documentary photography

Goodwood Revival - not seeing the wood from the trees

The Goodwood Revival is a three-day festival held each September at Goodwood Circuit since 1998 for the types of road racing cars and motorcycle that would have competed during the circuit's original period—1948–1966. Most people dress in period clothes. It is one of the world's most popular motor race meetings and the only UK event which recreates the golden era of motor sport from the 1950s and 1960s.

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This year I was there shooting a short film following the fortunes of one of the few female racing drivers competing over the weekend - more about this shortly.

In addition to shooting moving images I took the opportunity to shoot a few still during the event - not necessarily as many as I would have liked but shooting both stills and film at the same time is a difficult ask..  The two disciplines require different approaches and a different mindset and on this occasion the priority was filming.  Shooting stills here you might think is an easy thing - there are so many amazing sights - but for me the difficulty is focusing on a particular subject whether it be the fashions, the cars, the racing, people, activities or whatever else you might pick - the subject matter is limitless and sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees!!

There are of course the cars..

then there's the nostalgia..

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...and the racing...

... and then there are the Ferraris...

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... and then there's the pit lane

... and then there's temptation everywhere you look ..

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.. and focused drivers...

... and not forgetting the amazing Spitfires...

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Goodwood Revival really has something for everyone.

Gold Cup Polo - Behind the scenes

According the the Gold Cup's website "The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup is played to decide the British Open Polo Championship and is the premier polo tournament in the world at 22 goal (High Goal) level. With all the international stars of the game in action in the incomparable setting of Cowdray Park’s famous ‘Lawns’, the event draws in polo aficionados from all over the globe".

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For me it was my first time to see live polo in action and whilst I enjoy sitting with friends on the sidelines watching the toing and froing of the match the interest for me lay behind the scenes where the general public seemed to show no interest in going.  Whilst Champagne was being quaffed in enormous quantities at picnics all around the pitch I wandered off with camera in hand to see what was going on at the business end of the field.  Beneath trees out of sight of the pitch was the area where the ponies were to be tethered.  I arrived there shortly before they arrived and chatted in broken Spanish with one of the Argentinian grooms as he laid out all the tack belonging to Pablo MacDonough, the Argentinian 10 goaler playing for the UAE team.

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Being Argentinian meant that a flask of hot water and mate were never far away and was soon being shared - groups of grooms wandered around with the flasks under their arms sipping from the metal straws that are such a familiar part of the Argentinian male.

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The first of the horse boxes soon arrived and the ponies unloaded - with as many as a dozen ponies for each of a teams 4 players this adds up to a lot of horses.

With so many ponies each team had it's own farrier on site to deal with lost shoes - polo ponies are fitted with nut like studs on their hind shoes that enable them to accelerate and turn extremely quickly.

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All images were shot with the little Fuji x100s which I have still to make my mind up on.  Yes it shoots lovely images - yes it's discrete - yes the design is nice and it feels great in your hand but there is still something that is not quite right about the camera when using it for documentary work.  When the camera powers down it takes seconds to come back to life after reactivating it - fine if you're not in a hurry but if trying to capture a moment it can be incredibly frustrating.  Perhaps I need to try different modes for the viewfinder, maybe using optical rather than electrical in order to speed up the response time.  Time will tell.

Contraband fuel - Benin

All along the roads of Benin tables of random dirty bottles are a common sight.  Not soft drinks or water as one might first expect but rather contraband petrol sold by the gin, whisky or beer bottle.  Fuel smuggling from neighbouring Nigeria became a very common occurrence as global oil prices boomed in recent years.  In November 2011, Benin's finance minister acknowledged that more than three-quarters of the fuel consumed in the country was illegally imported from Nigeria - though ironically much of it may have been bought legally since heavy subsidies in Nigeria keep prices much lower then in surrounding countries.

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With prices significantly cheaper than in the licensed filling stations it's not suprising that this is the way many people buy their fuel.  Despite it being illegal the local authorities have done little stop the trade, vendors watch out for police raids but racketeering and corruption mean that the practice continues without intervention.  Whilst the practice causes a loss of revenue for the government it also provides work for many people and therefore to stop it could prove counterproductive.

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From the Archives - Darfur, Sudan - Oxfam GB

These are a couple of images shot in Northern Darfur on commission for Oxfam GB about 15 years ago.  The visit took place shortly before the horrific escalation in atrocities by the government backed Janjaweed militia over 4 years or so from 2003 onwards.  During the conflict estimates have put the number of civilians killed at between 200,000 and 400,000.

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Life has always been tough in this part of Sudan - water is hard to find and Oxfam were working with organisations to maintain and install boreholes and build dams.  Without a water supply there is nothing.  Life for even the toughest and most resilient of people cannot go on without it.

