8 Ways to Change the World

After having read through an article titled ‘Seeing and Believing’ written by Max Houghton (2005) I feel I have procured a better idea of the challenges facing non-governmental organisations in changing the way they raise awareness about the people they aid.

Houghton calls for an inward revolution for the way NGOs manage those more fortunate’s perceptions of those less fortunate – those less fortunate being the people non-governmental organisations aid. One way Paul Lowe, lecturer at LCC, suggests this can be done is for NGOs concentrate at least some of their efforts on local photographers who know their own country and inhabitants better: ‘It’s most significant to use indigenous photographers to represent their own country when there is no local voice at all, so all we ever get is a western point of view.’ – (Lowe, n.d.). However, there is a danger, Shahidul Alam of Drik agency in Bangladesh fears, where by teaching the local people photography’s (documentary) language, the local photographers will become just another occidental photographer since the style of documentary or reportage was founded in the first half of the 20th century by westerners. ‘The danger therefore, is of becoming a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and eventually of becoming a wolf.’ – Alam ominously concludes. This is backed up by Adrian Evans, director of Panos Pictures in London, who states: ‘You can’t simply work with indigenous photographers because it’s ethically sound if they are not skilled up enough to do the work’ – (Evans, n.d.). Joseph Cabon concedes he prefers woking with people he has already met or in other words: is ‘more cautious about using people he hasn’t met face-to-face’. While I understand this reservation especially as Cabon is also looking for projects: ‘that would really inspire and challenge the photographers, rather than having them come back with yet another set that could have been taken four or five years ago’ – (Cabon, n.d.), I would say indigenous photographers could do something similar also.

My proposal would be to allow the indigenous photographers to work in there own styles but with an emphasis (perhaps on behalf of the people who eventually publish their work) on representing the people they photograph as people with hope and ‘evoke not pity but understanding’ and in creative ways, as was the case with Chris de Bode’s work for VSO in the exhibition ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ curated by Adrian Evans.

 

Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 1 - 8 Ways to Change the World - Chris de Bode
Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 1 – 8 Ways to Change the World – Chris de Bode

I also looked at the colour documentary photographers work for the ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ exhibition curated by Adrian Evans and three colour documentary photographers work stood out for me which I have tried to compare.

Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 2 - 8 Ways to Change the World - Chris de Bode
Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 2 – 8 Ways to Change the World – Chris de Bode

With extra information comes extra complications I have found when looking at the ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ exhibition by Panos Pictures. From this I mean that the extra information colour brings (which might be why it is the more prevalent medium in today’s documentary photography) also adds confusion for the viewer as they have more to take in. Not only is there composition and light to take in but now colour as well. Zed Nelson somewhat mitigates this fact by employing a shallow depth of field in some of his portraits so the viewer is clear what is the main subject of the photograph. In trying to work out why I felt Chris de Bode’s photographs work better (as they are) in colour than they might have been in black and white I could see that it was less the use of colour relationships as I was expecting the answer to be. Instead it was more the placement of the main subject compositionally in the frame (usually the centre), the amount of information present but which was reduced by isolating the subject from the rest of the frame and finally the interesting subject matter.

Action Aid Commission - 8 Ways to Change the World - Adam Hinton
Action Aid Commission – 8 Ways to Change the World – Adam Hinton

In contrast to the two aforementioned photographers, Adam Hinton, uses a much darker aperture (presumably to get the whole frame in focus) and almost a snapshot aesthetic which is objective in style and rich in information. I felt he carefully placed his subjects in the frame or filled his frame by paying attention to detail. This elevated his work out of the snapshot photograph. However it was less reactive and subjective than Chris de Bode’s and more factual and formal. In my opinion Zed Nelson’s work sits somewhere in between by employing similar strategies to de Bode’s and Hinton’s photography. However I liked de Bode’s way of seeing best as it seemed slightly more human, especially with regards to the ‘reactive’, unformulated poses and aesthetically-pleasing compositions.

References:

de Bode, C. (2005). Eight Ways to Change the World. [online] Chris de Bode. Available at: http://www.chrisdebode.com/stories#/eight-ways/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].

Hinton, A. (2005). Adam Hinton. [online] Adamhinton.net. Available at: http://www.adamhinton.net/commission#project [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].

Houghton, M. (2005). Volume 4 Number 3. [online] issuu. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/vol4no3 [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017], pp. 34-37.

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