Editing While Photographing.

I am in the process of doing some housekeeping on my overburdened computers and just stumbled across this set of notes which I remember writing near the beginning of this year (when I was doing a lot of editing). Anyway, I thought it might be worth sharing and seeing if anyone has any thoughts on the matter.

There is a school of thought that says that you edit constantly as a photographer; in what you choose to photograph. How you frame it. When you choose to release the shutter. Then later when you pick or reject images. Later still in how you present them. This is true. There is then a extension of that which claims that in editing in such a matter - especially as you shoot - you, as a photographer are somehow manipulating the way the information is presented to a viewer. The frequently touted argument often includes the example of framing your photograph so that such-and-such a person or object does not appear in the photograph, even when they are present at the scene. How is this different - the argument goes - than removing things in Photoshop? On one level it is not. And this is where the argument takes on a different mantle. In my mind, a good photographer will photograph something in a way that includes the most useful information about that thing as is possible. This can either be emotional content or factual content though ideally it is both. A photograph is always a representation of something. Not the thing itself, so how can you use it to accurately convey the reality you are experiencing? C'eci n'est pas une pipe as Magritte would say.

If this is so then how can we avoid the problem of - shall we say - the lie of omission. We cannot. What is happening behind the photographer's camera may well be crucial to the understanding of what is happening in front of it. If this is the case then a photograph will always be an incomplete truth and only ever part of a whole. Is this a problem and if so can this problem be avoided? This is where the photographer as a person becomes very important. The camera is a powerful tool. If your intention is communication of certain facts then how this tool is used is a responsibility not be taken lightly. Only then will the camera be used as a tool of representation and not mis-representation. What methods can be used? One photographer will shoot a thousand frames in different directions and work out what is happening later. Another photographer will know what is happening and shoot accordingly. Of course there are no hard and fast rules and there is always room to maneuver. Yet one should always be aware. If it looks interesting, it probably is. Even if you don't know how and why yet. A child may take seemingly innocent photographs which then become laden with meaning under the scrutiny of an adult mind. Trusting in your instincts is important, but your experience should be used to asses those instincts and act on them accordingly.

The true problems arise when a photograph is misused. When a photographer consciously chooses to shoot or frame something in such a way that serves a particular agenda, especially one which is antithetical to the unbiased actuality of what is happening around them. Difficult to examine. Even harder to prove. Other forms of misuse are easier to spot. Cropping a frame, Photoshop manipulation and misleading context are all basic ways in which a photograph can be used to serve as propaganda rather than information.

I am not talking here about such uses of photography as in advertising, portraiture (especially celebrity portraiture which is basically an advert for a person/brand anyway) art and illustration. These arenas are inherently agenda led and have manipulation of the viewer as an essential element. I am talking about documentary work. The idea that a camera can record an objective truth. This is a dangerous claim which is impossible to qualify. The agenda is always present but what I am trying to point out is that when the photographer manipulates the photograph though the decisions made while shooting a situation, the elusive objectivity can be brought closer if the photographer is aware of the various angles of subjectivity and photographs accordingly. There may be facts represented in the image so glaring obvious it is impossible to ignore them (the sky is blue, this person has no legs, that person is holding a banana, this person is crying etc) but there is then the next level of interpretation (This person is crying because...) and this is where the higher brain functions kick in (rational thought, critical assessment and the mother of them all - empathy). A photographer – and their editors - should then make an informed choice. Is it enough to show that this person is crying. Do I need to include the reason in the photograph. Will a written caption explain the whys and wherefores. Is a separate or additional photograph needed? Do I even understand what is happening enough to make these decisions? What should I do now? These questions need to be asked. If they are then, hopefully, the photograph will provide the answers.

Banlieue: Trois

Photograph: Dan Chung

The caption reads: Natalie Kouyate walks down the graffiti-covered stairwell of the block of flats where she lives on La Forestière estate, Clichy sous Bois, where the 2005 riots originated.

I previously posted on the French suburbs known as Banlieue here and here.

I was on the lookout for some photojournalism from these areas (seeing as I cannot currently do it myself!) and found this article and slideshow by Angelique Chrisafis and Dan Chung which was published in the Guardian just over a year ago.

I'm off to dig out my old NTM albums and do the washing up.

Jon Lowenstein

I like a lot of Jon Lowenstein's work. He is the newest member of the Noor Agency and his 'Southside' series is just another in a long line of signs telling me to do some 5x4 Polaroid 55 photography before the film disappears.

