Cause and Effect

The photographs below are from two different countries, and the events they depict are directly unrelated to each other. Having said that, seeing one makes me think of the other, so here they are; juxtaposed. I think there are some connections to be made...

Kunar, Afghanistan: Members of Charlie Battery, 3rd Battalion of the 321 Field artillery, fire at a Taliban position in Kunar, eastern Afghanistan. Theirs is the busiest artillery unit in the US army
Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Villagers in Syria gathered Monday near the coffins of people who died during an American Special Operations raid aimed at Iraqi militants on 26th October 2008.
Photograph: Hussein Malla/Associated Press

100 years of Guardian photography

The Guardian newspaper in the UK often makes great use of photography. These days it's main office is in London but it originally started in Manchester. The paper appointed it's first staff photographer, Walter Doughty, in 1908 and to commemorate the occassion Guardian photographer Denis Thorpe has curated an exhibition of the paper's Manchester photographers entitled 'A Long Exposure: 100 Years of Guardian Photography'.

There is a slideshow of some of the images here, with a couple of my favourites from the sequence below. (The Hebden Bridge shot makes me feel particularly homesick - It's not too far from where I grew up.)

I hope I get a chance to return to the UK and stop by the city, see a couple of friends and take in the show. It runs until March 1 2009 at The Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester

Denis Thorpe - Terraced Houses in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, after snowfall 1978.

Graham Finlayson, Scene in a Pub in Bantry Bay, south-west Ireland, 1959

Walter Doughty, Free State soldier in Dublin during the outbreak of Irish civil war, 1922.

The Grant Experience

I recently had the chance to facilitate a jury of a prestigious grant (basically get them tea and coffee and watch). It was eye opening or at least re-affirming experience for a young (if I may say so) photographer who has applied for a few awards in the past year. I want to share this knowledge with you in the hope you (all who reads this blog) will share with us (all who reads this blog) other inspiring and helpful experiences (i.e. the Eddie Adams workshop or learnings and experiences while shooting abroad) so we can continue to support one another, our community, especially when we’re all so spread out of late.

It began for me at the 2nd meeting of the 3 jurors. They had already narrowed down the applicants to a final 11 people. These final 11 knew they had made it to the next stage as the jurors had asked them to send in further pics (15 8x10 to be exact), a second proposal and were given 3 weeks to do so.

The process for a gallery owner, a chair of a New York art school and a commercial photographic agent to decide the winner was very interesting. The prize was $30,000 and taken very seriously.

Reason the 11 finalists were selected for this award were:
Bearing in mind this is a concerned photography award; first and foremost it’s all about content. Does the World care about your subject? The finalist’s subjects ranged between African refugees, the photographer making a journey from there to the country bound. Women marrying under age and the consequences. Crime in South Africa. Pollution in China, need I go on?

Pictures. Were they hard to get? The subjects mentioned above require access, (the A word which if I hear it again I’ll…..) requires trust by the subjects involved and requires dedication, sacrifice and money by the photographer.

Proposal: A very well written (I stress well written – get some-one else to do it for you if you must) proposal. Outlining why they should give you the money (i.e. subject, how important it is) and how you would spend it, being realistic. They are giving $30,000 not a hundred thousand. If you’re too ambitious with the money that can count against you.

They way the jurors narrowed down the 11 to the final 1 was like this:

First they looked at the new work. They are looking for some one who pulled out all the stops and respected the request made and the chance given by working hard at making new pictures. Did that person send in the required amount? If some one sent in more they requested, they disregarded the extra and actually it went against the photographer for being unfair and perhaps egotistical.

They debated the differences, strengths and weaknesses of shooting in b/w and color (color being more modern…?) Work perhaps being too poetic and they leaned more towards work that was artistic in the framing and shot and not so much in the feeling evoked.
Then they read the 2nd round of proposals and acknowledged a well written, clear in purpose, specific in subject, not generalizing or over ambitious proposal. They looked at whether they had heard or knew of the photographer. Unfortunately this much money was not about to given to an unknown and therefore all of us who are starting out need to apply for up and coming awards, emerging photographer magazine comps and grants (just in case you didn’t know!). Even if they were an unknown and had made it that far, their referee better be known the jurors – so must be part of that niche / community. However if the photographer was receiving a lot of other awards, a lot of attention from other bodies that did go against them as the jurors really want to give the money to some one who needs it. And unfortunately age was a factor. It was discussed that a younger photographer would grow and develop more than an older photographer, when winning this grant. Being over 40 was a big disadvantage.

