Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey

Marcus Bleasdale is an award winning photojournalist however like Sebastio Salgado, he didn’t start his career in photography; he started working in a bank. Whilst working at the bank Bleasdale started experimenting with photography and the crises in the Balkans caught his attention, as it did with many members of the bank. However whilst the people around him were thinking of conflict in terms of their own investment, Marcus sympathy towards the victims and subsequently left his job to pursue a career in photography. After attempting documentary photography Marcus Bleasdale reflected on his practise and identified that he needed to be educated in how to effectively construct a narrative. After studying photography he then began his career in photojournalism, perhaps not knowing how effective his work would be.

Bleasdale began work in the Democratic Republic of Congo examining the conflict and those affected by it; working his way down the river documenting the population. Previous bodies of work produced by documentary photographers didn’t depict any change whereas Bleasdale wanted to expose the truthful situation rather base his work on a preconception. Marcus Bleasdale professes that photography is working to understand the concept or issue and the impact on the people involved; if your thought process is right you can effectively engage and reflect. Engaging on a personal level is extremely important to make the work strong, if there is no passion behind the content the higher authorities won’t be persuaded to instigate change. Bleasdale was personally affected and engaged by the conflict in the Congo where the issues of commerce were exposed; consumers of electric products are fuelling conflict perhaps without realising it. The body of work produced by this examination of the Congo was ‘The Rape Of A Nation‘ and can be considered as the most well known content from Marcus Bleasdale; however despite the strength of the work there is a reason for this awareness.

Marcus Bleasdale has identified along with other professional such as Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes, that magazines are not the only source anymore; digital technology has expanded the capacity to reach people. A photographer is an author of an idea and as such they are relied on to both produce and publish the work; the supplier role of the photographer has been extinguished. Therefore as publishers the photographer must draw on inventive methods to get their work seen by different audience; perhaps considering using an existing body of work in a different manner. A body of work can be constantly evolving, assuming different forms to engage with different audience, Marcus Bleasdale has taken this idea and applied it to ‘The Rape Of A Nation’ through the process of collaboration. It was taken and transformed by visual artist Paul O’Connell into a series of comics which were created to engage with a younger audience. In extension Bleasdale is also developing a video game called ‘Blood Minerals’ which will reflect ideas about The Congo conflict and aim to address another demographic. Bleasdale stresses that it is important to include a take action feature as without one, the audience can be captivated by the piece of work but without a means of taking action both everyone involved with the image are rendered helpless.

Aaron Huey is most well known for his work as a photographer for the National Geographic however his photographic career started before this with photographic origins in traditional documentary work. His Pine Ridge project was a serendipitous find and despite no interest from publications, Huey examined in creative and alternative methods until interest was sparked because the culmination of that work was visually what they had not seen before. Huey proved that he makes works on his own terms, taking risks where necessary to make sure that story is told. His role in the National Geographic meant that he could reach more people and this force behind him coupled with the strength of his belief is the driving force behind his work. Huey expressed that great work comes from going into the unknown and greater depth comes from constant re-examination; through this process the project will evolve into a body of work with real substance. He explains that a story of size can create immense pressure for social change which may spark a change reaction, for example some of the features from the National Geographic has gone on to change international law.

Huey references Stephen Mayes by stating there are boundaries of magazines as they take portions of photographic ideas to fit their own structure, the can remove the context and limit potential from a body of work. The process of collaboration can break the boundaries of the existing medium and as a result of which can get your work seen by a new demographic. In response to this concept Huey collaborated with visual artists Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena to produce pieces of street art. As these two visual artists have a big following, it was a way to ensue that Aaron Huey’s concepts and passions were seen by an entirely different audience and through which they would hopefully share with others in turn.

In reflection it appears that collaboration is a key concept not only with the subject in the photograph as Mansour and Davidmann profess, but also in the publishing and distribution of the work prior to producing it. Both Bleasdale and Huey have expanded the capacity and reach of their work through this collaboration and as a result stand to engage with a much wider audience. This hopefully will culminate in a very small minority of the world’s population who are unfamiliar with the concepts and issues they address in their photography. This links heavily to the ideology of Shahidul Alam as Bleasdale and Huey are exploring the different tools available to them as photojournalists in their drive for social change. The use of different mediums has allowed them to really identify the strengths and weaknesses of their current work and also allowed the opportunity for previous work to evolve. As Aaron Huey identified, practitioners must find the ‘soul’ of the concept that drives and interests them, then they will begin to explore what really matters. The repetitive concept throughout the work of practitioners such as Mansour, Davidmann, Bleasdale and Huey is that their purpose is to provoke social change, not just produce ‘pretty pictures’. This nature is reflected in the questions that Jonathan Worth asked us in relation to our final piece in Phonar:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the solution to it?
  • What wouldn’t happen if this work wasn’t made?

This ‘problem-solving’ approach to a body of work is the catalyst to evoke pieces with substance and gives us the means to move past the production of ‘decorative work’ and enter the field of social change.

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