Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Travelling is always a big inspiration when you are looking for images, subjects and stories. People having fun in different countries for different reasons and in different ways has became a long term project for me through the years. Everything people celebrate around the world is connected somehow, despite extreme traditions and cultural differences. History, politics and economy are barriers that become blur when it is time to enjoy the party.
Monday, 17 November 2008
After last tutorial with John, I am starting to focus and develop the idea of portraying the way some white communities celebrates Christmas holidays in South Africa and analyzing at the same time their relationship with religion, tradition and cultural identity. I am going tho spend about a month in Mossel Bay, a popular holiday coastal village in the Garden Route, situated halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It is a busy summer destination for the Afrikaner population with customs and values sometimes perceived as extreme by Western societies.
I am quite interested in the subject for personal reasons and I have already started to gather some contacts and locations that could make the story potentially meaningful and appealing to foreign audiences. I am thinking about the possibility of recording some interviews and taking some portraits in order to achieve a more intimate feeling within a straight forward 35mm reportage approach.
The other side of the story could be done in places like King's Cross, where every Sunday a rented Welsh chapel on the Pentonville Road is packed with more than 600 worshippers, attending services in Afrikaans of the Dutch Reformed Church, led by the Reverend Francois du Toit. Before the end of white rule and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, Afrikaans speakers rarely left the country, insisting it was their home for good and the only place they wanted to be. Extreme nationalists claimed with pride that it was their mission to spread European and Christian culture across the southern tip of Africa.
Exact numbers are not available, because South African visitors to the UK are not recorded by ethnicity, but including all races and creeds, about 300,000 flew to the UK in 2007. Many of those coming to the UK are still in their twenties, taking advantage of South Africa's membership in the Commonwealth and the subsequent availability of two-year "working holiday" visas, but others want money, alarmed by the declining standard of living for white South Africans and policies designed to promote black employment, after years of discrimination.
Already businesses are being set up to serve this new expatriate community, with one South African food supplier, Susmans' Butchery, delivering to shops and operating mail order, selling items such as Mrs Ball's Chutney, Peppermint Crisp chocolates and Boerewors sausages, so the original idea for the project seems to be unfolding in different directions and the story continues in London.
Friday, 31 October 2008
Still not convinced about how to approach the project. I keep changing my mind and I am coming up with new ideas every week. After my last visit to the Barbican on a grey and depressing Sunday for instance, I thought It could be interesting to explore the empty urban landscapes and the lives of people working against the current of normal hours and days. Street sweepers in the cold of the street, security guards talking to nobody in front of an old magazine or cleaners travelling by night to do their job without disturbing workers in the office. The contrast between the rhythm and intensity of a Sunday night and a Monday morning must be incredible. Desolation, hardship, loneliness and social exclusion could be potential themes around the story and maybe a mixture of formal strategies the way forward. Photojournalistic images with interviews together with series of portraits and big scale landscapes.
Another possibility starting to develop in my head lately is to show a more intimate analysis of everyday life ambitions, fears and values of white families in South Africa. The whole situation is deteriorating by the day and the political, social and cultural connotations are changing fast. I will be living for three weeks with some members of my girlfriend's family in a small community on the coast during Christmas and I thought it is probably a good idea to try something you know a bit better that others for personal reasons and at the same time something that is close and meaningful to you. Just like Leonie Purchas!
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Last Sunday I went to the Barbican to have a look at the new exhibition "This Is War!", which includes some never-before-seen photographs and newly discovered documents about Robert Capa (1913-1954) and Gerda Taro (1910–1937). it was very interesting to see closely and in detail the whole process of making iconic images of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, but I was more intrigue about the artistic responses to Iraq and Afghanistan by Omer Fast, Paul Chan, An-My Lê and specially Geert van Kesteren's Why Mister, Why?, and Baghdad Calling, (2008).
Each artist reflects on the subjects of war and their experience of conflict and at the same time each considers how some images mediates our experience and understanding of any given situation. Looking at the photographs taken by local people in everyday life Irak with their mobile phones, I thought straight away about Sco and his use of basic technologies to get close and real to the subject.
Later in the day flicking through the Sunday Times Magazine, I found an article about a new and lucrative relationship between photojournalism and art. Private collectors and galleries are willing to pay huge sums for reportage images taken in the first place to document events and provoke reaction. W Eugene Smith's photograph of a soldier holding a newborn baby during the battle of Saipan sold at Christie's for £4369, Simon Norfolk's photograph of a bullet-scarred apartament building in Kabul fetched almost £6000 and Luc Delahaye's photograph of a deserted road in the aftermath of a bomb blast went for £22100.
This year's Brighton Photo Biennial takes as its main theme the changes in both the production and consumption of war photography. Its curator Julian Stalabrass argues that, as fewer photojournalists are allowed on the front line and censorship often dictates what can and cannot be shot, photographers have to adapt to get heir message across. Today war is as much about suicide bombers and terrorism as opposing armies in the battlefield. The nature of war has changed dramatically so the way we record it it must change too. Finding new ways of communication is the key issue for most practitioners. Hung in an exhibition, these images have huge visual impact and push people to confront them and think and talk about them.
Monday, 13 October 2008
I have been reading lately quite a few articles in magazines and newspapers about how the other half live in any given situation. Workers in Dubai living like animals while tourists spend loads of money in luxury hotels. Farmers in Argentina struggling with new taxes while government officials get richer. Street artists fighting social injustice while well established practitioners play with unreal prices in the market.
Getting inspiration for new stories around the world is easy, but for some reason I find it harder in London. This is the place where my everyday life became routine with same patterns over long periods of time. Jono said to me once that Istanbul is full of visual opportunities and Mark was thinking about travelling to the borders between India and Pakistan.Talking about his new film on the IRA hunger strikes, Steve McQueen said that people talk about the abuses in Abu Ghraib, but the same thing was happening here in our own backyard.
I would love to travel somewhere and explore some of the issues I am reading about, but for this new project I will try to work on something a bit closer to me from a cultural and geographical point of view: Spanish and Latin American people in London living somehow detached from any local interference in terms of language, music, food, customs and culture.
