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Few pics out of the Karoo

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Just came back from a week’s trip in the Karoo – as a continuation of a long-term photo project I am currently undertaking out there (Karoo – A Changing Landscape:  http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/karoo/ ).  I was determined to undertake the challenging off-road journey out there- even if I have been distracted with things back in CT recently… Looking over past work in preparation for the trip, I realised I had to focus more on its wonderfully eccentric peoples to balance the opening part of the project (that has focused more on abstract and landscape images).  In the short space of time out there, I managed to start fulfilling that goal (although of course I also shot a wide range of appropriate landscape shots – it is so hard to resist the temptation in the idiosyncratic Karoo!).

Even in the short space of time out there on this occasion – the wonderfully warm and friendly peoples of the Karoo – from all walks of life – helped make my pic-taking job easier.  In many ways it is a hark back to a vanishing and more idyllic and simple existence – A way of being that I believed had been swallowed up by everyday modern urban life long ago. Will be making a 3 week trip in the next few months again… really looking forward to getting back out there too…

 

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Building a Studio in Cape Town. Welcome to the Roeland Street Photo Studio

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I’ve decided recently to bite the bullet and set up a studio space in Cape Town.  Choosing a space from the stock of commercial property that was available was a slow decision-making process in itself but eventually settled on a 125 sq metre space in central CBD.  I knew the space would need quite a bit of work – basically being an open-plan industrial space.  But the location was great – within a 2 minute walking distance of the two largest photographic equipment sales and hire shops in CT and located in a building that is home to quite a few media, film & casting companies making it a bit of a hub and an ideal spot to inhabit.

The chance to fashion my own space and build a studio from scratch was also an exciting prospect- and an opportunity to make it my own.  Being an industrial space it came with a three-phase electrical system – essential to carry the lighting load on a multi-lighting set and ensure no cut-outs.  Apart from re-coating the floors with epoxy (to take the heavy load of lighting equipment without marking too much), I had to also fit specially made blinds to ensure total blackout.  Again, the location worked very much to my advantage in that there is no direct sunlight on it.  I went for white blinds – in keeping with the floors and walls (except on the shooting side which is brick), but more importantly – the blockout was more than enough to achieve the required blackout when shooting.

I have installed a post-production suite as well, with an excellent Eizo 24″ monitor that will allow clients to live view shoots.  In terms of client orientated comfort I have placed a lounging area with couch (No need to tell me! I know the couch is too close to the shooting area at the mo in the pics – we will re-arrange everything shortly!) as well as a shelving unit to accommodate the international photo mags and books from a range of photogs from all walks of the business. Hopefully this will be enough to keep everyone entertained during the more tedious periods of a photo shoot (though I might be forced to add some more gossipy magazines or even a TV at some stage!).

One small prob is that there is a small sectioned off kitchen area that will also have to double up as a dedicated make-up dresser area.  Fitting everything together and make it work was a headache but seem to have found a solution that works fine.  I had the make-up dresser specially built after speaking to a couple of well-established make-up artists in the business here.  Both seemed to prefer the cold nature of florescent lighting (rather than the warmer tones of the tungsten lighting associated with traditional theater dressers).

Overall, I’m happy with how the studio is coming along, but there is still much to do before it will be possible to launch.  I still have to put in stuff like infinity curves (the backdrops I have now are only for the standard white, black and grey so will play with more ambitious colours here) and of course a reservoir of decent clothes for shoots (looking forward to doing some second-hand clothes shopping soon!).

I have also just started on the marketing side of things (logo, website, postcards, leaflets etc).  I decided early on to split the studio business away from my own freelance photography business.  While the studio will be my base and will be used for my own commercial work (as well as a discreet gallery space to display my some of my socio-documentary art work as well), I came up with a business plan that focuses on multiple revenue streams, including studio hire, commercial, model and family portrait shoots as well as a teaching space.  To achieve this, I thought it best to keep myself and my own business separate from that of the studio’s.  I think the marketing side will be greatly spurred along by the potential choice of studio manager too.  While being a great photographer herself (focusing mainly on the stock side and being part-owner of a stock site) she comes historically from an extensive internationally-based web and social media background.  This will certainly help in marketing and pushing the studio online and to potential clients in future (as well as being friendly and fun to be around as well!).

