Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man” exhibition

a colourful symbol that appears on the book cover and at the end of the exhibition

a colourful symbol that appears on the book cover and at the end of the exhibition

 

BEFORE

It feels a litle strange to be visiting an exhibition that was first opened to the public in 1955. “The Family of Man” was launched at the MOMA in New York which later travelled around the world, being seen by millions of people. Interestingly, one can still see it today in Luxembourg where the gallery has recently been refurbished; I wonder if the latest version differs from the initial one and if so in what way.

The exhibition of “The Family of Man” was considered landmark for different reasons. No such exhibition had been attempted before, an exhibition that encompassed the globe in subject matter and discussed humanity at large, revealing the potential of photography yet also, as critics have pointed out, demeaning photography by making it a conveyor of information rather than an art in its’ own right wherein the wider intention of the photographer is recognised.

a photo used more than once in the exhibition that also appears on the cover of the catalogue

a photo used more than once in the exhibition that also appears on the cover of the catalogue

It is not easy for me to comment at the present time since although I have looked through the book which is a catalogue of the exhibition and has itself sold millions, I am yet to see the exhibition itself. However, looking at the photograph on the cover of The Family of Man book, I find myself reading it in a way that is far from complimentary. There are two smiling children in this black and white subtly sepia toned photograph which was taken by Eugene Harris; the caption “Popular Photography” tells us nothing about the content of the image other than it appeared in a magazine of that name. Yet one might guess that it was taken in South America because the children are dressed in a particular way as well as holding an instrument, a bamboo pipe, that one finds in that part of the world. (In the exhibition, there is a quote underneath the picture that references the Pueblo Indians who are actually from the South West of North America). One appears to play upon a pipe yet the smiling lips and eyes suggest otherwise as does the grinning face in the background. The situation here seems to be of a photographer from outside the community who has come across a couple of poor children whom he wishes to represent in a particular light, in which the message “poor but happy” is encoded, just the kind of platitude that will satisfy the mostly rich people who will view this image. The idea then is of a false humanity, one that exists in the minds of those who would like it to be that particular way. One can not help but recall the excesses of the “American Dream” and its’ readiness to promote an exaggerated experience of happiness as often pictured in advertising. There is of course much more to this exhibition that a single image and most of the photographs don’t appear to be so contrived.

The exhibition space in Luxembourg is a reconstruction of the original MOMA exhibition space that had been designed by an architect

The exhibition space in Luxembourg is a reconstruction of the original MOMA exhibition space that had been designed by an architect

One interesting aspect is the way the viewing space was originally designed by an architect yet I wait to see if this has been done in the same way in Luxembourg. Certainly, one expects to see an elaborate arrangement of photographs. Writing in Aperture magazine at the time, Barbara Morgan contributed a piece entitled “The theme show: a contemporary exhibition technique” in which she described the method of presenting the photographs which at the time was developing although nowadays might be considered standard practice. Referring to both the cinema with its’ rapid show of still photographs and the book where one can sift through photographs at ones’ own place … “Here pictures are still and the viewers pass before them. Yet this beggars the case, for scale and arrangement give illusion of movement: large pictures seeming to advance, the small to retreat; grouping of several photographs into small constellations build up a meaning, and as the spectator grasps the meaning of one group he can relate it to the meaning of other constellations. This interplay gives the sense of movement to his mind. Like voices of a fugue, one thematic group can answer another group. Continuing the comparison to music, layout can produce a kind of orchestration, and this orchestration can be richly enjoyed by those accustomed to relating groups of photographs, both as to meaning and their elements of form such as line, tone values, lighting – and texture.”

One starts to get a sense of the enormous vision of this exhibition when one considers that from over 2,000,000 photographs submitted, some 10,000 photographs were selected and from these, 503 photographs from 68 countries by 273 photographers, both male and female, professional and amateur. The selection process in itself represents a considerable achievement!

Another interesting touch to this exhibition is the use of literary quotes from around the world; hence, we read wise words from the Chinese sage Lao-Tzu as well as by Plato, the Greek philosopher with authors such as James Joyce being quoted making this exhibition a combination of artistic expressions. Dorothy Norman who was responsible for the captioning wrote in Aperture magazine, “I found that in choosing captions, the great and universal words of the great writers of all times were applicable to the various panels having to do with creation, birth, love, work, death, justice, the search for knowledge, relationships – both personal and seemingly impersonal – democracy, peace, opposition to brutality and slaughter – to all of the basic themes with which the exhibition is concerned.”

