Talk from David Campbell

This blog post is a response to the talk given by David Campbell which we listened to in a Phonar session following the ideas introduced by Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes. I felt it would be extremely beneficial to revisit the talk because it discussed many concepts that influence photojournalism at the moment, in particular the idea of narrative and the power and responsibility associated with those who form it.

 

David Campbell outlines the concept that society understands history as a set series of events, chronologically split into the structure of centuries and eras. However defining this would have been impossible at the time of events for example those involved in the French Revolution didn’t know that this would become a historic series of events; they were just invested in creating change. Based on this idea Campbell introduces the phrase, ‘the event is not what happens, the event is that which can be narrated’ which suggests that without documentation; there is no evidence to say that history happened at all. In photojournalism, events are narrated using text and photography, both of which come together to produce a ‘story’ which will inform the reader. There is great responsibility with the storyteller, this has always been apparent, however with traditional gate keepers of information under threat from the accessibility of information on the internet, this responsibility is more crucial than ever. The concept of story telling and narrative are applicable not only to photojournalism but to all forms of photography; if we want our viewers to believe in our material we need to construct it effectively and truthfully.

Campbell states that narrative is the relationship between the idea of a story and an event, issue or person that you want to record; you as the creator have to make the connection. Robert Capa’s famous quote was “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” however this has been reshaped by practitioner Todd Papageorge, to the phrase, “If your photos aren’t good enough you’re not reading enough”. This new version of the famous quote addresses the need of every photographer to understand what they are photographing; to become familiar with the context. The only knowledge we have of events are those that someone else has narrated to us and this is important to consider when we assume the role of storyteller. Context can be found in different forms, typically it is extensive research and reading however it can also be achieved by living and experiencing which all come together to inform our choices. Campbell stated “the work that sustains itself over time is the work that understands it’s own context”, this outlines the importance of context and how it can either make or break an image. The challenge of context is that it is impossible to tell a story in it’s entirety, there needs to be a stance and in order to do that the teller must make certain inclusions and exclusions and these choices will affect how the story is told. Again we come back to the idea of responsibility; in order to deliver an effective and truthful story we must examine the information and select that which can be construed in an objective manner.

After defining the content and acquiring the context the story must be constructed, this is where narrative is influential. The narration has to be constructed effectively for the concept of the context to be understood. Following the paradigm shift and the introduction of advanced technology into the world of photography and media we can define a difference between the major forms of narrative. Conventional narrative is like that of a book which follows a linear structure and the reader has no choice but to follow the chronological order whereas unconventional narrative is the breaking up of time often seen in movies with ‘flashback’ aspects and in some cases the control is passed over to the reader. There is no right or wrong however it is important to consider the different forms of narrative in relation to the story and it’s context to identify what would suit. Ideas of narrative from literature can be used in reference to photographic storytelling, Campbell explains that moments of “exposition, conflict, climax and resolution” can be identified in almost every story and the conventional starting point of Who, When, Where, Why and How is always going to be useful or applicable. In addition to the structure, part of the narrative is how it is distributed; stories proficient in context, structure and distribution go on to be narrated on a mass scale and as a result are seen as ‘iconic’.

As a photographer, in order to introduce images into the mix we must understand the relationship between the content and the context behind it. Previously in Phonar we explored the multiple sets of data in the digital image; the metadata and the visual data, in this case the visual data must directly reference the perception we want to create. An image that is supported by it’s own context will be strong and in turn can become ‘iconic’ if it is shared on a mass scale for example the image of the ‘Napalm Girl’. Some maintain that this image changed the course of social history and ended the Vietnam War however Campbell observes that this view places an unachievable demand on the image; yes it made a huge social impact however it was the action taken after viewing the image that ended the war. Nevertheless a story built on the foundations of heavily researched context, images that build on this context and a carefully constructed narrative is almost guaranteed to succeed and make a difference in the world. The key concept to take away from this interview is as Campbell stated “if the ideas of context and narrative are better understood there is the capacity for greater change”.

Evaluation:

It was very beneficial to listen to this talk again because it reaffirmed and cemented the ideas and points I had remembered from listening to it previously which I wanted to use in my research paper. In particular I wanted to reference the idea that narrative is changing due to the digital technology, that the photojournalist has the capacity to produce a new form of narrative; however with the comes responsibility. In addition to this I wish to address the concept of manipulation in photojournalism, I had identified Ritchin and Rosler as practitioners who discuss this content, however Campbell raises the point that the process of including and excluding content can produce a photograph that is just as fabricated as one excessively edited. These are all concepts I wish to discuss in my research paper and further blog posts, overall it has been extremely beneficial to revisit the interview as it has strengthened my writing as a result.