Dealing with the insurance side of all this was a bit tricky and actually took about 2 and a half weeks of careful negotiations.  At the moment I still insure my equipment worldwide through UK insurers that provide worldwide coverage (as I travel back to the UK at least once a year) as it has proven far cheaper than insuring in South Africa where I am sure higher crime rates here make premiums a lot more pricey.  Now that I have some studio-based items as part of a local business, I could no longer insure certain items through the UK.  Splitting my equipment list between freelance gear that would remain covered in the UK and studio items that would have to be covered locally took some effort.   Then having to set maximum value limits for gear that would regularly leave the studio (at any 1 time) was quite a task but greatly reduced the premium at both ends.  The devil really is in the detail and care had to be taken to make sure that in the worst case scenario I wouldn’t be left high and dry…. But I managed to more than half the total cost from what it would have been had I been insured just in SA.  Honestly, if you are a photographer who takes equipment out a lot, I would definitely recommend Aaduki Multimedia Insurance in the UK (not exactly the friendliest of peeps but great at getting specialised photography insurance cover at decent rates) and the Hereford Group if you are these sides.  The Hereford Group especially really pushed my case and gave great advice in the protracted and complicated process.

I’m in the Karoo (the desert expanse north of Cape Town) at the mo continuing with one of my photo book projects.  I have decided – despite the perfect conditions for time lapse (at a time when the moon is at the beginning of its cycle) – not to indulge myself and to focus on one thing out here (I have blogged earlier this year about having spread myself too thin on the personal project side!)… I love the Karoo – there is a serenity and peaceful aura about it that helps to re-energise and renew myself for life back in the city – even if the pic-taking itself can be hard work – walking around and driving distances in extreme heat and cold nights (which is why I took the afternoon lull in everyday life here where temps can hit 40C+ to write this blog!).  It is as far from the idea of Africa as many of us imagine it as you can get – more akin to the Andean plateau of Bolivia and Peru than any jungle or Savannah plain that is more typical elsewhere on the Continent.  And if meeting wonderfully eccentric folk with amazing stories to tell is your thing generally – then I def advise a visit here!

Quick bit of news!

Portrait of a colored community in South Africa

Portrait of a colored community in South Africa

Hey all… have a bit of exicting news wanted to share… As part of the 5th Annual Exposure Photography Awards run by the See Me photographic collective, the image above made it through the first round and will appear in  an exhibition in the Documentary Collection at the reception area of the Louvre Museum premiering on July 13th and in the subsequent print and online photography exhibition for the Awards. My full Exposure Awards entry is at:

https://gphilipas.see.me/exposure2015

Creatures in the Dark

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Going through old series for a new website (it’ll go live end June/beginning July… I’ll write a short blog about the process next which has been different and interesting to say the least), I found this mini-series from a few years ago that I now intend to slowly resurrect, albeit in a slightly different form in the coming year.  I was helping a colleague shoot something or other a few years ago in Tokai and Newlands forests in Cape Town, when in the lull in between shooting I started taking close-up pics of the forest environment of my own.  In the textures of the bark of the trees and the formations of small rocks I could make out faces, even contorted creatures of old legend and myths that I tried to capture through balancing flash light and manipulating as much as I could the available light.  I took it up a few more times on my own time too and even started using a macro lens when it was warranted.

Back when I was a more a news photographer I guess this didn’t really fit in anywhere so I quietly put it on a old hard drive and let it gather digital dust!  It was fun doing it though and look forward to taking it forward in some form or another – even if it does become just a big old personal project!

Golden Oldies… one from El Alto, Bolivia

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In preparation for building a new website I have been going through some of my (very) old work… Came up with this pic from my days on the Postgrad course at LCP (now London College of Communication).

After marching with coca farmers half way across Los Yungas to protest in the capital La Paz, I did a side story about a lone Catholic priest who had been cast aside for his liberal methods on tackling drug addiction in his once sizable Munich parish and now worked with street children in El Alto – the large, sprawling shanty town (and a city in its own right) just outside La Paz.

