Introspection, shooting vid and the way forward….
‘I spent more than half my life in hotel rooms alone. There is a loneliness with that, but when I come home, I sometimes feel even more lonely. Even though I am in their (my family’s) physical midst, it becomes so clear how I feel neglected. They are not asking any questions, it’s just like: “Oh, Dad’s home. Bye, I gotta go. I got a date,” or “I am gonna hang with friends,” or “I have a soccer game or a baseball game.”’
‘Photographing the World, Longing for Home.’ – Ed Kashi’s Reflections on his Photos – in Diaries and Letters. (NY Times 21/03/12)
Recently updating my website and going through my News Spot section I found myself slightly deflated by my own pics .
I have seen my pics enough times now to shield myself from the worst elements mentally – even though looking at them all again still makes me grimace from time to time. It was actually mainly out of a sense of frustration at the limited nature of the work itself. I have been asking myself some soul-searching questions recently – both on a deeper and more practical level and the one glaring, inescapable truth is that the type of work I have done will not sustain me for much longer. When I did my photojournalism course at LCC in London I was motivated by 1 thing – and that was to go into war zones and the such and be that war photographer – Inspired by books such as Don McCullin’s ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’, Antony Lloyd’s ‘This War Gone By, I Miss it So’ and of course ‘The Bang Bang Club’ I craved to be shaken out of my North London existence and become – for lack of a better expression – a ‘Witness’ to world events.
A decade on and I’m def not so sure – Don’t want to dwell too long on the personal side – but at 35 yrs of age – and wanting to settle again 1 day, all the traveling will eventually either put a strain on any relationship – or more likely – there won’t be 1 at all – I don’t want to be that 55 year old in Moggie or Sudan or Nigeria on his own – far, far away from any point of reference. Apart from the loneliness it’s an extremely selfish and solipsistic way of life too.
Far more importantly – there just isn’t any money in news photography or photojournalism as a whole these days. Shooting for news agencies in particular – esp as a stringer – just isn’t worth it.
Tthe maths of shooting as a stringer just doesn’t make sense. You have to pay all costs to a dangerous location (which is usually very expensive) not to mention satellite links etc – and all for US$60 per pub. That’s crazy -and to be honest offensive. In terms of agencies and representation, apart from my Reuters stringer contract, I have recently re-signed a Getty contract and am signed to Polaris and AMO in SA. But while that all sounds great on paper – I sometimes wonder what the real worth is – I get by on commissions and library sales in gen with the agencies )the rest comes from NGO/UN commissions). I am in particular to expand library sales dramatically (Alamy is another great source that I am looking to in future) – but it will only ever bring in a certain level of income. I don’t want to be struggling in later life and running around while spreading myself thin – both physically and emotionally – As a business model it simply doesn’t make much sense any more (I would love to hear from people who disagree though).
I def want to be on the creative end of work which is why I took on the Masterclass as a way to try and expand my reach into more long-term artistic/abstract photog. projects.
With the Masterclass, delving into the world of long-term book projects and gallery exhibs has begun to bare some fruit on a personal and technical level of understanding – I shot the above images mainly as an academic project, to explore the world of more abstract photography although grounded in more underlying socio-economic trends and issues. They were shot in Mombasa on a housing estate and depict the hardship of life for the so-called African middle class. Without running water and sparse electricity and other basic amenities, I wanted to see how African traditional life and the social nature of life on the Continent came to fill that vacuum left behind by the absence of municipal authorities to provide the most basic of services.
I must admit – while I am pleased enough with the results to put them up on my website, coming up with ideas and the actual shooting of such projects I have found hard. I found myself when shooting this project constantly saying to myself – ‘what the hell am I doing?- I’m just wondering around an estate taking what feels like random pics.’
Coming very much and solidly from a journalistic background I immediately have a fundamental notion that if it ain’t newsworthy – it ain’t worth engaging. Unfortunately – I chose the 1 medium in the world of journalism that doesn’t pay too well these days (though I hear some of my colleagues from other mediums bitching as much as me these days). The career structure for photojournalism I find is more akin to that of acting than anything else in the journalistic world (ie a few minted people at the top and a mass of struggling morons below with no middle ground in between).
Which is where starting the filming and vid process comes in. While the economics of short doccies at the mo ain’t too amazing they are def far better than photography – in the long-term I am certain it will get better (as fast broadband becomes the norm worldwide) but more importantly – the possibility it offers in terms of avenues to do those old news stories I have such a good grasp on I feel are a lot better than with photojournalism.
Technically I have also always considered my traditional strengths to be in straight visual story-telling. I think creatively doccies are a better medium in a lot of ways for achieving this end (although some might disagree)…
Translating this though into actually shooting is a whole different story. The learning curve has been steep. At 35 it is a bit unsettling to start out again to learn a new medium but it’s def been worth it. I had a film-maker friend teach me the basics in terms of equipment and I feel pretty competent now at holding it all together on the shooting side (although my audio knowledge – outside of positioning the various mics and managing the different sound channels – is pretty much limited to making sure the green bar thingy doesn’t become a red bar thingy on the Zoom).
I have found large stumbling blocks along the way and am a bit nervous but feel almost ready to plunge in. The largest problem has been my choice of subject for my first project. Instead of opting for simple subject matter – like the eccentric fellow who owns the antique shop down the road – Me being me, I just couldn’t resist taking on a subject that has mushroomed into encompassing 2 large SA Government Departments, an assortment of NGO’s and high ranking officers in SAPS (South African Police Service). While my friend who gave me a bit of tutoring is completely from the ‘let the script and structure grow organically’ school of doccie thought, given the largesse and gravity of the subject matter I am undertaking, I def don’t want to go down that route (as someone once said – it gets a lot more confusing once you start shooting anything).
I have been immersing myself in reading up about pre/post-shooting scripts, shot lists and paper edits etc at the mo (although I’m almost certain I’ll go in with a general pre-shooting script and develop it organically as I go along into a tight post-shooting script for the forthcoming vid project). It has helped that I have rather randomly done a film script writing course with a Hollywood scriptwriter in the past (it’s a bit unnerving how the fundamental building blocks of fact and fictional film-making are so similar in many ways) but all the preparation in the world will almost def lead to problems at some point in the shoot. I promised myself I’d make this blog as blunt and truthful as possible so please key in for my next installment probably titled – ‘How NOT to go about shooting a short doccie’ or ‘How to destroy your reputation in a new medium in 5 minutes.’
Overall – I have large insecurities for the road ahead – it’s such a different road from the well-trodden one of the past but a necessary change is required but it’s also exciting in many ways. I guess as ex-South African President F W De Klerk once famously declared, you have to ‘adapt or die’ (or in my case ‘adapt or open a small coffee shop on a wind-swept beach in Cape Town engaging in banal conversation and looking out to sea forlornly for the rest of my life’…).