The largest modern influx of Spanish people happened after the Spanish Civil War, when political exiles began to settle mainly in Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea and Camden. Many others like me came seeking work, skills and education after the economic crisis in Spain.
Latin American people started arriving in London mainly in the 1970s at a time of much political turmoil and civil unrest in their countries. Around 2,500 Chilean exiles, including businessmen, professors and students, were met by a small community of Latin people who were already here. In the following years people from Argentina, Ecuador and Peru came to London. The mid-1980s saw Colombians arriving not only as political refugees, but also as migrant workers escaping conditions in their country.
Although there are no real Latin American or Spanish districts as such, it is estimated that around 15,000 Spanish people live in North Kensington, focused around Vicente Canada Blanch, the Spanish School in Notting Hill. Other areas with Latin communities are Camden Town, Finsbury Park, Harrow and Wimbledon. In Lambeth the community from Latin America has grown massively within the last five years or so with Spanish being increasingly spoken in the borough. It was Mark again who told me about El Carnaval del Pueblo, the largest Latin American festival in Europe, supported by Southwark Council and attended by more than 130000 people. Such a big and close event I didn't know anything about.
Monday, 6 October 2008
TED, a New York-based organisation that brings together leading scientists, thinkers and designers committed to social change, grants $100000 to three outstanding people each year and gives them one wish to change the world. James Natchtwey is now using his skills as a photojournalist to raise global awareness of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis and in the process demonstrate the power of news photography in the digital age. He travelled to countries as diverse as Cambodia, Siberia, Rwanda and India documenting the XDR-TB and the efforts of governments and NGOs to pioneer new treatment programmes that may arrest the disease's progression.
Last week TED unveiled a slide show of more than 50 images at the Lincoln Center in New York and the National Theatre in London and over the next few weeks the same photographs will be shown on outdoors screens in 50 cities worldwide and on the internet as part of a multimedia campaign that aims to harness the power of viral marketing techniques on the web. The aim is to bring TB into the mass consciousness in the hope of starting an action campaign that can leverage more funds for aid and sponsorship for research.
Friday, 3 October 2008
Today I read in The British Journal of Photography that the US Senate has passed an amended version of the controversial Orphan Works Bill, which has been widely criticised for tearing up international accords on artists' copyright. Under current law, a copyright holder has the undeniable right to profit from his work, but this new bill allows pictures editors and art buyers to use images with unknown or incomplete copyright information, as long as they have made sufficient attempts to track down the owner.
If the new legislation passes through the House of Representatives, responsibility passes to the author, who must actively protect his work by process of registration. This system could prove impossible for most photographers due to the time and cost involved in registering works. Companies unscrupulous enough to strip an image of copyright information know that if caught, they would merely have to pay what they would have been charged in the first place.
As we make progress through the course and we start to publish images on the web, it would be interesting to know a bit more in detail about the potential dangers. Internet is a big opportunity for all of us, but in the current economic meltdown the market will test legislative boundaries to the limit, profiting from any grey areas resulting from unclearly defined regulation.
We need to get better at attaching value to our images and protect our work, but for now I will keep posting some more images of the people I met in my last trip and see what happens.
Monday, 29 September 2008
I just came back from Sri Lanka last week and five days later I am still getting used to the rhythm of London. Lots of information everywhere. Fast inspirations sometimes difficult to grasp. It is always the same when you come back from holidays. It takes time to adjust to reality and find your balance again between things you want to do and things you have to do. All of the sudden days and weeks and months seem shorter and time slip away of your hands without you even realizing. Some friends have experienced the cycle over the years and call it slightly post traumatic holidays depression. I suppose the answer is to connect again with the people around you and start looking for meaningful stories with people in them. I tried to get some decent images of people I met in my trip and I decided that I will try to develop the human side of the story for the borders project, most probably the life of joy and pain of some Hispanic communities in London.
It is a bit of a struggle to find new concepts in new hostile environments, but at least I found new ideas about how to write my blog. It is a conversation between you and the reader you can't see. It is more like radio than it is like a newspaper column. More intimate, more conversational and more interactive. Asking rhetorical questions to provoke the audience is not a bad idea. You must be prepared to defend every fact and opinion or to apologize when you make mistakes. Among the bloggers there are lots of clever people who simply want to tell you things you didn't know.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Working full time with different timetables every week and studying at the same time is not always easy. Management of time is therefore so important to me when organizing lessons, tutorials, meetings, and plans for projects. Developing ideas always takes longer than expected and stories unfold into something different most of the times. Working on the human hair trade project during the Summer, I have been trying different approaches, looking at the possibilities from different perspectives and adjusting the outcome in the process. Editing is not that hard if you know where are you going and what are you trying to achieve.
During the first and second term of the course I have been learning to research subjects in depth and solve technical problems by myself. The feedback and comments of the rest of students is very helpful and inspiring and I hope to be able to offer some new experiences back next term.
I have improved my understanding of what really matters in photography. Simple rules not to forget. Composition, light, background, knowledge about the subject, the purpose of the story and growing importance of multimedia tools.
Discovering new names, images and styles during the lectures is very enjoyable and enlightening. Tackling Important issues and concepts I never thought about before is key to have a broaden and deep view of the story of photography.
The essay about Sebastiao Salgado and the relationship between aesthetic beauty and social message made me realize that photography is not just about the technicalities to produce good quality images. Photographers need to know about economy, history, geography and politics for instance because everything is interconnected.
The goals for the next future is to explore and improve the use of audio, video and images within multimedia applications as new concept of telling stories and keep developing new ways of looking when producing images and stories.
Friday, 18 July 2008
I just came back from Street & Studio, the first exhibition at the Tate Modern to explore the urban photographic portrait through the parallel development of these two environments from the beginning of last century to the present day. It was quite impressive and reassuring to look and recognize some original images we have gone through during the first six months of the course: Walker Evans, Robert Frank, August Sander, Henri Cartier Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Paul Strand, Robert Mapplethorpe, Martin Parr, Richard Avedon. Some images are constructed using costumes and artificial backdrops in a controlled situation within the private space of the studio. Some others offer a new kind of portraiture, capturing people in the streets with new models of small handheld cameras. The encounter with the anonymous passer-by was already one of the key motifs of street photography.
