Elephant Wallah – Comments from other students

It is always very motivating and helpful to get feedback from other students! Since I don’t live in England I have not been able to go to meetings and sometimes studying gets a bit lonely. I realise I need to be more active in social media and respond to other people’s work more often as well! Here are the comments that I received on Facebook and WordPress:

Hi leonie, first of all a general comment that I thought they were a brilliant set of images of something that obviously exists but I had never thought of before.

I love the contrast in the colours and the more subdued background colour palette. Images don’t have to be unfortunate or cruel to have a gentle surreal touch, look at Guy Tilliam who was described as having a more lyrical voice and I think that is where yours fit.

Image 1 of the happy kids works due to the pinks and the surreal element of the soles of the feet and legs waving about.

Image 2 is amusing due to contrast of dog and elephant, good spot and good timing!

Image 3 works for me due to the extreme distance and perspective of the 2 figures which was the second thing I noticed, first of all it made me smile that the figure on the right followed the line of stubby bushes! On enlarging the image….as am on small lap top I then also spotted the contrast of bike and camel?!?!?!

Image 4 has the surreal element of perspective again with big dog small elephant, and the dogs expression is …seriously another photo let me sleeeeeeeeep!

Image 5 I also love, the timing/composition again of man elephant and tree, the elephant and tree with the same colour and texture and the lens flare all just come together really well.

Well done I enjoyed that set 😮) – Jan Fairburn

 I think you have the beginning of a very engaging set of pictures. I don’t know if you are planning to return? For me nos 2 and 4 have a sense of surrealism, arising from the juxtapositions of scale and content (the dog’s expression is great). The others are very appealing pictures but I don’t think of them as surreal as such. – Eileen Rafferty 
I don’t feel equipped to comment on the ‘surreal’ aspect because I do struggle with it (as I know some other students have – thank goodness) but your images ae so interesting in themselves.Image 2 really strikes me with the mirroring of the elephant’s trunk and the dog’s leg. I would like to see it really large. You’ve made clever use of dog in the 4th one so that the relatives sizes of dog and elephant are reversed.
Lively use of colour in the first one as well. – Catherine Banks 
I found this so interesting and engaging, it carried a real sense of place. It reminded me of seeing a circus elephant grazing in a field adjoining the A14 one morning – very surreal. I like the colour palette and the use of scale and depth of field very much. – Kate Aston 
Reading from the comments, it is good to conclude that some have found the photographs to have a surreal effect. I agree with Catherine that it is hard to define it and pinpoint what makes a photograph particularly surreal. The sense of strangeness depends on your own previous experience and knowledge and preconceived ideas of what a photograph should look like and how it should be taken. Again I realise that it simply takes a lot of going out and taking photographs with having this concept in mind. I need to do more research, both through reading and looking at other images as well as trying different compositional techniques.
Again, thanks for all your comments!
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Surrealism and Colour Documentary – Elephant Wallah

After looking at the work of Peter Dench and other surrealist colour photographers, I went out to have a go at getting a surrealist effect in my own photographs as well. I went to a Hatiwallah, a community that takes care of elephants that can be rented for weddings and other festivities. The community lives on the banks of the Yamuna river, right in the middle of Delhi and has been working there and taken care of these animals for generations. Because of pollution, awareness of animal rights and lack of grasslands to feed the elephants, their numbers have decreased considerably in the past years. Today, there are only about 5 left.

In order to bring a surrealist feeling in the photographs, I used different angles, tried to make compositions that bring otherwise unrelated objects together, and tried to bring a lot of colour and accents in the final post processing.

I had already noticed in the work that I researched that a lot has to do with the timing of the photograph, especially in Dench’s work, the photos always seem to be taken at the most unfortunate moments. My photographs don’t have this element, because there was not a whole lot going on and there weren’t too many people, so I tried to focus more on the composition and contrasts in the environment itself.

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Surrealism and Colour Documentary

Following up on what I had researched about surrealism in Part 2, I had a look at photographers whose style is surrealistic and who use color, adding an extra layer to their composition and overall effect of the photograph. Even though colors in the photograph add an extra element of realism to the scene, the way the photographers mentioned in the reader use it actually enforce the surrealist and uneasy feelings that the images bring about.

I was especially triggered by the work of Cristobal Hara. In an interview he explains how when he moved to Spain in the seventies, after growing up abroad, he realized that there was a cultural void and inferiority complex in the art scene of dictatorial Spain. He decided to photograph Spain in the visual language of Spain. He wanted to construct images that tell more than they show and that is when he began working with color.

