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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

random conversations #10

Me: So what do you think? Do you have to be friends with the people you photograph?

L: Course not. You have to be neutral. If you end up being friends with the people you photograph, then it's just life style photography of you hanging out with your mates or your family or your child and you don't want to mess them up by showing them in a bad light. The end result is more of the same-old same-old.

Me: So what if you don't like the people you're photographing?

L: If you don't like the people you're photographing everything just becomes a pain and a drag. And you jeapordise your integrity in a different way.

Me: But loads of great pictures are made by people who don't like the people they're photographing.

L: Such as?

Me: I dunno. Robert Frank?

L: It's the other way round. The people Frank was photographing didn't like him. That's completely different. People like Frank and the good street photographers antagonised their subjects just because of who they where - that's why they got all those good pictures of people staring at them looking antagonised. The meaning of good street photography is people looking pissed off. Isn't that why you like Mark Cohen and Bruce Gilden so much. The whimsical shit with happy people is just whimsical shit. Unless it's Winogrand, then it's not whimsy.

Me: How about stuff like Larry Fink. He didn't like the rich people in Social Graces.

L: But it shows too much. He's bringing his own agenda to the table and lays it on a bit too thick for my liking.

Me: Not thick enough for mine. Don't you think that we need more photographers who are antagonistic to what they photograph, who crank it up?

L: It depends what they're being antagonistic towards. I don't see too much antagonism in anyone's photographs. Mostly I hear people trying to be respectful and not stereotype what they photograph. Or being neutral which is even worse. Nobody is bringing anything to the table except in a lame concerned photography kind of way - or there doing the hipster let's get as semi-naked as your exhibitionism allows shit. I see lots of people trying to be friendly to their subjects - you know, the homeless, the poor and the like. Trying to show how much they understand them, trying to put the positive spin on something that isn't really positive...

Me: And you think they shouldn't?

L: It's not that I think they shouldn't, it's just that it's really rather tiresome. I wish people wouldn't try to be friends with the people they photographed, because then all you're going to do is get out there and go to people who are friendly and kind and don't do any harm - so the poor, disenfranchised victims of the world. And it becomes victim photography with a big Evil Wrongdoer who is never shown but is always there. The Concerned Photographer Bogeyman. Well if there is a bogeyman, why not go out and photograph him. I wish photographers would have fewer social skills and rub people up the wrong way more.

Me: Fewer social skills? You pulling my chain?

L: No. Photographers should be searching out the bullies, the thieves, the liars and the powerful and showing them up for what they are.

Me: What, like the paparazzi.

L: Yes, but with different subjects. Less of the celebrity on the bread and circuses ride, more the hidden power.

Me: People do that already.

L: Mmm, so they say, but I mean really hit the spot of getting at the evil and powerful. If only to offset the constant demonisation of the poor, the fair and the just.

Me: But what if photographers are the rich and powerful.

L: That's part of the problem.

Me: So it's back to street photographers antagonising the passers by.

L: That's it. What do you think anyway?

Me: I don't know. I've forgotten. What were we talking about?

L: Your favourite biscuits. Top 5. Jaffa Cakes not allowed.


Morganna Magee said...

Colin you are reading my mind with these conversations! I have been pondering the pros and cons of becoming freinds with the people I photograph a lot this week. I've kind of concluded it's a good thing both for my ethics and my photography to become as close as i can with the people in my photos. It makes everything feel like an equal exchange somehow, and certainly makes me feel less parasitic.

tim atherton said...

TimTams or Penguins... (easier to get TimTams in Canada, but Penguins show up at strange inexplicable intervals on our local supermarket shelves)

tim atherton said...

BTW I'd love to see more photography where the photographer wasn't trying to be or pretending to be neutral, but where instead opinionated, angry and yeah - even antagonostic.

Do they have the whole current Hipster phenomenon in the UK like they do across here in Canada and the US:


I'd love to see a really good set of photos from someone who justed hates Hipsters and their lifestyle.

tim atherton said...


Hate and dislike going both ways...?

colin pantall said...

Thanks MnM - these random conversations are called that for a reason but I think, on balance, being friends is much, much better for everybody. But, but, but...

Thanks Tim - I was thinking of the Goebels picture. Timtams are far superior to Penguins which don't even have the sandwich bit anymore. I'm not sure if we have the hipster thing exactly, but there are things that are near enough whilst also being completely different - annoying being the word?