Documentary Photography

Looking Back and Changing Your Story

Emily and Doggy in the Window

Little Girl and Doggy in the Window © 2009 Roger Overall

If I am ever sent to a desert island, I hope there will be WiFi. If there isn’t, I’ll include it in one of the three things that I’m allowed to bring with me. Thinking this through, I’ll need a tablet for surfing the web, as well as taking, processing and uploading images. I’ll need a source of power too. That’s my entire list of three things immediately taken care of. No room for chocolate or coffee. Still, it does keep me taking pictures and it opens up a window to the world to see what everyone else is doing in my absence*. Specifically, I could still get my daily fix of The Online Photographer. If I couldn’t, I’m not sure I could survive**.

TOP, as the site is affectionately known among its community, is a gem of a blog. Mike Johnston’s writing is witty, clear, illuminating and wonderful. His personality oozes from its pixels and he has built a loyal and mutually respectful community around his personal brand of photography commentary. His stance is grown-up, considered and thoughtful. His grammar is perfect. He doesn’t use exclamation marks at the end of every third sentence and knows how a semi-colon operates. Most importantly for me, he talks about the kind of photography I like.

I write for TOP every now and then. This is from last week: The Danger of Revisiting Your Work.***

* I think this makes me not a very good candidate for a desert island sojourn.
** Re: the first note: That pretty much clinches it, doesn’t it?
*** I rewrote this paragraph several weeks after it first appeared. I realised that the first iteration was awful “humblebrag” – a phrase I picked up on TOP. Here’s what I published before: “I’m lucky that Mike lets me write for TOP every now and then. It’s a buzz when a submission gets through. He’s an excellent editor and guards against substandard material. I learn a lot when he rejects a piece. Last week, though, he let one through: The Danger of Revisiting Your Work.”

Documentary Photography, Podcast

The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 17: Denis Balibouse and the Gruyere Cheese Makers

Speaking purely from a selfish point of view: I could happily live out the rest of my days producing documentary photographs and films about artisan food producers. Being around them is inspirational. Their knowledge, skill and passion is infectious. Moreover, I like my food.

Gruyere cheese being made © 2013 Denis Balibouse
© 2013 Denis Balibouse

You can imagine, then, how excited I was when I came across the photographs and video that Reuters photographer Denis Balibouse produced of Gruyère cheese makers. He spent time with the Murith family between May and October last year documenting the making of Gruyère cheese on the mountainside. The experience challenged his assumptions about cheese making and traditional aspects of Swiss life, which he thought were under threat.

In our conversation, we talk about some of the fundamentals of documentary photography such as access and respecting your subject’s integrity and rights. We also look at the rise of video and its importance for us as documentary photographers.


Denis’ website
Denis’ blog post about his experience
Denis’ post on the  Reuters blog with video

Documentary Photography

The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 16: Brian David Stevens and the Meaningful Landscape

It’s been so long since I spent time on The Documentary Photographer, I sometimes forget I host it. Really, that’s not good enough and my ambition in 2014 is to bring the podcast back on track. I love documentary photography, it is where my photographic heart lies, and I learn so much when I get to speak with other photographers about it.

This interview with Brian David Stevens was recorded just over a year ago in London. In fact, it was on the same day that I spoke with Gina Glover. Life, work, stuff all got in the way of it being edited and broadcast. I lost my mojo a bit as well. 2013 was a hard year.

Let’s not dwell on all that.

Instead, let’s dwell on Brian and his work. He speaks eloquently and thoughtfully about his work and approach to photography and his subjects. We meander through landscape photography, street photography and documentary photography as sub-genres of photography. We talk realism, truth and meaning, as well as building meaningful relationships with your human subjects when they are very different from you.

Brian’s interests are varied, covering seascapes to graffiti artists, yet there is a coherence. Often Brian collaborates. Either with his subjects or by working with others on a project, a poet for instance. His work is about dialogue. Landscapes are revealed to have human meaning due to events that happened there – the interplay between image and words creates a deeper story.

Documentary Photography

Fundraiser: The Syria Print Sale

NOTE: This is a repost of a recent entry to my blog that accompanies The Documentary Photographer podcast. It is here to help raise awareness of an initiative to raise money for Médecins sans Frontieres work in Syria.

Earlier this year, Christian Payne, a good and conscientious man, went to Syria to tell the stories of people like you and me – except they weren’t quite like you and me. Their lives had been destroyed by the civil war. Christian’s tale is a moving one. You can listen to it in episode 14 of The Documentary Photographer podcast, or experience it on his blog (the post titled Towards Syria is a good place to start).

Following our conversation, I approached a number of the photographers who had been interviewed on the podcast about contributing prints to a sale to raise money for some form of aid in Syria. Gina Glover and David Creedon readily agreed.

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