Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I'm not a photo illustrator ..... am I ?



Having submitted a piece last week to the NYT, I had a heart murmur when I saw this in my email this morning;

"What have I done? I didn't manipulate it, honest.... at least nothing that I'd not do in the darkroom ....."

Then a tweetfest of other contributors saying they'd had the same thing.

Okay so it wasn't me. Fine.

I got off the toilet.

And I don't do hard news anyway, I just do portraits.

Eh? So, where exactly does that leave me ?


Apparently just here "...must always be clearly labeled as a photo illustration. This does not apply to portraits...."

Riiiiiight, excellent, but hold on. I actually make a bit of a point of doing minimal retouching of my work. I kind of prided myself in the fact that I document a meeting between myself and the subject, rather than have any sort of theatrically directed construct. Not that I don't think that sort of work's valid mind, I just don't do it very well.

And I also have some naive sense of obligation to try to be an honest witness.

Yes, I remove dust and scratches. Sometimes a pimple (if the subject asks me to) and once I smoothed some rough skin on a subject (she'd got a rash on the day of the shoot), and yes I do burn and dodge. And I did put some movement into an image once, just like I would have done in the darkroom ..... just a multiple exposure, but that's the way it was, that's how it felt, sort of fluid moment between words and gestures....

I interviewed Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi on their work (an excerpt of which is below) and I asked Teru if the "other-worldliness" of his pictures detracted from the plight of the subjects. Were they too beautiful ?

TK "I don't make photographs with a preconceived notion of what it's supposed to look like. I use the particular tools that are comfortable to me and I select the images that are interesting to me and I select the places that are interesting to me and that's how these pieces come together, I mean in the same way,I don't craft or stylize my photographs any more than I craft the sound of my own voice, it's just you speak a language. It's the language that you were taught or it's the language that you grew up with, it's just your words, your diction and your particular accent that you were born with or taught and it's er.. just what comes out of your mouth when you speak and I'd say that it's the same way with photography"

JW So is it then the difference, if we can draw it, between documentary practice and reportage ?One is pertaining to be transparent whereas reportage has a voice, an identity at the other end of the camera. Would that be fair?

TK I don't know it seems like these words like Photojournalism, reportage, documentary photography .. seem to mean different things in different places ... we throw these words around and they seem to mean different things to different people, I don't know if they're that helpful to use ..

BG ....But I think the bottom line is that we are photographers. It's always the question how do you define yourself , y'know? Are you a documentary photographer or are you a photojournalist or are you an artist and I think you just create images and you know... my profession or my passion is to create images, and I like to take images that I've never seen before. I try to select images that are distinct from other images that I've seen before ...(from other photographers) .... that's all that matters. How you sequence it later on, or if you call it reportage, or.. that I think comes later and I don't think it matters at all to be honest.


So there it is. Maybe it doesn't matter so much what I'm called.

Just absolutely definitely not a photo illustrator. Please.




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