 

Reference: Johnston, M. (2011) David Campbell – Narrative, Power and Responsibility [online] available from < https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [27 January 2015]

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The Phonar Finish

Approaching Phonar I had the ideology that the photograph was the same as the image, digital photography and video were completely separate mediums and the key issues involved with photography didn’t stretch much more than the limitations of commerce and commercial manipulation. However after being introduced to practitioners such as Fred Ritchin, Stephen Mayes, David Campbell and Shahidul along with many other contributors, I have been able to identify and reflection the key issues associated with post-modern photography following the paradigm shift from analogue to digital.

I am now considering the concepts of narrative, representation and truth are all to be considered in relation to my own practise; for example sports photography is all about capturing a moment in time however the mechanical nature and ‘decisive moment’ notion of analogue photography would suggest that digital is only appropriate because of the instantaneous technology. With the increasing separation of analogue from digital photography there has been an increasing difference between the terminology of the ‘photograph’ and the ‘image’. The photograph is the physical manifestation of the print produced from the analogue camera where the visual content is the only ‘data’ to be extracted. In comparison the digital image is built up of two elements, the metadata and the visual representation. The latent and manifest forms can exist almost simultaneously resulting in the accumulating reference of the digital image to quantum physics. The idea of truth is a concept seemingly being destructed by the evolution of digital photography and the capacity of editing software to fabricate a scene, however with the credibility of the image we must also consider the credibility of the photographer.

In particular I have been engaged by the notion of representation on the Internet and the growing capacity of the computer to plausibly replicate human actions. There is a dialogue between virtual reality and artificial intelligence mostly seen in video game culture and interestingly enough; this immersive practise has been identified as an effective tool for both photojournalism by Marcus Bleasdale and education through organisations such as the Thing Out Loud Club. However with artificial intelligence comes restriction through the form of online filter bubbles, which is potentially challenging the notion of a democracy by unintentionally limiting the flow of information for the sake of relevance. There is also an issue of online safety through the sharing of inconsequential information, which I have identified in my Post Photographic Portrait.

The Phonar module has been responsible for the change in my ideology and practise from visualising and producing ‘decorative’ work to identifying key issues and responding with the most appropriate tool available to me; whether it be photography or another practise such as video, sound or even the written word. I understand that my work in the most case is a starting point; a raw thought to be developed on however I have been able to interpret and reflect on the key concepts, which will undoubtedly form the basis for my future practise.

Catchup with Fred Ritchin

This was one of the highlights of Phonar as myself and student Olly Wood were lucky enough to be able to conduct an interview with Fred Ritchin alongside Jonathan Worth. We had the chance to prepare a question which Jonathan would introduce at the appropriate moment. Ritchin explained the overview of his two books After Photography and Bending The Frame for the benefit of any listeners who weren’t familiar with them, after which we entered into discussion.

Ritchin observed that we are constantly trying to describe the unfamiliar aspects of the world following the latest paradigm shift using familiar but perhaps outdated terminology referencing the description of the motorcar in history as the ‘horseless carriage’. Images and videos are in dialogue now with the production of ‘photo films’ and the capacity to extract a ‘still’  from a piece of moving image. When talking about the strength and potential of the digital image Jonathan Worth suggested the digital image may have more veracity because of it’s embedded meta data. However Ritchin counteracted with the perception that ‘truth’ is an image made up of a wealth of different images including the content, data and context; each of which is easy to manipulate or distort. As Joan Fontcuberta indicated, the credibility of the each photograph now seen in society very much depends on the credibility of the photographer. In terms of the ‘proactive photographer’ Ritchin referenced in previous interviews, this concept is still unseen in the current field of photojournalism however practitioners such as Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey are working towards this idea through the process of collaboration. Although they are still working in the reactive sense, the creative methods they use to engage different demographics are an example of the responsibility David Campbell describes that a photographer needs to take on to produce social change. As Shahidul Alam denoted, photography is the current tool in which we are striving to create change in our society; the introduction of digital technology to which has without a doubt expanded the capacity. However we must continue with the idea of quality that Ritchin continues to examine and ultimately make sure that the most effective bodies of work are the ones that stand out from the noise.