It was taken in the days when I would shoot on grainy Fuji Superia 1600 film and then either scan it on the old Microtek (and spend hours getting rid of dust and scratches in some ancient version of Photoshop) or spend hours in a darkroom fiddling with chemicals in annoyingly dim infra-red light… those were the days! I think I used this pic for my first ever business card (which of course I did myself on an early version Epson inkjet printer)!

Interesting to see how my relation to my old work changes with time… at first discarding it as early experimentation but in time seeing (some) of it in a new light.  It is also interesting to see how some things never change – my work does tend to gravitate towards light-hearted moments even in apparently dark situations (which I guess somehow mirrors my own personality on some deep level).. my Hangberg long-term project is permeated with such images.

Palm Springs Festival – Part 3: The Video Editing Workshop and Moving Forward and other Issues with the Child Assault Documentary I have been shooting

I spent an important day away from the photography side of things to do a Video Editing course with Fletcher Murray.  The course itself was educational and I got to ground myself better in the important post-prod side of shooting video.  I have been undertaking a doccie last couple of years concerning the front line services, including counsellors, forensic doctors and police department involved with the dark issue of dealing with the deluge of child assault cases in the main township of Cape Town called Khayelitsha where as many as 1 in 3 children will suffer some form of sexual abuse by the time they are 18.

I have shot a fair amount of footage – mainly talking heads though – but have been unable thus far to move it forward.  One problem has been technical, falling a bit flat at the first edit stage partly.  In the past pre-digital era, editing was more formulaic but these days, editing is increasingly one of the most important part of the doccie production process and knowledge of it and technical know-how of prem pro or final cut is essential even if I am not going to edit the final cut myself ultimately.  It is not just techinical though – knowing what to cut and what to keep – even when I know my story intimately has been difficult for me.

Taking the course was important and will allow me to begin to move the doccie forward again.  But it is not just on the technical side where I had issues:

For starters, while being a strong and important topic to tackle, in practice there is not much leeway of what can be shown.  I was hoping to depict the gravity of what was being dealt with and essentially the ‘unseen horror’ (which could never be shown directly for obvious reasons) through the emotions and reactions of those working with the issue.  But what has happened essentially given the monumental task of achieving access through South African Governmental departments and of course the police force is that access is very controlled and restrictive and what essentially I have is a whole load of talking heads.

Professionals are also hardened to the issue and it is very hard to capture the emotionality of the subject and therefore the ‘unseen horror’ with people who have to protect themselves and form a professional barrier between their personal feelings and the terrible nature of what they deal with on a day to day basis.  And it is especially hard when the access is limited to a series of interviews.

I also realised a while back and even at the Palm Springs Photo Festival where I was pulled in so many directions – from photography to time lapse and then back to video editing – that I have very much spread myself a bit thin professionally and something had to give.  I see myself as a photographer first – but also know that I got into it as a photojournalist with a love and training in essentially telling linear stories.  The days for doing that in photography are essentially gone or going but in documentaries the possibilties are there and very much relevant.  I certainly feel that I will possibly end up in this field one day – but for now I have had to put the documentary on the back burner as I decide what to do and how to get the essential B-Roll that will make or break the doccie.  I have ideas and with more ideas about editing and the principles behind it will certainly help.

Palm Springs Photo Festival – Part 2: Time Lapse with Jeff Frost

PalmSprings2015_0072 PalmSprings2015_0068

I spent 2 days at the festival doing a workshop on time lapse with Jeff Frost – one of the people who is taking the medium onto new and innovative places.  For all those who haven’t seen his work please check his website:

http://www.jeff-frost.com/

What I particularly love about his work is that he is really testing the boundaries of the genre and is one of the few time lapsers out there who is moving it more towards the art installation world.  Many have said that time lapse might have reached its peak with all the amazing nature pieces out there.  But Jeff has begun to show the possibilities and you can see – through his work especially – that the medium is just starting to get going in many ways.  Check out in particular the piece ‘Circle of Abstract Ritual‘ which is a great mix of time lapse, hyper lapse and video to create a seminal piece of stand-alone time lapse work:

https://vimeo.com/106181453

His course matched expectations to say the least.  He begun by telling us that this was probably the last time he would teach and he was willing to let the cat out of the bag and leave no stone unturned so to speak… and he was true to his word.  We spent a long time analysing his pieces and he would be very open about the techniques he used which was useful to say the least.

