documentary

an invitation to the imagination

I was recently asked by a client at BBC worldwide advertising to provide a set of images to illustrate a presentation entitled "the business of content, the art of storytelling".  With a series of key themes as the guide to the content and topics it proved an interesting challenge to find suitable images to be used. The client finally settled on a selection and the following key slides were produced as headings for the presentation subsequently shown to audiences around the world.

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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.45.53

As a nice little addition key slides and images were given to attendees in a very old school manner in a 3-d viewer similar to something you might have had a s a child.

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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.49.23
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.49.06
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.48.51
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.48.07
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.47.48
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.47.34
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.47.15
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Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 16.46.40

Image of the day

Getting up at 5am to shoot images is always a risky business...  What's the weather going to be like? Is the light going to be any good?  Could I just sleep in another 10 minutes?  All these questions and more are there as valid reasons why you might decide to put the alarm back onto snooze.

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Kaziranga national park in Assam is one of the best places in the world -  well in fact one of the only places in the world - to see the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros, but it does mean getting up early.  Clambering onto an Elephant before breakfast is a great way to get the day going - 2 hours later when you clamber off and realise that man is not designed to sit astride an Elephant is not so great.  Having your legs that wide for an extended period is to put it bluntly a painful experience.  But it's worth it..

In the light of a beautiful dawn with dew still on the long grass and the chill of the previous night still lingering, Kaziranga is a magical place.  Within 15 minutes of setting out we were sitting 12 feet up looking at Rhinos wallowing in water holes totally oblivious to our presence.  Yes, missing a few hours sleep is definitely worth it.

Pemba vs. Maputo - Sport or Politics

Sport as an opportunity for political campaigning.

I'm not known for being a great fan of Football but given the opportunity when overseas I will jump at the opportunity to go to a game - football crowds seem to reflect the personality of a country or region pretty well.

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_DSF1514

On assignment in Mozambique recently I was faced with a Sunday off and nothing to do - asking my driver what people do on their days off in Pemba he suggested football and mentioned there was a game that very afternoon when local team Ferroviario took on a team from the capital Maputo.  Turning up at the stadium I realised I was the only non local in the crowd so drew a little bit of attention - I was glad to have my discrete little Fuji x100s with me rather than my more usual Canon gear.  Soon after I started shooting images I realised there was more to the occasion than just football.  With upcoming elections only weeks away the match was being used as a opportunity for a little political campaigning by the ruling Frelimo party.

With the game in full swing, posters, hats and stickers were being given out - to be honest the crowd were more interested in stickers than tackles and goals were the only thing that would distract kids from getting their hands on a picture of the presidential candidate..  That's successful campaigning by any standards.

Frelimo has dominated the country's politics since independence from Portugal in 1975 but the last-minute entry of its long-standing opponent Renamo made the presidential vote a tight call.  Renamo, which fought Frelimo in the 16-year civil war, took up arms again in 2013 but in August agreed a ceasefire.

By the end of the match the majority of kids were fans of Frelimo - in a country where poverty is rife the simple handing out of a few stickers and a poster can provide political gains for years to come.

I'm heading back to Mozambique tomorrow for another 10 day trip.  Frelimo came out top in last wednesdays election but not without calls from Renamo for the results to be annulled due to irregularities in the voting process.

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_DSF1498

Messages from Haiti

As a documentary photojournalist I've been fortunate to have have had the opportunity to visit Haiti on a couple of occasions shooting for Oxfam GB.  The second visit was shortly before the first anniversary of the January 2010 earthquake that resulted in the death of in excess of 100,000 people. The capital Port au Prince and surrounding areas bore the brunt of the damage and it was reported that up to 1.6 million residents left their damaged homes and set up camp in informal squatter camps wherever they could.  Most of the camps had no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal and disease soon became a real issue with an outbreak of cholera claiming the lives of many more.

Carrying concrete blocks up hill in Carrefour Feuilles, Port au Prince, Haiti
Carrying concrete blocks up hill in Carrefour Feuilles, Port au Prince, Haiti
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_MG_3922

Six months after the quake it was reported that as much as 98 percent of the rubble remained uncleared making much of the capital impassable. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls. According to a CBS report, US$3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. By May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a cheque for US$37,000. But still conditions on the ground were extremely slow to improve.

Corail camp
Corail camp
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_MG_8032

When I visited nearly a year after the devastation, progress on the ground appeared to be painfully slow - rubble clearance for example was still going on - rubble had now ironically become a commodity as a building material to be used for the reconstruction of the city and therefore it was no longer simply a matter of disposing of rubble, ownership had to be taken into account.  Nothing was simple.