For Norman, she “respected enormously the “idea” on which the exhibition was based, and the passion with which Steichen “lived” what he was attempting to create all day, and far into the night, selflessly, devotedly.”

This is perhaps enough now from myself who has yet to see the exhibition and does not want to prejudge it. Yet a certain amount of research beforehand can help one to see so much more of an exhibition that might be viewed more than once. I am expecting to do a morning and an afternoon visit tomorrow although my friends may have other plans. There might of course be more literature to consume on the subject of “The Family of Man” since mine only comes from the introduction to the catalogue and a few articles from Aperture Magazine at the time. What for instance, would be a post-modern understanding of this exhibition?

AFTER

It would have been a mistake to have written about this exhibition without actually seeing it. The way it has been presented in the gallery is important and one needs to experience this as a physical space. Hence, I found myself in the company of two friends with whom I made the journey to Clervaux Castle in the European state of Luxembourg where the exhibition has been enshrined.

On the journey there, we had a heated discussion about colonialism and on the way back, another about religion, in particular Christianity and Buddhism. I shan’t go into the various arguements that were put forth but I could not help but feel they were partly inspired by The Family of Man exhibition which does make one consider the way the world is, even though nearly 70 years has passed since it was first exhibited.

children play on a tank in the grounds of Clervaux Castle which was destroyed during World War 2 since when it has been rebuilt

children play on a tank in the grounds of Clervaux Castle which was destroyed during World War 2 since when it has been rebuilt

Edward Steichen was American but his native country was Luxembourg and so by mummifying The Family of Man exhibition in his homeland, he was paying a debt of gratitude. However, there is surely a more poignant reason for the exhibition being situated here since the area lies between Germany and France in the Ardennes and there was bitter fighting here during the Second World War, particularly in the Battle of the Bulge. The castle itself was destroyed and the present building is a reconstruction of that. Looking around the village, one sees that it must have also been levelled by warfare since the architecture is almost entirely modern. Even the “Bistro 1865”, in the centre of the town, where we eat lunch before seeing the exhibition, looks modern and is perhaps a deliberate attempt to give a sense of history to this settlement.

blog author, Amano, with Tibetan friend, Palyang at the entrance to the exhibition

blog author, Amano, with Tibetan friend, Palyang at the entrance to the exhibition

We walked up to the castle and into its’ interior where we were able to buy tickets to see the exhibition; these came with a mini iPad that did not talk so much about the individual photographs rather the context of the exhibition. This was helpful but one can not forget that this exhibition is made up of a lot of great photographs, many of which can stand alone; their inclusion in the exhibition is perhaps to demean their worth yet this exhibition was not created to massage artists’ egos rather to make a statement of universal importance.

According to Carl Sandburg, it is the “Story of what it means to be and become human.” The exhibition avoids anti-war rhetoric although the planet was only just begining to recover from the Second World War and all the suffering that had brought in its’ wake. The idea that man is as one, woman is as one and child is as one, is perhaps not just an over-simplification but a misunderstanding of the need for individuality.

There are a number of quotes from The Holy Bible which helps to give a more universal feeling to the message of the exhibition. These include quotes from Genesis and although the Bhagavad Gita is also referenced, one can not help but sense a Judaeo-Christian limitation to the vision. There has been criticism of the political nature of the project. Might this exhibition be seen as American imperialism? One could ask similar questions about the role of the United Nations today. For many, millions in fact, there is the possibility of seeing beyond inevitable limitations to the bigger picture this exhibition presents. A simple question this exhibition asks is “What does it means to be human?” Nowadays, the literature of countries from around the world is available at the click of a button; in the 1950s there was much less understanding of the way people from more distant countries thought. However, one can not help but see this exhibition as propraganda; it was certainly used as such particularly during the Cold War with a particularly long stay in Moscow.

photographs of families, a central part of the exhibition

photographs of families, a central part of the exhibition

This exhibition also made a statement about photography with its’ role as a universal language being convincingly demonstrated. Although Steichen was accused of being more an editor than a curator, his use of modern techniques of exhibiting photographs is quite remarkable even by todays’ standards. He does not ask the viewer to work around a series of images, one by one, but to see them as part of a whole; of course, this was another blow to some who saw photography as art and wanted to it to be venerated as such in a traditional way. Steichen in creating a layout for the images was determining both the frame and size of photographs as well as sequencing them to tell a story not so much in a linear fashion with a straightforward storyline but as a story that inter-connected in different ways. For instance, there was a central stand of photographs in one room showing different families from around the world; from this central theme of “The Family of Man” there radiate other story lines.

