some the excellent end results from my students from a recent mobile phone photography course I ran in Hermanus, on the Garden route in South Africa.
Posts tagged ‘photography’
How I learnt to love mobile phone photography after I started to teach it.
I have written a short diarised version of my current trip to NYC to talk at the SVA, show work and attend PDN Photoplus. I freely admit that I have modelled it a bit on Peter Dench’s excellent diary series ‘The Diary of a Sometime Working Pro’ in the UK-based ‘Hungry Eye’ journal (a must-read for both photogs and film-makers alike). I guess in Peter’s seemingly random daily ruminations I see my own disjointed life narrative that makes up my sometimes surreal and very personal experiences as a photog.
Thursday 13th October
Wake up at 4am after a bad nights sleep still jet-lagged. I had added an extra day to my trip before giving a brief presentation at the SVA in the hope that I would be well rested but no luck there. Start the day completing a general marketing brief, sending material for social media and website updates for the studio in Cape Town and preparing for talk later in the day. I try and sleep some more but with no success. Go into Manhattan to do all my international magazine and journal shopping – smthg I am very much starved of in Cape Town. Come back at 4pm – plan to relax a bit and make my way to the SVA at 6.30pm.
8.50pm – wake up in a daze… where am I?! Oh yeah – in NYC – isn’t there smthg I am meant to be doing?… FUCK!!!!
In a confused mix of daze and panic I phone the SVA event organiser Lavonne Hall. She confirms the event is nearly over but is thankfully merciful and relaxed about the whole thing. She tells me we will re-arrange the talk and confirms our meeting the next day anyway.
I decide that getting some sleep is a top priority.
Friday 14th October
4.30am – awoken by messages on my SA phone asking me about studio hire and equipment rates in Cape Town on Saturday the next day. I am instantly annoyed as I just know this request won’t happen by the tone of message. Go through the motions of arranging with my ever reliable first assistant and get back with other info. Tell the potential client to confirm before 3pm SA time knowing full well they won’t and try and get some more sleep.
Spend morning showing work briefly and then end up at the MoMA with Lavonne. End up seeing photography work much of which I’d mostly seen before. Nan Golding’s exhibition there for example… interesting little exhib of scenes of destruction from Aleppo, Syria in back-lit mahogany boxes. Lavonne comments on the fact you can see the shadow of the wiring coming through in a few of the boxes. The Photographer could probably say it was all intentional. That’s the beauty of art photography.
Trump – Trump – Trump-ety Trump everywhere. I can see why the US is so sick of it all – away from the TV in NYC, all mentions of Trump are usually a comedic ruse at money-making.
Saturday 15th October
11am – Outside of photography I have 2 goals for the immediate future. One is to become good at kitesurfing (or at least not get blown into the bushes at the back of the beach so much) and the second is to watch as many Arsenal football games in as many different settings as possible. I decide to go to the Blind Pig off Union Square to watch Arsenal vs Swansea. I only make it for the second half in the end… but the pub is crammed full of Arsenal memorabilia, TV screens all dedicated to Premier league football and with American Arsenal-loving supporters almost as mad and passionate as fans in the UK… this could honestly be a pub around Finsbury Park. ‘God Bless America’ I think. Can’t resist the temptation of ordering a pint of Guiness to take in the atmos…
1pm – Go get a bite to eat and spend the next couple of hours drinking as many liquids as possible trying to get rid of the buzz that comes from 3 pints of Guinness before going to an open gallery event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
3pm – The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an interesting place. Packed with studio spaces for various types of artists – from photographers to painters to sculptors. Spend the next few hours mostly trying to find all the exhibited work in the sprawling redevelopment…
Sunday 16th October
On the way to meeting a friend for dinner, I pass through Times Square. The buzz and atmos of the place – and of Manhattan in general is amazing – it almost feels like in the areas immediately surrounding Noting Hill in London as people walk away from the carnival – but all the time. The throb of people becomes uncomfortable as I pass an event dedicated to the ongoing Hindu festival of Diwali. Having been to a few in London I am not so interested and instead take pics of the statue of Francis Duffy there – a priest and First World War hero – juxtaposed against images of 20th Century icons. I hear one of the speakers talk about how there is renewed evil in the world and about harking back to better times. I am instantly annoyed and see in his speech undertones of the ‘Make America Great Again!’ theme of the Donald – I wonder whether the speaker was at or even helped organise the recent ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in New Jersey (where Trump infamously and nonsensically said ‘I am a big fan of Hindu and India’)… ‘Humans have always been evil dude’ I think to myself and walk off to meet my friend – my disinterest in the event complete.
