Friday, 18 July 2008

Street & Studio

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

Strength and weakness six months after

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.

Photo Essay 3. Human Hair in Chelsea

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.

Photo Essay 2. Human Hair in Brixton

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.