Thursday, September 30, 2010

Response Three: War Photographer

Last night I watched War Photographer, a film documenting the photographic techniques and methodology of renowned photographer James Nachtwey. I found his images striking and depressing, as necessarily dictated by his chosen subject: war-ravaged individuals, families and cities. But his method is certainly the only way to go about photographing such a subject. He is imbedded not as a journalist, but as a protestor, victim, and active participator in the conflicts he documents, and in being so immersed he is permitted by those involved to capture incredibly personal images.

To say his work, and I mean all of it, is 'emotional' would be a horrible understatement. It has to be, war is always emotional, but I feel that that is the essential part of all of his photos. Technically speaking the images are superb, flawless even, but what makes them exceptional war photos is the readily accessible dose of heavy, disturbing emotion that comes through to the viewer. Be it agony or distress, hatred or longing, it's usually quite obvious what the person is feeling, and what Nachtwey sought to capture by opening the shutter. Shooting in black and white 35mm film, usually with a shallow depth of field, helps to isolate the expressions of the subjects against the usually chaotic backgrounds of his war-tattered locations. 

While I find his ability to capture images of war in a respectful way astonishing, I know for a fact that I am incapable of doing so. There is absolutely no way I could be present during a battle, any battle, and not trade my camera for a firearm. I feel that while right and wrong are not always clearly distinguishable, degrees of right and wrong are, and were I in the streets surrounded by gunfire, the scale of injustice from my perspective would be tipped to one side or the other and thus my camera would become deadweight. Because I know this, and because I like breathing, I will never becoming a war photographer by choice.

Even though I never intend on doing specifically what he does, I feel there is a lot I can learn from James Nachtwey that would help me in any documentary photographic endeavor. In order to capture his images he is required to be friendly, honest and most importantly careful. By 'careful' I don't mean cautious for his own safety's sake, I mean he acts with great concern for all those involved. He approaches his subjects empathetically, taking nothing for granted, which I feel is not only the sole way to respectfully capture an image of someone who lives in spite of unspeakable hardship, but is the best way to capture an image of any event or individual. 

A Picture Requiring No Words Whatsoever

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Project Progress

Here are a few short videos and a couple of photos I am presenting as preliminary studies for my final project. The videos as a whole each serve a different purpose than that of my project, but the clips used for them are material I would certainly use in accomplishing the final. I have yet to capture any audio worth presenting. The videos also have a very broad focus, encompassing climbs and activities that wont necessarily fit into my final project once I narrow it down. Again, these should be considered preliminary studies.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Project Proposals

For this Documentary Photo class most of the semester is going to be spent working on one long project. Here are two distinct proposals detailing how I may go about accomplishing this project.

Proposal One: New Climbs in the Old Pueblo

This project would involve interviews with and portraits of the most active of Tucson's rock climbers, meaning those who are either repeating hard older climbs or are establishing new routes and boulder problems. I would select around five climbers who are pushing the limits on rock around Tucson, interview them about their current projects, and photograph and record video of their attempts. Since some of the climbs are unclimbed and/or newly developed lines, while others are routes first climbed in the 1960's, there will be quite a bit of interesting back-story to every one of them.

While I'm hoping to create a multi-media presentation including audio and video of the interviews along side still photos and video of the climbs themselves, I also hope to create diptychs to represent each climber comprised of a portrait of them and an action shot of the climb they are working on completing.

I have photos already of some of some of these climbs and their climbers from previous sessions taken this last year, and some video as well. The series of portraits would be an entirely new endeavor and require the most work I think.

As far as gaining access for the interviews of each climber, I have the great opportunity of working at the rock climbing gym here in town as well as being a tucson climber for the last two or three years. Some of the climbers I know very well, some of them I climb with on the weekends. Others however, mostly the ones who never climb in the gym, I have never even spoken to and it will require some prying and pleading to be invited to accompany them on their climbing trips; and that is my greatest concern with this project. Cost for this project, aside from printing it, should be negligible.

I hope to get pictures videos and interviews about the following climbs

-Jewell Thief - Climbers: Ryan Theodore, Aaron Mike, Ian Evans

-No Climb for Old Men or Righteous Beast - Climber: Joe Kreidel

-Jailbreak - Climber: Joe Shiefman

-SLR - Climber: Clay Mansfield

-Any old project by - Climber: Eric Richard

Proposal Two: A Series of Tucson Ride-Alongs

This project would be an expose of the work involved in policing the streets of Tucson. I would shoot both stills and video for this multimedia project, and record extensive audio using my iPhone or tape recorder. I would accompany at least two different officers during different shifts and in different parts of the city, one in the southeast and one in central Tucson.

It's difficult to say how this project would turn out, as I have absolutely no idea what crimes would be encountered on each ride-along. And because in the case that a crime would require an investigation my photographs and other materials would be seized by law as evidence. In these cases I simply would not capture any media.

Obviously gaining permission to take a camera with my on a ride-along, and to do so multiple times will require some effort. Also, each ride-along would require 8 hours of my time, which may mean only four days of shooting throughout the semester, and thats assuming I'd be allowed to go on multiple.

