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.