In extension, whilst most practitioners praise the use of digital technology to achieve change Ritchin still states that perhaps the most effective communication of ideas is the original face-to-face interaction. This perhaps references his faith in the front page acting as a rallying point that the population could collectively engage with and respond. He talked about the discussion of iconic imagery on the Subway and although the viral nature of the Internet has been proven to provoke a mass response, this is a very disconnected method of evoking social change. Ultimately the most effective force is a physical group of people which has been narrated throughout history through events such as The French Revolution. In addition to this, the introduction of digital technology has increased the capacity of a person or organisation to control their own image. Ritchin explored this concept in his first title ‘In Our Own Image’ and the power of this control is being seen today through the videos produced and distributed by ISIS. Ritchin also urged society to consider the possible consequences of the digital revolution, referencing the historic example of the motor car; although it brought opportunity, it also eventually brought about climate change. Perhaps the digital revolution in facilitating different tools for social change, has also increased the capacity and provided platforms for the act of terror to be maintained and preserved.

Discussion: The Narrative of Photoalbums

“Does a print album carry a better narrative than a digital set of images?”

This was the question posed in our Phonar discussion follow examining Sarah Davidmann’s interview which referenced the fabrication of the photo album. In a physical photo album the subject can have a physical involvement in the construction and preservation for example by writing the memory on the back of them. However what happens where there is a missing photograph? It raises questions as to whether it was lost by accident or whether it was removed intentionally. This references the example from Sarah Davidmann where she discovered that although her Uncle Ken was transgender, he was only represented as heterosexual in her family photo albums; any photographic evidence of his transgender identity had been excluded or removed. In the digital culture the manipulation of family narratives is considered to be quite common, however the effect of this fabrication can have still have the same negative consequences. For example Kim Jong Un commissioned the removal of his Uncle Jang Song Thaek from every photograph shared together and in addition destroyed governmental documents that denoted their work together. Although on face value this appears to be comical as those who knew of Jang Song Thaek won’t forget him instantly, as time goes on and this time period becomes that of the past, the presence of this individual will have been lost in both memory and imagery. This can be reflected in the photo album, there is a finality in destroying a print photograph, Sarah Davidmann managed to rescue her Uncle’s memory and re-examined it to liberate his memory however how many individuals have been excluded from their family history for good? In addition to this there is the issue of the preservation of family images using a material which itself can be prone to destruction; surely the indestructible nature of the digital photograph would the better choice.

Print images appear to carry less of a trace than digital images, when we lose or destroy a physical print it is harder to retrieve than a digital image. A digital image will nearly always be findable, as once shared online there is no restriction to the amount of copies that can be made. The issue of findability is something that is being addressed in the society today as the European Union pressure Google to expand the right to be forgotten online outside of the existing parameters. There appears to be a different in nature between that of the physical print and of the digital image and perhaps a different purpose for them. Stephen Mayes identified that digital photography has become more of an experiential medium whereas the physical print exists more of an artefact, continually evidencing the static moment which perhaps means it is more appropriate contextually for preserving family memories.

In the debate between the purpose and importance of physical images compared to digital images the concept of narrative. As David Campbell explained, in order to construct a narrative we need to make certain inclusions and exclusions; it is impossible to encompass the whole world into one story. Although there have been certain instances where digital technology and editing software have been blamed (and rightly so) for the fabrication of the images, it is clear that the narrative can also be used to manipulate and fabricate therefore as photographers we need to take care in putting together a story whether it be with physical prints of photographs or digital images.

Shahidul Alam

Shahidul Alam came from the Bangladeshi culture in which it is expected for each individual to get what is perceived as a ‘respected job’. For this reason Alam trained originally as a doctor however a trip around American was the catalyst for getting involved with photography; being a chemist it was easy for him to operate in the darkroom. Alam eventually returned to Bangladesh to be a photojournalist whilst also working in commercial photography to maintain an income; referencing Stephen Mayes identification of the struggle between commerce and creativity.The concept that particularly struck Shahidul was the mainstream perception that Bangladeshi people were poor; this view was seen even in children as young as five. Alam identified that this perception had come from European agencies sending photographers to document a scene that was completely foreign to them. To counteract this misinterpretation Shahidul Alam created his own agency which was built from the ground and always strived to develop to stay relevant in the field of news. As a result of this effort from Alam and those he was working with, the photography in Bangladesh has now changed and people’s attitude towards it. However this was not the end of the issue in documenting another person; the photographer is in a position of power and the subject virtually has no control over the outcome of the end. With this in mind Alam speculated that a woman could still be misrepresented by a man of the same culture; in order to document effectively all perspectives must be considered.

