Posts Tagged paul seawright

Collateral Damage Part II (Paul Lowe & Harry Hardie)

You can read Part I here.

After a quick coffee and lunch, we reconvened at Novas CUC for the afternoon of the LCC seminar: talks by Paul Lowe (LCC), Mishka Henner, and Dr. Jennifer PollardDr. jennifer Pollard (LCC), and a roundtable discussion that also included John Davies.

This “talks and discussion” session was scheduled to be broadcast as a live webinar, with input from a global audience. But this wasn’t to be. I believe the politically astute term for this scenario may well be “technical glitch”. I also believe the politically not very astute gesture for this may well be a faux-shock gaping mouth and a finger pointing directly at the LCC MA Course Director. Hi Paul. Got my MA application, yet? Just checking.

To be fair, it was more that the venue had a very weak wifi signal, a fact known to ex-musical heathens like myself, from days spent practicing in the adjoining rehearsal rooms of Elevator Studios. But I was surprised that neither the venue nor the Look11 team seemed to have sought a workaround for this event, or to inform the LCC of this issue. I’m not sure who really dropped the ball here, but it was a fairly rookie mistake from someone or, more likely, several.

Lowe’s talk could be described as a Rough Guide to Conflict Photography History. I mean no insult there; as a relative newcomer to looking at conflict photography beyond the pages and webpages of the broadsheets, it was a very useful introduction to the debate, and I culled much in the way of notes for future reference.

Lowe’s argument was essentially that rather than there being a supposedly fairly recent trend of making a different form of conflict photography in response to photojournalistic efforts, photographers had been doing this all along. It wasn’t something that started with Paul Seawright and contemporaries (see here for more), but rather has it’s roots as early as the days of Stanley Green, who was experimenting at the start of the 20th Century with this notion of alternative story-telling, using metaphor and allegory to photograph the unphotographable (to quote that threadbare phrase).

He elaborates that while an increasing number of photojournalists are taking cues from the fine art world in how they make and present their work, we ought not to pass over the icons of classic photojournalims, like Green and Robert Capa, who frequently did find alternative ways to document what they witnessed.

That said, he noted that photojournalism trails behind fine art practice in adopting new techniques and methods of portrayal, leading me to question both why this is, and whether it will continue as the distribution media for classic photojournalism continues to weaken and new channels of distribution are created and experimented with. It seems to me that experimentation and reiterative processes are key to fostering creativity, and with a distribution media either in collapse or in flux (depending on the strength of view you take regarding the rise of the mount olympus of social media), the time is ripe for some truly innovative work to be produced. I think we may have yet to see that work be made, but I do wonder if, how, and when it might happen.

He also shared a few variations on The Capa Quote™ (note: quote must be uttered with defiant tone) “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Joel Sternfeld: If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re too close.

Todd Pappageorge: If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re not reading enough.

This sums up a move away from the literal into the metaphoric, a move perhaps most strongly demonstrated in the work of Paul Seawright, Simon Norfolk, and in Broomberg and Chanarin’s The Day Nobody Died (links in Part I of this review).

To conclude his talk, Lowe argued that instead of judging this style of work based on individual pieces or even individual photographers, we would be better off viewing it as a collective narrative that provides a sustained and complex response to the too-frequently seen classic photojournalistic images of conflict that blinds us emotionally by saturation of imagery to the reality of the situation they set out so earnestly to depict. As Lowe said later, “the problem isn’t in the presence of certain kinds of images [classic photojournalism] but in the absence of certain other kinds of images [the more allegorical and metaphorical style discussed in his talk].” Conflicts, and their effects, run too deep for a solely surface appearance of them to suffice in documenting their true nature.

Edit – struggling to find the relevant links for the rest of this post and must dash for work. Shall finish up later tonight.

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NPS3 – Saturday

War never changes. The weapons may change, but people still get killed.” Paul Seawright at NPS 3

The Saturday sessions for the National Photography Symposium started with a keynote speech by Paul Seawright whose work, Sectarian Murder is considered a classic documentary piece on Northern Ireland.