The only research I have done into this project so far has been done at my work, Rocks and Ropes. A TPD officer named Nick and his wife have been climbing regularly there, affording me many a story and several invitations to join him on a ride-along. I have asked him about this project before and he seems to be excited about the idea, he also said he would get me in contact with some other officers who might be willing to escort me and my camera around the streets of Tucson.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Film Response: Angela Singer's Importance

Just this morning I watched a movie called For Memory's Sake that I found kind of depressing. The film documented, in a short 30 minutes, the photographs of Angela Singer. Having no formal or technical education in the craft of photography, she taught her self how to expose film at a young age and continued taking photos throughout her life. Most, if not all of her subject matter is personal in nature; she takes photos of everyday occurrences, family gatherings, her son's gravestone, the slow death of her husband to pancreatic cancer. And according to her, most of her pictures were taken within 20 miles of her house. She photographs incessantly, daily, and does so simply for the sake of memory. She says in the film, "I don't go to the mailbox without my camera."

From my perspective this kind of cataloging of everyday images is exactly why point-and-shoot cameras were invented. For her purpose, of preserving the innumerable moments in her life, her method of photographing constantly is perfect. I however, don't share Angela Singer's therapeutic need to photograph everything I adore or appreciate. I write instead.

Unlike Angela Singer's daughter, who narrated and directed the film, I don't like to think about her photography as "a way of coping with domestic life." I like to think at least, that Singer was celebrating life, domestic or not, with every picture she took. To some extent we are all escapists, seeking that little bit of solace or retreat that enables us to cope with the rest of the day. But in the end I hope that photographs, especially the thousands that singer took memorialize her life, don't exist solely as a means of "coping."

The photos that Angela Singer took are important to her, that's why she took them. I think that curators and critics viewing them will naturally imbue meaning into them, most likely meaning which Singer herself never intended. The true significance of the photos is usually something only she, and possibly her immediate family can understand. While I admit this is not always the case, especially not so in the photos she took over the course of her husbands death, most of her photos lack an easily readable purpose. And I have to say, for example, I don't see the point in collecting pictures of every birthday cake she blows the candles out on.

In short, I don't think that the pictures are important outside of being Angela Singers personal archive. The importance of her photos is much greater to those who experienced the captured moments with her than it is to most of the public. Furthermore, people who don't know Singer, but who lived in the same town will find them more significant than any outsider who comes to see them. For me, here in Arizona they are not very significant.

Film Response: I Love Sally Mann / I Don’t Understand Sally Mann

I recently watched What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann, a film about the work of Sally Mann, a well-known female American photographer. She is best known for an arguably provocative series of family portraits entitled Immediate Family, which debuted in the early 1990’s. Her approach to this project is presented in the film as having been controlled and willful. I recall scenes in the film where a young Sally Mann is directing her three children confidently and with a clear idea of the image she seeks. This is the Sally Mann I adore. But later in the film, after she decides it is time to start a new project to be displayed and critiqued, she begins to welcome the unintentional and the uncertain into her creative process. The resulting images are, for lack of a better word, dirty. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a lot of trouble appreciating chance as a tool or method in any artistic endeavor.

Immediate Family is about as personal as photography can be without degrading into pornography. But the formal traits of composition and tone are so well executed that the cliché “fine art” is actually fitting. While watching the film, above all else I have to say that I found myself envying the ease with which she achieved success by photographing the subject not only most dear to her, but also the most convenient and accessible. I agree that great photographs are everywhere, in every moment, as if waiting to be captured, or as Sally Mann put it “right under my nose.” And her chosen subject for this project afforded her ample opportunity to seize such moments. What I like most about this project is how she approached it. She appears to be merely influenced by the chance moments, but once she has been inspired she takes over, directing and arranging her children according to her vision and will. The resulting images are profound and stunning and display a sense of purpose and decisiveness that I admire.

I have never attempted a project so personal, or one involving the people I love. While I know I could, and that I would be happy with the result, I am not sure what the point would be. And it certainly would be cheap, after watching a movie about Sally Mann, to embark on a project intimately photographing my family. Perhaps when I have kids, and my primary duty is to raise them, then I could appreciate a project of this nature.

As a dog owner and rock climber I found quite a bit of inspiration in seeing a photographer, in the field camping with her dog, and calling it work - I really, really like that idea. For me, it will probably (read hopefully) be at the base of cliff, with a group of rock climbers seated around a fire, discussing tomorrow’s probable ascent, and me working out the angles I want to be at throughout it.

Perhaps later in my life I may begin to appreciate the accidental and embrace, as Sally Mann put it, the Angel of Uncertainty, but for the time being I see no need nor any room in art for it. I may be old-fashioned, but right now I am infatuated with art that has as its purpose the embodiment of its creator’s concepts, I seek out the Angel of Certainty in my photographs, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

After watching the film I have a new appreciation for the Immediate Family series, of which I had previously only seen one print. I look forward to her images coming to mind the next time I'm out shooting.