Monday 17th October
3.30pm – Had an interesting meeting today at Polaris Images – my reportage and documentary agency with the legendary in photographic circles, JP Pappis – its head. Before the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to receive a cheque for library images sold… that’ll cover my spending (and part of my drinking money) on this trip…I look at the list of images sold. One particularly lucrative sale was for: ‘Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’ – ‘Fuck’ I thought – I’ve never photographed Hamid Karzai – I’ve never been to Afghanistan for that matter’… I consider for a while whether I should mention it and risk losing the sale. In the end I mention it… turns out it was thankfully a small admin error and the sale was mine.
Spent over an hour chatting to JP.. awesome character. He gives me the lowdown on the ever-depressing state of the reportage and documentary world of photography. Apparently Getty caught everyone unawares this year at Perpignan by announcing that Getty Reportage would close down and be replaced by Verbatim – still run by Aidan Sullivan – but focusing on corporate work instead. We also talk about the rise of Shutterstock and royalty free micro stock images and what it has done to the business. He tells me about his accident where he tripped and broke three ribs a few days before having to travel to Perpignan (for Visa pour l’image – the annual photojournalism festival in France) – but still got on a plane and went- even driving to and from Barcelona. As I say – legend.
I tell him about all my new focus on different types of work and that I don’t do reportage and news any more – ‘I’m 40 and I’m Greek – it’s all about the money now!’ I joke. We discuss putting up a corporate portfolio on the soon to be revamped Polaris website. I get interested though in discussing how the South African narrative – internationally speaking – has stuck with independence and Mandela when so much has changed since then. I offer to send some story pitches in this regard as well… guess I will always have a finger in the reportage pie one way or another.
I leave the Polaris offices happy that my last meeting was so fruitful… I go to the bank and cash the cheque. Walking up to meet a friend in Bryant Park about 8 blocks uptown, the wheels of my roller bag which I use to transport my smaller portfolio catches on something. I aggressively try and free it before realising it is catching on my one and only decent leather jacket which was draped over the bag. I inspect the damage to the jacket and ruminate that a new one would cost as much as the cheque I had just gotten. I arrive in Bryant park in a dark mood. A Hare Krishna passes and offers a small bright, golden-coloured leaflet. I take it – partly out of curiosity to see whether it was yet another NYC hustle and partly because I have an affinity with Hare Krishnas after they had kindly and mercifully put a blanket around my shoulders almost two decades before during one particularly bad moment at Glastonbury when I had lost friends and had run into their tent to seek shelter from the torrential rain. The young man stops and turns with a speed and focus that can only mean he is about to ask me for money. ‘Take it back take it back take it back’ I say firmly waving the leaflet over the palm of his now outstretched hand before he can say anything. He takes it back and leaves me alone.
Wednesday 19th October
wake up at 4am again – I decided before the start of PDN Photoplus today and the start of very hectic 12 hour days (if you include openings and after parties), I should say smthg about my trip to NYC on social media. I get depressed thinking that very much in the same way that if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it making a sound, then if I go to NYC and don’t talk about it on social media – did it really ever happen?
I write 2 blogs then decide to get an hour’s sleep before having to head to the Javits… I set my alarm this time.
‘Publish your Photography Book’ by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson and general notes on getting my own photo book published
I recently finished the excellent ‘Publish your Photography Book‘ by Darius D. Himes and the irrepressible Mary V. Swanson, who I have had the absolute pleasure to meet on 2 occasions and is one of the true characters of the photography world. You can see her authentic energy and passion for the photography book interwoven into the fabric of this excellent book.
While some in the industry give downbeat accounts of the state of the photo book publishing world, from the outset ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is positive and charts in great detail the structural changes that the photo book publishing (and indeed the publishing industry as a whole) has undergone in the last two decades – especially with the onset of PoD (Print on Demand) technologies.
From the very first sentence there is a sense of optimism and a belief that the dynamic nature of the industry will lead ultimately to a healthier and re-vitalised landscape in coming years:
‘Talk to anyone who has been involved in the photography world over the last ten to fifteen years and they will affirm that the photography book market has exploded…Never before has there been such widespread interest in the printed image.’
In consideration of the question: ‘Will books fade?’ The book states:
‘The short answer is no, not a chance… Books are conveyors of ideas, mementos of civilisation & harbingers of change…’
The book is highly informative as well and a must-read for those seeking to publish their own photography books. It opens up and explains the inner-workings of the photo book publishing industry and process required to attain that goal. From encouraging the photographer to ask themselves the tough questions required before beginning the process and breaking down what makes a successful photo book and what doesn’t – to the in’s and out’s of the submission process and inner-workings of a publishing house – right through to the design and production process and the specifics of a successful marketing strategy for the book itself.
