Where The Old Stuff Lives

This is a graveyard of sorts.

It’s where my thoughts on professional photography, wedding photography and much more besides have been put out to pasture from my main blog which is now home to a dedicated documentary photography blog and podcast.

If you’d like to hear the podcasts referred to in some of the posts below, you need to hop over to The Documentary Photographer.

This blog won’t be updated as of 18th July, 2012.

If you’d like to see what I’m up to, there’s always my website.

Thanks for stopping by,

Roger

The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 7: Simon Norfolk – Finding a Higher Purpose

The Documentary Photographer PodcastOne of the best things about hosting a podcast is the access you can get to important photographers and their thinking. Sometimes you even get a chance to talk to someone whose philosophy of photography is so powerful it knocks you on to your rear end. It is an awakening – and not a gentle one. An encounter with Simon Norfolk falls into this category, I think.

Softly spoken, Simon is a man who thinks deeply about history, society and photography. For over a decade his work has had a central theme – man’s preoccupation with war. This preoccupation manifests itself not just in bombed buildings in Afghanistan. It is evident in other aspects of society as well. Simon’s work for the past decade and more is an investigation of our relationship with war. His ambition? To change the world.

In this episode of The Documentary Photographer podcast, he talks about his work, the underlying thinking behind it, how he gains access to sensitive and dangerous areas, his experiences and the need for photographers to infuse their work with a purpose above just producing a photograph.

Editor’s note: We do touch up some disturbing situations Simon has witnessed or been in. They aren’t described graphically, but the f-word is used twice. I have chosen to leave those instances in, because the context in which each is uttered. Deleting them would undermine the passion, honesty and integrity with which Simon speaks.

Simon Norfolk Afghanistan Balloonman

Afghanistan Balloon Man © Simon Norfolk

Links and more info

Simon’s Website

Subscribe

You can subscribe to The Documentary Photographer podcast by clicking on any of these links:

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Too Good To Be True

Have you ever taken a photograph that was too appealing?

Apparently, it is possible.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with TJ Crowe about the photographs I had taken for a new website promoting his farm’s high-end pork range. His deep voice resonated with a rolling chuckle as he told me that some of the photographs were too good. “Nobody’d eat our meat if they saw it came from those cute guys,” he said.

He had a point.

Could you eat this fellow?

Piglet Smiling

Seriously, could you see him as a bacon on a butty? © 2012 Roger Overall

You’d have to have a heart of stone, or so the marketeers thought*. Inevitably, this little piglet didn’t go to market – or at least not on to the web.

Yet the photograph does tell the story. The pigs that TJ’s brother John Paul is raising for the farm’s premium brand are happy, contented, and well looked after. John Paul speaks eloquently about conscientious pig farming and about his ambitions. He wants to do the right thing for the pigs, the farm and the consumer. The picture helps show that. How happy does that piglet look?

The story of the shoot itself will appear on the blog at some point. I have to wait a while until the new Crowe’s Farm website goes live.

Meanwhile, the conversation around piglet reminded me of this photograph from a series taken in the kitchens at Fota Island Resort a couple of years ago:

Fota Fish and Chips

Too perfect to be effective? © 2010 Roger Overall

It’s almost too perfect to be a documentary picture. There is a suggestion that it was set up, yet it wasn’t. It shows a real order being made up for diners out in the bar. The only hint that it isn’t a fabrication is the splat of mushy peas in the shadows next to one of the plates of fish and chips – a speck that pleases me. It suggests reality.

I think this photograph tells the story of Fota Island Resort in a single frame. Looking at it, you know all you need to know about how the staff at the hotel relate to their work. They care. The ethos of an entire body of staff is reflected in one picture.

It’s let down by one thing only. In the same way that piglet’s picture is too appealing to be of use to the client, I wonder whether this one is too perfect to be effective as a documentary photograph. Should documentary photographers strive for imperfection? Can a photograph be too good to be true?

*Ironically, similar thinking has only this week disrupted a book project I’m working on. The publisher has reservations about linking meat too closely to its origins. I think differently. For a start, I eat meat, so I have to face up to the facts about where it comes from. Also, I remember having my kneecaps chewed by some of Anthony Creswell’s sows while visiting his smokehouse a couple of years ago. I hold grudges.

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Introducing List.ly

In the last month or so, List.ly has started to feature large in my life. In fact, I was even on a Google+ hangout with one of its founders, Nick Kellet.

List.ly is one of those social media platforms that appears innocent enough – until you realize its amazing potential, especially for community building online.

I think List.ly is incredibly well thought out, with a great set of features. One of them is that it allows you to embed lists you’ve created into blog posts. In fact, individual lists can be standalone blog posts.

As mentioned, I really like the community building potential of List.ly. With that in mind, I’ve started a list of the most influential documentary photographers working today – and you’re invited to contribute.  I’ve kicked it off with four randomly chosen photographers. Who would you add? Just join List.ly and click the “Add to List” button. Be my guest and put up details of the documentary photographer who has influenced you or whom you admire. Alternatively, drop me a line and I’ll put them up for you.