My Little Dead Dick

Every so often I come across some photographic projects that re-affirm my belief that photography is important, fascinating, beautiful, thoughtful, touching, flippant & fun all at once. This is one of those.

We English

Simon Roberts is about to embark on a tour of England for his project 'We English'. I liked enough of his 'Motherland' book to be curious as to how this project will turn out.

However, I hope there aren't too many photographs like this:

but instead plenty like this:

Getting away with murder?

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This was one woman's reaction to the verdict that aquitted Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper in the killing of Sean Bell.

The case has been eerily reminiscent of the Amadou Diallo case, something I found out about when I was taking a stroll through the south Bronx and saw this mural.

Thanks to Richard for showing me Spencer Platt's photo.

I love contact sheets.

I rarely do contact sheets of my own work these days, even though I try and impress the importance of them on others - especially the teenage photographers I work with through the ICP community programs who don't have the patience for them! I keep meaning to go in the darkroom with my films and contact them but usually just end up scanning the lot. Such a shame.

So imagine my joy at seeing this blog by Emma Hine.

I know where the summer goes

Ryan McGinley came up in conversation today. I have to say I don't see what all the fuss is about. Generally, I can't see what is so special about his photographs.

I think people get blinded by the myth; 4000 rolls of film, naked models, a summer long road trip across the USA... In my opinion, if someone gave me 16 models, 4000 rolls of film, a full tank of petrol and a whole summer to shoot I hope my photographs would be a lot more interesting than the selection currently on show at the much hyped Team Gallery exhibition.

Don't get me wrong, there's a couple I liked - the two above for example, both of which I think are great - but looking at the selection for the show then I thought that if this is the best of 140000 shots (assuming that he shot 4000 rolls of 36 that is!) either he's a really bad editor or the rest are truly worse. I know which one worries me more.

Of course, I am happy for his success, especially as his style is not the overly lit, pin sharp, heavily retouched nonsense that is everywhere in commercial photography but I can't shake the 'flavour of the month' feeling when I hear people praising his work. Considering the hype, I guess I just expect more.

On his blog >Re: PHOTO Peter Marshall has written a post on McGinley, the majority of which I wholeheartedly agree with.

It's Torture Muthaf*cka

Cheney and national security adviser Condeleezza Rice confer in February 2002, photograph from the Washington Post.

Probably discussing 'enhanced interrogation techniques'...

The Earth

When I was younger I wanted to be an astronaut. If I had done that, I probably would now be taking photographs like this.

The universe beyond our planet still fascinates me as much as it ever did, though if I ever travelled into space the first thing I would do is look back at the earth.

When I look at a whole city in a photograph, then think of the thousands of photographs I took while living within that city my mind starts to go in all sorts of strange directions.

For people in the International Space station it must be a bizarre experience, I imagine it is akin to the feeling I get when I look out the window on a plane journey and see the land and sea passing below me. I see both chaos and calm.

It is this ariel perspective that has allowed us to see the spread of our cities, the destruction of our forests and the forces of nature on a grand scale. Truly these images - with their spacial distance - should give us perspective of thought.

Take these two images for example. Photographed less than a month apart, they show the disintegration of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

If I have to spell out the link between these photographs and the one above of London at night then you clearly haven't been paying attention. The article this image is from can be found here.

For more well lit cities, click here.

By the way, I still want to be an astronaut.

The Pope

Is it just me or is there something slightly unreal going on here?


Getty Images

Kathy Willens / AP

Pier Paolo Cito / AP

Coming or Going?

Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

March 28 2008, London, UK: About 600 police officers congregate in Finsbury Park, before a raid on Blackstock Road, where up to 19 businesses allegedly deal in drugs, fraud and theft

Photograph: Jeffrey Allen/AFP/Getty Images

April 4 2008, New Al Muthana Air Base, Iraq: Iraqi army soldiers sit in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The soldiers are being transported to Basra to support operations in the area.

The cost of living

A Chinese cargo ship carrying arms and ammunition docked in South Africa this week. The shipment was ordered by Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF government in Zimbabwe. Paperwork indicates it was ordered just days after the disputed Zimbabwe elections. Dock workers refused to unload the cargo once they discovered what it was and where it was headed. The Ship recently left Durban's port apparently bound for Mozambique. Read more here and here.

