A Japanese Connection

First, I looked at the images of Peterson, Sobol and Moriyama without reading the articles, just to get a first impression of their work and the connections between them. I noticed they all have a highly personal, unconventional style, when it comes to both subject matter and use of camera. The images are high contrast Black and White that don’t hold on to conventional compositional rules or techniques. Images are grainy and blurred and bring about a very confusing, challenging response with the viewer.

What comes across are the raw emotions of the photographers themselves, how they perceive their reality is leading. I don’t feel the photographers ever considered if an image might be too shocking, inappropriate or sensitive. Conventions of the societies they work or live in are secondary or protested against.

All articles mention the use of the photographic language of the photographers and how their own experience of reality is the most important subject. The nihilism and existentialism is leading throughout the work. The importance of self in a failed society, the preference of working from an emotional rather than theoretical framework.

Now that I have looked at the work and background of so many different photographers throughout this part, I realize that the basis from which a photographer works, whether theoretical, emotional or conventional has an incredibly profound impact on the work.

Gbadger_sayonara.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/gbadger_sayonara.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Frenchkiss.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/frenchkiss.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Tokio_sobol.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/tokio_sobol.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017).

Street Photographers

After reading the part on street photography in the reader I have been looking at the work of numerous street photographers and spent hours online, checking out their websites, read interviews and be inspired. A few of them stood out most, mainly because of their distinct style, innovative techniques and subject matter. Looking then at my own work I feel that there is so much that I can explore and practice, especially when it comes to using different photographic techniques and post processing.

I started my search on 10 Most Influential Active Street Photographers and ended up checking the work of the photographers mentioned there. The site defines ‘influential’ in terms of the amount of followers in social media, their distinctive style and innovative approach. First thing I noticed was that there are only men on the list and I wonder why. Are there less female street photographers in general and is that because of safety issues or just that they feel more drawn to other types of photography? Or is it that their work is not well represented in the photography community in the first place? Anyway, food for an other post!

John Free is well known for his philosophical views on street photography and his online courses on Youtube. His photographs have strong contrast, are BW and have surrealist influences. There’s a strong influence of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, sometimes almost exact copies of their photographs, which put me off a bit. The images have no captions and mainly focus on the connections between the visual elements in the frame. Separate subjects form a whole because of the interplay between time and place. Compositionally his work is very strong, but again, I find that he has let himself measure up against other photographers and therefor maybe has lost his own style and personality in the images.

I watched a few films on Bruce Gilden’s website in which we see him at work in the streets and talking about how he photographs, what drives him and the subjects he is looking for. Gilden has a very distinguished style; direct, close and in the face. He uses flash and a short focal range, which produce very unforgiving, detailed images of the people he meets.  ‘The viewer will always feel he’s a participant because I’m working so close‘ and ‘Flash helps me to visualise my feelings of the city, the stress, the anxiety that you find here … I look for characters, things that make an impression on me, not the average person.’

Gilden doesn’t care about ethics while he is working. He searches for the periphery, he feels good with the people he photographs. It takes a lot of guts to photograph the way he does. First of all, for bluntly photographing people with a flash in public and running the risk of them getting really angry with them, second for showing humanity in its most extreme. I don’t think I could photograph like this, because I just feel it’s not respectful, which blocks me. But I do wonder if I should force myself to just do it sometime, not be hindered by ethics, what is right or wrong, but photograph everything that catches my eye? It might turn out to be a freeing experience that might expand my own work as well.

Lee Jeffries on the contrary, ‘gives people’s likeness a greater meaning and imbues them with the iconic soul of humanity‘. Jeffries doesn’t want to exploit or steal photographs, but capture ‘real emotion’. He calls his work spiritual iconography and brings an almost otherworldly atmosphere to his portraits. Part of the proceeds of Jeffries’ photographs go to funds for the homeless. Jeffries’ work reminded me a bit of Avedon’s portraits; we don’t see the surroundings the people have been photographed in, he focuses mainly on their features with a very distinct personal style. I actually think it’s his style that gives the images the iconic sensation and not so much the people themselves. Is this a case of telling a beautiful story around a certain technique, or really wanting to show the people for who they are? If so, when and how do we actually do that in the first place? If he had used the same techniques with people who are not homeless, would the images have looked similar, would the viewer experience the same emotions?