I watched the video ‘Un pais imaginary’, where we see a combination of video and stills taken in rural Spain, that show a mixture of religious, sexual and horse breeding practices which together amplify the cruelty and craziness of human beings. Hara edits his footage in such way that faith, love and care for animals are completely stripped off, bringing the raw emotions and drives to the surface that to me trigger shame and disgust.

It is in Hara’s choice of angle, subject matter and timing that evoke these feelings. The title of the video is ‘An imaginary country’, which shows that he is aware of the effect of his images. Is this a true depiction of the place and events he is portraying? Or is it worse than we could ever imagine? Or better than what we see?

Overal, I am really impressed with Hara’s work. I take away a new approach and technique in photographing that I would like to practice as well.

Peter Dench’s work falls under the same category of surrealist color photographers and he is also able to bring across a feeling of disgust and unease, maybe even stronger than Hara. Dench focuses on the drinking behavior of British at home and abroad, showing people passed out, throwing up and putting themselves in compromising situations. Whereas Hara’s work has quite a lot of humor to it, I find that Dench’s work mainly triggers feelings of disgust and petty for his subjects.

Dench’s approach is very different to Hara, but there are distinguished features that enforce the surrealistic elements in his photographs. His horizons are not straight, the use of patterns and repeating subject matter in different contexts, his choice of timing seems to be off, showing people in their most vulnerable moments, he connects subjects through composition that are otherwise disconnected, and his use of flash adds to the unforgiving atmosphere of his photographs.

Even though I find Hara’s images visually more interesting and beautiful, Dench is able to show a part of British society in a very confrontational way. He breaks through the barriers of class and location, which I find very refreshing and daring.

Hara, C. (2017) Un Pais Imaginario. Available at: https://vimeo.com/68768321 (Accessed: 28 February 2017).
SevillaFotoTV (2010) Encuentro con Cristóbal Hara. Available at: https://youtu.be/5E86ugR-RLg (Accessed: 28 February 2017).

Colour and Modernity

Because I have lived in development countries in the past 20 years, this is a subject that is very close to my heart. I read the article on Panos Pictures and 8 ways to change the world. I find the criticism that is given about documentary photography and its effects on our view of development countries very striking and true. When I look at images taken in the countries where I have lived, I often feel almost offended by the way these countries and especially the people are portrayed.

The notion that the very language of photojournalism is ‘white man’s language’ and that in order for a photographer to be successful, you have to speak the language, even though it is not the same as the language used in the culture that is photographed. The idea is to take the language and put your own mark on it. For documentary photographers I think this starts with a willingness to look beyond first impressions, overcome fear of the unknown and poverty and look at the human strength and narratives behind what is seen at first hand.

Looking at the work that was exhibited in ‘Eight Ways to Change the World’, I could see some distinct difference between photographers, showing different levels of engagement and power of the individual. I compare the work of Chris de Bode and Zed Nelson.

Chris de Bode’s images all have the same compositional make ups. Square, with rich, dark colours, with a blend of subject and background. The way Bode puts his subjects in the frame immediately triggers the eye to move between person and place, building a narrative as more details of the person and environment become clear. The captions add a layer of understanding of empathy and make me want to look at the image even more, see beyond the expression of the people in the photographs and almost make me feel I am there, wishing that their dreams will come true.

There is a strong balance between individual, personal stories and information about the community as a whole. I think this strengthens the relationship with and understanding of the communities and the individual lives that take place. There is a tension between dreams and possibilities, the impossibilities that seem evident, but that the dreams are still there. It breeds respect for the people and children in the image, which an NGO really needs in order to receive support for the work they do.

Zed Nelson’s work, on the other hand, lacks engagement with his subjects. The colours are flat, compositions are simple and the expressions of his subjects are sad and distant. There is not a lot of interaction between him and his subjects, which results in shallow images and repetitive captions. Besides that, the images bring about a feeling of pity and not respect. Why show pots and meager amounts of food and not the final dishes that people are able to produce with it anyway? Why mention that their work is gruesome, but don’t mention how there are communities built on this work and how they organize themselves to improve their situation?

To me it is clear that he got stuck with feeling overwhelmed by what he saw and was not able to connect with the people on a deeper level. I wonder what could have been done differently so that the photographer would have been able to connect and convey a deeper understanding in his photography? At first sight it seems he did not spend enough time in the community, the images are rushed and hardly any are taken in a home environment. Maybe he had not done enough research, or it was the first time he visited a development country and had not had the possibility to look beyond the initial shock that poverty brings.

Enough to think about and good to see such striking differences

Houghton, M. (no date) Seeing Believing. Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer url=http://www.ocastudent.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/foto84.3_seeingbelieving.pdf (Accessed: 27 February 2017)
Photographers, V. (no date) Eight ways to change the world. Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/panos8ways.pdf (Accessed: 27 February 2017).