Paul said his work is made in response to straight photojournalism and, as such, could not exist without that context to create the potency of his distinctive and unique method of working. Focussing on the surface normality of the Troubles in contrast to the drama or the abstraction of the conflict, he takes influences from Paul Graham’s (Seawright’s mentor at the start of his career) Troubled Land* and Clive Limpkin’s Battle of the Bogside. He also noted a deep affinity for Benjamin’s critique of Atget, “pumping the drama out of photographs”, saying that the sought to achieve this in his own work.

Seawright’s second project in Belfast is informative as a comparison against Ed Kashi’s work also completed around the same time period. Whereas Kashi bases his narrative around one individual in Northern Ireland, Seawright adopts a much more open and undirected narrative to give a starting point for contemplation of a more complex set of questions.

The process of photographing is functional for Seawright – he claimed not enjoy the actual making of the photographs, and his work is initiated with an end exhibition very much conceived of, as the final product or presentation of an idea. Naturally, this makes commissioned work particularly tough, since is way of working is opposed to making single images and requires a strong personal statement to precipitate any work. As fascinating as his speech was, I do however have to question how far ambiguity in a visual narrative can be pushed before it slides in to a solipsistic framework. It will be a key question in my mind when I visit (and blog about) his exhibition at Look11 next week.

I’ve never been a great photographer, never trendy, but I have focussed on continuing a great tradition of portraiture” John Stoddart at NPS 3
I’m sure the numerous fans of Stoddart’s editorial work would disagree heavily with the former part of that claim. Photographing the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger for top magazines, John Stoddart moved from an initial interest in documentary photography to more commercial work after finding success photographing bands such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Echo and the Bunnymen.

He gave one of the many 15-minute break-time talks at NPS 3 last weekend, sharing with us some images from his commercial work alongside rarely seen images from his earlier documentary period. Personally, while I have great respect (not to mention a teensy bit of envy….okay, more than a teensy bit) for his commercial work, it was his documentary work that has interested me more. I was due to be working with John in presenting some of his work at Look11, as part of a 30 year retrospective of key Liverpool imagery. It is with regret that this exhibition was made unfeasible, but I do hope the images find a way into a public space somehow.

Observant of long-since lost details of Liverpool’s life and legacy, Stoddart spoke about the Cotton Picker Pub, the only pub so named in Britain with it’s clear ties to Liverpool past. He also picked up on the Irish connection within the city, presenting images that gave a continuity of sorts with Seawright’s earlier speech for their references to IRA militia, resonating with Seawright’s mention of Ed Kashi and suggesting the pervasiveness of visual symbols even (and especially?) in the minds of young children who knew little of the context.

We’re all orphans now…

Up next (or sideways, given there were overlapping talks to offer a wider choice of events to attend) Simon Brown, Paul Lowe, and Andrew Wiard discussed the Hargreaves report and the important issues of orphan works and how they may be reproduced and used by commercial companies, the media, and other groups.

Simon Brown has been pretty vocal on this issue, organising Stop43
in response to the Hargreaves report, and he gave us an instructive outline of how that organisation has been lobbying Parliament, representing photographers, and raising awareness about the Hargreaves report since its inception. As I both studied and worked in politics, a fair amount of the procedure was familiar to me but very useful for other members. And Simon really made it clear just how far reaching the ramifications of this shoddily thought-out piece of legislation can be. I urge all photographers to check this out immediately. It was an education and a half.

We all know vaguely about Creative Commons Licensing, right? About the 8 or so different options you have available to you if you give a work of yours a CC License? In terms of the general “politico-lifestyle” choices we tend to make off the back of scant researching, CC Licenses tend to fit in a wider schema, along with Open Source software, not-for-profit work, web transparency, and wider data sharing. In short, it is often viewed through those heavily cliched rose-tints as generally being A Good Thing.

Now, I’m not bashing CC Licenses at all here. But the result of making a work available in this way reaches far wider than merely side-stepping
the issue of getting paid for our work. It also means rescinding any control over how that work gets used, what it gives its artistic or visual support to. As an example, that wonderful photograph you made of the Royal Wedding celebrations could, if given a CC License, be picked up for the next BNP poster campaign. Nice. If you’re happy with your image being used in that way, that’s your prerogative. But I am guessing a fair number of photographers wouldn’t be so keen to work with organisations that don’t fit with their own beliefs and lifestyle choices. Simon argued that we have a duty of care for the content/subject matter of our images, and this duty of care would be undermined by Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill.

