Assignment 2 – The Afterlife

Even though most religions believe in life after death, whether reincarnated or in another reality, the fact remains that our bodies waste away. In India most people are cremated and I wanted to add a photo to the series in which this is shown. When we ‘expire’ as Indians call it, our bodies are just empty sacks of bones, ready for the fire. The spirit has gone on to another life. This in contrast to conservative Christian faith where is believed that the believers will raise from the dead. Whatever the ideas may be, death is intrinsically related to our lives, our bodies and the meaning of our existence.

I took the following photographs at a cremation site on the banks of the river Yamuna. It was early morning, right before the families of the cremated were going to collect the ashes. On the river side there were still a few fires burning, and I’m not sure if these were cremations as well.

It is quite confrontational to know that these ashes are remains of human beings, in the sense that I am confronted with my mortality and worth. Do I believe that live goes on? Does faith make a difference in how we find meaning in life and death? What does our body mean to us, what do the memories of us mean?

Of these, I prefer the one in which the dog is looking for bones in the ashes and the one where we see people standing around a fire with the dog in the foreground. In the back you can see the Yamuna River, which is believed to be a holy river. The river is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, there’s a mixture of chemicals, religious artifacts, ashes and half burnt bodies floating around. This photo shows the raw ending of a life, amidst the trash and holy water. If I knew for sure that this is a cremation, I would add this photograph to my assignment, but it might as well have been a fire to keep themselves warm.

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So I choose to submit the photograph in which the dog is sniffing through the remains of a cremated person.

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Remains

An other image that doesn’t necessarily relate to a religion or faith, but made me think a lot about my beliefs and the place of an individual in society are the photographs of Santosh. His family declared him dead so that they could sell his property. He has been struggling for years to be declared alive again, so that he can continue living. Instead of trying to make people believe in life after dead, this man has been protesting for years to prove he is still alive. To me it shows that the concept of proof doesn’t have a lot to do with people having faith or not, it’s more about power and the ability to convince others.

Of these four, I have chosen the last one and converted it into black and white. However, since I only have to submit 8 images in the assignment, I don’t think it will be part of the series.

deadman-alive-4

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Assignment 2 – Lady of Faith

In order to visualize certain aspects of faith, I went to the website of the Dutch Rijksmuseum, which has an online gallery from which you can download art. I looked for depictions of Faith and came across numerous drawings from Fide, a mythological/christian symbol of faith:

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Geloof (Fides), Jacob Matham, naar Hendrick Goltzius, 1593 (no date) Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.collect.150590 (Accessed: 6 February 2017)

I find it striking that the image of a woman, with a cross and a glass wine became a symbol of faith and hope. Her discreet and humble gaze, having her mind on non worldly things stands in sharp contrast of faith nowadays. I thought it would be interesting to create a photograph that showed a different version of Fide, a disillusioned, alcolholic Fide, absorbed with what she is seeing going on in the world and incompetent to bring faith anymore. Here are some of the images I took and the final result:

lady-faith-7

The image didn’t quite turn out how I wanted it to, and I realized I was not supposed to stage photos in the first place. I have thought of taking photos at a party of a friend who has a very rich family, but felt too embarrassed to photograph there.

I did enjoy the conceptual aspect of creating these images and would like to work more on that in future courses.

Assignment 2 – Initial Steps

Over the course of this part, I have found myself constantly changing ideas of what to photograph and where to focus on. I wonder if in this Assignment I should choose to work with a specific style that was discussed in the course, follow a particular photographer or idea, or find my own style, influenced by many, in the process itself. I decided that a few elements have to stand out:

  1. The photo has to have a narrative on its own, this means that the composition and elements in the single images should tell a story, or convey a strong idea and should be able to stand on their own, even though they all represent the same abstract idea.
  2. The photos have to be in black and white and should have a similar visual language. This means that in my post processing I will try to keep the same tonal contrasts and structure as much as possible.
  3. Even though the theme is abstract, I think it is important that the viewer can read the narrative clearly, without too much explanation in the captions. I will keep the captions short and let the image try to speak for itself.
  4. Even though my photos are quite defined by Indian culture and religion, I aim for the photographs to have a universal message, that doesn’t need too much explanation.
  5. My aim is not so much to show my personal narrative when it comes to faith, nor do they reflect the beliefs of a specific religion, but the images are recognitions of what I believed and experienced when I was a Christian. Some images might reflect my personal opinion, but most are reflections of the tensions between religion and modern life, questions of life and death and sacredness or secularity.

Ever since I started working on part 2, I have had this assignment in mind when taking photographs. Most were not planned, but I knew beforehand what I might come across when visiting temples, cremation sites and actually being on the streets of Delhi. As you will see, I have attempted to stage one photo, but it did not work well in the series, so I am not going to add it. In the next blog I will show my contact sheets and explain my selection process.

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).

Assignment 2 – Idea

It didn’t take me long to think of an idea for this assignment. I want to focus on the concept of ‘faith’. I was brought up in a Christian family, went to church and was an active practitioner of my faith for years. However, I noticed that I found it increasingly difficult to adhere to the beliefs and practices that come along with being a Christian. Especially the claims of truth and my role in the community were more and more difficult to deal with. A few years back, we decided not to go to church anymore. Since then I have felt liberated and much more at ease with myself and others.

I’m not sure what I believe anymore and am absolutely fine with that. However, now that I’ve stepped out of my Christian paradigm, I realize that a lot of elements of which I thought were dominantly part of my faith, are universal in all religions and traditions and have been throughout history. Especially now that I have lived in countries with a different dominant faith, I am more and more aware of the similarities of how communities of faith function; the power struggles, superstitions, sense of community and personal dedication.

These are the elements I want to focus on in my assignment. Below is a little mind map that I drew before I went out to take photographs:

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I’m still struggling with how to plan assignments. On one hand, I want to be very conceptual, draw out images before I shoot them, etc. On the other hand, my tutor mentioned in his report that the images should not be staged and this is a documentary course after all. In this case, do I deliberately go out and photograph in temples and churches, or do I focus more on street photography, waiting for the narratives to take place before me? How do I keep the concepts abstract and not make the images too literal?

I have looked at the work of Max Pinckers, a Belgium photographer who has made a stunning serie of photographs on relationships, marriage and honor. I am very impressed with the way he is able to tell stories about complicated issues in a clear, almost dreamlike form. In an interview Pinckers mentions that he works within the tension of reality and fiction and wants to tell a story in that space. Since objectivity is hard to define, let alone claim in a photograph, he prefers to set up a scene, stage a photo that tells a story. His use of other media, paper snippets, found photographs and still lives, all fortify the narrative he is telling. The images work very well together, some are related to each other, others seem out of context, but when seen in the series, turn out to be an essential detail in the overarching story.

This way of working, using different visual techniques, form of media and approaches really appeals to me. I still need to find a way to bring it all together. I wonder where and how Pinckers gets his ideas and how much preparation he has for each photograph. Some are staged and planned, while others more decided on the spot, or given a narrative through the use of specific photographic techniques.

MAX PINCKERS (2014) Available at: http://www.maxpinckers.be/projects/will-they-sing-like-raindrops-or-leave-me-thirsty/ (Accessed: 4 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!