In his quest for social change Shahidul Alam states that we must think of photography as one of the many tools we can use in order to inform and engage with a wider audience. The Rural Visual Journalism Network is a highly influential organisation set up by Shahidul Alam and operates through contributions from accessible technology. In terms of the most effective tool in current times, it is perhaps multimedia and immersive projects that are considered the most successful however in the future we may have to break away from photography completely to continue attempting to evoke change. In order to address this change we need to define the vocabulary that can help to expose the situation; Fred Ritchin called for a redefinition of the ‘photographer’ as this term is very much associated with the mechanical origins of photography. Perhaps being labelled as an ‘image-maker’ would be more appropriate in the digital age where editing software and multimedia platforms have facilitated a new form of image.

In addition to redefining the term of the photographer our society also needs to redefine our perception of literacy; it shouldn’t be pinned to the written word, this elitism will obstruct those with massive potential. The digital world creates a world of accessible opportunity; the citizen can now become a publisher which renders a problem which Jonathan identified: “when everyone can be heard, is anyone heard?” Shahidul assessed this idea by denoting that in communication, excess noise is cancelled out; it is that which is repeated consistently that is heard or seen and hopefully that content is truthful and effective. In terms of addressing the mass online audience Shahidul states that is it important to influence many people but ultimately significant change occurs on a person, individual level.

Shahidul Alam is a highly perceptive photographer and works to produce and encourage work that is not only effective, but is informed by context. This links perfectly to David Campbell’s idea surrounding narrative, power responsibility stating that a body of work informed by context will sustain itself over time. There is a constant reference to the changing world of photography and that the language of the field could be considered outdated and inaccurate following the most recent paradigm shift which Fred Ritchin has previously indicated. As Stephen Mayes identified we are constantly relating new technology back to the ideology of familiar but archaic ideals, referring to the motor car as the ‘horseless carriage’. Although we should be respectful of new technology it is important to define and create terminology with which we can start to examine and interpret that dynamics of this developing environment.

Phonar Task: Bending The Present (BTF )

The link to my response: https://storify.com/rebeccawoodall/btf-framing-the-present

This second Bending The Frame (BTF) task was to frame the present as opposed to framing the past; I have already seen that next weeks task is to frame the future so I need to think of a response that directly addresses the situation in news right now. I wanted to encompass all the ideas of Ritchin and Mayes of the evolution of photojournalism and also the ideas from David Campbell on power and responsibility. In the last Bending The Frame Task I attempted to encompass the ideas addressed by the previous Phonar task particularly telling a story using sound so it seemed appropriate to base this week’s task on the current lecture content.

In previous university modules we have been introduced to the concept that a range of different resources can be used to research, even Facebook and Twitter can be valid for research as long as you can filter what you are reading. I wanted to build on this idea and to try and create a story that is based on research using online channels and it suddenly came to me that the perfect tool for this is Storify which I have been using to collate the notes for Phonar classes. Storify allows the user to bring in elements from a wealth of different wesbites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and you can even embed a url you have found. With this in mind I wanted to construct a story on Storify that would draw in resources from all different websites to provide a more comprehensive view.

In terms of the story to choose the content didn’t really matter to however I am quite interested in Virgin’s attempt to commercialise space travel therefore I chose to cover the crash of their recent flight test. I created a story on Storify and then set out finding resources to put into the space of the story. First of all I used the embedding tool to start the story with content from BBC News and Sky News, I felt it was really important to begin the story with content from the more traditional gatekeepers of information as these resources are the ones that digital migrants would be most likely to go to first. After that I searched for resources on YouTube as Storify doesn’t just show a link but actually embeds the video file so the reader could choose to watch video content instead of reading. In reading around the subject of photojournalism it was drawn to my attention that TV/video is actually a resource that is threatening the conventional forms of media and as a result YouTube has flourished. Many YouTube videos get millions of views and most of these viewers are between 18 and 24, I felt it was important to include content that would mostly be seen by the youth.

