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Street Photography

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Sometimes a project takes time. These photographs were taken over the past 10 years. They are from an ongoing series of street portraits titled ‘Not Here Long‘. I was asked to submit two series of my work to Ffotogallery’s European Prospects website. After recently working with Sarah Amy Fishlock on the Gooseflesh zine and exhibition at Street Level last month. I was able to see my work in a different light. Sarah curated work that I had taken in different places, for separate projects, over the years and put them together. Thinking about why I take these portraits helped me to see the common thread between them.

The title comes from one of Ken Grant’s photo book reviews and the accompanying text was influenced by a talk by Peter Mitchel. And things start to fall into place.

Here is my description of the work..

‘Not Here Long’ is a series of portraits, taken over a decade. They were conceived through the frustration of not having access to a studio. Streets, buildings, shop fronts, walls and doors are used as backdrops. Each sitter is directed, allowing me to work with natural light. “I think of the set up as I would a studio. I create a space for someone to be themselves. I spend a few minutes with each person taking three frames.” 

“There is an appreciation that I am capturing that person, as they are now; with the light that has travelled from the sun, reflected from each person, as they stand in front of me, their feet firmly planted on the face of the earth, through my camera, through me onto the permanency film.” 

The work is a celebration of the human being. It is unlike a photo booth image; as it takes another human being to see and bring out the qualities that make us human. “I look at people and want to record this moment in time; how gentle, intense, awkward, fragile, tender, lonely, beautiful or alive they seem to be – because we are not here long. 

 You can see the complete series on the European Prospects website here.

 

 

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A lot has already been written about this subject. Do we take or make a photograph? All photographers have their own methods. Some will say they ‘take’ a photograph and others will insiste that their photographs are ‘made’.

I was at a photography screening last week. An event hosted by IC Visual labs and curated by Develop Photo’s Erica McDonald. One of the multi media screenings featured New York Times staff photographer, Fred R Conrad, his opinion is that a good potrait is ‘given’. This really struck a cord with me. (You can watch it here http://vimeo.com/m/54293422) I realised that’s the reason I feel so grateful to the people I photograph. They give me something of themselves and I feel indebted to them. It’s why I try hard to make sure each participant at my Pop Up Portrait Studio gets a free print. I am compelled to give back.

Thanks to Georgie, Alan, Eric and Mohammed, for taking part in my recent Pop Up Portrait Studio on Bristol’s Old market. Thanks also to; Alex and ibi from IC Visual labs, Sophie and Josie who assisted me on the day, Calumet, Photographique and Clifton Colour for sponsoring the event.

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Photographing other people’s children is what I do a lot of the time. It has unfortunately become increasingly sensitive. Whilst we are all taking more photos than ever before, and many parents post images of their children publicly on social media, parents have become increasingly concerned and protective of their childs image. Many are happy to post their own photos of their children, whist I am being treated with a great deal of suspicion for even asking permission to photograph a child.

I know some parents who do not wish to publish even a single photograph of their child online. At the same time I see many photographs online that I think infringe children’s privacy (I don’t mean nude photos here, I mean photos of things children have done in secret – notes they have written and some moments that have happened behind closed doors – not in public, that I personally would not broadcast).

My own perimeters of posting photographs of my daughter online, sit somewhere in the middle of these two viewpoints. If you don’t include photographs of children online you are automatically self censoring. I am happy to post photos of my daughter online, but some moments that happen in private, I consider unsuitable for public consumption. Some moments are too precious to be made so public.

Photographing children in the street is becoming particularly difficult. Many photographers simply avoid photographing children, as editors/publishers are concerned with having a model release form. This is not a necessity, but companies especially want that security. I usually stop the parent and child to ask permission, but sometimes you want to record the natural flow of human behaviour, without you and your camera altering it. It’s not always possible to seek permission. When I do ask permission, I give out my card and explain what I am doing. I am increasingly greeted with suspicion and hostility, when I am only taking photographs. I understand parents are protecting their child’s image and I do all I can to be open, honest and ease people’s concerns. But do we really need to treat photographers with such suspicion? I think it’s an unnecessary anxiety.

I experience this anxiety from the children themselves. It used to be the easiest photo to take – a picture of a child out playing. Twenty years ago, when I was at college children were willing participants, keen to show off in front of the camera. Now, I would think very carefully about approaching a child out without his/her parent. It could cause too much anxiety for both parent and child. When I have asked permission from children out on their own they have told me “no, I don’t know you”. On one occasion adult passersby heard our conversation and congratulated the children on their stance. I was made to feel like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is a great shame that a person whom you don’t know, who bothers to ask your permission to take a photograph evokes such anxiety in young people and their parents.

