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Making it matter


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Making it matter

1 Jun 2020 8:21AM   Views : 307 Unique : 218

Most of the time, I photograph things and people I want to record – their character, their beauty.

Very occasionally, I photograph something of more significance, but it’s not often.

My friend Moira records the life of the community she lives in, often in unspectacular ways, but tellingly and consistently. And sometimes, the way that she puts images together shows a microcosm of the life of the world, as in THIS pair of pictures.

News photography is a largely thankless and sometimes draining job, as Phil Taylor records HERE – contrary to the image of newspaper photographers, he’s a humane and dedicated person, as I found when I interviewed him for Ephotozine last year.

And sometimes, people with no particular photographic or journalistic ambition are there, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and manage to record something important. For instance, it seems likely that the case against the policeman who killed George Floyd will rest on mobile ‘phone footage taken by a passer-by.

In a similar vein, images shot by Lee Miller, George Rodger and others during the liberation of Europe in 1945 prove that the Holocaust happened, despite attempts by right-wing revisionists to deny six million murders.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. And it’s the same with telling pictures. If, one day, you witness something important, consider whether taking pictures would be intrusive into private grief, or necessary to achieve justice, or capable of shedding light on a dark corner of humanity.

Sometimes, our hobby can get serious.

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mrswoolybill Avatar
mrswoolybill Plus
17 4.9k 2654 United Kingdom
1 Jun 2020 9:09AM
Let's go back to 1967. Bill and I met while in Lower Sixth, I won't go into the circumstances but it was all to do with one of our other passions, languages.

Bill's father was a press photographer, covering the south coast - film stars arriving on the ocean liners, football matches, the usual. So my introduction to 'serious' photography was seeing him and his mates at work. I didn't learn F numbers and focal lengths from him, what I did learn was observation, timing, 'people skills', improvised composition.

Photography has always been about capture-the-moment for me. Because that's what stills photography does better than any other medium. I've said it before, but it's amazing to think that out of the millennia of human civilisation it's only the last half dozen generations have been able to preserve moments like this.

Ordinary lives, ordinary events matter, because once the moment is past it is lost.

There's a fascinating man in Newcastle called John Moreels. He was the last in an old family printing firm, when he retired he closed the business and sold up. When he cleared out the loft he found a treasure trove, around a quarter of a million glass plates, photos going back to the early days of photography through to the 1930s. Everything is there - street scenes, factory workers, landscapes, still life, portraits... Beamish is still working through them...

He gives a number of talks, we have attended some. I always find it interesting to watch audience response.

There is no real interest in the arty stuff, still life, landscape. No interest, full stop.

There is interest in portraits if the sitter can be identified, not otherwise. Street scenes, if the view is vaguely recognisable...

But what really gets people animated is his collection of shots from Newcastle's Quayside market in the 19th Century, plus street scenes of children at play, groups of workers in factories and mines, school fetes, amateur dramatics. Because they are so accessible, everyone can relate to them.

There's a lesson there for today's photographers. Real life matters.

We are living through unprecedented times at the moment. Keeping a photographic record of lockdown - both the physical circumstances and the emotional impact - seems to me to be the most important thing that photographers can do right now.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
1 Jun 2020 10:51AM
Thanks, Moira.

There's nothing so telling in all the pictures I've seen as your two pictures of supermarket queues.

We have our children visiting us tomorrow, for a socially-distanced lunch in the garden. Maybe I need to think about how to record that. As a family, we're usually quite tactile. We shall not be so tomorrow...

Generally, this is outside my comfort zone: I tend, as a matter of principle, to avoid snapping the few 'newsworthy' things I see in the street. It often seems intrusive, so if there's no call to the emergency services to be made, nothing useful to be done, I tend to move along.

Not a natural-born press photographer.

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