Going through all the rooms to learn more about the urban history of photography, I discovered that Walker Evans was preoccupied with trying to capture what he called ‘ a cross section view of average hard-working people’, and that contemporary photographers like Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Joel Sternfeld work both with large format camera and tripod, though their photographs often resemble snapshots.
I was really surprised by the approach of some photographers I didn’t know anything about before my trip to the exhibition. In Malick Sidibe’s studio in Mali for instance, young people posed playfully with their new possessions, suggesting the euphoria of life after independence and the development of an African culture. David Goldblatt showed black and white citizens together on the streets of Johannesburg and Jeff Wall created images carefully constructed using actors and cinematic lighting of a scene of two police officers arresting a Hispanic man.
Photography is undergoing rapid technological developments during the digital age and I am starting to discover how some photographers came out everyday with different strategies and approaches to create series of images using in new ways sound, light and multimedia tools.
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Flicking through the July Spanish edition of National Geographic, I found a fantastic example of perfect reportage about the killings of gorillas in Virunga National Park by writer Mark Jenkins and photographer Brent Stirton. The story is about the struggle of the last remaining animals living in Congo, Uganda and Ruanda and the fighting between guerrillas and park rangers to control the illegal traffic of wood. The continuous interferences of governments in the management of the area and the fatal consequences for the refugee camps develop the story even further to attract the attention of a broader audience. Local issues unfold into international facts in front of the reader who live on the other side of the globe. The importance of choosing the right story and finding the right approach to create images that show efficiently to the viewer all sides of the situation is the key for success.
This is probably one of the most important lessons I am learning six months after the beginning of the MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. I am starting to look at reality from a different perspective as the first step to develop potential ideas.
Choosing and researching the subject from a particular angle is as important as writing an appealing article or producing quality images. The critical question is what are you planning to take photographs of and why are you doing it in the first place, and then how are you going to do it. Always try to show you story as close as possible to your idea.
On the other hand I am still quite lost about all the technicalities in the industry. No confidence or expertise to manage and present my images with the right application or to negotiate with editors or potential clients for instance. So far I have been a consumer rather that a producer, but exploring new ways to use new products and markets with the help of the other students could be the next step.
The idea of Sejour developed after stylist Terry Bishop and colourist Carl Dawson got sick of the trend plaguing London salons: huge, overbearing studios with minimalist design and noisy activity. They met while learning under the hands of Nicky Clarke. After acquiring a broad clientele base, Bishop and Dawson created a home-like space for Chelsea socialites and Saudi royalty, who wanted a more intimate approach to keep their privacy. With a staff of talented Brazilians, South Africans and New Zealanders, customers at Sejour pay around £75 for a cut and around £500 for human hair extensions. One of the most experienced hairdressers in the salon is Zelda, who is currently working with a new generation of young models to enter the prestigious competition for the British Hairdressing Awards 2008. The popularity of human hair extensions has grown to such an extent in Chelsea that many costumers and celebrities living in the area are rarely seen without them. Professionally applied hair extensions are not to be confused with clip-in hair extensions, which are for temporary use and should be removed daily and not left in your hair when sleeping. The main advantage of real human hair extensions is that it is far easier to look after. There is no need to treat it any differently to your own hair and it looks and feels so natural that even a trained eye cannot tell you are wearing them when they are expertly applied. If the client wants to use human hair to thicken her own hair, an average amount of extensions would be approximately 50. The average lengthening process usually requires between 100-120 extensions. At Sejour the costumer can choose between European hair, the most popular choice for its soft natural feel and extensive colour range; Russian hair, the most exclusive and rare type of hair as it has not been dyed or chemically treated in any way; Brazilian hair, the most difficult to find in the UK as it is naturally curly in texture and it will remain curly even after washing, and Indian hair, a very popular choice as the quality is excellent but not quite as good as the European, Russian and Brazilian hair. There is a more limited colour range on this type of hair and it is pre-dyed to match a colour chart from which the hairdressers can match a client's hair.
The cost for Indian hair is £6.00 per extension, £7.00 for European hair, £8.00 for Russian hair and £9.00 for Brazilian hair. All prices include materials, application and finished styling for all hair types. Extensions will last three to four months on average and normally 50% of the human hair can be re-used for future applications.
The presence of Caribbeans in London started with the arrival of Jamaicans on the Empire Windrush in1948. Dispersing to many parts of the city, mainly Clapham and Brixton, they came either alone or with new wives and families from all over the islands, setting up home and working mainly for London transport or for the National Health
Service. Jamaicans tended to settle in the south of the city, whereas Trinidadians and Barbadians tended to gravitate to the areas around Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove.
The black community of Caribbean and African residents in London today is fairly spread across town. Although there are hubs of residential areas like Peckham, New Cross, Dalston and Lewisham, one main area do stand out, however: Brixton.
In the middle of the neighbourhood is Brixton Market, a local landmark built between Electric Avenue, Pope’s Road, Brixton Station Road and Atlantic Road.
It’s open six days a week and you’ll find everything from tropical fruit, vegetables, spices, specialist meats and fish as well as Caribbean literature, cards and gifts.
It is also home to Europe’s largest amount of Afro-Caribbean foodstuffs, which obviously appeals to a large contingent of black consumers who can also find specialist hairdressers, barbershops and hair products in the surrounding streets.
One of the most trusted places to cut and blow dry your hair is Eseosa Salon, founded and managed by Sandra, a former model from Nigeria. However most clients come here for human hair extensions. They are incredibly popular and are extremely versatile. Most people choose to use them to lengthen or thicken their existing hair. They are added to their own hair by several means: braiding, bonding, weaving, or strand-by-stand, and typically the process is performed by a skilled hairdresser in a salon. If properly applied, all human hair extensions can be washed, brushed, straightened, and curled and can be worn for up to four months. Extensions come in such a wide range of colours and textures that there are no limitations, providing the real hair is suitable and healthy.
Costumers can get the benefits of having long hair without having to grow out their own for years, but hair extensions can also do considerable damage and cause thinning to their real hair. Long heavy extensions apply pressure to the scalp and some people may experience headaches from the strain of the hair or even react to the bonding glue that is used to apply the extensions.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Recycled as expensive hair extensions and wigs for the West or sold for use as raw material for the chemical industry, human hair trade has grown into an extremely profitable business, with more than 95% of all human hair imports coming from India and China.