More photographs of children are being taken by parents, which will in the future, provide a valuable insight into family life. However a whole genre of photographs, of children out playing – I fear is disappearing. The photographs taken by the likes of Oscar Marzaroli and the numerous photographers of The Hulton Picture Library for example, could just not be taken today. What the professional can bring to this subject is being underrated and unfortunately may be lost.

007 - Version 2Just a small offering from me this week. I am busy getting my portfolio ready for the Format festival in Derby at the weekend.

This is Megan out shopping with her mum. I have been trying to get a photograph of a pink push chair for my book project. I already have a few, but none that really work. This is the one. I stopped Megan and her Mum in Cabot Circus – the shopping mall in Bristol city centre. I explained what I was after and they kindly let me do the photo. I love the delicateness of Megan’s little face, and the extra component of the pink carrier bag in the background, along with the neon sign saying ‘Men’ that contrasts nicely in blue.

I didn’t see these extra elements until I got the film back. A happy accident as my old lecturer form college would have said.

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This post has been brewing for some time. I opened my Instagram account last December, then came the controversy over their new terms and conditions. I knew I would have to write about it. I have always taken photographs with my mobile phone, at least since 1st of January 2003, when I received a brand new Sharp GX10 from Vodaphone. At the time it was the first camera phone available in the UK. I was to record one picture a day for the whole year. That was to become an exhibition – iCapture. I loved the immediacy and ease of the phone camera, but also my connection to it was different than my other cameras. Taking photographs with a phone results in more spontaneous and personal images. It gives you the feeling that you are recording your very own view of the world, exactly as you are experiencing it, that can then be shared instantaneously. This relationship with the camera phone, later became the subject of my dissertation, on the MA at Newport.

Today millions of Instagramers are taking a photo a day, documenting their daily lives. The vast majority of users take photos of themselves and their friends, when they go somewhere; to say – this is me, I am here, look at me! This use is fine and perfectly valid. It is a form of visual communication and important to people. However finding photographs on Instaram that hold an interest to others and communicate another level of value is not hard to find. There are lots of ways to use Instagram. Many photographers and non photographers are using it in a creative and inspiring way. There is an opinion within some in the photographic community that Instagram is dull, vacuous and meaningless.

For me, Instagram is a great leveler. It is the very fact, that we are all taking the same photographs that appeals to me. It makes me feel connected with others around the world, who are not so very different from me. I love experiencing how other people see their world. It gains me access to those worlds that I am not part of, and could never imagine. It takes me out of the everyday and puts me into seeing and shooting mode, as I walk down the street. It helps me to notice and appreciate the everyday.

The real power of Instagram, was revealed when they tried to change their terms of service, at the end of last year. By consenting to their terms (original and now updated) you grant a full worldwide  license to Instagram, which is also transferable to a third party. In plain language Instagram can use your photos for free and give them to someone else to use for free. The attempted change in policy, would have made it possible for Instagram to charge third parties, for the use of your images. This caused a huge reaction, with some users closing their accounts and many stopped posting until Instagram reverted to their old terms – we can use your photos for free.

The power of Instagram and the connections we make through sharing our photos obviously outways the photographer’s own concerns over copyright. Sharing is more important than ownership.

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My book project has been forcing me to try new approaches to making photographs. The book Generation Pink sets out to document the current prevalence and popularity of the colour pink, amongst all things produced and marketed towards young girls in the UK. To compliment the series of portraits I have done, I’ve been out on the street looking for further evidence of the ‘pink epidemic’. I am not a street photographer. I am used to having people’s permission and full attention when I photograph them. I am having to use different techniques and equipment to get the images I am after.

This also involves a lot of waiting… I have been setting up a shot, and then just waiting for the right element of pink to pass by. Sometimes this is successful, and I just have to be patient. But I am feeling the need to get closer to the action and get more involved in the crowd. For this I need to switch from my Mamiya 7 to the Fuji X100 as the Mamiya is just too tricky to focus on the go.

I found this video clip on In Public’s facebook page- ‘You know it when you see it’. It gives an insight into the process of street photographer Melanie Einzig’s tecnique. I think the trick is to just be bolder and get closer…