I read Jonas Larson’s article. It is more sociology than photography and while an understanding of what motivates is necessary for a broader understanding of photography, I found this too cold and clinical to provide an insight into why people take photographs and what the activity means to them on a personal level. This would have made a more interesting topic for discussion. I didn’t like the patronising tone of the article.
Reading: The Tourist Gaze – Chapter 1 by John Urry; There were a lot of statistics and some new “isms” in this chapter. Having read it, I couldn’t see how it would help me write about the relevance of the “Tourist Gaze” to documentary photography, when what is thought of as documentary now seems to encompass everything. I laid the articles to one side and used my own experience of tourism to reflect on its relevance to documentary photography.
Exercise: The relevance of the “tourist gaze” to documentary photography
Probably the most interesting aspect of the “tourist gaze” is that it will show one or more truths. If the tableaux, landscape, or building exists to be photographed then the resulting image becomes a document; a record of existence. Once again it is the context in which the image is used which gives it other truths.
This is an example of the tourist gaze, a tableaux of a Maori village before which we were entertained with tribal customs of greeting, games and dance. A glimpse of Maori culture, packaged and sold as a two hour experience. That is the truth that I see when I look at it. Entertainment with some educational value. However this may cross the language barrier and perhaps other groups may go home with the impression that Maoris still live like this.
But, the tourist gaze can also provide a different document where the gazers themselves become the subjects. The “choreography and performance” that Larson writes of is often as interesting as the landscape, as this picture taken on Milford Sound, shows. This young woman posed like a model and had her picture taken on her iPad at least half a dozen times, relegating the landscape firmly into second place.
It has occurred to me that in a world awash with images and an instantaneous demand for editorial content, there is a danger that the temptation to use images resulting from the tourist gaze in a “library” context could mislead the viewer as to the real nature of the image.
Exercise: Paul Close – The Snakebox Odyssey
“Is there one thing that could make your life better?” … is the question Paul Close asked of his subjects on his journey south and east across Saharan Africa. His photographic style includes a unique element that I have not seen before. He has cleverly used the studio convention of isolating his subjects against a plain white backdrop but he has included the backdrop outdoors in the subject’s everyday environment which gives the formality to identify his subject while including the informality of the environment and the distractions that occur spontaneously.
He makes good use of colour, well saturated images with all the colour you would expect in Africa. There is no doubt that this is a documentary project. It tells the story of Paul’s journey by motorcycle across Africa and of the aspirations of the people he met along the way. The proceeds from the exhibition also raised funds to support the completion of a school in Ghana. The interactive web presentation also included a locator map, comments and captions.
Exercise Eskildsen’s The Roma Journeys and Koudelka’s Gypsies
The photographs are here:
Josef Koudelka: Extracts and articles about the work are here:
There are a lot of images and a review of the book here:
Intention: The course notes asked for research and a comparison of these two bodies of work. Reading what I could about Koudelka (he seems to be a somewhat eccentric and enigmatic character) It seems that his motivation for spending 9 years living and travelling with the Roma of Eastern Europe, France and Spain in the sixties and early seventies (the period covered by the later, extended edition of the book) is summed up in this quote “From 1961 to 1966 I took pictures of Gypsies because I loved the music and the culture. They were like me in so many ways. Now there are less and less of these people so I can’t really say anything else about them.” This is a pretty direct intention and perhaps his way of working is total immersion into the culture. He also said the gypsies thought he was poorer that they were, given his habit of keeping few material possessions with him. Eskildsen on the other hand, had clear objectives at the start of the project, which was to learn about the different Roma settlements in Europe and how their history impacted on the prejudices against them (and the ignorance of the rest of the world of their situation). He and Cia Rinne spent six years visiting and living amongst Roma in seven countries; Hungary, Romania, Greece, France, India, Finland and Russia. It seemed the more they discovered, the more fascinated they became.
Distinctive Aesthetics: The marked difference, visually, between the the two bodies of work is that Koudelka’s work is in black and white but in the presentation of Roma Journeys, the majority of Eskildsen’s is presented in colour. (the first three of each series are in black and white) Gypsies has a traditional gritty, photojournalistic style to it, high contrast uncompromising images that leap out of the page at the viewer. In what I’ve read, much is made of Koudelka’s skill at composition. His groupings appear spontaneous but may have been carefully staged in some cases. Eskildsen’s colour work is summed up by Chris Dickie’s quote given in the course notes. The use of colour is not exaggerated as is some of the other work I’ve looked at in this section. Its rendition is gentle, a little more than lifelike. More like a memory than a dream (or nightmare) Both photographers engage directly with their subjects which must be a result of their total, mutual trust of each other.
Approach to the project: Both photographers appear to have had the same approach to the project. They immersed themselves in the culture, became trusted friends of the people and reaped the rewards of this special relationship. Both included not only the people they met but their homes and environment, showing a contemporary overview of Roma culture in the areas they visited. Eskildsen and Rinne probably had a more structured approach, presenting the work in distinct series according to location.
I have reserved a copy of “Gypsies” at my local library. When it arrives, I will add a review to this post.
Koudelka’s Gypsies 9 March 2015
The copy of the book from the library was the 1975 edition and not the updated edition. However, to see the pictures on the page enhanced their impact and I was able to read Robert Delpire’s introduction “The Rage to See” and introductions by John Szarkowski and Anna Farova which helped to put the collection into context. At the back of the book I read Willy Guy’s history of the Gypsies in Europe which also helped in my understanding of the photographs. This collection is an important historical archive that can only have come from the vision of someone totally absorbed within the culture. Although completely different in style to Eskildsen’s work, the dignity of the people and their trust comes through.