Monday, July 21, 2014

The Poetic in Street Photography: Living in the Moment

I love the challenge of street photography.  You go out into the streets and you don’t know what you are going to get, if anything.  You walk the street; connect with people and you keep your eyes open.  You are looking for a shot, always composing, always thinking. It is a poetic dance one does as they walk the street.  You can’t control what you see; you can’t move that red truck out of the way.  You have to make the picture as it comes to you in a split second.  There is a thrill in the moment you make a picture and it appears that the stars have lined up. 

This poetic image of street photography has inspired me and Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb have affirmed my metaphor in their latest book.  Their new book On Street Photography and the Poetic Images is a book I have been waiting on.  I received it in the mail last week and fell in love with it right away.  It isn’t your usual photography book.  This book is unique in its format, composition and approach to the subject.

The format of the book is one of a picture on each page with a very short topical reflection.  This isn’t a book composed of how to do what you do but rather it is a book this structured in such away that inspires you to find your why. That “why” that moves you out into the street.  The book turns the artist inside; it calls the photographer to look at themselves in the viewfinder, as they go outside.  Alex and Rebecca make you think about how your worldview influences what you put in your viewfinder.  They don’t approach the subject of street photography as something that can be taught but rather as something that has to be lived and experienced.

One of the many things I love about street photography is that is rooted in the experience.  You experience the streets.  Your feet have to hit the pavement and you have to move, sit, talk, engage, think, act, react and always be in the moment if you have any hope of recording the moment.  It is the experience of the moment(s) that make what I do so exciting.  The work changes me and I hope as others engage the work it moves them.  What moments are you experiencing in your work?  Is your work changing you as much as you hope your work moves others? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

What is it about you and your work that makes you UNIQUE?

I like to assign myself reading.  I love to read and a big part of my creative process is cerebral.  I have to wrap my mind around what it is I am trying to do.  While I read a lot I am very selective on who I read.  My reading is also complimented by my looking at the work of those who inspire me.  In the world of photography there is a group that I consider my mentors.  They don’t know me but I know there work. 

I work at finding those mentors and this comes from my reading and looking at images.  This summer quarter one of the books that I have assigned myself to read is Image Makers Image Takers by Anne-Celine Jaeger. The book “systematically examines what motivates and inspires today’s photographers and what makes them succeed. It reveals how the world’s leading photographers, from the field of art, documentary, fashion, advertising and portraiture, actually work, and explores what it is that picture editors, curators, gallerists, agency directors and publishers are looking for when they choose an image.”  From cover to cover this book is simply inspiring.  I have learned so much from the diverse voices and points of view in this book.  One voice that has spoken to me above the others has been Eugene Richards.

Eugene Richards is known for his compassion and his ability to confront difficult subject matter.  He, like me, is one of those photographers who likes to get close, no long lens for us.  When he talks about developing your style or personal way of seeing, he says, “In order to develop a personal way of seeing, you have to study the work of people, look at where you fit into your own society, and work to develop your own vision out of all of this.”  So the questions for us is who are you “studying”?  To study the work of an artist is to fully immerse yourself in their work and their life.  You have to know their story to understand and fully connect with their work.  As you study, where do you fit?  What is your story and how does your story inform your work?  What resources do you pull from inside of you that brings something new to the table?  We are not to copy our mentors but rather we are to extend the work and take it to the next level or point on the continuum.  Where are you and your work taking us?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Don’t Forget to Remember: Museum to Movement

“Atlanta’s most notable tradition is that we have no traditions, or at least that we are not bound by traditions and reverence for the past in the way that some other communities, especially in the South have been.  Like Rhett and Scarlett, we don’t look back.  Instead we look forward to the future with courage and confidence and one eye on the cash register.  We’ll try anything once, and if it works, we’ll keep it until something better comes along.”
Clifford Kuhn
Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914 - 1948

I continue to document the transformation of Sweet Auburn Avenue.  It is my hope that my work will do what William Stott says good documentary work does.  William Stott said, “Social documentary work can depict how a situation feels and not just how it looks; it can convey factual information about the world compelling by delivering it in emotionally charged ways, harnessing compassion and sentimentality for persuasive ends.  It can sensitize our intellect and education our emotions.”[1] Stott gives us the potential of good documentary work.  The work has the potential to do more than document what is happening in a factual way but rather it has an emotional component. It moves those who engage the story to a point of connection.  I invite you to enter this story, Faith in Sweet Auburn: The Next Chapter.  This week I want to introduce you to, two of the many people who have a stake in the past, present and future of Sweet Auburn. Last week I had the privilege of interviewing two people from two different sides of the street, Mr. Dan Moore of the Apex Museum and Jennie Rivlin Roberts of ModernTribe. 