Following this idea I included resources from Twitter and Facebook, which have become particularly prevalent in today’s social culture. Fred Ritchin touched on the concept of collective viewing where people would invest in one main narrative and feel prompted to discuss it with each other; to some extent this is seen on social media platforms such as Twitter. Twitter is a vast network of people interconnected with each other and if you like a thought from a person you can choose to either favourite it or retweet it, as the thought gets passed on from person to person the original tweet records how popular the idea is; this essentially reflects collective viewing of a particular tweet. It could be said that collective viewing and experiencing has not been lost however it has lost the physicality that Fred Ritchin was referring to. However in contrast this word-of-mouth communication can be considered as extremely localised, where Ritchin was concerned only people on that particular Subway carriage would be interacting about the story whereas on the internet using social platforms, collective viewing can be extended to the whole world. David Campbell reiterated the idea of collecting extensive amounts of context, surely interaction on a global scale hearing a range of international perspectives could be considered as a strong gathering of context.

I also used the Getty Images section on Storify as I felt it was important to include a ‘professional’ standard of image in my collection and Getty is a widely recognised photo agency. It was just as important to include images as well as texts, it is interesting to me which images start to occur more often in the articles are they are then produced and reproduced by many different outlets. In this case all of the imagery available to me was free however my choices might have changed if I was then confronted with a charge for the material I really wanted, with the focus on minimal expenditure in the economic market today some images get discounted because they are not free and editors have admitted to choosing free content even if it isn’t as effective.

There was a sense of narrative in my construction however I didn’t dedicated enough time for this first draft of the story to put a great focus on the narrative. I aim to revisit this experiment and investigate the story from start to finish to provide myself with the context behind this particular event as David Campbell recommends; as a first ‘draft’ this arrangement was proficient to ask the questions however for it to be an effective news story it needs more work on the narrative.

Dalia Kahamissy: The Missing

Dalia Khamissy studied at a fine art university in Lebanon however she was always more interested in the area of documentary photography having been exposed to the country’s civil war for the majority of her life. Khamissy had experience both in the field and behind the desk becoming a photo editor for AP which in turn consumed a lot of her available time as the events of war became ever more prominent. After leaving this position and spending eight months without a camera Khamissy had time to focus on the content she really wanted to produce. As an individual living in an area of conflict she noticed that there is no sense of privacy, when a story is deemed in the public interest, photojournalists equip themselves with the ‘authority’ to enter homes and take images to visually represent the events of war. However some of these photographers could not have known what living through the war was actually like, instead of being able to empathise they could only sympathise. The war made Khamissy feel destroyed and abandoned and she began to explore this concept in photography, finally starting the photographic project ‘The Missing’ which explored the controversial kidnappings of people never to return. ‘The Missing’ was a collaborative project working with the mothers of those who had been taken; while the fathers continued to go to work everyday the women would search for their loved ones. However Khamissy insists that the project shouldn’t be interpreted as depicting the mothers, it is telling the story of those who are missing.

The concept of truth is a key factor is this situation; Khamissy describes that the history of the civil war is not taught in schools as those in power may have been influential in the horrors that happened. The narrative of the civil war has not been decided yet however it is told and passed down in families; this relates to David Campbell’s idea of history where the event needs to be narrated to provide evidence of what happened. The youth of Lebanon today have been informed many different versions of the civil war story and these come together to clash; instead of being collective and investing themselves in one main narrative. Truth therefore becomes fragmented and it is highly possible for groups of people to be misrepresented, regardless of what they have actually done.

Along with truth comes the power of authority, we are familiar with the image triad where the power is split between the subject, photographer and viewer but have we ever considered a fourth influence in this dynamic? The authority of those in power of both distributing and restricting the right to freedom of speech have a major factor on the narratives which are seen by the population. In 2012 the Chinese government tightened restrictions on internet access which was believed to be an attempt on vanquishing freedom of speech. Truth and power are both factors in the process of photography however there is another element which directly affects our ability to tell a subject’s story; this element is safety. As explored in the previous post about Wasmour Mansour’s Single Saudi Women, it is important to make the subject feel safe and comfortable in the knowledge that you as a photographer will represent them correctly. However when have we ever considered the physical safety of the subject that we are photographing? Living in an established democratic society where freedom of speech is given it is easy to forget that in some countries, a subject may be persecuted for allowing a photographer to tell their story.

It is clear that the imperative idea from this interview is to prioritise the subject, Khamissy states that we must feel ‘privileged’ to tell the story of a subject and not entitled. The image maker should also focus on examining the story from the subject without bringing in their own personal perceptions in order to create an image informed by truthful context. Finally we should consider how photography means responsibility not only in terms of the subject’s representation but also their status of safety, could you shoulder the knowledge knowing that your photograph could have lead the subject’s death?

All quotations and ideas were taken from the Phonar interview made by Jonathan Worth, to listen to this interview follow the link below:

https://archive.org/details/DaliaKhamissy281013