Exercise 1-7: A Decisive Moment?

 Read Simon Bainbridge’s article on the 2011 Hereford Photography Festival. (Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/hereford_bainbridge.pdf

Select one of the bodies of work in the article and write a reflective commentary. 

Five photographers are mentioned in the article by Simon Bainbridge we are asked to look at: Donald Weber, Robbie Cooper, George Georgiou, Vanessa Winship and Manuel Vazquez – as he is the only photographer I am not already aware of I have decided to look at his work.

Bainbridge says the following about Vazquez: “[his practice] touches on technology, particularly surveillance culture, in his montages that splice together different moments in time. Captured in largely anonymous public places, they capture the anxiety as well as a sense of spectacle within the spotlight of this constant observation.” 

In his personal work, Vazquez is interested in chiaroscuro and the way this can be employed to create theatrical compositions that are otherworldly in atmosphere. (Cartwright, 2014) I find the work affecting in his ‘Traces’ series – the style plays heavily with notions of urban alienation and the idea that you can be alone even in a crowd. In ‘Frames’ shapes are repeated with stills from what appears to be the same sequence shown side by side. This seems to be a comment on the relationship between photography and film, by showing only still images, and not allowing the viewer to fully experience the sense of movement that is shown in the pictures, Vazquez offers a disrupting and disconcerting experience.

Certainly, these series’ are far removed from what would traditionally be understood as documentary photography, being more closely identified as art photography – it would be reasonable to think that they are intended to be experienced in an art context. If one of the main purposes of documentary photography is to share and present the experience of being human and to build an engaging narrative then I believe the work succeeds – albeit in a very modern and challenging sense, and in a way that does not lead the viewer into a prescribed way of how they should experience the work. Despite this, however, the documentary value of the work is still very present however in my opinion.

Listen to Jon Levy, founder of Foto8, talking about documentary in the art gallery and make notes. (Available at https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/course-specific-resources/john-levy-intent

Levy asserts that the purpose of the photography chosen for inclusion in Foto8 is to tell stories – however, these are not fictional but strategies to understand the world. Because many photographers now work on personal projects alongside assignments, for example for picture agencies, the distinguishing lines between art photography and photojournalism are blurred and difficult to distinguish. For Levy, the intention of the photographer and their integrity are key – this is not something that can be decided upon after the fact. Intense/conflict driven stories that work on a visceral level are not always the most important ones – local/personal/impressionistic/quieter stories can often connect in better ways – the connection of the photographer to the subject matter being key.

On the surface, Levy’s ideas are laudable, however, the view offered in this interview is a simplistic view of how to decide whether a photography project is worthy of the criteria photojournalism or documentary that he clearly holds in high regard. The quality of integrity is held as paramount which also suggests objectivity and truth. In order to subscribe to this you would have to believe that such things were possible to achieve in a photograph – if the photographer is objective then how can they tell their story? If a photographer proposes a very fixed point of view this runs the danger of being dogmatic. There is a lack of acknowledgement of the part the audience plays in disseminating work and their ability to make their own conclusions about what they are presented with. Ambiguity is not something Levy acknowledges and his elevation of intent to a sacred goal without the recognition that this cannot escape ideological prejudices is naïve.

Research on the decisive moment here.

Bibliography: 

Bainbridge, S. (2011) Time and motion studies: New documentary photography beyond the decisive moment. Available online at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/hereford_bainbridge.pdf [accessed 29th July 2017]

Cartwright, J. (2014) Manuel Vazquez traps his subjects in patterned pockets of light. It’s Nice That (website) Available online at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/manuel-vazquez [accessed 29th July 2017]

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