Thoughts on the construction of documentary forms


How to choose subjects?

Subjects are only interesting if they fall at the fulcrum of intersecting meaning streams. Therefor if you see something that seems to connect several ideas which are problematic or contradictory then there is a good chance that it will make an interesting place to start photographing. The world is not looking where it needs to, mostly because of the over commercialisation of images, used to sell products and entertainment, and so the public looses interest in political and social problems because they seem insurmountable. By loosing interest we become more powerless, and allow injustices to be practiced in our name. That cannot be right so we must all look around and choose a more politically active life. This, for photographers, could involve a reassessment of career objectives, a more critical view on the motivations of employers, and a greater involvement with the subject of images. Otherwise the forces surrounding established systems within the economy will combine to monopolise power and we, the people, will see an increase in violence which will affect our lives in different ways. One way to fight this process is by using your intelligence to consideration of the whole system of which images are a small part, and to make work which shines light on both the twin problems of those who have no voice and the representation of ‘those who have no voice’, in a media dominated by capital and consumerism. This is complex, difficult, and not financially rewarding, but not impossible.

How can photography be used to drive debate?

We understand information through the construction of narratives. Without understanding we cannot move forward. Photography is not a medium that is used to make; wonderful, interesting, unusual, or even educational pictures. It is a narrative medium, it is about telling or constructing stories. Images tell stories, good images tell stories well.

What does the future hold for visual storytelling using stills photography?

Mediums change and the way they morph; from flat to perspective, from real to impressions,  blurred to sharp, from black and white to colour, from still to moving, is all part of our collective understanding of what is referred to as ‘History’. We see through mediums but they are also indicators of states of being which we all associate with.

Everyone takes photographs, like everyone rides on a bus. Everyone can upload those images and distribute them, whereas 20 years ago only Associated Press and Reuters news agency had that facility. So the technology has changed radically and continues to do so.

But we still conform to the same types of narrative structures. These don’t change as quickly as technology would imply. My work examines the storytelling potential of mediums of documentation as well as being documentation of events. It is therefor rather, lets say, multilayered. It can be confusing because we are not used to the idea of interpretation and fact sitting side by side. We like to say, ‘that image is true’ or we like to say, ‘that image is false’. But these are essentially mistakes of interpretation on our part. Let us not confuse the reality of our own existence on one hand with the reality of an understanding of the complex world we live in on the other.

In short image streams are complex in themselves and live in a complex world. Against that background still images are a fascinating avenue for any storyteller. They look so simple and yet can live for remarkably long times in the mind of the viewer spreading their influence through the thoughts and actions of the viewer. They are a niche market but one that I believe will endure.

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