It seems to me that Mugabe is preparing to cling on to power in a violent and brutal fashion. Although the European Union has a ban on the sale of arms to Zimbabwe it seems China has no such scruples. That the country's economy is in freefall and only a handful of people have any real wealth seems to matter little when it comes to the purchase of weapons. I wonder how many wads of banknotes these weapons are worth?

Photograph: Robin Hammond/Observer Magazine

The caption for this photograph (taken almost one year ago) reads: A man fortunate enough to have work holds his monthly wages, equal to just over GBP80. His pay includes a travel allowance which, due to inflation, is now greater than the salary itself. The cost of living doubled in the course of April 2007 as Zimbabwe's annual inflation reached 3,700%. Some experts now estimate it has reached 15,000%. Harare, Zimbabwe. May 2007


I once set fire to some cheap photographic paper in a darkroom, watching the resin coating crackle before extinguishing the flame and sticking the paper in the developer. The result was very strange, difficult to describe and I almost burned down the whole room trying to replicate the effects with absolutely no success. Something I do not recommend anyone trying. Seriously.

Anyway, on Tim Atherton's blog I read about Chris McCaw who allows the sun to burn his film and then prints the results, which I find very evocative.

Starting fires outdoors is much safer than in a room full of chemicals and paper. Trust me.

A Photo Editor's Idea

Is this a good idea? Get photographers to send a bunch of work in the form of promo images to Rob Haggart, who chooses the ones he thinks are good and then puts it out there in the industry.

In my opinion, yes it is a good idea. (Even if I don't like all the chosen work and even if I didn't participate myself.)

I think it is a positive thing Rob is doing and I commend his efforts to link those who take photographs with those who buy them.

Check it out.

Aruha Yamaoka - Onishi Gallery

Last summer I was caught in a Thunderstorm with Aruha while we were on our way to a free concert by Femi Kuti in Central Park. Here she is trying to stay dry.

This Thursday the 17th April she has a show opening at the Onishi Gallery. I recommend you check it out. I find her photography to be both beautiful and haunting.

Aruha Yamaoka
April 17 – May 10, 2008
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 17, 6-8 p.m.

Onishi Gallery
521 W 26th Street (bet. 10th and 11th Aves.)
New York, NY 10001
T. 212.695.8035

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.

on the blogs

Jason Andrew's Jazzland series here & here and my photographs from Korea here. Also one of my favourites from a trip to Brazil here.

Freedom of information is what the internet is for!

Trevor Paglen: Limit Telephotography

I often like to round up the day with a dose of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central so I was happy to see Colbert interview Trevor Paglen last week about his book 'I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me'. I just looked at his website and found this interesting project: Limit Telephotography.

These are photographs taken with ridiculously long lenses of military installations. Rather than reveal hidden details, for me these just add to the secrecy surrounding these installations, showing me just how far the work being done here - with taxpayers money - is from being in the public domain. In fact, the government seems to take pride in the fact that it has these 'Black Budget' secret projects and that you don't know what goes on there...

Open Hanger, Cactus Flats. NV. Distance ~ 18 miles/ 10:04 am

Illuminated Hangars, Tonopah Test Range. NV. Distance ~ 18 miles/ 9:08 p.m

Ethics & Toning

A subject that has been touched upon in this blog is the ethics of Photoshop manipulation. We all agree there is nothing wrong with Photoshop but there is some debate on where to draw the line with regard to the digital 'dodging and burning' of an image. It can get pretty extreme.

Jason Andrew has brought this post to my attention from the blog 'On The Other Side'.

Volume Magazine

Here are two of my photographs illustrating a short story by Ben Cheetham in issue 3 of Volume magazine, published quarterly in London. At the moment it is only available in select stores in London but you can order it online from their website or myspace page.

Thanks go to Houmam (who models in the Brendan & Brendan fashion shoot in the same issue) for showing my work to Ruby at the magazine. And thanks to Ruby for publishing the work!

By the way, if you want to know what Ben's story is about, you might just be able to read it from the jpegs, though I recommend you buy a copy to avoid straining your eyes!

Global Food Crisis

This photograph I saw on the BBC website, credited only to AP. The caption reads; An Iraqi army soldier looks on as a woman picks up rice at a checkpoint in Sadr City, Baghdad. The Shia suburb is suffering food shortages as troops clash with the Mehdi Army militia.