It also includes very useful testimonials from a wide range of well-placed people in the industry – from the likes of Robert Morton, Michelle Dunn Marsh, Denise Wolff and Rixon Reed to photographers themselves like Alec Soth and an in-depth interview with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on a rare collaboration between photographers on their book ‘Violet Isle’.
The book has certainly helped me to chart a course for my own work and to start to clearly see how I could take either of my long-term projects forward. I have been in touch with a few publishers who have shown initial interest. The main obstacle at the moment is finding an audience for the very niche subject matter of my current work. I’ll give an example in the form of a convo I was recently having from one very helpful and interested publisher who I met last year at Paris Photo in LA:
So nice to hear from you. Hope you are doing well. I love your photos. If you are interested in submitting a book proposal that would be great….My concern here is where is the market for the book? As you must be aware book sales have been tough in recent years. Are you represented by major galleries, do you have exhibitions lined up?
If you can help us identify the market for a book that would be a very big help.
Let me know your thoughts.
I have only recently began presenting myself to the outside world as a book and gallery photog and need to find a voice and audience within that world. That will take time. More importantly, I have to engage a local audience in South Africa – with which my work is more relevant firstly, before being able to engage with the international market more fully.
‘Publishing your Photography Book’ has helped a great deal in understanding the goals I have to set myself if realising my long-term projects as photo books is to be realised. While in NYC, I am mostly looking to engage with contacts – both old and new – to find interested magazines and editorial space (both published and online) for them and to begin conversations with as many publishers, consultants and galleries as possible with a view to engaging them in the long-run if I succeed in building an audience for the work.
I cannot re-iterate more the basic given that completing a long-term photo project is only the beginning of a very long process that requires just as much energy and passion as constructing and putting together the images themselves. ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is a great and essential resource for anyone setting out on that long journey themselves.
A Selection of Images from my final trip for my long-term project in the Karoo ‘A Changing Landscape’
The current online edit of ‘Karoo: A Changing Landscape’ is up at: http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/karoo/
I was wading through some news articles a few days ago when I came across one about simmering political tensions in the Rift Valley in Kenya (Rifts in the Rift – 23rd January 2016 – The Economist). It talked about the tribal divisions that are still rife in politics in the country and showed how such tensions might boil over in elections around mid-2017, especially in multi-tribal towns like Naivasha.
I immediately felt some discomfort when reading the article especially when suddenly realising that by some dark twist of fate I was reading it the very day 8 years ago I had been in Naivasha itself covering the violence. On a whim, I decided to revisit that time briefly to see upon reflection what the images – and in particular the one image above of a recently deceased Grace Mungai and her traumatised baby Brian – that caught the media’s attention ever so briefly – means to me today. It has taken a few days to be even able to sit down and do this… I hardly revisit or talk about anything from that time – In fact, I don’t really even ever look through my old photojournalistic website at all – let alone write a blog about it. I find it really hard. I still get edgy and very nervous thinking about anything from time spent in conflict situations in general.
I took a photo that day – very much the right place and time type – of a horrific scenario that spread round the media campfire through Reuters and initially via the New York Times and came to be very much a brief talking point. Of course, I had no idea at the time. The photo itself is not well composed, very graphic, intrusive and just pure overwhelming content.
It was pure luck I had made my way to Naivasha anyway. I was actually en route to Nakuru further along the Rift Valley where violence was also apparently in full swing when news of clashes in Naivasha broke on the BBC World Service. I made the decision to divert into the very scenic town more out of curiosity, still planning to move on down the road later on. Surely this beautiful flower producing tourist centre couldn’t have been so affected? I was so wrong. I’ll let myself take up the story as I wrote it 8 years ago:
‘As soon as I arrived in Naivasha town it was clear that events were unraveling fast, with fires burning in several locations and the increasingly familiar smell of tear gas sweeping the entire town. The crack of live rounds from the GSU (General Service Unit – the Kenyan riot police) could be heard in the distance. I found a GSU patrol, left the car and followed them into an area of shanty dwelling where rioters were still battling with police.
Suddenly the sound of screaming women and children filled the air. Drawn to the noise, I found a group of people wailing outside a small corrugated iron dwelling. Everyone was in a frantic state and a lady had began removing all her clothes seemingly so overcome that she was unaware of what she was doing. When I looked inside the house, the sight that greeted me was so gripping that I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of dread. Before me lay a dead mother, shot through the neck, with her crying baby sitting on a chair behind. The dwelling seemed to have been ransacked. I took a few pictures, but then realised the frenzy of the crowd had begun turning its attentions to me. They were asking that perennial question that is asked of many journalists in similar situations. ‘Why don’t you help us?‘
A few days later, after the photo was printed page 3 of the NY Times, people had started writing in and asking a similar question as those that had surrounded the terrible scene that day – What had I done for the baby? Radu Sigheti – Reuters Africa Chief Photographer between ’03-’09 phoned me a few days later to get my side as a swell of readers had began asking that very question – maybe fearing a Kevin Carter style backlash in the heat of the media frenzy over his infamous vulture and baby shot. Upon reflection it is unreasonable to ask such things. I came to understand the role of photojournalist that day as being a concept that had become very mixed up in the general public’s perception. The drive to always be perceived as a humanist, a compassionate witness responsible for far more than the narrow remit of reporting news but rather fulfilling the altruistic dreams of what many would perceive themselves as having done from their armchairs a million miles away.