In particular what I really connected to was the hyper lapse technique where one would move in unpredictable ways in all directions – all done on a tripod and camera and using personal judgement when moving the tripod in a certain direction after each shot.  The dedication required to achieve some of the work he does is impressive and scary for me at the same time, but I love the medium and hope to take it forward on some level going forward into the future.

Learning as well as the possibilities to monetize the medium was very interesting to say the least.  For now, I have given my small pieces meant for show reel to one of the libraries I am working with who was interested in trying to sell them but I think in the long-term, after doing this course, I will probably scrap it all for show reel and start again.  Ideas and possibilities are endless and hopefully I will find some sort of niche in it in the future.

Palm Springs Photo Festival, and the Good, Bad and Surprisingly Pleasant thing about Portfolio Reviews – Part 1

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Well, just spent a hectic but awesome week in Palm Springs, California at the 10th Annual Palm Springs Photo Festival.  I have now done 3 or so festivals (of which only another in New York in the US) and must say this was by far the most relaxed and enjoyable and inspiring on a personal level.  It was a complete whirlwind of a week, spending anything up to 15 hour days non-stop with workshops, reviews, networking, symposiums and presentations.  Apart from the workshops (which I’ll come back to in subsequent blogs) the highlight had to be the daily presentations by some of the biggest and historically-significant photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, William Albert Allard, Dan Winters, Jock Sturges and Frank Ockenfels.  Seeing Mary Ellen Mark’s presentation in particular made the largest impression even though I must say I had seen and heard a lot of the stories about her seminal work before.  Seeing her talking about it in person though was an experience of note.  Along with Don McCullin and Lee Miller she is one of three photographers who inspired me most to become a photojournalist and get into photography in the first place.  I have posted her talk on my fb page if anyone is interested.  At 75 years of age and looking painfully frail I imagine this might be the last time I would get to see her talk and just being there to witness it was an honour in itself.

Meeting my fellow photographers from all walks – all connected by their dedication to the cause and seeing their work was almost as important and inspiring as well.  Sometimes stuck out in a small village outside Cape Town I really miss contact with my fellow peers from around the world so just getting to hang and talk photography was such a great experience in itself.

On a professional level, the workshops and showing my new work was the main reason for flying all the way from Cape Town to attend.  I have done a few portfolio reviews and had general conversations about their worth with people who sit on the other side of the review table and had my doubts before as to what I would ultimately gain from them.  It is great that you have so many prominent members of the photog community that you might want to see in one place, but the fact that they are seeing anything up to 30 photographers in a day in small 20 minute segments doesn’t help you stand out and puts a photographer at an instant disadvantage.  I had been told by a reviewer that in general a photographer is lucky if he gets one good contact to begin building a positive relationship with from all the reviews he might do.

Going in therefore my expectations were already low.  But my experience after 10 reviews during the week was very positive.  I think having done them before and knowing exactly what I wanted from them really helped.  I was there to show a new style of work and artistic and conceptually-based long term projects, to get feedback and advice and to maybe start relationships to build on in the long-term with prominent members of the art and book world of photography – an area where I haven’t had much contact in the past.  Firstly the general consensus was that the pieces worked and were strong (the Karoo project as I clearly stated from the outset was early in development and needed a lot more work but had good foundations but the Hangberg work was perceived as ready to go).

On the downside, the socio-documentary based nature of the work and South African content means that avenues especially in the gallery world in the US are limited.  I knew that already but what came out of the reviews is that it is not necessarily impossible.  What I will need to do (and something I knew before) is to start by approaching local globally esteemed galleries in South Africa and use such representation to build up interest elsewhere.  As I said when this was brought up in the reviews, I essentially want both projects to be airtight and completely ready before approaching galleries in SA and I was more at Palm Springs to get the necessary feedback and use the general consensus to help in the development of the projects.  And on that level, the reviewers connected with this approach and helped enormously.