Whatever it may be, I do think his portraits are very beautiful, Jeffries is able to bring out striking features through shallow depth of field and high contrast. His focus on the eyes give a direct emotional connection and sense of awe that I find very touching. I would like to practice using the same techniques in my portraits.

Boogie also photographs the periphery of society, but takes it to the extreme. Looking at his images in a chronological order, I notice that in his earlier work he goes out looking for subjects who are most of the time invisible in society, spends time with them and photographs them. Most photographs of the gang member are quite staged, the people show their coolness, their violent facade and stress the preconceived ideas of danger and anarchy that most viewers already have of them. Boogie photographs drug addicts in their homes, while they are using drugs. There are many close up shots of the addicts injecting themselves. Contrary to the gang photos, it seems almost that they are not aware that they are being photographed, we see kids being neglected, and the photographer wandering from one place to the other, without being directed by the subjects themselves.

Even though I have a lot of respect for the fact that Boogie is able to connect with these people, the dangers he faces and braveness of photographing what he wants, I do find his images a bit stereotypical; they confirm our ideas of gangs, their violence and behavior, the confirm society’s judgement of addicts not caring about anything but themselves, neglecting their kids and living in filth, women in Thailand are prostitutes. It would have been interesting to see more of the human side, so that a viewer can rise above its preconceived ideas, gain understanding and make an emotional connection.

A photographer that I had not looked at before that really surprised me, is Charampalos Kydonakis, aka Dirty Harrry. His surrealistic, weird photography is surprising and very refreshing. Kydonakis shows an unending creativity, using of different techniques in his photography, blurs, long shutter speed, use of flash and post processing. In his interviews, Kydonakis is very matter of factly and doesn’t delve into his motives, philosophies or ideas behind his work. He doesn’t hold on to one particular style, is innovative and very matter of factly. In his bio he states that ‘the more I shoot, the more I realize what I want from photography and at the same time the more I get confused about what I want …’ This sounds very familiar! I find it quite freeing to see people at work with so many different styles and ways of photographing. It shows that there don’t have to be boundaries to the way I photograph and develop my own work. It is an ever ongoing process without a destination, which is just fine to me.

John Free photography (no date) Available at: http://www.johnfreephotography.com (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Lee Jeffries (no date) Available at: http://leejeffries.500px.com/home (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Behrmann, K. (2016) Dirty Harrry ‘photographic thoughts’. Available at: http://artofcreativephotography.com/streetphotographers/dirty-harrry/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Papaspyropoulos, S. and Fullam, D. (2017) The 10 most influential active street photographers. Available at: http://www.streethunters.net/blog/2014/03/26/10-most-influential-active-street-photographers/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Photographer – boogie photo portfolio (2017) Available at: http://www.artcoup.com/blog/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).

Street photography

After all the reading and researching, it was good to get out and focus on taking photos myself. I couldn’t open the link to the London Festival of Photography website, but did look into the briefs on Street Photography Now. Below are some of the briefs that attracted me most. I have to say, just reading these and choosing one, effected the way I photographed. Because they are quite abstract, but do trigger a way of looking at things, I found myself much more focused and driven to take photographs from different angles, try out different techniques, and especially take my time to wait for the right opportunity and explore the area I was in. I will definitely try out more of the briefs in the time to come.

I decided to choose a relatively easy one, number 8, photograph from floor level. It had rained the day before and there were still some nice puddles to get reflections from. All these pictures are taken in Old Delhi, which is such a wonderful and exciting place to photograph. Even so, with the briefs in mind, I find that it has improved the way I photograph amidst all the visual candy that is out there. Here is my selection of the images I like most.

There are a few other images that I would like to share with you as well, even though not all of them fit the brief.

I hardly ever convert my images into black and white, mainly because I love colour and think it is a shame to leave it out. However, in this series I see how the subject matter becomes stronger and I am able to focus more on the lines and highlight the points of interest. Especially the images that are quite grainy turn out much better when in black and white. I can also see how the conversion into black and white brings in a surrealist effect, because reality is shown in an unseen way, leaving room for own interpretation and feeling. However, I do find the photographs below beg for their colours to be shown!