Note that the list isn’t intended as a Top 10, Top 100 or Top Whatever. Instead, it I hope it’ll be come a resource – a place to list rather than rank; and a place for us to meet and share insights.

Let’s see if we can’t build a dynamic and useful list together.

 

From Great To Good (And Beyond)

Have you noticed how many great photographers there are?

Every photographer is great these days.

And award-winning. Especially award-winning.

The space for self-perceived great, award-winning* photographers is a very crowded place. Everyone is there. Standing room only.

There is a lot more room in the tiers below – room to breathe, room to flex some muscles, room to run, room to jump, room to play, room to screw up, room to try, room to shout, room to laugh, room to fail, room to develop.

Doesn’t that sound like an awfully attractive place to be?

Thinking we shine brightly blinds us and stops us from reaching for the sky and beyond the stars © 2011 Roger Overall

From great to good

I’ve started to understand that seeing yourself as Great, and allowing others to tell you that you are, is toxic. Good is better.

Good keeps you grounded; Great makes you pretentious.

Good leaves the ego checked at the door; Great is ego.

Good is a station on a journey; Great is a destination**.

Good is a great place to be.

Or so I thought.

Aim as low as you can

I explained my thinking to one of my mentors. He thought I was being unambitious and told me I should be aiming lower.

He suggested I move my self-perception all the way down the ladder to “Mediocre”.

Ouch.

Mediocre?

That hurts. That feels like too much of a step down.

But that’s merely ego talking.

Just imagine the room to frolic down in the Mediocre space. You’d have the place virtually  to yourself.

A journey in two directions

Shouldn’t we all have a dual goal?

We should strive to be the best photographer we can. But we should avoid the pitfall of putting too much stock in our progress.

As soon as we start to see ourselves as Great, as soon as we start believing what people say about our work, as soon as we start vesting too much significance in the awards bestowed on us, as soon as we get overly fond of the work we’re producing, we stop growing.

It’s better to aim to be Great, or even better aim to be Good, but never allow ourselves to get there in our own perception – regardless of how accomplished we might feel we’ve become.

So while we are working to become the best photographers we can be, we need to cultivate a self-perception that puts ourselves in the Mediocre tier. That’s where we live. We like it because we have so much freedom there to become better photographers.

Why not come on down? There’s plenty of space.

  *Surely being award-winning is less to do with self-perception than it is to do with actually receiving an award, you ask? True. But you’d be surprised at the achievements that photographers themselves promote to the status of a full-blown award.

  **You’d be right to say that beyond Great lies Greatest. Isn’t that the destination, the end of the line? Actually, Great is where you come off the rails. It stifles your progress and you never get to Greatest. Besides, are you really going to tell everyone you are The Greatest? According to whom? You? Even if you believe it, it’ll kill you as a photographer faster than thinking you are Great.

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The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 6: Darren Purcell – A Wedding Photographer in Haiti

At 4.53pm Tuesday 12th January, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti.

It left over 300,000 people dead. Another 300, 000 were injured. One million were made homeless.

In the aftermath, many photographers visited Haiti. Initially, most came to record the destruction and the misery. Once the country dropped off the headline news agenda, photographers turned their attentions to the efforts being made to rebuild the country. One of them was Darren Purcell - an Irish wedding photographer.

In this episode of The Documentary Photographer podcast, Darren tells how he was approached by a charity to visit Haiti and talks candidly about what it meant for him personally and for his wedding business. We discuss dealing with subjects who have gone through such a trauma as well as the logistics involved in photographing amidst the ruins of disaster.

Little Girl Haiti

Down but not out. Darren encountered great spirit among the people of Haiti despite what they’d been through © 2011 Darren Purcell

Links and more info

Darren’s Website
Darren’s Facebook Page

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The World’s Bravest Photographer (Updated 11th June 2012)

When was the last time you asked for someone to critique your work?

It’s a tough thing to do. There’s a risk they will tell us what we need to hear instead of what we want to hear.

The last time I sought critique of my photography was over 18 months ago. It was done in private. Not exactly behind closed doors, but as good as. The feedback was good, constructive. And if it hadn’t been, it would have stayed private.

Nevertheless, I didn’t enjoy it. Opening up to the opinion of another, regardless of how much I respected them. Puts a knot in my stomach just thinking about it.

Enter the bravest photographer

From that perspective, Rick Bennett is just about the bravest photographer I know.

He has just completed his first documentary wedding assignment and he has asked me to critique it.

That’s not the brave bit.

The brave bit is that he’s allowing this to be done in front of the world.

That’s right. We’re not doing this behind closed doors. Nope. We’re going to do this as a Google+ hangout this coming Saturday (6pm in Ireland, 1pm EDT). It’ll be out there for all to see and learn from.

Front row seats

Google+ allows us to have a handful of others participate directly, as well as an unlimited number of spectators. If you would like to be one of the direct participants, get in touch and we’ll see if we can arrange for you to have a front row seat.

Rules will apply, though. This isn’t a free-for-all. During the critique itself, you’ll be expected to keep your peace. There will be a conversation afterwards using the Google+ chat facility (not audio, that gets messy with nine people) and your questions will get preference over those we receive via other channels. For instance, spectators will be able to join in too via a twitter feed and the hashtag #worldwidecritique.