The human hair business first boomed across India in the Sixties, but sales dropped when synthetic alternatives were introduced. Since then complaints of skin allergies, especially by European consumers, once again boosted the demand for natural hair. The human hair trade has become a large market entirely export-oriented, that thrives on painstaking methods of collecting hair from villages and slums where hair is least likely to be dyed or treated with chemicals. Factory workers as young as 12 years old spend their days sorting, combing and cleaning the hair collected from villagers, barber shops and temples. Women are being increasingly targeted and exploited by unscrupulous agents because there are not specific restrictions on the import and export of human hair. This is obviously an environment that breeds illegality.
The Hindu temples of Tirupati in the southern province of Andhra Pradesh are the centre of the global trade in human hair and the wealthiest in all of India. Each year thousands of worshipers make pilgrimages to visit the statue of Vishnu, where their hair is cut off as an act of religious sacrifice and devotion. Babies are shaved for good luck and adults allow themselves to be shaved to thank the gods. The temples are permitted to spend not more than one third of their revenues from hair sales on expansion and renovation. The rest goes to charities, schools, orphanages and hospitals. Within a few days, tonnes of donated hair make its way from the warehouses in the temple to lucrative auctions and processing factories around the port of Chennai, eventually arriving in Europe and America where it will adorn the heads of Western women. Indian hair is renowned for its quality and is bought raw for between $2 and $5 per kilo. Once processed, it is sold to extensions and wig makers for around $40 per kilo. Lower quality hair is interwoven with other fabrics to make jackets linings, mattresses and cosmetic brushes, or it is converted into amino acids, which in turn are used in food and medicine.
The demand in the UK and US for hair extensions and cosmetic products with hair extracts means that turning faith into fashion has become a new big industry over the past ten years, earning major temples and exporters revenues of more than $3oo million annually. Celebrities are the best advertisement for companies like Great Lenghts, an international conglomerate with 45 distribution offices in 53 countries that controls around 60% of the world market for human hair extensions and processes 5 tons of hair each month. Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow have all had long hair extensions glued to their own, and thousands of regular women in the developed world have followed the trend, paying up to $2000 for a full head session to extend volume or length. Women have an average of 100 to 200 grams of hair on their head and the extensions last for six months. By then a person’s own hair will have grown so that the extensions no longer sit properly in place, so the foreign hair is removed and discarded.
The human hair business is growing at the phenomenal rate of 40% annually, creating a network of dealers on all continents and air shipments around the globe. The sole purpose of all this effort is to transfer hair from one head to another, because having one’s own hair is just not enough. Hair has to be shiny, smooth, long and perfect.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
Most of the shops I am visiting in Brixton for my project are specialized in African Caribbean hair and beauty products. These products have been specifically developed for Afro consumers and they are generally not available at most high street shops in the UK.
They stock natural human hair wigs, hair extensions, hair braids, hair dryers, black skin care products, afro wigs, hair sprays, oils, moisturizers, gel, hair dyes, hair straightening irons, and everything else you can imagine related to hair.
Most of the salons in the area use these products with local costumers all the time and it is regarded as an important part of their identity, but it is also a big business with other kind of costumers willing to pay huge amounts of money for different reasons in areas like Chelsea. After a few frustrating days wandering around the streets and talking to everyone who wanted to listen to my stories, I am finally getting access to slighty more deep situations with some of the hairdressers and clients in both sides of the industry.
The original idea was to follow the process of buying hair in Brixton and using it in Chelsea by one of the girls working in a posh salon, but maybe it would be more interesting to compare these two opposite worlds in a new way, and raise some other issues potentially related to the main subject, like race, social exclusion or aesthetics in different parts of the world. Basically I haven’t decided yet how to organize the project, so every comment is more that welcome.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Doing some research for my project, I found out that Egyptians developed in 1500 BC a theraphy to beat hair loss that required the toes of a dog, dates, the hoof of an ass and the blood from the neck of a gagbu bird. A thousands years later Hippocrates prescribed to his patients a concoction of cumin, pigeon droppings, horseradish and beetroot, though with little success. Finally in 1995 researchers at Duke University in North Carolina noticed that castration was effective and possibly the only permanent solution to male hair loss.
Since then men and women have been chasing the solution of how to successfully develop new human hair, since hair taken from one area of the body and transplanted somewhere else wouldn't maintain necessarily its genetic integrity.
100000 hairs are found on the average healthy scalp; 2-6 years is the lenght of most people's hair grown cycle and 90% of hair is in the growth phase of this cycle at any one time; 10% of hair is resting and drops out after three months to be replaced by new hair and 100 hairs are shed each day through natural loss or abrasion.
I am visiting now shops and salons and talking to custumers and professionals in the industry to understand better how people deal with hair. Issues about identity and race keep unfolding in fron of me, but the most evident and simple conclusion is that hair is such an important thing for men and women.
Friday, 23 May 2008
Each year the hair of thousands of women in India and China is cut off for just a few dollars. Once collected, cut, cleaned and sorted, the hair is exported for different end uses. Short bad quality hair is used for jackets linings, cosmetic brushes food and medicine, but the bulk of the trade is for wig and hairpiece making. Tonnes of waist-length hair make its way from vast warehouses to lucrative auctions and processing factories, eventually arriving in Britain, America and France, where it will adorn the heads of Western women. The demand for hair extensions and cosmetic products means that turning poverty and faith into fashion has became a new market, earning major companies revenues of more that $300 million last year alone.
I have been considering for a while as a potential project the creation of a series of images about the whole process in London, from the basic shops in Brixton that sell the product to the fashionable salons in Chelsea that work with models and wealthy clients. So far getting access to the places where human hair is stored and sold has been difficult and frustrating, but most probably I will be able to attend in the next few days the preparation and shooting of a series of different hair styles as part of the competition for the British Hairdressing Awards 2008.
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Since I started doing this course, I have the feeling that everything is connected somehow. All the ideas I am interested in, all the articles I come across, keep unfolding in front of me in different ways. It seems that from the beginning of this year I am going through subjects I knew or I thought about before.