Street Photography – Vivian Maier

Although I have seen trailers of the documentary about Vivian Maier, and I knew a little bit about her work, I had never actually looked closely at her photographs. Just spent the last hour scrolling through her website and I have to say that I am very impressed with her images. Apart from the quality and diversity I find the fact that she was such a private person very fascinating. In our day and age where every moment needs to be photographed and shown online, it is striking to ponder on a photographic practice that is exclusively done for private enjoyment. I wonder what her motives were, it did seem that she was a bit of hoarder, maybe she wanted to hoard her visual memories as well. For no particular reason, just to bring meaning to her life, even though it was not shared with many others.

Here are 5 images that stood out particularly for me for having surrealistic elements.

  1. The photo with the dove plays a visual trick on the viewer. Because the edges of the wall, or pavement, is not visible, it is difficult to decipher from which angle the photo is taken. This brings about a strange feeling when look at it for too long. Also the symmetric composition and strong contrast adds to the eery feeling.
  2. Because of the compression of the image, this image has fascinating layers of people, buildings and cars that are all connected and give a strange effect to the scale of the subjects. The image has a strong narrative of the old making place for the modern and humankind being in charge of it all. Because of the triangular shape of the destroyed building, the photograph has a theatrical element to it, accentuating the narrative of old making place for new.
  3. The interior of this bar is very surreal to begin with. I start to wonder immediately where the photo is taken what is exactly going on. Instead of seeing fish in a big aquarium, the bar looks out on a pool and underwater. The decadence of the bar, the idea of what can be seen underwater and implications of being locked up become very clear and give the viewer a very uncomfortable feeling.
  4. This image reminds me very much of an image by Edward Weston, where he photographs his girlfriend in the desert. Again, the shapes of the ocean, the man horizontally in the front of the frame and the high contrast give this image a very surrealistic feeling. Instead of conveying the idea of a nice day on the beach, one questions why this man is lying here and what it means. The image has a dark mood to it, even though it was taken around 12 in broad daylight.
  5. This image reminds me a lot of a self portrait of Escher and a self portrait of Rene Margritte. It plays with the way we see ourselves, how reflections can distort the way we look and who we are. I find it interesting how in this image Maier shows that she is capable of creating similar effects as such famous artists. She is aware of her skills and talents, but also shows her self image is interpretable in many ways.
Collection, M. (2016b) Vivian Maier photographer | official website of Vivian Maier | Vivian Maier portfolios, prints, exhibitions, books and documentary film. Available at: http://www.vivianmaier.com/ (Accessed: 27 January 2017)
September 1954


Surrealism and Documentary

I looked at the work of the photographers that were mentioned in the reader and at some photographs of Max Pinckers. I am very interested in this type of photography, the ‘tension between reality and fiction’, the use of reality in such a way that is seems surreal and triggers a certain subconscious feeling with the viewer.

The photographs of the FSA and Mass Observation already triggered questions whether documentary photography should be staged or not and in which way the vision or motives of the photographer is conveyed through the work. The photographers mentioned here take reality a step further. With the use of existing visual lines, subjects etcetera, they are able to recreate an alternative reality, making it possible for the viewer to open up their interpretation of reality and bring a deeper understanding of the images.

‘Sur’ means ‘over’, ‘above’ and ‘beyond’. Surreality is everything above and beyond the reality that we see and experience. The idea is to go beyond that, whether visually or through the ideas that are conveyed. In looking at the images of the artists suggested I found the following characteristics that work into establishing this effect:

Key Characteristics

  • Interplay of shadows and light. Shadows function as a defining compositional tool, opening up the insight into the reality outside of the frame, or adding a visual element to what’s in the frame, highlighting aspects that otherwise would not have been noticed.
  • subjects are exotic, strange, speak to the senses.
  • Use of symmetry, formal compositional rules in such a way that the image seems to be a bit ‘off’.
  • Use of mirrors, veils, masks and double exposures, which adds a sense of mystery and displacement to the image.
  • Scene and subject are intimately interwoven, bringing an other meaning to the subjects.
André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894 – 1985) (Getty museum) (no date) Available at: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1847/andr-kertsz-american-born-hungary-1894-1985/ (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
Iturbide, G. (2017) Juchitan – amber. Available at: http://www.amber-online.com/collection/juchitan/ (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
My Brussels: Photographer Max Pinckers (2015) Available at: http://www.bruzz.be/en/video/tvbrussel/my-brussels-photographer-max-pinckers (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
Photographic psychology: Image and psyche (no date) Available at: http://users.rider.edu/~suler/photopsy/surreal.htm (Accessed: 27 January 2017).