Interestingly, the context of images is not given; there are no captions describing the content of the image rather merely titles that mention the name of the photographer and the source of the photograph such as the agency that supplied it. This absence of contextualisation allows the meaning to rest in the eye of the beholder. Steichen was responding to mass interest rather than the, by then, established art of photography. His editorial approach was contemporary and while the absence of captions might have disturbed some, it does lend a timelessness to the exhibition and is one reason why it still survives to this day.

Of the exhibition, Steichen wrote that ” … instead of making pretty pictures or technically perfect pictures, we are going out to get life” and further, “On the one side, we overintellectuallise everything; on the other, we are overmechanised. We can understand the danger of the atom bomb, but the danger of our misunderstanding the meaning of life is much more serious.” These quotations are from a series of interviews with different people that are found in “Wisdom: Conversations with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day” edited by James Nelson, (New York, 1958)

Further, for Steichen the exhibition was to reveal the experience of life with “a positive approach toward human attributes” using the revelatory approach of photography that shows life behind the surface of things; it was a conscious choice to generalise the human condition. Steichen was above all concerned with what we have in common rather than our differences.

This photograph by Eugene Smith remains one of my favourite photographs; it came at the end of the exhibition

This photograph by Eugene Smith remains one of my favourite photographs; it came at the end of the exhibition

Although the contemporary photographer and critic, Minor White who was editor of the influential Aperture magazine, was later to describe the exhibition as “schmaltz”, he did recognise that “Some of it … was really magnificent aesthetically.”

With the passing of time, the exhibition has lost specific historical references intended by Steichen yet is still ” a deply moving experience for many of the 9 million viewers worldwide” (now many more than 9 million and still growing) even if it is guilty of “sentimental humanism”.

One might of course, merely see the exhibition in terms of the images ii shows and there are some great ones here including one of my favoutites. This shows a couple of children, a young girl and a slightly older boy, presumably her brother, emerging from the shelter of vegetation and into sunlight; interestingly, this famous image by Eugene Smith has been shot from behind so we do not see the children’s faces rather our attention is focused on their togertheness. They are perhaps emerging from the womb of chilhood suggested by the undergrowth into the reality of life. For me the image has personal references yet the universality of the images’ connotation is something many can surely relate to. This is the final image of the show yet it could have been one of the first; it mirrors the viewers’ passage through the protective space the many images are shown in, and the viewers’ return to the everyday world where the message of The Family of Man is still a relevant one.

another view of the reconstructed exhibition space

another view of the reconstructed exhibition space

It is difficult to make general statements about this exhibition; so much has already been said and there are so many different elements to consider. I do find it a little optimistic, a reaction to the horror of the war years perhaps; I don’t see that humanity will ever be a family and a reading of Freud and his successors would surely be enough to convince one that this might not be desirable. There can neither be a religion of man or a commune of man yet humanity does have so much in common and this exhibition succeeds in communicating that. The poetry of the imagery aided by significant quotes further strengthens the case put forward by photography and in spite of political undertones as well as a rather heavy handed approach to the art of photography, it would surely be a mistake to dismiss a body of work like this that has reached millions.

Personally, I find it a refreshing approach in todays’ atmosphere of art photography in which meanings are often difficult to elucidate and audiences consequently much smaller.

Hans Craen looks at photographs in The Family

Hans Craen looks at photographs in The Family

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Family of Man catalogue

More recent criticism – Family of Man 1955-2001: Humanism and Postmodernism: A Reappraisal of the Photo Exhibition by Edward Steichen (various authors)

Aperture Anthology

Picturing an Exhibition : Family of Man and 1950s America

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Only in England – photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

foyer entry to the Science Museum

foyer entry to the Science Museum

This was an exhibition I had earmarked and expected to see in Bradford yet in the end, needed to make time to see before it closed in London. The Science Museum seems an unusual place to visit such an exhibition that has no apparent scientific connection other than the camera being a mechanical device; the museum however have opened their own media space which is directly connected to the National Media Museum in Bradford so perhaps Londoners might see more of their colllections on show in London.