Doing some research on Salgado this morning,I just discovered he photographed the sulphur workers I visited last Summer in Indonesia. They climb the slopes of a volcano in Java and then make the dangerous descent into the crater to get chunks of sulphur while breathing the poisonous air.
Yesterday I read by chance an article on The Independent about exactly the same mountains Antrim was talking about a few days before in one the tutorials. The coal industry in Kentucky is blowing up the Appalachian peaks without any environmental concern to generate electricity and displace the consumption of imported oil. The rubble is tipped into the valleys and more than 700 miles of rivers and streams have been filled with toxic waste.
A few months ago I knew nothing about all the information and help I am getting from the rest of the group, even if sometimes they may give me ideas and tips without even notice.
Sunday, 11 May 2008
In 1984 Sebastiao Salgado began a fifteen-month project of photographing the Sahel region of Africa in the countries of Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan, where approximately one million people died from extreme malnutrition. Working with the humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, Salgado documented the enormous suffering and the great dignity of the refugees. Since then he has showed in different projects how human beings struggle because of military conflict, poverty, famine, overpopulation and other form of catastrophe.
Salgado explains: “ With documentary photography the difference is that the photographer must have a big concern, you must have a big ideological affinity with the subject you will be shooting, because if you don’t, you cannot remain sincere and empathetic for long. You must strongly identify with the subject”
Salgado’s body of work is one of the most exciting and inspirational for me so I am thinking already about the essay title number 9 “ Sebastiao Salgado weakens the force of his message by the sheer beauty of his images”. It raise very important issues about the nature of concerned photography and it questions whether Salgado’s photographs undermine rather than dignify his subjects and his intentions of social awareness and change. Also very interesting and worth researching are the issues of curatorial practice in presenting documentary photography as art, and the use of visual quality and aesthetic beauty as hook to audiences.
Monday, 5 May 2008
Films about photography often fail to acknowledge the difference between the still and the moving image. Despite the fact that film and photography are both visual, it is difficult to represent one in the other. Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal's film about Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, shows what movies can do when the main subject is the process a photographer need to go through in order to create a specific body of work.
The film communicate the scale of Burtynsky's images, which features vast assembly lines, huge factories and mountains of waste, by following him as he photograph the effects of industrialisation on the landscape. The tactic of the film is to show the human figures dwarfed by the environment within a wider context.
The images are aesthetically seductive and the message is ambiguous. They could hang in the hall of a corporate office and on the wall of an environmentalist organisation at the same time. And that is where the power comes from, because the images guides you into the subject but doesn't give you opinions.
I am still convinced of the power of photography because it lodges itself in our consciousness in a very different way to film. If you think about the Vietnam War for instance, the still image endures.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Antarctica is a continent capped by an inland ice sheet up to 4.8 km thick, containing about 90% of the world's fresh water. The ice sheet is so heavy that it has pushed the land below sea level in places. Because of the thickness of the ice sheet, Antarctica has the highest average altitude of all of the continents.
The South Pole is 1235 km from the closest coastline, and is situated high on the polar plateau. Here it may be as cold as 75C, but the world record lowest temperature is from an even more remote Antarctic station, Vostok, which logged -89C.
Antarctica is a cold desert, with snowfall equivalent to only 150 mm of water each year. This snow builds up gradually, and ice flows towards the coast as huge glaciers. In many places, these extend out over the sea as massive ice shelves.
Only about 0.4% of the surface of Antarctica is free of snow and ice. The tops of mountain chains stick up through the ice - the highest is Mount Vinson, 4900 m above sea level.
The Southern Ocean is a continuous belt of sea surrounding Antarctica. In winter, over half of the Southern Ocean freezes over. Although this seawater ice is only about 1 m thick, it has a significant effect on ocean and atmospheric circulation. Nearly all of the sea ice melts in summer.
There are no native peoples in Antarctica. Eighteen countries operate year-round scientific research stations on the continent and the surrounding islands, and during summer as many as 10,000 scientists and support staff work there, but only about 1000 in winter. Tourists also visit Antarctica during the summer to enjoy the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. Currently there are about 14,000 visitors per year.
Antarctica is a continent for science . All countries working in Antarctica carry out scientific research, in a surprising range of physical and biological sciences, from the vastness of space to the minute scale of micro-organisms. Activities are regulated by the Antarctic Treaty, which has been in force since 1959 and is signed by all countries operating there. The Treaty reserves the continent for peaceful purposes, and all military and industrial activities are banned.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
I just had the opportunity to travel for a couple of weeks to Antarctica aboard the Ushuaia, a ship that was designed for marine research and is now used to take tourists in a memorable and rewarding expedition cruise. The Ushuaia is 84 metres in length and 15 in breadth, his gross tonnage is 2963 tonnes and the maximum speed is 14 knots. The captain and the officers encourage the passengers to take advantage of the open bridge policy to observe the navigational operations of the ship and to enjoy the views of the unique places you are visiting. Each evening the expedition leader and lecturers present information not just about the next day's activities, but also about conservation and respect for the ecosystems you visit. Our voyage started from Ushuaia pier, where a few workers were waiting orders to start loading all kind of products to be consumed mainly in Europe. I took some pictures while waiting for my trip and I thought it could make a good introduction to explain travel from almost opposite angles.
Tourism as a global phenomenon can be approach from many different points of view and there is no doubt Tourism transform places and experiences so quickly in certain ways we have never seen before.
The Vernadskiy Station in Antartica for instance is becomming a metheorology theme park for tourists or maybe just improving his revenue to be reinvest in research.
La Boca in Buenos Aires has lost completely his identity and historical roots to please tourists or maybe is just transforming his urban structures for a better future.
Probably you could simplify the analysis from either the tourist or the worker perspective. I thought it could be interesting to show the other side, people working for tourist while doing exactly the same trip, eating the same food, seeing the same landscapes but having most probably very different experiences.
La Boca is not the kind of neighborhood in Buenos Aires for casual strolls outside the tourist section of Caminito, Del Valle and Magallanes, and it can be rough in some spots.