In terms of starting relationships though I was more than pleasantly surprised with quite a few giving me their details and asking me specifically to keep them informed on developments.  One really cool guy and also large and esteemed book publisher, who I thought would not develop into much, gave me his personal mobile phone contact details and allowed me to call him for advice as the projects progress.  I think a lot of that as well has to do with the way photographers connect with the reviewers.  I was particularly relaxed and often joked with them and just talked about all things even outside photography.  I even talked about growing olive trees with the book publisher I just mentioned which is his passion now for a good 3/4 minutes of my review.  When meeting Holly Hughes (PDN Editor-in-Chief – a highly respected and important mag for us photographers based out of NY – I advise all photographers who don’t already to read it regularly for advice, great work and keeping up with what is going on with all fields in photog- it is in fact my homepage) asked what I wanted out of the review I immediately joked back – well to publish all my work of course! I didn’t obviously knowing that is not what these reviews are about.  But breaking the ice in such ways is a good way to settle in and hope to build later on a serious working relationship.  One reviewer who I particularly wanted to see and who I found out later had told someone independently he thought mine was the best portfolio he had seen, ended our pleasant session by saying ‘Now get the hell away from my desk!’ – I responded with feigned puppy dog eyes ‘But I thought you liked my work?!’ to which he replied ‘Nah – not that much – now go!’.  We both laughed as I walked away.

Ironically where I had most success in actual direct leads for work was the editorial side of things which I wasn’t really at the festival to focus on.  I bumped into a couple of editors I had done jobs for before (and whom I had never met in person).  It is so important – even in the inter-connected digital age to do things the old fashion way and meet face to face.  Tracey Woods of Essence Mag in particular was great to bump into.  I had shot Michelle Obama as part of the press pack for her when she visited SA a few years ago.  Had a few long chats and even pitched one of my older stories I have done (the Life After Rape portrait series).  Not saying it will be published but the interest was there and it is now up to me to follow up.

I even had interest to publish one of my long-term projects in a US-wide magazine.  I didn’t really go for meeting mag editors at the reviews thinking that publishing such art-based projects might hurt my chances later to get them into the gallery and book publishing world.  That turns out to be a load of nonsense.  I should have therefore done more meetings with mag editors but have enough contacts anyway worldwide in that area to go back to SA and do that myself.

All in all, I came away very positive from the reviews and networking.  But this is well and truly just the beginning of a long journey.  The groundwork has been laid but it is wholly in my court how and where I take this and build on the positives that came out of the sunny desert of California in the awesome shadow of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Presenting an Art Portfolio, Conceptualising and Apartheid

A photograph changes according to the context in which it is seen… the meaning is the use.

Susan Sontag – On Photography

Spent the last few hectic weeks in the UK and a small trip to Europe preparing amongst other things a portfolio of my 2 long-term projects: ‘Of Religion and Gangsters’ & ‘A Changing Landscape’ – that is making large prints, presentational Blurb self-published books and new cards and websites (frustrating work in progress this last one!). At this early stage, the most important thing when showing the new work has been the feedback from peeps well-placed in the industry whose cumulative opinions ultimately help my own decision-making process in what way to take my own work.

The highlight of these meetings for me was definitely getting to hook up again with my old mentor from the Northern Lights Masterclass, Marc Prust in Amsterdam.

Marc is one of those rare successful guys who is also a genuinely friendly and open guy. Spent a pleasant afternoon chewing the fat and of course trying to put the world of photography to right over a couple of beers.  For me, getting feedback from Marc is a bit like being broken down in basic Marine training – all my ideas (read here delusions) about my own work quickly evaporate, but in the long-run from that come the crumbs that help build stronger more relevant ideas around my own work.

I have known for the longest time that presenting my own work has never been one of my strong points. I have always been one of those photogs more comfortable hiding behind agencies and not having to market myself directly. Assignments have always come relatively easy in that I have always been good at implementing someone’s photographic specs (however ludicrous and unrealistic the logistics and timelines etc may sometimes be – and always with a big fat smile on ma face!).  But to truly progress as a photog, unlike many other professions, this is simply not enough. Professional photography – in all fields, but especially in the world of book, gallery and art photography has this added dimension where you are and must be in a perpetual state of self-promotion. At the end of the day, if you don’t keep up with the newsletters, emails, blogs and portfolio reviews (but the relevance of portfolio reviews is questionable and will write about in a future blog), then with so much competition out there, you will simply be forgotten and quickly at that matter.