So there you are. Global learning thanks to one brave man’s decision to put it all out there for an established pro to critique.

Please spread the word and join us on Saturday.

One final thing

If you’d like to see the critque live, you’ll have to get yourself a Google+ account, if you don’t already have one, and add me to one of your circles. I know – another social media platform, just what the world needs, please spare us.

The hangout facility in Google+ is a game-changer, though. Conference video calls that can be witnessed live by millions. In addition, a video of the hangout can be posted to YouTube so that many more people can digest the information after the fact.

For photographers, this is a great tool. I’m only starting to come to grips with Google+, but it terms of user experience and functionality it is a very good platform.

***UPDATE*** We had a great hangout yesterday. Sadly, because I’m an idiot, the video that Google automatically creates of the hangout (if you ask it to) didn’t work out. Instead of showing the photographs under discussion, it shows Rick graciously taking my points on board. As a portrait of grace, it is wonderful. As an instructional piece it is rotten.

***UPDATE 2*** Rick has inspired me. So has my great friend Paul O’Mahony. I’m going to dive right into hangouts in a big way, starting in July. Listen to the audio below to get the story. Further details soon.

//

 

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The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 5: Penny Wolin – Descendants of Light

The guest for this episode of The Documentary Photographer podcast is Penny Wolin, a US photographer who has had an illustrious career.

Penny is known for her many entertainment industry portraits and her work documenting the life of Jews in the US, including those in her birth state Wyoming. For the last six years, she has been interviewing and photographing US photographers of Jewish ancestry for her Descendants of Light project.

This is a complex project. Among other things, it investigates the relationship between the importance of Jewish photographers in the US in the 20th century and their common ancestral background. In her own words: “In no other visual art form except cinema has there been such a staggering number of influential figures of Jewish ancestry as in photography. For over 100 years, in reportage, portraiture, fashion and street photography, Jews have excelled in the medium. In 2006, I began multiple trips throughout the United States to photograph and interview photographers of Jewish ancestry, while questioning whether their identity as Jews did, or did not, matter to their photographic work.”

The list of photographers she has documented reads like a Who’s Who of the business: David  Burnett, Cornell Capa, Bruce Davidson, Larry Fink, Robert Frank, Gregory Heisler, Annie Leibovitz, Helen Levitt, Jay Maisel, Eva Rubinstein, Garry Winogrand… the list goes on.

In our conversation, we try to put our finger on the cultural aspects that may contribute to the success of Jewish photographers. We also talk about her work methods and what next for the project.

Links and more info

Penny’s Website
Penny on Wikipedia

Penny produced a video to help raise funds to produce the Descendants of Light book. It contains great insight into the project:

Subscribe

You can subscribe to The Documentary Photographer podcast by clicking on any of these links:

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The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 4: Doug Menuez – Advertising Documentary

The Documentary Photographer PodcastIn this episode of The Documentary Photographer podcast, I get to talk to one of my heroes: Doug Menuez.

Doug is a US photographer who has found the holy grail – being paid advertising rates to photograph documentary images his way. The perfect blend of art and commerce.

We talk about how he gets access to his subjects and how he engages with them to gain their consent to their likeness being used in advertising. We also discuss his archive of photographs from the early(-ish) days of Silicon Valley – starting when Steve Jobs was reeling from being punted out of Apple.

Doug’s work is profoundly evocative and rich. I think the photographs from his tequila project are among the most beautiful I’ve seen. They are infused with life and insight. They give a sense of cultural context. They lift a veil. They reach out to the viewer.

Doug is the author of one of the most important articles that I have ever read. Every photographer should take half an hour to read and reflect on his piece On Chaos, Fear, Survival and Luck. It is a beacon for me whenever I lose the faith in myself and my ability.

Links

Doug’s Website
Doug’s Blog

Tequila

This slideshow comprising work from his Heaven, Earth, Tequila project will give you a good idea of Doug’s style and storytelling genius.

You can subscribe to The Documentary Photographer podcast by clicking on any of these links:

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The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 3: Carl Weese – Driving Around And Driving In

The Documentary Photographer PodcastIn this episode of The Documentary Photographer podcast, I’m thrilled to be talking with Carl Weese, a US photographer who is documenting drive-in movie theatres throughout the US before they vanish.

Carl is an expert at the platinum printing process and also the use of large format cameras – scratch that – VERY large format cameras.

In the interview, you’ll hear about his reasons for doing the project, as well as about the spectacularly successful investment drive that he undertook earlier this year to raise the funding he needed.

Links

Carl’s Website
Carls’ Blog
Kickstarter

In the podcast, Carl and I touch all to briefly on platinum printing. If you’d like to learn a bit more about this process, there is a great slideshow here by Carl: Step By Step Platinum Printing. He also wrote an overview article on The Online Photographer blog: The Making of a Platinum Print.

Carl Weese Pike Drive In

One of Carl's drive-in movie theatre photographs © Carl Weese

Subscribe to the podcast

You can subscribe to The Documentary Photographer podcast by clicking on any of these links:

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