In the 19th century La Boca became home to Spanish and Italian immigrants who settled along the Riachuelo, the river that divides the city from the surrounding province of Buenos Aires. Many came during the booming period of 1880 and ended up processing and shipping out Argentinian beef in meat-packing plants and wharehouses. After tearing up the shipping barges, the port dwellers put leftover paint on the metal siding of their houses, giving La Boca what would became one of its famous landmarks.
Caminito is the most famous street and on weekends buses full of tourists come here to browse the small crafts fair while watching tango dancers perform for spare change.
Tango is the other main reason for visitors to come here, because is not an easy dance to describe; it needs to be seen and experienced. Despite a long evolution from its origins, it is still sensual and erotic and the perceived vulgarity did manage to influence some young members of the upper classes who modified and supported a dance that became an acceptable outlet for human desires. The trend spread from Paris around Europe and when finally the evolved dance returned to Buenos Aires, the tango earned the respectability it deserves now refined and famous.
Academian Vernadskiy Station is located on Galindez Island in Antarctica. The island offer several sheltered yatch anchorages and it was discovered by Charcot on his "Francais" expedition and named after an Argentinian in thanks for its help.
The Ukraine's station was transferred from the United Kingdom in 1996 for just 1 pound ( the coin now is embedded in wood at the station bar), and it was previously called Faraday after the English discovered of electromagnetism. The station now accomodates 24 people and commemorates Vladimir Vernadskiy, the first president of the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. Currently it is the most senior station open continuously in Antartica and the researchers working on climate change pride themselves with the discovery of the first noticed deficiencies in the ozono layer.
Whether records kept at the station show that annual temperatures along the Antartica Peninsula's West coast have risen by about 2.5 grades since 1947. Local ice cover has declined and the number of plants in the vicinity has increased, possibly as a result of global warming.
A popular remnant from its British era is the pub, with a dartboard, billiards table and a carved wooden bar with a large collection of bras periodically added by tourists and visitors in exchange of a few shoots of homemade vodka.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Sometimes walls are built to keep the population from fleeing, but most walls are for keeping people out. They offend some people and comfort others. Borders everywhere attract violence and violence prompts walls. Some of us are embarrassed about walls and fences because they say something unpleasant about the neighbors we have to deal with and at the same time about ourselves. They give us divided feelings because we don't like to admit we need them.
Fear and desire of control are probably the main two reasons to create borders. Walls have been constructed at various spots for instance between Mexico and United States to slow the surge in illegal immigration. The boundary has always been insisted upon by both countries. The American patrols of the border that began in 1904 were mainly to keep out illegal Asian immigrants, since almost 900.000 Mexicans legally entered the United States to flee the violence of the revolution. Now a poor population in one nation and the need for labour in other is producing an increase of the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s, a pact that was supposed to end immigration but ended up dislocating many farmers and workers.
The Berlin Wall was designed to keep citizens from escaping from communist East Germany. The Great Wall of China kept northern tribes at bay and Hadrian's Wall kept the Scottish from running over Roman Britain. And finally the separation wall being built by Israel in the West Bank. It has been designed to control the movement of people but it faces the problems of all walls, rockets can go over it and tunnels can go under it. It fails to deliver security but it keeps expanding.
I am still adjusting to the challenges of the course and I am trying to organize my life better to be able to explore all the opportunities and take advantage of the experiences that almost every day unfold in front of me. So far I have realized that being a photographer involves a lot of work before and after the shooting of interesting stories.
Research, networking and organizational skills are important if you really want to get some depth in your projects. Producing strong single images is not enough if you don't have a powerful and clear idea about what you are trying to achieve. Great images can be pointless if you don't know the story behind. Yo need to be informed about the news and understand the issues and the people involved.
From now on I will try to make notes about the subject, the image or the idea I am trying to develop, and to record sounds and interviews of the people I came across while on assignment.
Understanding the financial side of the business is also important to identify potentially successful creative ideas and to analyze the feasibility of turning ideas into products and services in the real world. Fundraising, sponsorship and intellectual property protection law for instance are subjects I suppose I still need to learn, so I am planning to attend the New Creative Ventures course organized together by University of Arts and London Business School.
And finally regarding the creative and technical side of the course, you just learn when you do it. So I will keep looking at the work of others and learning from my mistakes.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
The most important thing about portrait photography is an interest in your subject. The photographer has to be genuinely curious about people he has never met. He has to be able to connect with them in just few minutes, to focus attention on the subject and to avoid distracting elements in the frame. Margaret Thatcher once remarked: "I usually make up my mind about a man in ten seconds, and I very rarely change it". Time pressure is probably the biggest challenge, so I will try to comprehensively research every aspect of the person I am photographing and then hope that a bit of knowledge will help to set tone for the shoot. It is always about trying to eliminate all risks and looking hard enough at what you are photographing.
Unless using fast telephoto lenses with very little depth of field, finding a location where you can control the background and lighting is also very important. So I have decided to spend some time with some people to explore different places, ideas and personalities that could work together. So far I met already a transsexual working for the Royal Opera House who wants to work in the film industry with Pedro Almodovar, a big black woman designing and selling jewellery in Brixton and a smiley jamaican guy hanging out with a bunch of kids crazy about hair.
Chemicals present in modern life, from well-known toxin to newer compounds with unknown effects, are building up in our bodies and sometimes staying there for years. People can pick up chemicals from food, drink, the air you breathe and all the products that touch your skin. Pollutants like mercury, pesticides or flame retardants, chemicals added for safety to just any product that can burn, can be found in mattresses, carpets, televisions and cars. Test to learn what substances build up in a typical Western individual over a lifetime and where they might come from, are too expensive for most people and only a few labs have the technical expertise to detect the trace amounts involved. In large doses some of these substances have horrific effects, but most toxicologists who have ties to the chemical industry insist that small concentration of chemical inside us are mostly nothing to worry about. Even though many health statistics have been improving over the past few decades, some illnesses are rising mysteriously. From the early 1980s autism, leukemia, childhood brain cancer and birth defect has doubled. Some experts suspect a link to the man-made chemicals that pervade our food, water and air. The victims are often the poor and powerless, people who live close to dumps and work in the riskiest jobs.