Given its importance, it has been essential that I bring these skills up to scratch. To say it has been a hard experience preparing is an understatement to say the least. But as Marc, who first sat me down on a couch like some Freudian interrogative session before even looking at my pics rightly pointed out: The problem and strength of my own presentation of the work, begins way before deciding how to show it. I have go way back to having an airtight idea of who I am professionally (esp now I have decided to leave the world of news photography behind) and essentially where I am going. I previously had some vague notion that I was doing these two projects to test the waters and either create a book (which I now think is def possible) or approach a gallery space or even to use as promotional tools to make contacts in this new field and from that build relationships that will eventually lead to the same goal with future projects. After our convo, I realised that this idea needs serious development. I have began formulating a much more solid idea and essentially a business plan – of where I want to be in 5 or 10 years. What now seems obvious, is that without this – it is hard to decide ultimately the best method to convey the work or even the best way to edit it: Understanding whether the work is strictly art portfolio, has a documentary-style narrative and therefore where it’s final destination will be will at the very start determine how best to present the work.

The other side of getting the basics right is having a solid conceptual basis for both projects to work around. It is interesting that even before I presented my work, the concepts for both have evolved and transitioned into something very different from where they started life and especially for my ‘Of Religion and Gangsters’ project.

I find it so interesting how the same set of images, edited and presented differently with a totally different conceptual idea can have such different meaning and be made more profound and relevant on the back of a great solid concept (and hence the Susan Sontag quote above). Of course, you can’t fake it at all. In all probability I will have to go back and shoot a lot more for both projects but at least once I have the concepts for them firmly nailed down I have a great set of images as a starting point and ultimately the rest will fall into place rapidly.

I knew conceptually both projects needed developing and being able to bounce ideas has been a god-send.

It is interesting that what came out though organically from the meetings was that I am moving towards tying them both to a narrative that is in both cases loosely based on a framework around the concept of apartheid and its continuing effects on South African society. I do hesitate in ever doing such things. I find it contrived and cliché to even mention it as many have done before and as many who live in SA know, the everyday narrative has transformed and moved forward a lot. But in many ways it also hasn’t – and more significantly – in the all-important international world of opinion, SA is still viewed through the eyes of apartheid and the positive redeeming journey towards the relatively peaceful transition to independence.   In photography (as in many art and media platforms) it is work and concepts based somehow on this idea that continue to have appeal in the West.

Of course, there are well-established photographers out there who have done an amazing job of moving and helping to transform this perception of SA and even Africa as a whole. Pieter Hugo immediately comes to mind and who is currently my stand out photographer (check out his new work ‘Kin’ based on his relationship to his surrounding environment i SA which has now become more releavnt to him after having a family) and of course there is the forefather of a new South African narrative Roger Ballen and his seminal book ‘Outland‘ (not a big fan I must say though).  Might or might not do a future blog on African narrative in photography which is something dear to my heart.

I must say though by attaching an interesting and innovative angle based loosely around the framework of apartheid to both my long-term projects, I see them in a new and exciting light and has given them a more profound visual purpose that genuinely excites me. Evolving both concepts and setting out to finish and shoot both projects is something that gives a new breath of life to the work and the feedback, especially from Marc (however punishing and ego-shattering!) brings with it much welcome new possibilities… and I can’t wait to see where that road might lead.

The fire on the mountain, World Press Photo Awards and Letting Photojournalism go as a Profession to save Photography

It is time to let photojournalism go as a profession and recognise it has and will become far more inclusive in nature. It is time to ring fence and protect photography’s exclusivity in the digital age and clearly define what is and what isn’t professional photography. And photojournalism no longer is.

 

Yeah I know, grandiose title typical of me but recent events on both the local and international stage indirectly lead me to have an epiphany about the state of photography as a profession and what in my humble opinion (however grandiose the conclusion) was the answer and way forward.

We had a massive fire here in Hout Bay around Cape Town but as far away as Cape Point that engulfed entire neighbourhoods, laid waste to thousands of hectares of pristine Cape landscape and nature reserves and destroyed houses, top hotels and prestigious vineyards. Just as the out of control fire swept into our area the strong winds thankfully subsided and heaven sent rain essentially killed it just as it threatened to sweep into Hout Bay from both sides of our village.

