

A stranger tending to the gardens of Dubai

image-one

I drove by this man who was resting in the shade during the midday sun. I stopped to give him a spare bottle of water that I had as I had just been walking around myself in the heat and thought that he could do with it more than me. He didn’t speak much English but I did find out that he was a gardener and worked for a few houses in the area. I used google translate to ask him his wish in Tamil (Google translate was very useful during this project!). His wish was simply to be able to continue to work hard so that he can earn more money to send to his family at home in India.

A stranger wheeling and dealing in Al Quoz

image-two

I walked past this guy in the Industrial area of Al Quoz in Dubai. He was waiting for someone to collect a car that he was selling second hand. He is from Pakistan and spoke good English but the word “wish” was a bit tricky so good old Google translate was used again for the Urdu word for wish. His wish was for all countries to be peaceful and to stop all the suffering caused to children in the world.

A stranger out and about delivering to the people of Umm Sequim

image-three

I met this young man whilst walking around a few blocks from my house. He is from India and spoke little English but we did manage to converse using gestures and a few words. Again I used google translate to ask him whether he had a wish to which he responded that he “wanted to play cricket”. I thought that this was a miscommunication at first and that he maybe thought I had asked him about his favourite hobby but when I asked him whether he played cricket in Dubai he said that he didn’t as he was always working.

Leaving a Trace

image-four

In the spirit of leaving a trace, I gave each of the subjects a small polaroid portrait of themselves at the end of each meeting which was just a small gesture to them for helping me with this project.

I would like to thank Dayana and Crash for contributing to a fantastic team. Whilst I found this project very challenging it was highly enjoyable and was probably the most rewarding part of the course so far for me as it has helped me to get closer to people as a photographer and not just people but total strangers. This will be of great benefit as it sets me off on the road with my final project. So thank you both.

This was a fantastic collaboration project. We worked together as a team from the very beginning, sharing our ideas, and discussing each other’s photographs. We had an hour long skype session midway through the week to make sure we were all ok, aligned on the project and on track for completing a project that we are really proud of. We each had specific roles but cooperated excellently as a group, bringing in our own ideas and adding in our own personal touches.

We each showed a different part of the world through a single idea with the individual portraits all joined together by a single question about their personal wish.

We learned a lot about the experience and it has provided us with a lot of inspiration to stay focused, constantly experiment with new ideas or types of photography and as always to keep shooting!

The full presentation that we gave during the week’s webinar can be found in the link below.

collaboration

Some of our peers challenged whether this was a collaboration or more of a cooperation given that our work was presented in separate sections. I believe that it was as we all worked together on the same theme, sharing ideas throughout and presented something that had our own personal touch as part of a single body of work. It may have been different to some of the other works presented where the groups worked on a single image that they all contributed towards but I think this was just a different way of collaborating. Our project was also not just about collaborating within the team but also with the public – engaging with them and getting them to work with us for our project.

Amongst the other groups, I really enjoyed the work of the pair that combined a photograph of a Rastafarian (a culture strongly influenced by nature) with images of plants that provide a natural remedy to humans. The multiple exposure effect of the work provided some great images that would look fantastic in large print.