The picture above was of a very remote well site - as I remember it took us all day to get there by Landrover - water was pumped by hand from a borehole and the livestock brought from miles around to drink.  I took the image from the top of a water storage tank that had long ago been built beside the well.  The diesel pump was no longer working and the tank had fallen into disrepair - the caretaker of the pump was still on hand but had many years previously stopped being able to use it, a victim of relentless sand, wind and a lack of maintenance and spares.

In areas where there were no hand pumps things were even more desperate.

Camel herders in the picture above brought their animals to drink from nothing more than muddy hollows, remnants of the last rains.  The herders scraped a hole and waited for the water to collect and then scooped it up in metal bowls to store in goatskin bags.  Having filled the bags with water from themselves they then allowed the camels to drink.  Never have I felt so lucky to have a tap to turn on whenever I want.

At another location in a long ago dried up river bed women were hauling goatskin buckets of water 20' up from a hand dug well.  The log over which they pulled their loads was worn with the effort of years of water collection.  Having filled assorted buckets and goat skins the women then stoically set off on the walk back to their compound or village - a journey that might take them up to several hours to complete - something I could never imagine doing day in day out.

I often wonder what happens to people in the years after I've been fortunate to visit them - I guess the answer is that for the people I met in Darfur the intervening years have not been kind or easy.

This was from the good old days of film - shooting with 3 bodies as I remember - colour transparency (fuji Provia), black and white (HP5) and high speed print (at a whopping 800 ASA!!!) for use in dark situations  - at the time I was using a bomb proof Nikon F3, FM2 and I think an F100.  I carried a pile of film, maybe 60 rolls for the 3 week trip and never knew what I had until I got back and film was developed.  Compare that with how we work today - cameras capable of shooting practically in the dark, memory cards capable of holding 60 rolls worth of images and most importantly the ability to review images on the go and assess exposures and composition - something that film never gave you unless of course you shot polaroids.

What in the name of God...? Image of the Day

filmportraits-11Now religion can be a tricky subject at the best of times - fascinating certainly, but tricky nonetheless.  While shooting images at the amazing Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013 there were some truly extraordinary sights - some defied logic and normal reason, but then religions themselves (to many) often defy logic and reason.

In Hinduism a Sadhu is a religious ascetic or holy man, dedicated to reaching a higher state of being through meditation and contemplation.  Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice extreme asceticism while others focus on praying, chanting or meditating.  The Kumbh Mela brings thousands upon thousands of Sadhus together on the banks of the sacred Ganges river in a heady cannabis smoke laden display of devotion.

Relying on donations from lay people the life of a Sadhu could never be described as easy - understandably hunger and poverty are a common feature of Sadhu life.  At the Kumbh Mela I photographed a lot of Sadhus - their naked ash smeared bodies and strange practices provide an obvious draw to both the faithful and the not so faithful.  This particular Sadhu had long ago decided to show his faith in a rather unconventional manner -  others sat cross legged and claimed to be hundreds of years old (donations gratefully received in exchange for blessing) or claimed to have sat naked on high Himalayan glaciers for years at a time (cue picture of a melting snowman as proof - as if proof were needed - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings) or amazed crowds with floating rocks (cue pumice in barrel of water - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings).

This particular Sadhu chose to wrap his genitals around his sword - a sign of complete lack of sexual desire - and then had one of his devotees jump up behind him and balance on the sword, putting significant force on an area not generally accustomed to such things - cue donations in exchange for blessings.

As a non Hindu my donations were always accepted in exchange for photographs and the occasional blessing.  The greatest blessing I have received in life is that I'm fortunate enough not to have to make a living in this way - religion is a strange thing for sure.

Latest shoot - Southern Co-operative

A recent shoot for the Southern Co-operative annual review involved shooting at a variety of locations reflecting the range of services offered by the Co-op - from portraits of the Chief Exec to local egg supplier and funeral services, it made for a couple of interesting days shooting. A few of the images are shown below.

Starting at the local crematorium provided some useful images but the image below was a little more quirky and off brand - it will not end up being used but I kind of liked it none the less.

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Claytons Eggs, Romsey

Amy, Co-op trainee, West Wittering

Portraits of the Chief Exec and Chairman were to be used as simple cut outs in the review so were shot against a plain wall.  I always feel it's better to over deliver so took the option of shooting another very quick set up only feet away from the first.  With nothing more than a quick shift of a lighting stand we could shoot a totally different image and provide the client with another option even though it wasn't part of the brief.  The selection below show the original image shot against plain wall - the second option against the window and then the cut out on white as the images will probably appear in the final review.