A little sub project we did whilst there was to ask many of the individuals we interviewed for a single word that described what they hoped for the future.  The following images show a few of their responses:

Change
Change
Hope
Hope

on getting involved

_X2A1400One of the biggest joys of being a travelling documentary photographer is the fact that it gives you a reason to get involved in things that you might otherwise not do.  This image is a typical case in point.  On holiday in Java a few months ago I came across fishermen on the beach hauling their nets.  I guess that most casual observers would just look on with interest for a few minutes, maybe stand back and take a generic picture and then move on and go for a beer or something.  But I love these opportunities, it's what keep things interesting.  It doesn't matter that this was not a paid story or assignment - and it doesn't matter that I was there on holiday, what does matter was that I could see that there was a human interest story that caught my attention and I could see that there were images there to be made given a little time and involvement.

A bit of interest is all it takes to get involved - within minutes of arriving I had dropped my bag off in one of the boats and was joining in hauling nets up the beach with the rest of the crew.  This was all the passport I need in order to get good pictures -  suddenly you are accepted by everyone and images come freely.  Show a few images around and soon everyone is happy to be photographed.  After 10 minutes of ordinary pictures with people smiling and waving you soon blend into the background and this is when good images start to appear.  No longer do people look into the lens and no longer do they behave in an un natural way.  On paid assignments this time to relax with people is often something you don't have the luxury of, ideally it would be great to spend hours with people before even considering taking a picture.

I returned to this little group of people several days in a row - helping to pull the nets, shoot a few pictures, help some more.  Launching the boat, one of the fishermen gesticulated for me to get in and go with them as they cast their nets - I had no idea whether it was going to be a 5 minute or 5 hour trip but jumped at the chance to get more involved.  I'm heading back to Java again next week and will go and see the fishermen again taking some prints with me to give as a thank you - and no doubt I'll spend more afternoons with them helping to pull the nets and shooting  a few pictures but above all just sharing a few minutes with people that you might otherwise not meet.

The opening image has very recently been used by a major broadcaster in a conference presentation on the art of storytelling.

Ganges - something for everyone

The banks of the river Ganges is a wonderful place for a travelling photojournalist - there are seemingly endless documentary images to be made and stories to be told wherever you look.  At last years Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad this was the case even more so than normal.  Wherever you looked there were people - literally millions of people - doing something in or alongside the river, whether bathing, making offerings or simply trying to make a living.  While people were throwing small coins into the river as offerings - children were there with their trousers rolled up towing powerful magnets through the shallow waters in the hope of catching any small coins they could attract.  Coconuts bought from vendors on the banks would be gently placed in the river and prayers given by devotees as they floated away downstream - only to be netted from strategic vantage points 100 yards away and sold back to the vendors in order that they could then be sold back to worshippers at a profit.  In many respects this fits perfectly with many of the beliefs of Hinduism - endless cycles of creation, preservation and reincarnation.

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KUMBHMELA_1578

Subsistence fishing - Lagos

Life for a lot of people in Nigeria is difficult - no, let me re-phrase that, it's very difficult. In the port of Apapa - across the water from the bustling city of Lagos - fishermen in tiny leaking boats cobbled together from hardwood planks, tin sheet and anything else that will keep out the water fish for whatever they can catch.  Dwarfed by the rusting hulls of large commercial trawlers from far away countries that long ago hauled their last nets, a fisherman slowly works his way along the quayside line fishing for anything he can catch - two small fish is all he had to show for the morning.

As a documentary photographer these are the sort of places and stories I'm drawn to - juxtapositions of ideas, places and lifestyles, the tiny precarious leaking fishing boat next to the huge rusting trawlers and the messages that could be symbolised by the positioning of one next to the other.

Nigeria fishing

Millions of people around the world live this hand to mouth existence, I've seen fishermen exactly the same as this in just about every single African country I've visited -  doing the only thing they know in order to put something on the plate.  It seems fishing is a tough way to make a living pretty much everywhere you go.

Iphone 5s as a valid documentary photography tool

I've always been a great fan of the Iphone for day to day personal photography.  The apps that are available make image manipulation very straight forward and the creative options are pretty much limitless and improving week by week. Images out of the new Iphone 5s are a very respectable 3264x2448px and given the right shooting conditions and light, images can really be very good.

Processed with VSCOcam

Straight up images from the standard camera app are ok, but nothing special.  Shoot via an app such a VSCO and suddenly you have independent control of exposure and focus point - something currently not available with the standard camera.  Images take/processed with apps such as Hipstamatic or Snapseed suddenly take on whole new dimension and have the ability to sometimes make the ordinary image extraordinary. OK, so maybe a client might not look favorably on you turning up on a shoot with just your Iphone in hand, but as a backup or second camera in certain situations it can produce some very printable images.  As a discrete tool for documentary work the iphone is fantastic - everyone these days has a smartphone and no one thinks twice about people shooting images with your phone.  Produce a 5d mklll with a large zoom lens and people immediately know you are meaning business and these days, even in remote areas, that can be met with suspicion.  I now often break the ice with the Iphone camera - showing people the images and developing a rapport.  Once this is established the main camera can be brought out and used.

My current favorite workflow is to use Snapseed for image manipulation and output - having first shot in either VSCO or standard camera mode.

The following show image sequence was shot recently in Java with images processed through the Snapseed app.