Lastly, it was really hard for the jurors to decide. When it came down to the last two, they pulled out the work initially sent in. The overall winner was finally chosen as the jurors unanimously agreed the photographer would grow from the help of this award to become an inspirator, a leader, a photographer who already makes images we are all responding to, as they are unique in eye and powerful in composition and subject. Therefore young enough to become a great.

It was a reminder of what matters if you want to win this type of award and become this type of photographer.

Your turn!

Lucy Helton

Inspirational Essay

No introduction necessary. If you have a heart and a brain you'll feel this.

Is The Quality Good Enough


Thomas Connolly's, Sligo, Co Sligo, photograph by James Fennell

I don't have nearly as many good photographs of the inside of pubs as I should have, given the amount of time I've spent in them. Gues I was too busy drinking, smoking, talking nonsense and making a fool out of myself to bother. Anyway, a country I have yet to visit is Ireland - even though I had an Irish girlfriend for a while and have several friends that hail from the Emerald Isle. When I do I will be visiting at least one of these pubs in a quest for the perfect pint. I may even take some photographs along the way.

Magnum Korea

Alex Majoli

The Hankyoreh, a newspaper and media company in Korea, commissioned Magnum to produce a series of photographs to commemorate South Korea's 60th anniversary and the company's own 20th anniversary. The Resulting project is apparantly the largest single undertaking by the Magnum agency, who sent 20 of it's photographers to South Korea between the end of 2006 and the start of 2008 with each spending between 10 and 60 days in the country. (Though I think Eugene Smith's Pittsburg photographs might be a contender for the costliest Magnum project..)

The Magnum Korea Exhibition opened in Seoul in the summer of 2008 and was a roaring success, with record breaking attendance. It has just opened in Deajeon, where I am staying, so I went to check it out.

I have to say it is a bit of a mixed bag. I was actually pretty underwhelmed by a lot of the work. More than a few times I though to myself, 'I don't care who you are, that is a crap photo.' I got the impression that a few of the photograpers were either just going through the motions, or just didn't bother to try. About half way through looking at the photos my wife screwed up her face and said, 'It doesn't really say anything about Korea, really.'

She's Korean, so I take it she should know.

She also pointed out a Martin Parr photograph that showed a bunch of brightly coloured products - in typical Parr fashion - that were in fact Japanese. Oops.

I guess this is the problem. If a photographer is sent to a country to photograph without a specific agenda then the result can sometimes be little better than what any visitor with a camera might discover. I started to think that there was not much to Korea except the streets of Seoul and some fairly recognisable tourist spots.

That said, It wasn't all bad. In fact, there were a lot of amazing photographs, ones that you would think deserving of photographers who were part of the notoriously elite 'world's most famous' photography agency. However, these images got a little diluted in this exhibition. Perhaps it is a matter of expectation. You would expect every photograph to come from Magnum to be exceptional. Why would it be otherwise? This agency is the 'old boy's club' of photo agencies. You have to be something special to be a member. In reality though, a Magnum photographer can take a bad picture just like anybody else.

Maybe I'm just being a bit hypercritical though. As I say, there were a ton of good and great photographs in this collection, enough to keep me happy. Every photographer had more than one excellent image in the show, and in particular I enjoyed the work by Alex Majoli, David Alan Harvey, Steve McCurry and Jean Gaumy, whose series on the fishing industry stood head and shoulders above much of the rest for me. He seemed to be the only photographer who had really focused on something, followed it and produced some great photographs as a result. He is well known for his work on this subject so perhaps it wasn't too hard for him but still, an excellent series nonetheless.

There's no doubt that this was a huge project, and despite some glaring ommissions, some mediocre photography and even a few dodgy prints I think this is a fantastic introduction to Korean culture, and one which is well worth a look. There is talk of the exhibit travelling outside of the country and I hope this actually happens. The best photographs in this exhibit are amazing and even if with my limited experience of Korea I consider the country to be woefully under-represented here I would still recommend checking it out.

Steve McCurry

The Korean version of the publication that accompanies the exhibit is well produced and contains a slightly different selection. An english language version will be published before the end of the year, and I will probably succumb to my book fetish and buy a copy. There are photographs here I will want to look at more than a few times.

As an aside, you can check out some of the photographs from my first visit to the country here.

A slideshow of some of the Magnum photographs can be found here.

강운구 - (Kang Woon Gu)

While dropping off some film to get developed at a lab in Seoul called photopia (thanks to Chang for the info!) I saw a poster advertising an exhibition at The Museum of Photography, which I didn't know existed until that moment. So I went to check it out.