Creative Commons Licenses were only a fraction of the wider issue, though. Clause 43 really addresses the issue of orphan works. The CC License aside is related, because both can result in our images being used in ways we wouldn’t consent to if given prior knowledge of the intended use. Further, Clause 43 is particularly dangerous in a technological climate where many of the key platforms for sharing our images are effectively creating orphan works by stripping images of metadata – Facebook, twitter clients/apps, etc. all do this. There is an incompatibility with the expediency and
practicality of the proposed legislation and the reality of the landscape of image-sharing in which this legislation is suggested to govern.

Among the suggestions were a move towards the system in place in Germany, whereby the right to be known as the creator of a work is assumed. If a German newspaper wishes to use an image, they have to seek out the author of that image. In the UK, if the author is unknown, this obligation doesn’t hold (particularly not if proposed legislation permits free use of orphan works). Since the media outlets (and here I shall include online as well as print, social sharing sites and well as news corps) don’t have an obligation to assert your creative rights, the issue of accreditation is undervalued, and this leads to a proliferation of supposed orphan works, orphaned out of a professional negligence on the part of the companies redistributing images. To make any sensible and lasting headway into the issue of making orphan works available for use, it is imperative that the creation by neglect of new orphan work needs to be strongly addressed.

I may write more on this at a later date. I know the MP, Tom Watson has been pretty vocal over the Digital Economy Bill in past months, and I really do owe this subject some further study. Thanks Simon, you’ve bent my ear with this one.

The Last Things….

But not the least things. I was planning on skipping David Moore’s talk in favour of grabbing some much needed lunch (I blame my inherent naivety), but I was persuaded to delay on that by Paul Lowe. And a great call he made with that (big thanks).

I’ve seen David’s work before. Unfortunately, being fairly new to photography, a lot of great imagery currently falls into that netherworld of “stuff I’ve seen somewhere but I have no idea who did it or what else they did”. David’s work was firmly in that epistemological swamp of mine, so it was great to get familiar here.

Studying photography at Farnham, Moore always held strongly to the notion that documentary photography is inherently subjective in nature. This is an issue I have often considered in my own work and thinking on the medium, so it was useful to hear him elaborate on this and how it influenced his creative decisions from the outset to create a strong body of work with a unique perspective and a sense of thematic consistency running through his work.

“The panopticon is perhaps a perfect metaphor for photography,” he remarked pointing out that, much in the same way as the warden of the panopticon can view all the prisoners yet they can’t view back, for a long time photography was a tool of the elite and the institutions, used to survey the dispossessed. The Farm Studies, and the British Observation studies attest to this quite clearly. In his work, Moore began by turning Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage on its head, shining a light on the details of the rich and powerful instead of Doré’s poor. This work culminated in The Velvet Arena,
of which he said that, “there is a notion of the flash being an assault on the body.”

The themes of The Velvet Arena were developed into his later, and perhaps more familiar works, The Commons (2004) and The Last Things (2008). The Commons delves into the minutiae of details in, well, The Commons. An institution and space that is heavily documented via the BBC televising debates daily, a space of high surveillance in a sense, and one that reaches into every detail of daily life, yet a space which is largely unknown to the wider public. I’ve worked in Westminster and I find looking at Moore’s images of this space gives me a fresh take on the space, one that I couldn’t have obtained otherwise. I was personally struck by how much of my working life in Westminster revolved around that space while that space remained essentially isolated from me, or I from it. And I imagine that is a feeling that is extendable and applicable to anyone living under the British state. His mere presence working there was, as he noted, itself a political act. And the details, the scratches and frayed edges of furniture and artefacts acts as cyphers to the history that has been contained within that space over time. By photographing these details in a way that the public (and I would also guess many of the MPs themselves) don’t see it, Moore forces us to look again at our political and traditional history, while doing so in a manner which eschews cheap cliche, easy tropes, or a heavy hand in guiding the outcome of our reflection.

The Review of the Sunday Sessions for NPS 3 will follow tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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