I am familiar with the work of Martin Parr, one of the first photographers I came into contact with almost 25 years ago now; he was not so well known then and had just been accepted as an associate of Magnum after some severe opposition. Tony Ray-Jones is quite new to me although I have heard his name before and am familiar with his iconic photograph, Glyndebourne 1967, of a couple enjoying a lavish picnic while cows loom in the background.

Before this exhibition, I bought a copy of Parr’s The Non-Conformists which shows early black and white work. There is a satirical eye here, the two elderly women asleep in a Methodist church, their bodies conterbalancing each other, is one example; this trait Parr was to develop into a more sophisticated sense of irony in his later work often troubling some by its directness.

Tony Ray-Jones who developed his talents in the New York photography scene,, set out to capture ‘the English attachment to tradition and custom at a time he felt England was losing its cultural identity because of enroaching “Americanisation”.’

The eccentricity of English life at that time is something that Ray-Jones has captured making the viewing of his photographs an enjoyable experience. Yet there is a melancholic feel to them as one reflects that this is a time that has passed and although such habits and customs do continue, they do so in a more banal and self-conscious way. The prints on show here were made by Tony Ray-Jones and I wonder what they might look like if the negatives, assuming they have survived, were scanned and printed digitally.

It is interesting to see Ray-Jones’ notes which reveal planning not just the work he wanted to undertake but how his life might pan out at that time. The fact he died a few years later adds a tragic note to the inherent melancholy of times past.

Inside the Only in England exhibition

Inside the Only in England exhibition

Parr’s exhibited work although emulating similar subject matter to Ray-Jones is not so wide in scope; he has focused on a single community and represented it in depth. The humour is questionable though; are we being asked to laugh at these people and their way of life? For instance, the photograph entitled “Congregation making their way to the Grimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel Anniversary Service, 1975” shows a line of women walking alongside each other as a large cow looks over a wall in their direction; the common insult of referring to women as cows which was prevalent at this time can not be easily ignored. Yet the photographer is not affirming this analogy rather he is drawing attention to it.

There is a booth that runs a short movie by Nick Street called Only in England. This shows Martin Parr discussing his own work and that of an early influence, Tony Ray-Jones who photographed English social life as theatre, something that he had leant while part of the Brodovitch group in New York. The seaside town was a favoutire subject of Ray-Jones and in some places still survives much as it did fourty years ago. “Spatial” is a word that Parr uses to describe a quality of Ray-Jones’ work that he feels he has mirrored. “Ray-Jones sought to distance his subjects from each other in the frame, while creating balance and harmony within the photograph. Pushing the subjects, or their attention, to the edges, yet including a detail that draws our attention back into the photograph is a rare skill; one which Parr suggests Ray-Jones may not have recognised himself.”

In the third section, one sees work by Ray-Jones that has been printed up by Martin Parr who has made his own selection from some 2500 contacts. Some things never change such as the habit of carrying flowers away from The Chelsea Flower Show seen here in 1967 and seen every year on BBC TV.

view of Exhibition Road from the Science Museum

view of Exhibition Road from the Science Museum

OCA study day at landscape exhibition at the Ffotogallery in Cardiff 28’th Feb 2014

This was a visit based around an exhibition of landscape photography at The Ffotogallery

Image

The OCA group at Ffotogallery

 John Umney, a fellow student, considers that landscape is bound to have a political connotation!? I wonder if this is so while remembering Burke who wrote about the sublime and was also a politician. After a brief glimpse of the work on show, am reminded of the beautiful and the sublime.
You make the path by walking” is a series of photos referring to a path walked by Paul Gaffney. The book came first and then there was the offer of an exhibition from Ffotogallery. The presentation avoids direct references to where places actually are.
Michal Iwanowski has made a body of photographs around a journey from Russia, Belarus and Lithuania to Poland by foot and bicycle. Based on the diary of a journey made by his grandfather and father from the Russian Gulags. The exhibition title, “Clear of People“, comes from this diary.
The photographs lack the strong contrast associated with much photographic work; this gives them a certain softness and makes them look more like real life.
Tutor, Jesse Alexander, is the author of the OCA Landscape module; Gaffney is a former pupil of his from Newport while Michal Iwanowski studied alongside Jesse.
“With the exhibition rather than the book, one is able to make one’s own journey through the images!” – another pearl of wisdom fom John Umney !??
Both exhibitions are edits of their books but also contain images not in the book.
Michal Iwanowski has a lot of branches in his images! This leads one student, Anna Goodchild, to remember a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called The Panther …