The exhibition was of recent photographs by Kang Woon Gu. There were many images from rural Korea, which seems to be a recurring theme in his work. Many of the images were simple scenes or details. He had placed some images in short sequences of 4, with each photograph enlarging a detail from the previous, as if he had taken a shot, walked a few paces and taken another and so on. Some of these worked better than others.

The photographs on one wall caught my attention more than the others due to the fact that they had a more documentary feel to them. They seemed to be slightly out of place amongst the abstract depictions of shadows and footprints in the mud. I felt like I wanted to see more in this style. Then, as if by magic, my wish was granted when I spotted a big black curtain behind which was a room where a DVD projection was showing images from a previous exhibition by Kang Woon Gu with work from a series entitled 'Images of Three Villages'.

This project was carried out in the 70's while he was a journalist and during a period of much change in Korean society. It was of great interest for me because it depicted a society I could see vestiges of in my travels around the country and was related to some aspects of the photography I am currently doing here in Korea. There was no commentary except for the occasional introductory text (in Korean of course) which my wife helpfully gave me a summary of. One phrase she translated stuck in my mind - it was a quote about how 'after awakening from the beauty of the mountain I could see there was much misery in their lives'.

There is hardly any information in english I could find about this photographer in my brief searches but I did find links to some of his books, so hopefully I will be able to post some more about his work.

I did find an english translation of some text related to the 'Images of Three Villages' project, the first portion of which reads as follows

Since the time when these photographs were taken, some thirty years have passed. In that period Korea has changed tremendously. What country in man’s history has changed lock, stock and barrel in such a short time? Clearly all the dissent, disorder and discord arising in this country today are due more to the speed of change than to change itself.

Even if not a dictatorship, it’s been going the way of an industrial society. In shifting from agriculture to industry, many things have to assume different aspects. During this country’s vaunted 5,000 years, almost all morals, culture, and customs sprang from agriculture. But many problems inevitably arose in the course of changes during the period of dictatorship, when we were deprived of liberty and justice,

The phrase “Tilling is the great root of all in the land” was nothing but a patronizing sop from the ruling classes. Since farming was a matter of fate and not choice for small tillers, who were little more than serfs, those words were small comfort. From their point of view, it was “Root of all, my ass.” When the industrial society came on, the farmers mistakenly thought they had another destiny. Forsaking the “great root”, they flocked to the city outskirts.

A city may have been a vortex, but it was the remote mountain villages and their people that bore the brunt of destitution and disintegration. Just as they were at the end of their tether, in swept the mindless whirlwind of the militant Saemaeul Movement, ordering all the houses stripped of their thatched roofs. The houses and villages visible from the roads were the first to go, one after another. Of course the honchos were there, watching and orchestrating it all from the road. Houses that had stood the test of millennia got tin roofs all shlocked up with red and blue paint, and presto that was a Saemaul. That was the Saemaul uniform, just like the army’s. The decisive break with those “customs” and “traditions” that we so like to flaunt occurred then, all at once and by force.

That’s when I as a press photographer sensed how realism and documentary are part and parcel of photography, and managed to find the direction someone who would be a decent art photographer in an art-loving country has to go. So, seeing the dire state of affairs, whether as artist or reporter, I was in a hurry and rather stupidly began to feel my way around the mountain villages. But little did I expect how fast the whole country would be turned inside out. Thinking about it now, everything around should have been a photo, but if something didn’t look like much I would hesitate and just take one or two. If the spirit didn’t move me, I would find it hard to move my finger. Whenever I took a picture I would hope to capture something beyond my ability and beyond what I could see.

In the course of human history or in the history of the Korean people, thirty years do not amount to much. But for an individual it is a long period of time. Looking back, it’s embarrassing to say, I really knew all too little of life and the times. And I had no skill, barely a clue. At that time, while I couldn’t even have guessed about some things, I took other things very seriously. So I wandered wide-eyed from village to village like a skittish vagabond.

Thinking of it now, I’m not ashamed of the poor photos I took then. But it’s too bad so much was missed altogether, whether out of ignorance or failure to realize its importance. If there’s something I took a bad photograph of, at least there’s that. But if there’s something I missed, I have nothing.

The settlements in Images of Three Villages are no more. Had some semblance of them survived, little would be lost even if the photographs were discarded. But since nary a trace is left, there is all the more reason for keepsakes such as these. In effect, fossil remains is what they are.

Quite a large part of the photos have appeared in books, magazines or exhibitions. But because of space or other considerations many that I originally thought should be published have not been. In setting down the luggage carried for so long, I can now feel somewhat at ease. And with fewer obligations than long ago, I may be freer to go a bit farther.