I had very much by chance ticked most of their boxes that day. I responded to the horrific scene and the restless crowd by seeking out an ambulance from the local hospital. It had taken time to find one and when I did, the crew were fearful – being from a different tribe on the opposing side of the clashes – that they themselves would be set upon by the crowd. The fact that news had got to me too that the baby’s dad was also on the scene by then and that I had to continue doing my freelance duty put an end to the futile effort.
It was in fact my assistant that day who turned to me and said – ‘what are you doing?!’. I had a job to do and here I was spending a disproportionate amount of time organising ambulances. To be honest I felt ashamed by having been overwhelmed by emotion, by being driven by a misplaced sense of duty and it all felt very unprofessional. It is this paradox – between reality and general perceptions of being a conflict photographer that has always left me bemused and something that has made me critical of this type of photography in the past (all covered extensively to the point of annoying in previous blogs so I won’t say much more about it here!).
What I haven’t said much about that day is that a bit later on I was set upon and nearly killed by a machete-wielding gang of youths. I had been innocuously asked ‘Are you CNN?’ while walking back to the car preparing to travel to Nairobi to file the pics somewhere. CNN were perceived then as having been biased against the majority tribe in Naivasha who were reportedly instigating the violence that day. It was claimed in later years at the ICC that the violence was calculated and organised that day. I remember clearly how a short young man watched on impassively as he directed the youths to attack me when I brushed their question aside. They used the butt of their machetes to try and put me on the ground for what seemed like an age but must of been about a minute. I knew I was in serious trouble as they didn’t even try and steal my cameras. Had I gone to ground I feel I would have been in real trouble. I think they were hesitant to really attack but – like all power games – the weaker one gets in a fight – the more it drives an uncontrollable lust for victory over the vanquished.
My assistant thankfully stepped in and gave me a few seconds breathing space to make a run for it. I remember rugby sized rocks whizzing inches from my head. I ran – carrying 2 DSLR’s as fast as I could down the middle of a wide road, lined on either side by drunken locals who had been whipped into a frenzy and were aiming projectiles at me as I ran. It was a miracle I escaped that day. I was bundled into the back of the car and we drove out as fast as we could back to Nairobi.
Looking at all the pics on my old website I think I am truly proud of only one from conflict zones and that is of a missile fired by SPLA soldiers on the frontline of fighting with rebel soldiers north of Bor in South Sudan. Another coincidence but it is also nearly the anniversary of this pic, taken 2 years ago on 26th Jan.
I like it mainly because there isn’t any direct graphic content and only alludes to it. I feel it is much more powerful because of it. Taking it was difficult too – the scream and overpowering noise of the missiles is just unbelievable to the uninitiated. I have never heard anything like it – completely possessing your body and shaking you to your foundations. Concentrating on pic-taking with the noise and a fast moving body is hard to say the least, let alone trying to compose a decent picture. I had to take video for Reuters as well that day and you can clearly hear me say very unprofessionally ‘Fucking Hell!’ after the first rocket was fired (much to the annoyance of the video editor later on.. Thankfully there was a lot more footage to select from)… I remember later on being a bit too eager and getting too close to one particular cartouche rocket being fired out the back of a jeep trying to get that perfect shot and the sound and energy literally knocked me on my back in slow-motion like in some cartoon (to the wild amusement of the SPLA soldiers and their usually very dark and brooding General).
Such moments of levity are few and far between. I am writing this as fast as possible hoping to end the blog as soon as I can. For all that I really remember is the unbelievable level of violence, darkness and evil that surrounds you in conflict. And it stays with you – however brief you might have been there as an observer or ‘witness’ – it clings to the sub-conscience like a parasite. A few months after I came back from South Sudan I travelled into the Karoo desert north of Cape Town with a friend. I remember him joking about all the shapes he could see in the hills in the landscape around us… I recollect being very quiet not responding and not saying much – all I could see were the outlines of faceless dead people – rotten carcasses, and specifically those of women and children.
work on my journalistic website is at www.geojournalism.com