Tag Archives: documentary

Thoughts about place in travel photography

If I am honest, my real enthusiasm in photography is in documenting my responses to the places I visit on my travels, and I travel a lot at the moment. Four trips are already booked in for this year, with a long weekend in Venice being the first, in only a couple of days time. I therefore want to consider how I can use my studies to benefit these activities, and vice versa as well. To this end, this post is about several series of photographs from Lenscratch (what a wonderful resource this is), which have a clear sense of place while offering a glimpse at another way of life , and to consider some of my own images in that context.

Yoann Cimier – Nomad’s Land

This is a series by a French photographer living in Tunisia. She has taken photographs of the ephemeral beach tents that local people set up to protect themselves from the sun, and the individuality that come through the different constructions says something about both current Tunisian culture and its nomadic past. This is an outsider looking in, in a social documentary style. The images are washed outand do not feature people directly, although some are shown as a by-product of the exercise.

Thom Pierce – The Horsemen of Semonkong

Pierce is a British photographer working out of South Africa. He has produced a number of series of local cultures, and this focuses on the people of mountainous Lesotho, who still get about by horse, as cars cannot cope with the terrain. These are portraits in a similar style to my own assignment 2, but what particularly draws the attention are the wonderfully complex and mismatched clothes that the subjects wear. Again, these photos were taken by an outsider, and combine documentary and portraiture.

Karoliina Paatos – American Cowboy

Another outsider, Paatos decided to make a long term project of visiting various cattle ranches in mid-USA to document the life there – so romantic in films, but difficult and only marginally financially viable in reality. Her images mix landscapes, portraits and general documentary genres and look at both the hardship and the harsh beauty of the lifestyle.

Shandor Barcs – Family from the Mist

Barcs is a bit different from the previous photographers. He’s a Mexican photographer and film producer, and this series is about a family who live high in the remote mountains of Oaxaca. Here, the members of the family happily mix old cultural ways with modern inventions like the mobile phone, while going about a very rustic way of life, which has not changed much over centuries. Barcs uses a mixture of documentary style, and also mis-en-scene, to give a romantic, magical realistic tome to the images, which is entirely in keeping with the Central American way of thinking.

All of the above series have strong sense of the place in which they were made, and each has been treated in an individual way to make them internally cohesive. So, what do these series say to me, and how I should go about my own work? Firstly, when travelling, having identified a subject or theme upfront helps unify a series, and gives a better starting point for editing. Secondly, identifying a style of photography before one goes is also good for unifying the results. And finally, and probably most importantly, one person’s travel documentary is another person’s local environment, and I should not forget that what is close to home can provide as interesting and illuminating subject as what I see on my foreign exploits.

Photo London 2016 – Richard Misrach lecture

This lecture was late in the day, and the room where it was held was unbearably hot, so there was not, perhaps, the air of enthusiasm that Soth had enjoyed in his morning presentation. Misrach talked about his ongoing opus Border Cantos, which comprises a group of series on different themes  to do with the US/Mexican border. He is working alongside a Mexican collaborator, who specialises in building musical instruments. One element of Misrach’s work is that he brings items he has found near the Border to Guillermo, who turns them into musical instruments and the music is an accompaniment to the images.

Richard Misrach border cantos

© Richard Misrach

Misrach showed us the futility of trying to build a solid barrier between the USA and Mexico, with a selection of rather funny pictures of wall ends which anyone can walk around. He talked  about the measures that the US Border Patrols take to prevent and capture migrants entering the USA, which are often draconian and fatal in their implications. He also collects images of strange scarecrows that people make, using the discarded clothes they find. He doesn’t know why they do this, but thinks it might have something to do with the Aztec tradition that every object has a soul/history/voice, which can be exposed.

Misrach’s describes his work as documentary landscape. He deliberately excludes people from the images, preferring to infer their presence through the artefacts he photographs. The work is quietly but overtly political, and he gives some of the money he makes to groups which trey to prevent migrants dying from thirst and starvation during their crossing. On a visual level, his work is a curious mixture of diagonals, centred objects and random positioning, but enough for me to have specifically noticed it.

During the questions section, Misrach was asked what the purpose of the “Canto” was, and he replied that all of the different series are loosely linked together, and the musical vocabulary of cantos being songs/chapters of a larger body of work seemed to fit.

I really liked Misrach’s work and motivation. There are parallels with Salgado’s political work, but in a less market oriented way – you get the impression that Misrach is driven primarily by what he wants to photograph, rather than how well it will sell*. There are also parallels with Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long’s work on the landscape and the marks we make upon it.

More information about Border Cantos can be found at http://www.bordercantos.com

Footnote

One of the jaw dropping moments of the Photo London exhibition was Salgado’s $4000  limited edition of his recent work Genesis, which come with its own stand, so one can read it in the manner of a Bible.

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© Holly Woodward