Dan Moore has been on Auburn Avenue since the late 1970s and he is a historian who is passionate about the history of Sweet Auburn.  Jennie Rivlin Roberts is a native Atlantan who has opened up a new “popup shop” on Auburn Avenue.  While Mr. Moore welcomes the new shop owners he is concerned about the history of Sweet Auburn being forgotten and he struggles with how the new Auburn Avenue will be connected to the foundation upon which it stands. Jennie on the other hand sees here presence as a continuation of the history of this great Street and great city.  She respects the legacy and history of Sweet Auburn while she and her colleagues write the next chapter.  Listen to their interviews and tell me what you think:


What does it mean to remember?   What does it mean to pay tribute to the past?  How do changing communities and city streets remember from whence they have come?  What does the present owe the past?

[1] Stott, William.  Documentary Expression and Thirties America. (Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 5-63.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Photojournalism 2014 Style: Getting the Word-Out & Getting the People Involved

Wilson Hicks
“Its elements used in combination do not produce a third and new medium.  Instead, they form a complex in which each of the components retains its fundamental character, since words are distinctly one kind of medium, pictures another.  Of various dissimilarities in the mediums the one most pertinent to understanding of the photojournalistic technique is to be found in the ways in which they activate certain subjective responses in the reader.”
Wilson Hicks
 Photographic Communication: Principles, Problems and Challenges of Photojournalism  p. 19

 Wilson Hicks was the photographic editor of Life Magazine  from 1937 to 1950.  It was Hicks who built the photography staff at Life Magazine  from 4 to 40. He was also a professor of photojournalism at the University of Miami from 1955 to 1970.  In many way Hicks can be considered one of the fathers / mothers of photojournalism.  He understood this delicate marriage between the still photograph and the power of the printed word.  The picture didn’t stand alone in the context of the story but rather the picture served as a key component of the story; the picture took center stage while being surrounded by a caption and written copy.  As Hicks says in the quote above these two mediums weren’t melted into a third medium but rather they were two distinct mediums that serve to “activate certain subjective responses in the reader.”  It is interesting that he calls the subject reacting “the reader.”  Isn’t the reader also a viewer?  The subject that engages these mediums are viewing and reading, reading and viewing, while being moved as the story is constructed in such a way to provoke movement.  The work of photojournalism is to achieve a “subject response” from the viewer / reader.  The goal of my work is to take this principle of “provoking a subjective response in my viewer / reader”  specifically in response to social stratification and gentrification in the Atlanta area.

Hicks and his team of photographers and editors were very intentional about their work.  They had a   They constructed their “picture stories” in such away to advance their cause.  I look back on this time with romantic rose-colored glasses. Once I clean my glasses off and situate myself in the present I ask myself, “How can I do what Hicks and his team did in the time of Life Magazine?”  I answer myself by saying:
point of view, they didn’t claim some unachievable objectivity.
       1. You must create / make images that are so moving and compelling that they demand that the viewer stop, look and ask questions.
       2. You must create a community conversation around the issues you feel passionate about and that need to be addressed.
    3. You must use the tools you have at your disposal in this age to get the word-out.  The magazine as we knew it no longer exist but in an age of social media / multi-media you can and must communicate in new and timely ways.  The community of concerned activists citizens can be developed and sustained via virtual mediums.
      4. You must become an activist in regards to the issue(s) you feel passionate about.

The model of Life Magazine and Wilson Hicks was founded on iconic  images arranged in the format of story that served to move the reader.  It is this story format that will work today.  We are wired for story and the power is in the story as told via the images and multi / mixed media that both informs and moves those who engage the work.  What is the historical foundation your work is built upon?  How are you updated that foundation to work in a changed world?   

BBC Documentary on Life Magazine

The photographers who did the work!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Change or Be Left Behind!

Stephen Mayes
“Although some changes are painful, we have a rare and privileged opportunity to challenge the conventions that have limited the understanding of photography, and to create new models of visual storytelling.”
Stephen Mayes
“Toward a New Documentary Expression” in Aperture 214, p, 33

Stephen Mayes pushes me to think about how I share the story I am trying to tell. The story of Sweet Auburn is a story rooted in history that is being propelled into the future.  The question we must raise is, “Will we forget?”  Mayes argues that we have to tell powerful stories and place in the context of where our people are comfortable (Flickr, Vine, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, blogosphere).  This means that we can no longer wait for people to find us but rather we must take our message to the people and find our audience.  While Mayes is referencing photography his message transcends photography.  Mayes is saying to us that the world has changed; we have to find away to live into this change and allow this changing time to change us.

The wonderful privileged time I live in, as a storyteller is that I don’t have to wait for a publication or broadcaster to pick up my story.  I can use the tools at my fingertips to tell my story.  Not only can I use the tools at my fingertips but I can also tell more dynamic stories by using a multi / mixed media approach to storytelling.  Moreover if I have the time I can spend time on my story and tell a story over time and not reduce it to a sound bite or single news / documentary story.  I embrace the times and challenge that Mayes lays out.  The question for you and us is are we embracing the changing times in your industry(s)?  How are you changing what you do to take what you do to the people? How will you allow the way the world has changed – change you so that you can hear and be heard?