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Paul Gaffney did not hang photos at same level; this helps to avoid a linear reading of his work and to introduce movement within the reading. Looking philosophically at the path; images reveal different kinds of path. He wants the viewer to follow a certain journey while walking around exhibition. No glass over the photos helps to see them more clearly. Photos relate to the exhibition space.
Image
A couple of photos show an almost lost path; poet Robert Frost “The Path Untrodden”. Pastely colours. In some, texture made by leaves important. Images visually linked yet each one suggests a certain idea or mood. Not a chronological ordering. Contemplative approach. Individual readings of images possible as aspects of the path. In all, he walked about 2,000 miles. Practices Vipassana and found this work as an expression of that. Suggested that making a photo is an interruption to the flow of things. Flatness, harshness to these cold images? No sunlight, diffused light. Book of exhibition still available but no longer from artist. Zen quality. Texture not glazing. Gaffney prervisualised the exhibition space so knew what he wanted to do. First three images refer to an obstructed path.
After seeing the exhibition, we start to look at each other’s work!

Does one expose for maximum detail or for creative effect? I suggest former by metring off highlights rather than going for the ceative effect which can be done later. The tutors however suggest that going for creative effect is better; I can’t help but think that this is a more film orientated approach when the original rather than a copy was sent to the editor! One can of course do both since one needs to retain both detail and one’s impression of how the scene might be seen. Ansel Adams made the allegory of the capture being the score and the finished product the interpretation or performance of that score.

Exercises are about tutors seeing you have done the work; assignments are judged in terms of marks. OCA study days often come around to discussing the way the system of learning works.

Level 2 more intellectually challenging than technically demanding. Exercises are tasks that need understanding but do not expect great results; they support you in your practice of photography. Processing a RAW file is a skill that needs learning but not a part of the written course as software keeps changing. There are a lot of technical online tutorials to help one with this part of the learning process.

The WOW factor in photography. Capitalist model of photography encourages this as images need instant appeal to sell themselves to the customer.

OCA course about exploring photography and not getting too bogged down.
Two new photographic courses at Level 1

OCA course has become more academic but then photography itself has become more conceptual. Theoretical considerations can be overwhelming yet have their place.

Show my Somerset Levels photos (the others seem more interested in this than the possibility of Western Tibet) and explain that it a landscape project rather than a social documentary approach focusing on people … it shows images of the flooded Somerset Levels followed by rephotographs of the same locations when the water has gone and Spring has come. There is feedback …

aesthetically appealing, beautiful images but serious theme underlying 

REF Simon Norfolk beautiful seascapes with unsettling captions … 

images don’t need people; avoid cliched “Points West” images 
what about photographing the mundane effects of flooding? not really part of what this project is about but a possible approach is to photograph the after effects of the flooding as well as the same landscapes in the Spring/Summer

OCA course about groups of images rather than the singular image

John mentions Michael Ackerman who uses film thereafter creating books

captions need to relate directly to the images and reflect their meaning

 

meeting Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman signing books

Michael Freeman signing books

Recently, March 1’st 2014 to be exact, I went to listen to Michael Freeman talking; I have read several of his books as well as doing four modules of the university course he has written for The Open College of the Arts. Owing to difficulty in obtaining a ticket for The Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham where Michael was talking, I arrived about 10 minutes late for the talk but what follows is my understanding of “Off the beaten track” which was the title of the talk in which Michael described an approach to travel photography that is still viable in a world where photographers have been everywhere and once distant locations have become easily accessible tourist sites.