The response from the community was unbelievable. Fire fighters especially worked days on end without rest to stop the advance and were supplemented by volunteers from the community and by a constant stream of donations of supplies from us all. My poor mum visiting from the UK and who had to bear all of this on a supposed holiday wanted to volunteer but I never would have heard the end of it from peeps back in England so gently convinced her to stand down and we donated as much as poss to support the effort instead.

On the photography side, the first day (last Monday) that the fire arrived in Hout Bay I was up at 5 and on the road to take pics. I was stopped from getting too close to then then epicentre of the fire on instruction from the Fire Chief. I didn’t argue or wrangle my way too much as I would surely have done in the past and decided to go to the other side of the Bay and take more landscape pics of the encroaching fire. I didn’t try too hard though and my attempts were so half-hearted. These pics would have ended up on pic libraries somewhere probably which don’t really do well selling news photog images anyway. I didn’t even post on social media not wanting to alarm those nearest and dearest to me spread all over the world.

I actually started getting annoyed seeing loads of posts from photographers on facebook saying things like ‘SO AND SO PHOTOGRAPHY’ promoting their own visual take of the fire and ending their posts with some comment of concern or commending the bravery of those fighting it almost plastered at the end of their respective posts as an after thought. I guess when a news story starts to effect you personally you start to have a different take on it but I don’t think it is just that.

Slowly but surely I have become so far removed from news photography that the ambulance-chasing (or in this case fire truck chasing) type work on which I have commented plenty of times in the past especially concerning its moral ambiguity is not part of my professional make up any more. I have thought about doing a post-apocalyptic more arty photo series instead that in my opinion would stand out far more and I could prob get far more coverage for anyway and would in all fairness also get the message across of the far-reaching devastation that has been caused. That is more the type of ideas I work around these days and my take on such an issue now although given the short time I have before I travel and the preparation I have to still do I don’t think it will happen (if any photographer reads this, think it a good idea and does it and is successful with it just buy me a drink if you ever see me!).

It has been far more interesting though for me to see the amount of ever improving quality of citizen journalism – esp with video and photography –during the outbreak. I think increasingly – especially as the quality of citizen journalism improves with better cameras on smartphones and the such and the fundamentals of not being biased in a story take hold in this genre (though with a fire of course there is no real controversy in terms of bias reporting) then we will see citizen journalism become more and more important especially on the ever-growing social media platforms whose purpose of disseminating news info in times of crisis is growing exponentially.

Photo news is becoming ever more inclusive which is great for us in general as a public. But as a profession this creeping inclusive nature of news photography is slowly but surely spelling disaster. Swamped from the outside, news photography increasingly has very little monetary value. It has been well-documented that the profession has been long in decline – especially with falling advertising revenues in traditional media houses who increasingly don’t have budget for newsy type photo series.   Many have let go of all their staff photographers internationally (here in SA the classical model appears more robust and still works well) and tend instead to rely heavily on wire feeds who themselves are cutting relentlessly on costs: A good example of this being the whole Africanisation of the news wire services here on the Continent which has more to do with one massive cost-cutting exercise rather than empowering local populations.

All the issues and debates above finally came to a head and spilled over with the more than usually heated debate raging around the World Press Awards Winners this year. Serious questions have been raised concerning the judgement process involved. To put it in a nutshell many in the profession were outraged by the choice of such winners as Giovanni Troilo’s ‘The Dark Heart of Europe’ photo series in the Contemporary Photography section. The fundamental argument is that many of the pics were actually set up and in so doing contravened one of the very fundamental pillars of photojournalism and that is not to intervene in the subjects and material you are photographing, otherwise it becomes more portraiture or art photography. Giovanni’s photo series was eventually disqualified but not for the reasons above but more on a technicality that one of the photos he entered was taken 30km outside Charleroi where he claimed the entire story was based.

On the other hand, it has also come out that almost 20% of all potential finalists who made it to the last round of the prestigious competition were disqualified because they manipulated their images too much, especially darkening some areas of an image so much that it supposedly changed the content and message of the image itself thereby contravening the second rule in photojournalism and that is not to digitally alter images to affect overall message and content.