A couple of passages really struck a cord with me.

This one:

...seeing the dire state of affairs, whether as artist or reporter, I was in a hurry and rather stupidly began to feel my way around the mountain villages. But little did I expect how fast the whole country would be turned inside out. Thinking about it now, everything around should have been a photo, but if something didn’t look like much I would hesitate and just take one or two. If the spirit didn’t move me, I would find it hard to move my finger. Whenever I took a picture I would hope to capture something beyond my ability and beyond what I could see.

And this one:

...Thinking of it now, I’m not ashamed of the poor photos I took then. But it’s too bad so much was missed altogether, whether out of ignorance or failure to realize its importance. If there’s something I took a bad photograph of, at least there’s that. But if there’s something I missed, I have nothing.

Both of these address a couple of my favourite issues; the ethics and motives behind what you photograph and the dialogue between aesthetics and content. These are things I think every documentary photographer struggles with.

Kang Woon Gu is definitely someone whose work I will be checking out in a bit more depth...

In any case, The Museum of Photography in Seoul is worth a visit if you are in the city. Aside from the photography there is an excellent view (the gallery is in a high rise) and the Olympic park is just opposite so you can take a stroll before or after if you have the time.

It's the outtakes stupid

Steve Bell's cartoon on British Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Steve Bell always seems to hit the nail on the head. This cartoon not only makes a great political point but says something about photography, editing, PR and even Britishness as well. Very clever.
Let's not forget that PR and advertising as we know it were born out of propaganda, and these days politicians public personas are as much fabrications as the happy families using soap on a TV ad.
Also, it seems like the U.S. Financial collapse is doing almost as much harm around the world as the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld & Co foreign policy. And if one more person says that nobody could have forseen this I think I am gonna snap.

Business and Pleasure

One of the reasons I wanted to become a photographer was to travel round the world without being just a tourist. So any opportunity to combine business with pleasure is very welcome!
To this end, killing several birds with one stone, I am in Korea visiting my wife's family while shooting for a project on some small scale agriculture and farming relating to Korean cuisine. Luckily I'm getting a chance to see some sights as well.
I have been in Korea for little over a week, travelling about with sparodic internet connections and one edition of The Korea Times (One of Korea's english language newspapers) so I have only a vague idea of what is going on in the world. Apparantly I missed James Nachtwey's grand unveiling of his project on XDR-TB. If you haven't already you can check it out here.
I did manage to catch the latter half of the U.S. presidential candidate's debate though I think the Palin/Biden one may have been more entertaining. For the record, I am not a big fan of a lot of Obama's policies, though how anyone could think that a McCain/Palin administration could be at all competent given the outright nonsense I have heard from them over the past few weeks is beyond me. They both seem to struggle to construct a coherent sentence, let alone a national policy.
Anyway. As an antidote to all this I thoroughly recommend taking a trip to Jeju Island in South Korea and hiking up Hallasan Mountain, an extinct volcano and Korea's highest mountain.
I don't, however, recommend doing it with a 4x5 camera. Or at least, if you do make sure you take a backpack. I looked at the mountain from a distance and it didn't look too steep. The climb up was only 10 km as well, so I just slung everything in my Domke. It turns out it is actually quite steep.
If I ever do some photography up a really high mountain (one that requires packing an ice pick for example) I will be investing heavily in new equipment...
So, here I am at a waystation around 3km from the summit on the Seongpanak trail. Just past 9 am and still smiling (sort of). The Korean guy next to me is my wife's uncle, my companion on this trek who had sensibly packed a point and shoot.
I have to say that the scenery was spectacular and I am hoping the large format negative will do it some justice. This was about 500m from the summit.
Finally, this was taken on the on the Gwaneumsa trail going down the other side. You wouldn't know it from the expression on my face but I was actually enjoying myself, though my shoulders were starting to feel the strain at this point. That's the mountain's peak behind me. Thinking back, jeans were probably a bad idea as well. The Koreans on the trail were mostly decked out in proper climbing gear. Some of them were as old as my grandparents. They probably do this climb every week.

Later this day I rewarded my weary body with some delicious green tea from Sulloc (Jeju Island produces the majority of Korea's tea) ate some fresh abalone on a rock by the sea on the Yongmeori coast and climbed several hundred steps to a buddhist shrine at Sanbangsan, where I partook of some allegedly magically restorative water, which after a full day like this was much needed.

The day after this mountain trek my legs hurt and I went to see an underground lava tube. It was dark and wet. And spectacular.

I took the D200 this time - check out some photos here.

Anyway. That's enough of my holidays. Back to work....