I’m quite a traditional photographer. To the surprise of many who see me working, I still expose my digital images the way I shot transparency film: carefully and with a hand-held meter. In this way, I’ve always had a problem with photographers that shoot real life and then work on their files afterwards to create a different, almost hyper reality. For photojournalists I find this very difficult to deal with and, as I’ve said before, I believe it can create a serious problem of authenticity and voracity. I find myself however at a stage of my career where I want to learn new things. I also find myself increasingly shooting personal projects with an eye to more commercial markets. Recently I’ve been trying to learn how to create a look that I feel happy with and that I can manipulate for a new project (that’s under wraps for now). After some deliberation and a lot of help from my friends – I have something I’m happy with. This may not be a very big step for some – very old hat to some people – but for me it’s an enormous one.
And it’s always good to learn something new. When was the last time we can honestly say that we have?
I won’t be shooting anything serious like this (in the sense of documentary work) but I may change and evolve a new process to reinvigorate things a bit on another front. Old dog/new tricks. Here’s one I made earlier.
By tomorrow night, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,800 children will have died from preventable, treatable diarrhea, largely linked to lack of clean water and sanitary conditions.
I’ve written several times about Delhi’s water wars and the struggle for its people to find any water, let alone clean water – (see here and here for a start). Here’s an image from the Kusumpur Pahari slum where that struggle for water is a daily one.
I’m delighted that one of my images is featured in a new travel magazine called Renegade. It’s small, beautiful and full of interesting stuff. Here’s my double page – an image The Tree of Life in Iraq.
I feel the weather turning. The mornings are colder. I hate it. I need cheering up. Here’s a picture with a big lump of red in it to do that.
Why did I choose this image? Just chatting to Michael Regnier at Panos. Sparked a thought about a lyric – John Foxx’s Hiroshima mon amour. Wonderful… “Features fused like shattered glass, the sun’s so low/Turns our silhouettes to gold/Hiroshima mon amour”
No relation to Delhi of course, but that image of light… I can feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun in the big lump of red…
In a blog post yesterday, I showed a very quiet image of a priest reading and walking around a cloister. Below is perhaps a more typical image of Palermo and (southern) Italy in general. It’s said that Italians can only speak with their hands and the New York Times has a recent, rather prosaic piece here on that very subject.
The consensus seems to be that somehow, in such crowded places people needed a further way to make themselves heard. Perhaps. Some years ago I stayed at a rather expensive hotel in Naples and they gave me as a gift, a lovely book (see below) about the secret meanings of Italian hand gestures. There are hundreds: some pleasant, some decidedly unpleasant. It occurred to me that in one sense it was a code, a language of the initiated in the way that rhyming slang was to the Victorian Cockney. A very real way to subvert authority (and of course the law) and build an identity that was separate and uncontrollable. Naples like Palermo are exquisite places full of art and beauty but are also brutal and fearful. Norman Lewis in his highly entertaining Naples ’44 recounting his time in the Intelligence Corp in that city remembers constantly being offered women by their families in order to eat. Peter Robb in his exquisite Midnight in Sicily (and later in his Street Fight in Naples) shows a labyrinthine society with bestial corruption at it’s very heart and violence meted out by mafiosi at every level. A society moved by an unofficial nod of the head, parallel governments. Secrets. Robb lived in Southern Italy, the Mezzogiorno for years. He immersed himself in the language and the culture and his writing shows the depth and commitment of that effort.
A photographer wandering the streets is usually a little different. He walks and sees a moment developing in the chaos of colour and movement and steps towards it. He takes two pictures and the image changes. He might have recorded something significant, something trivial but he has little hope of understanding anything on a deeper level than the symbol in the image – a gesture between two (or in this case three) people. The words he hears don’t mean anything – the gestures might be theatre. He might be ignored, or as in this case, sworn at and threatened. The language he is trying to communicate is equally symbolic as the hands of an Italian yet inevitably painted with a thicker, less subtle brush. He just sees the signs the hands make, not necessarily the subtlety of the meaning. He might interpret those signs as meaning something completely different – something as part of a visual culture that he has absorbed. Photography is as valuable but blunter than words. A more democratic code. Perhaps.
By the way, the title of this post comes from yet another language. Another collected word from another country. Palava(r). A word that I used to hear in West Africa all the time. Apparently it is Portuguese in origin. I didn’t know. Non capisco. So many words, so many countries. A mixture, an argument, a conversation. A beautiful mess. Just like Palermo.
Here’s another image from a recent Conde Nast Traveller story in Sao Tome and Principe. It shows singer Guilherme de Caravlho playing at home in Sao Tome. Outside the heavens had just opened and a rain storm was passing overhead. Behind the curtain his daughter danced to the music.