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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

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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.

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