The argument has become so heated, that Visa Pour L’Image, arguably the largest photojournalistic festival globally and held annually in Perpignan in France has taken the most unusual step of categorically refusing to showcase all World Press Winner photos which it has done religiously for as far back as I can remember.

For many photojournalists the arguments that have now spilled into the public arena have been simmering for years and I have often spoken here of the increasing moral ambiguity in the profession, always under pressure in the new digital age to create more visually striking images which is harder to do naturally with object trouves (found objects) without interfering somehow and digitally altering the photo to the point where it might be judged to be have been altered somehow.

It is interesting to me though, that the judges have been very lenient on one side of this argument – judging many set piece situations to be acceptable while almost to compensate and try and keep in line with classical ideas about photojournalism have come down heavily on the other side in terms of disqualifying the slightest bit of supposed digital alteration (I haven’t actually seen the images that were disqualified and am purely going on what has been widely reported in the press). I have a lot of sympathy for Lars Boering, it’s new managing director appointed last October who one suspects was brought in to make the competition more relevant today and bring it closer in line with art and gallery photography. Indeed his appointment was announced on the World Press website with the quote:

Lars Boering is well-known in the photography scene but for World Press Photo he represents new blood, combining continuity with innovation. We believe he is the right person to future-proof the organization and to take it to the next level.”

I know Lars from the Noorderlicht (Northern Lights) Masterclass in Groningen in the Netherlands which he runs with Marc Prust (another great in the photography world) which I undertook back in 2011/12. I was mentored by Marc (and whose instructions and advice have had a massive influence on the direction and expression I have been trying to take these last few years), but had enough contact with Lars to know him to be an outstanding agent and an absolute asset to the world of photography that he clearly is so passionate about. His background though is more from the art world of photography. World Press seem to have brought him in to try and re-invent the competition to make it more relevant today and bring it closer to the art, gallery and established book world of photography. But in so doing, his new bright and innovative ideas clashed horribly with the classical notions of what photojournalism really is. And hence the furore and heated debate raging right now.

In my humble opinion the two are anathema to each other and never the twain shall meet. Its fundamental nature means that mainstream photojournalism can and never will be brought in line with the modern and more commercially viable art photography world (although this world is also suffering the last few years from severe recession). By even trying to do so, it is making art photography look insidious, superficial and frivolous when it is anything but. You simply cannot make something as serious as the subject matter many photojournalists tackle more arty in nature, fiddling with composition to make it so without a massive backlash from those with very traditional and classical concepts of what photojournalism is that is essentially far more humanistic in its approach which ultimately had its heyday back in the 1950’s and peaked in the 70’s.

With the far more inclusive nature of photography in the digital age where everyone has access to a decent enough camera, and especially with the advent of citizen journalism, photojournalism will and even already is lost to the masses and no longer a viable profession. I am a strong believer in the fact that if you can’t essentially feed your kids (or even yourself these days) from what you do, you can no longer call something a profession.

If awards such as world press continue to try and update photojournalism to make it more part of the relatively successful art photography world, it will damage photography as a whole. And here I come full circle in my argument:

It is time to let photojournalism go as a profession and recognise it has and will become far more inclusive in nature. It is time to ring fence and protect photography’s exclusivity in the digital age and clearly define what is and what isn’t professional photography. And photojournalism no longer is.

I think in the future, as technology gets better and better, internet speeds get inevitably faster and people become more media savvy and able to edit, video footage and news clips will, for better or for worse, be the next to fall into this brave new world of increased inclusivity. But that is another story all together.

I was trained as a photojournalist. I had varying degrees of success in it and have always gone in and out of that side of photography. And I must clearly note here that I entered the World Press Awards this year and didn’t get anywhere (sour grapes I hear?!). But I also knew it would be for the very last time (my work in South Sudan qualified for entry). In a previous blog after coming back from South Sudan last year I said it might be worth every now and again doing something meaningful as a news wire photographer in a war zone. I no longer think so. I have been moving away for years and now that door is finally closed. And I love the work that I do now and see it as more personally fulfilling and meaningful than anything gone before – especially news photography.

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