I've been hearing a lot recently about the global food crisis, a complex debate with so many problems and solutions it would take many paragraphs to even touch upon the situation. However, the photograph above I find very interesting. I can't be sure of the narrative but it seems to be that the woman is troubled and is desperately attempting to scrape up rice spilled on the road. The Jeep, the checkpoint and the soldier in the background add to the feeling that this is a woman suffering daily from the fallout of a war being waged around her. I find it particularly disturbing that the soldier is lounging nonchalantly on the Jeep with a broad smile on his face. What is he smiling at - the woman scrabbling for rice on her hands and knees, the photographer who is likely sprawled on the ground with her? I don't know. But I don't like it.

Shoot the messenger

This photograph by Adrees Latif has just won a Pulitzer Prize. The man lying on the floor is Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai. Latif took four frames as Nagai was shot and killed.

I remember seeing this at the time, and also the video footage and although it is a tragic event I feel that the pulitzer awarded to the image of Nagai's final moments is at the very least a solemn tribute.

That an unarmed man should be shot at point blank range for filming soldiers and police terrorising the public says so much.

My wife says this is exactly the reason she forbids me to do this kind of work. Some people say it is stupid but part of me will always have the utmost respect for those who put themselves in the line of fire and it just saddens me that people will have to keep on doing it.

More and more reporters are becoming the enemy of Governments, the Police, the Military and Corporations. More and more there is a consensus to control the media through restrictions, advertising revenue, corporate ownership, press releases, official government reports, internal investigations and so on. This does not just happen 'somewhere else' (Myanmar, China) it is happening everywhere. What does this tell you?


I saw 'Control' on the flight from London to New York. This is the biopic of Joy Division's Ian Curtis directed by Anton Corbijn and based upon the book 'Touching From a Distance' written by Curtis' wife Deborah.

I was very impressed. The acting was superb and it was beautifully filmed. Apparently it was shot on colour stock then converted to Black & White (as was one of my all time favourite films La Haine.)

Kudos to Corbijn who seems to have put his years of photography experience to good affect in the shooting of the film. I was a little worried there might be a lot of scenes that appeared staged and overly dramatic as this is something I've seen in biopics of musicians before but the directing here was thoughtful and restrained. Although Corbijn is a photographer of celebrities I couldn't help thinking what he may be like as a documentary photographer, which is a testament his skill and that of the cast and crew in making this film - based upon true events though it is - believable.

It is already available in the UK on DVD and should be getting a US release early this summer. If you're into photography (which you are) film (which you should be) or Joy division (which is a matter of taste) then check it out.

Iwase Yoshiyuki

In researching a project I am hoping to be able to do later this year I came across Iwase Yoshiyuki's photographs. Here is a selection, one from each of the four galleries on his website.

A Daughter of the Occupation, 1950

Harvesting Seaweed 1956

Boat & Mooring Post, 1950

Modernist Nude #2, c1955

If I owned prints of the last two images above I would hang them together on my wall. Like this.

Martin Luther King

Is there anyone today who can speak in public so long and so eloquently on so many issues as Martin Luther King could four decades ago? And if so would they too be silenced by an assassin's bullet?

His speeches are easily found online, in bookstores and libraries. I have not yet read or heard or seen one that didn't resonate with me. Here's one I read today.

The other night I was talking with a couple of friends and the conversation turned to Strawberry Fields in Central Park. I noted that we who never knew him lost John Lennon's music, his politics and his advocacy of peace, but others lost a Father, a Husband and a friend. This fact alone makes Mark Chapman's murder of Lennon abhorrent. This is an aspect that often gets overlooked when we think of the murders of public figures. We should reflect on that, as it makes their deaths doubly tragic.



Another closely fought and disputed election in another country still fighting the legacy of colonialism.

This photograph is by Kim Ludbrook/EPA. The caption reads: Zimbabwe refugees vote during a mock Zimbabwe presidential elections at the Walter Sisulu Hall in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 29 March 2008. Many of the refugees are illigal immigrants who are not prepared to vote in the presidential elections being held in Zimbabwe. The votes where counted and the outcome was that Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai won with 83% of the vote.

The actual election results are twofold, Parlimentary and Presidential. It is possible the Presidential vote will go to a second round. It is certain that Mugabe will not relinquish the power he has enjoyed for almost three decades without a fight. The BBC has a rundown here.

There's also a lot of good information on the election on the Guardian website.

Finding Her Voice

Chiara Goia's story on Nicole Von Valkenburg appeared in the New York Times this weekend past. Click here to see the slideshow.