From a visual point of view the possibilities to document this subject are endless. Images of women with breast cancer triggered from factories gathering in the streets for demonstrations, families cooking eggs that don't stick in the pan unaware of the potential negative consequences or kids in slums inhaling paint products that can reduce IQ and cause behavior problems, could be appealing, dramatic and meaningful at the same time to any given audience.
Malaria affects more people that ever before and it is endemic to 106 nations. It may not seem that way from Western countries, where malaria is sometimes thought of as a problem that has mostly been solved like smallpox or polio. Nearly half a billion people get malaria each year and more that a million die, most of them under age five and the vast majority living in Africa, Asia and South America. After decades of neglect, the world is renewing its fight against the disease. Only in the past few years has malaria captured the full attention of aid agencies and donors.
From a visual point of view the subject could be analyze from many different angles. Showing images of sick people and foreign doctors in hospitals is probably the most obvious approach. More in depth research could show factories in developing countries producing mosquito nets, parents waiting in flooded streets to find out whether their children have malaria, actors performing in a educational drama or indigenous people visiting traditional healers to relieve the symptoms.
Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Following the discussions, suggestions and different proposals for the group project, I have realized that we should probably choose a mutual subject of interest that could be approach in different parts of the world and from different points of view in a creative and individual way. I suppose as a group we can always generate ideas that can be applied to all the possibilities we come across once we tighten the brief and whatever we decide to go for at the end. Looking at alternative solutions and positive responses rather that looking at the most horrible and dramatic sides of the story is an interesting idea. Keeping in mind how a traditional image of any given situation compares with our contemporary view is definitely a good advice.
Environment, Faith or Future are broad and open subjects that could be documented easily in so many visually attractive situations.
The idea for the group project I have been thinking about lately is Travel and Tourism. Across the developing world, communities are trying to come to terms with the mixed impacts of booming tourism, one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Since 1950 the number of international tourist arrivals has increased nearly to some 700 million. Destinations like Europe and North America are becoming less dominant in the international tourist market. Meanwhile visit to Asia, Africa and South America have increased dramatically in the last 25 years. Rushing to capitalize on their rich natural and cultural attractions, many developing countries welcome tourism as a way to stimulate investments, generate foreign exchange earning and diversify their economies. Tourism can be more lucrative than pursuing traditional industries like mining, oil development and manufacturing. Because it provides so many jobs, tourism can be a powerful vehicle to boost the income of many people, including traditionally disadvantaged groups such as women, but tourism can have also uneven impacts on indigenous cultures and it is causing serious environmental damage in the developing world.
The impact of different aspects of this wide subject through images taken potentially from every part of the world as we travel could allow us to analyze in detail a situation that often has negative implications for local economies, cultures and ecosystems.
Sunday, 2 March 2008
Capturing the definitive single moment to show a pure vision of something happening in the street has proved the hardest of all assignments. Heading into different corners of London for the last two weeks to caught a decisive moment can be frustrating and require patience and luck. I thought I could stand at one spot and wait for the proper subject to appear without direct involvement with the action. So I decided to walk around Brick Lane, Trafalgar Square and Spitefield Market and with a bit of research and preparation hopefully get some interesting action, while trying to keep the subject unaware that he or she was being photographed.
I tried to take some pictures of people coming and going at Victoria Station before the police got suspicious and some pictures of families leaving church on a sunny Sunday in Spain before I got bored. Finally I decided to stick to the famous places in the city I am living at the moment and see what happen. Kids playing with a ball and Spanish women dancing flamenco at the same time in the square was the first option. The second option was a band of rock playing music in a busy street as people pass by. The third one was an anonymous man selling mirrors in a market and lots of other people in between.
Monday, 18 February 2008
I have been thinking a lot about how to find visually interesting situations that could show intimate moments in any kind of human relationship. It seemed quite easy at the beginning of this process to capture images that could tell a story in a simple way about how people interact with each others. So I started planning assignment 2 and carefully approached strangers dealing with private matters, but it proved harder that I thought. Getting access to private situations it is always easier if you know already someone inside, so I tried bride and groom at a friend´s wedding and dogs and workers at the dog house just around the corner of my place in Battersea, but I could not take any decent photo carrying a clear message about human relationships.
The first option that came straight into my mind was to take a series of simple portraits of some pensioners at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. People full of stories to talk about with visitors interested in them or at least willing to hear them. Impressive buildings and ironed uniforms and shiny medals all over the place, but difficult to catch any obvious emotional or psichological content in depth. I suppose it is about how they relate to each other, or rather how they cope with each other or even how they try to avoid each other, in the last years of their lives with very little contact to the world around them.
For the second option I spent the whole morning in a clasroom to see how shy adults students behave in front of a colourful old teacher and how a professional deals with the people he has to work with.
Finally the third option was about the way a traditional English mother lives in a secure family environment with her son and daughter on a Sunday afternoon. As a principle it is exhausting and not particulary easy to work with young kids, but there is always a potential reward because they constantly show their changing emotions.
Sunday, 10 February 2008
According to "A New Kind of Foreign Coverage", an article written by Graham Holliday for the online magazine "From the Front line", there is a resurgence for overseas reporting. Some news agencies and telecommunication companies are experimenting with mobile multimedia equipment to fight closures of expensive foreign bureaux and to boost plans for expansion. Around ten correspondents are currently using phone, microphone, keyboard and camera to file directly to the Reuters blogging platform. The goal is simply to enable journalists to capture multimedia material and send it fast to the company website. I suppose the increase of foreign news coverage by bloggers based on wireless internet connection is good news for the students of this course. It is yet another confirmation of the real possibility and great value of learning the way we do it at LCC.
The BBC are also experimenting with the new technology available at a cost that makes it economically viable. Software like Shozu.com allows you to automatically publish photos to a blog and Qik.com allows anyone with a camera-phone to stream video live to the internet. It seems like there are plenty of skilled users of software out there and we should be able to explore all the advantages and benefits, but as Neil Mclntosh says on his blog completeosh.com, none of this change the craft of journalism, just the delivery method.
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
So many inspiring projects at MediaStorm and so many of them related to some extend to current cultural, political, historical and artistic issues all around the world.
Everything seems to be interconnected.
