The world as raw material

Sometimes I feel like I am almost doing photography ‘backwards’. When I shoot at the moment, which is not as  often as I would like, I tend to shoot street and use an opportunistic approach. Really, what I mean is that I wander around with a camera in the hope that something visually interesting will magically appear before my eyes. As you can imagine, it’s not the most successful approach out there. Then, once I get a load of shots together, I look through the collection and try to create a set of images that seem to work together in some way. It’s a bit like Bruce Davidson’s approach, but vaguer!

In recent times I have also got quite ‘narrow’ in my choice of so-called interesting subjects to photograph. I tend to focus mainly on people, at the expense of other interesting things. I am limiting my options, rather than ‘seeing’ and opening them up. I suspect it’s a battle many people have when they do photography – trying not to get too ‘predictable’ and, well, boring.

So, this has got me thinking about how I am approaching photography right now. The images I like the most are generally black and white and shot on film. I love the grainy, coarse, arty, look of 35mm film (I obviously like colour as well and shoot in colour a lot, but I find that there is more emotion in black and white photography for me, for the most part). Three of my favourite sets of images have been done this way. Markus Andersen’s work (see the Belly of the Beast video I recently posted a video link of), Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight book and Christopher Anderson’s Capitolio. I like the look of the work, but also way that they have managed to create these almost (well, definitely in Anderson’s work) dystopian worlds. None of these projects follow a standard documentary approach, they are more evocative in their nature. There are others, like Koudelka, but I have included them here.

What they have done in each project is take what exists in the real world and fashioned the images in a way to create a whole new world. One that feels that it does exist, but also doesn’t. I like how it just trips my imagination off. You know that the images come from reality, but you know that how they have been put together creates a new reality.

Parke’s work is about life and death to me. The final images in his book of people under water and birth seem to be about regeneration or the renewing of life. What I really like in his work is how he seems to use a lot of metaphor to create an overall impression of the book. The actual story is not obvious to me, it’s more about the impressions that you are left with when you reach the end of the book.

Anderson’s work set in the late Hugo Chavez’s regime is about power, violence, uncertainty and has anxiety written all over it. I love the interplay between his images, as well as how he repeats images (like police with riot shields) to emphasis ideas of power, control, confrontation and the potential for bloodshed. It’s a very powerful book, which has created a lot of debate amongst people as to what it really means. Anderson never makes it clear in the book what the story is really about.

Markus Andersen’s work is more classic street and does have the same emotional and conceptual intensity as the other pieces of work here, but how he weaves images together creates a shadowy and edgy world, which I love. I like the less emotionally loaded flavour of his work, but I also like his intense use of light and shadow to create his images.

Anderson and Parke have seemingly gone out to shoot with some pretty clear ideas in their heads about what they want to achieve. Andersen seems to have an impression of what sorts of image and world he wants to create, but is not so conceptually loaded in terms of the story. One thing that Andersen has to play with in abundance in Australia, is the intense and harsh light. If he was in Britain, his work would be much more about shades of grey!

So, for me, there are two elements here, firstly creating a story using the images as metaphors for that story like Anderson and Parke. But also using the light to create images with a certain look, like Andersen (and Parke and Anderson). Maybe I will use these ideas to guide how I work for a while?

Kodak Tri-X (800ASA)