Project 3 Reportage
Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.
- What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?
Colour and the street
Street photography began life in black and white, in an age when colour photography was deemed unrealistic because it carried connotations of advertising. Henri Cartier- Bresson, Eve Arnold, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, amongst many others, paved the way for reportage to be used in an artistic way, with no functional purpose other than to tell viewers about life from the point of view of the photographer. As colour photography began to be accepted as an art form in the late twentieth century, street photography followed suit.
Martin Parr (b 1952)
A UK photojournalist who uses heightened colour photography in an almost surreal sense and has said “you either get my photography or you don’t” (Golden, 2013). He “has consistently tested the boundaries of documentary style” (Cotton, 2014) sometimes using a handheld camera with flashlight combined with a macro lens to focus close up on a subject. He uses humour to convey consumerism as a visual language and is known for capturing the essence of Britishness especially in his documentary series The Last Resort (mid 80’s) where he portrayed Thatcherite Brighton.
I saw some of his work first hand when I visited his exhibition Unseen (Guildhall art gallery London, 4 March – 31 July 2016). He used his unprecedented access to high-profile occasions (as the City of London’s photographer-in-residence) to shoot behind the scene images of the pomp and glory in the city of London such as private ceremonies, dignitaries and Banquets. Katherine Pearce, Curator at Guildhall Art Gallery says: “Parr reveals the ‘unseen’, literally and metaphorically. He pays attention to detail and spots things that make you think again about what you’re seeing.” (Pearce, 2016).
I particularly liked the unusual viewpoints that he used such as this image shot from behind the queen, and the way he captures impromptu moments.
Martin Parr 2014 (Kallaway 2016b)
Martin Parr 2014 (Kallaway 2016b)
He presents the city and its rituals in a variety of ways, such as fun, as boring, as incomprehensible. I actually wondered if he was “taking the mickey” out of the ceremonies and traditions in the way he presents them without any reverence, but then maybe that’s just his way?
Joel Sternfield (b 1944)
He was one of the pioneers of colour photography known for large-format images that capture the American roadside. His body of work On This Site: Landscapes in Memoriam (1966), at first sight seem to be random locations and yet it transpires that these were all previous crime scenes. He applies his studied observation of colour to the everyday he found as he travels taking full length photographs of people where “Each picture tells a story via the person’s physical appearance and the rich details of their surroundings” (Sternfield cited in Getty, nd). These portraits “propose the facts of what has transpired” (Cotton, 2014).
Interestingly whilst researching Sternfield I came across the story of this photograph which interests me particularly in light of my earlier research into objectivity in photography.
In the photo you see a fireman buying pumpkins whilst a fire crew fight a fire in the house behind. On first sight you might think the fireman was being negligent however it transpires that this was a training exercise which the fireman was on a break from. The photograph was apparently the most iconic image of his career, though published without captions other than location and date, “if this picture is deceptive, it’s only because we’ve deceived ourselves” (Keats, 2012).
Joel Meyerowitz (b 1938)
Is a street, Landscape and portrait photographer, influenced originally by Robert Frank. During the 1960s he worked in black and white with 35mm cameras looking for the extraordinary on the streets. In the 1970s he used colour in revolutionary way with larger cameras; he said that the small camera “taught me energy and decisiveness and immediacy… the large camera taught me reverence, patience, and meditation” (cited in Mulligan, 2005). Apparently he learnt that with so much action on the streets he just had to shoot and later discuss and think about the photos. “A lot of what I am looking for is astonishment” he says (cited in O’Hagan, 2012).
He is probably best known for his 9/11 photos Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (2006), the only photographer allowed onto the site immediately afterwards; the US Government later mounted exhibitions using his work.
I can identify with his feeling that colour gives him the sensation of things, a richness and more description. “If photography is about describing things, then colour describes them more” (cited in Louise, 2012). I also like the way that he describes a body of work as a building block of visual language “These pictures are all little gestural elements that don’t necessarily add-up on their own to anything profound, … they have to be interesting and interlocking in a way that you could fuse them in runs… to be stating a sort of collective of ideas into one thing that will carry the reader along”. (2point8, nd).
He describes his use of context and relationships in images well. I found his reasoning for using a Leica as opposed to a single lens reflex (SLR) camera very interesting, as I had never thought about and SLR as being one eye, whereas with the Leica you have one eye in the camera and one outside due to the positioning of the viewfinder, so that you see the world and its context. He explains “What you put in the frame determines the photograph… what you put in and where you cut the rest of the 360 degrees…as the world continues outside of the frame; so what you put in and what you leave out are what determines the meaning, potential of your photograph” (YouTube, 2012). Certainly his photographs’ suggest relationships not representing objects.
Paul Graham (b.1956)
Is an English documentary photographer, who was one of the first to photograph documentary in colour. He believes that photographs are subtle and deserve to be looked at with respect. He likes to uncover things that people might miss. His series A1- The Great North Road (1083) is one example of ordinary places, in this case on an arterial road.
This and other of his eighties work enforced the importance of using colour in documentary photography to expand its visual message. “The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether of nothingness…it is a shimmer of possibility” (cited in O’Hagan, 2011). He says that when he takes photographs he is questioning how we photograph the world and asking what is the world like?
Coomes, P. (2011) Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-13133461 (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Cotton, C. (2014) The photograph as contemporary art. 3rd edn. London, United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.
Golden, R. (2013) Masters of photography. 3rd edn. London: Sterling Pub Co.
Getty museum (n,d). Joel Sternfeld. Available at: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/3731/joel-sternfeld-american-born-1944/ (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Kallaway (2016a) Guildhall Art Gallery. Available at: http://mediacentre.kallaway.com/guildhall-art-gallery/image-library/unseen-city-photos-by-martin-parr (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Kallaway (2016b) Unseen city: Photos by Martin Parr. Available at: http://mediacentre.kallaway.com/guildhall-art-gallery/press-releases/unseen-city-photos-by-martin-parr (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Keats, J. (2012) Do not trust this Joel Sternfeld photograph. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2012/09/06/do-not-trust-this-joel-sternfeld-photograph/#50225726b22f (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Louise (2012) Joel Meyerowitz: Icon with a Leica – the Leica camera Blog. Available at: http://blog.leica-camera.com/2012/04/02/joel-meyerowitz-icon-with-a-leica/ (Accessed: 17 October 2016).
Mulligan, T. (2005) A history of photography: From 1839 to the present; the George Eastman house collection. Edited by Therese Mulligan and David Wooters. 25th edn. Köln, Germany: Taschen GmbH.
Pearce, K (2006) cited in: Kallaway (2016) Unseen city: Photos by Martin Parr available at: http://mediacentre.kallaway.com/guildhall-art-gallery/press-releases/unseen-city-photos-by-martin-parr. (Accessed 17.10.16).
You tube (2012) Joel Meyerowitz –‘What you put in the frame determines the photograph. Available at: http://youtu.be/Xumo7_JUeMo (Accessed 17.10.16)
2point8 (n, d) Available at: http://2point8.whileseated.org/2007/12/03/joel-meyerowitz-interview-part-1/ (Accessed: 17 October 2016b).
Another mag (n,d) Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8073/martin-parrs-last-resort (Accessed: 17 October 2016a).