"The Marlboro Marine" by Luis Sinco document the assault of Fallouja and the struggle of Marine Lance Corporal James Blake Miller´s life at home after returning from Iraq. This is exactly the same story I just watched last weekend in my local cinema. The film is called "In the Valley of Elah" and explores the experiences of a bunch of soldiers dealing with depression and trying to adjust to their previous lifes.
"Ivory Wars: Last Stand in Zakuoma" by J. Michael Fay and Michael Nichols portrays the constant dangers suffered by big concentrations of elephants, crocodriles and baboons in Zakouma National Park in Chad and the risky routines of armed guards fighting against pouchers. Surprisingly I saw just before Christmas some beautiful portraits of these animals taken by automatic devices at the Wildlife Photo Exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London.
"The Ninth Floor " by Jessica Dimmock inevitabily reminded me of Nan Goldin´s intimate body of work and "Rape of a Nation" by Marcus Bleasdale revisited places I have been travelling through in search of adventures.
Finally, "Evidence of My Existence" by Jim Lo Scalzo is a visual personal diary of a photojournalist constantly on the move trying to find the balance between obsessive work and private life. This is something I thought about a lot when I decided to enrol in this course and this is something I guess all of us somehow can relate to and have to deal with almost every day.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
First assignment of the course and I am still thinking the best way to approach the potential subjects. I don't have plenty of time to try out different possibilities and I am suppose to choose a subject that interests me. Living in London give a lot of chances to find something meaningful, interesting, unusual. Time is slowly running out and I have to organize in advance my timetable to be able to walk around the streets and research some ideas while keeping in mind that I have other commitments for the next couple of weeks. Work to a deadline is stressful and exciting at the same time.
I thought first about having a chat with the scaffolding workers at Instituto Cervantes and find out if they would allow me to shoot some pictures, but Health and Safety laws in this country are strict and I may have to wear a helmet and tie myself up with ropes for security reasons. Going to see how other workers cut and load big pieces of cows at the meat market in Farringdon sounds like a potentially excellent visual situation, but I know it has been done a few times before.
It seems to me that visiting some hairdressers working hectic long hours at the salon around the corner could be as visually dramatic and expressive and definitely a safer bet.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
Photography is about all sorts of things: time, places, journeys, memory, nostalgia, private lives and public histories. Ant this is exactly what does best Steve McCurry. He is one of my favourite photographers because in his books everything is told through people living their every day experiences of pain and joy. "The Path to Buddha. A Tibetan Pilgrimage" displays the beauty of the lives of religious monks and farmers travelling to holy sites together with sections of portraits of this proud and dignified people. The images capture an intimate insight of unique and exceptional individuals without effort. The photographer engage with the models of his aestheticly perfect pictures with intensity and curiosity.
I have been trying to capture the essence of his work while taking pictures in Tibet before I even knew about him.
One of the story proposals I was thinking about while preparing the interview to be able to do this course, is exactly the same as Darren Almond's work "Fire under Snow" at Parasol Unit in London. Men harvesting sulphur from inside the crater of a volcano called Kawah Ijen in Java and breathing in the acid smoke. After breaking up the mineral they carry the chunks over the crater rim and down to the weighting station in two baskets slung from a pole balanced on one shoulder.
This is definitely not the first time this appalling job has been exposed to a wider audience. Tourist like myself have often been here and there are films on YouTube, but it is still shocking, overwhelming and fascinating at the same time. As soon as the photographer stops recording, the workers will turn around and walk up and down the volcano again. The images have no comment and don't tell us what to think or feel about the injustices of the world.
There is a second installation on the show called "In the Between" about Buddhist monks chanting in the oldest monastery in Lhasa together with images of the new fast train speeding across the plains of Tibet. These images point out the importance of ambivalence and ambiguity in creative works when recording the complexity of being in the world. Sometimes the photographer intend one thing and end up with another.
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
I just worked out today that I may be the only Spanish student doing this course, so I thought I should share with the rest of my virtual classmates some of the reading and seeing I have come across during the last holidays in my country.
First of all and highly recommended is "Beats of a shocked world" ( "Latidos de un mundo convulso" ), an exhibition hosted by Obra Social Caja Madrid and curated by Sandra Basells that shows a variety of conflictive scenes from over the last 30 years. Highly respected Spanish photographers like Carmen Garcia Rodero, Kim Manresa, Javier Bauluz, Enric Marti, Paco Elvira and Santiago Lyon are brought together thanks to this documentary photography project which offers a compromising look at a range of dramatic situations of war, injustice and misery. The main objective of this exhibition is to emphasize the symbolic function of photography as an instrument capable of raising awareness and transforming lives.
Another surprisingly impressive discovery from Spanish newspaper El Pais are the pictures of Italian phothographer Giorgia Fiorio featuring the article "What the human being believe in?" by Luis Miguel Ariza. Black and white pictures show universal people's desire to communicate with gods in places like the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi (India), the cathedral of Saint Gabriel in Lalibela (Ethiopia), the village of Saint Peter Cutud (Philippines), the waterfall of Saut d'Eau (Haiti) and the summit of Mount Kyaikto in Myanmar. The photographer displays through her images testimonies of people having all kind of mistical experiences described as a form of primitive conciousness deeper than the intelectual level provided by education and tradition.
And finally Cervantes Institute, the organization I am working for at the moment, shows " Vidas Minadas", an excellent exhibition by Spanish photographer Gervasio Sanchez about the personal story of victims of mines in countries like Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Colombia and Irak.
Monday, 14 January 2008
One of my earliest dreams involved travelling to far off lands where I could experience the lives of others, capture the moments of their everyday life and tell their stories through memories and images. I was then about six years old and I found myself in a small university town in the middle of Spain. After reading all the adventures of other people, I decided the best way out was to study Literature in Salamanca. I started working as a lecturer in different parts of the world and my job finally brought me to London, where I had my first real opportunity of proving to myself that I could live my dream. I eventually saved my last penny and went on a one year expedition to some of the most remote corners of the world. I bought the best camera I could afford unaware that from now my perception of reality would come primarily through my pictures. India, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and London again ready to learn. Tibet was probably the most harsh and colourful country of them all at the same time, and I had the luck and privilege to witness the Summer Festival with the kids riding horses and the old men walking miles to see them.