MF was dressed in jeans with an open-necked shirt and a polar necked vest underneath to protect him from the English winter; he also wore a jacket which landed an atmosphere of respectability to someone who is often dressed for the wilds.
He talks about Angkor … when MF first went there, the place was booby trapped at night because the Khmer Rouge were coming in at night. MF is talking about the coverage he did of this area when the troubles were still on-going and the tourists has not yet arrived. He now find it has become too touristy with herds of tourists being shepherded around. MF has been blamed for this since he was the first photographer to come here and make a book of the place and hence publicise it. There are temples other than Angkor Wat that are not so frequently visited.
Another place he photographed was in Pakistan – it is no longer possible to visit this region.
For awhile, he photographed in a Thai village, covering all the intimate goings on and way of life that no longer exists. This was among the Akar community who are also found in Yunnan.
Nowadays, where is there a track that is not beaten? A lot of superb photographs can be made by anyone who can reach the destination yet one can not “own” the landscape!? Yet can one still shoot virgin territory?
MF makes three suggestions …
1. Go Further
2. Make a story of it
3. Investigate the spaces in-between
1. A lot of views now filled with tourists and vendors yet nearby there may be something similar and worthwhile. Honeypot theory of tourism means that the industry focuses on certain places and keeps people going to just these places as it is too difficult to have them going elsewhere.
One can go further afield but downside is that it can be costly.
 (I wonder if MF’s approach to photography is a rather cynical one; his knowledgeability seems both a blessing and a curse … !?)
 he talks about buttering up local officials for help … !!
 On the subject of Japanese snow monkeys he mentions the matter of “Approaching them without compromising them” yet there is often a crowd of photographers around the place so this idea might not make a lot of sense.
MF’s book on Sudan. Working with writers who saw the country as more than a terrorist state. Difficult to find a publisher as people would not be interested in the subject. MF and writers had to finance it’s publication. Whirling Dervishes in Sudan who MF photographed feature on front cover. Different scenes such as notaries, inside hospitals, camels in desert, fallen statues, Baobab Trees, refugee camps, cotton planations, immigrant workers, people who had lost limbs, tribal peoples, effect of NGOs, cattle, music, landscapes of distant largely unknown areas, places under guerilla warfare
China, village near Lijang where hardly anyone goes. Have their own dialect. 5 hour “rule’ limit to a days expedition of photography
2. The second point MF made was to “Tell a story “
Another example of this is a work by MF on the The Tea Horse Road – ancient trade route – unheard of in West
a photobook is an extended picture story
 A typical narrative structure as in book “The Photographer’s Story”
 Structure is the key to everything
     Planning
     Shooting
     Editing
     Layout
 MF also included video in his presentation alongside stills
 uses an infra-red altered camera to show biodiversity
 MF a canny Northerner? Must meet a lot of people who want to be part of what he is doing rather than find their own way!! well constructed images, documentary approach
 Sudan book has a wide range of subject matter – from tea and the way it is grown and consumed, villages along trade route, landscape, people, mode of transport, different ethnic groups, old people with stories, bridges, customs, food, religion, trades, regional differences etc
 3. Spaces between the obvious
 e.g. strange kinds of food such as Tarantula with garlic and other insects, Water Buffalo penises, snakes, foetuses,
 cities have well recognised tourist sites but can be more interesting views nearby
 time lapse photography showing people on street, shadow from sun moving over building etc
with street photography not time to ask
wait before shooting, get acclimatised to situation
 technical edit – photo of foot etc can go BUT poorly exposed photos can be worked on with ACR
 MF is very good at creating terminology
 “If one is appearing to show reality, need to work on images … respond to audience’s expectation of reality!” a significant point I feel.
Sometime after his talk, I meet  Michael at the ILEX (his publisher’s) stand in The Photography Show. I ask him to sign my copy of The photographer’s Mind pointing out that I am a student from the OCA and had won the book. Michael recognised Gareth Dent’s signature and kindly put his own in. He also signed a copy of his latest book “Capturing the Light”  which I had just bought. Michael is an intriguing character in the world of contemporary photography and has carved an interesting niche for himself. His ability to rationalise and communicate the photographic process seems unique and I am interested in many of the subjects he covers and marvel at his ability to construct photographs. He has more or less amicably parted company now with The Open College of the Arts which has gone for what he sees as a more traditional approach to art education. I enquire about his photographic workshops which are geared to developing what he calls …The Three Essential Skills For rewarding, satisfying photography, indeed to be a complete photographer, you need to have, and balance, three different kinds of skill. They are: technical, visual and conceptual. Technical skills are to do with camera handling, knowing about exposure, depth of field, processing pictures on the computer, and so on. Almost all books and websites about photography focus on these, and they’re essential – but only the beginning of the story, 

Visual skills are more about seeing, and appreciating, framing images in the viewfinder, and of course composition. This, frankly, is when photography stops being nerdy and starts to become fascinating. 

The third set of skills is conceptual. Are you aiming for beauty, drama, spectacle? Or perhaps you’re trying to persuade your audience of something. Or setting out to tell a story with your camera. Storytelling is probably the ultimate use of photography, where it joins the ranks of writers and film directors to give the audience the opportunity to inhabit, for a short while, another world. A world that photographers have the privilege to explore.

disabled photographer at The Photography Show

disabled photographer at The Photography Show