Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Working with children and animals

Spotted by the Kid (Katoomba Australia April 2014)

Kids and dogs are the ones that always see the man with the cam
I made this photograph a couple of days ago and just tonight, after posting it on a photo sharing site, a friend made the really groovy little quote above in his comments. And I thought, yes, it's true: even when the adults don't notice me, the children and dogs quite often do. For some reason it always surprises me and oftentimes I don't notice they've noticed me till later when I see the image on the screen.

As some of you know already, I do not mind in the least if I am noticed, or if people see my camera. Rather than "losing the moment" as is so often quoted as a reason to not be noticed, I think that being seen by the people (or animals!) being photographed can create another kind of moment, even a special one. Just like in today's Pick. 

I ask myself, and I ask you, would this be the image it is if the young boy hadn't seen me and looked up at the camera? I don't think it would. In fact, I actually think this is rather a good photograph of a charming ordinary everyday kind of scene. And now it is out there in the world for all to see and perhaps it will even generate a smile or two along the way.

And in fact I hope this boy's mum or dad sees the image and contacts me. I reckon they'd love a copy!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK:A moment may have many meanings

I'm Saying Nothing (Katoomba Australia April 2014)

Street Photography is about the recording and sharing of those supposedly ordinary moments when people are doing "ordinary" things, when they are talking, walking, working, or in some other ways engaged in their ordinary activities and simply going about their daily lives.

Just like the couple in this week's Pick. Clearly they are sharing a joke. The guy is keeping his mouth firmly closed while the woman is having a good laugh. Probably at his expense. Is she teasing him? Is he keeping quiet about something that she's anxious to hear? Are they on the way to a surprise that she's trying to tease out of him? Whatever is going on, this is one of those ordinary moments that has transcended itself: it is no longer ordinary; it is special.

Special because it's clearly an intimate moment being shared by these two. Special too because it opens up to us, the viewers, all sorts of possibilities. We can guess what is going on, what the joke might be and why the guy is keeping firmly quiet. And, in that guessing, we put our own interpretations onto this lovely image and place ourselves into this intimate scene. We bring to the viewing and reflection on the scene our own histories, our own memories, dreams, fantasies. Our own ideas and projections.

But, does this mean we are changing the "reality" of this scene? No, I don't think so. There is a limit to what the camera can record of any scene. It has recorded a visual representation of these two at this moment and it can only really record what it "sees" as a still camera must. We can't hear the conversation; we don't know what's just happened or what will  happen in the moments after the image is made. When you think about it, it is pretty much required that we bring some kind of interpretation to any photograph if we are to work out what is, or might be, going on.

Whatever we project onto the scene in this photograph, whatever stories we come up with go towards creating a new or other reality. It by no means takes away from the "true" reality of the moment this image represents (any photo is of course only a representation of what is photographed; it is not the thing itself). You could say that our viewing of this or any other photograph simply adds layers of meaning.

I know, of course, I am saying nothing new here. This concept of "we all bring our own interpretations to the viewing of a photograph" is well known. I guess what I am saying is this: it's okay to add our own layers of meaning, even to a photograph of a so-called ordinary moment in the lives of the so-called ordinary people. And it doesn't really matter if those layers of meaning have little or no relationship to whatever the "true reality" of that moment might be. This opportunity to create new meanings is one of the great gifts that street photography offers to us all, whether we are the ones making the photos, appearing in them or, those viewing them. Perhaps most especially to the viewer.

There is one condition we should place on this all being okay: Any new layer of meaning we add to an image, any new reality we attribute to a photograph, must be done with a good heart. The process must be imbued with a spirit of goodwill, love even.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Tale of a Teacher on the Two Way Street that is Tourism

Tourism is a Two Way Street (Padangbai Bali Indonesia March 2014)

This woman's name is Niwh Mirawati. The other people in the photo are tourists just back from a snorkelling trip off a nearby beach. Of course when I made this photo, I hadn't yet met Mirawati, but I did meet her later in my stay at Padangbai in Bali.

At the time I made the photo (a sweltering day of mid 30c temperatures and high humidity) I just assumed she was just one of the many street vendors who ply their trade in this busy diving and snorkeling mecca that attracts tourists from around the world. As for the photo: at the time I felt that it neatly encapsulated much of what I was observing in Bali: Masses of tourists, primarily there for short vacations and bent on self-indulgence, who seemed to on the whole remain completely unaffected by the culture or the reality of life for the people of the island. So often I saw tourists not notice or acknowledge anything outside themselves (unless they were shopping!). Little did I know at the time the full meaning of this image.

Several times over a couple of weeks, Mirawati approached us, offering small statues, wrist bands, and other crafts for sale. One afternoon as we sat at a warang (the name for a local cafe) she approached us and, once again, said "It's for the school". Up to this point I had only wondered vaguely about that particular part of her sales pitch. But, on this day, I asked her what she meant. So, she told me, and this is her story.

Mirawati is an elementary (primary) school teacher. Along with a colleague (Nikadek Mingguwati) she spends school vacation times on the street selling handicrafts in order to raise money that goes to help poor children buy uniforms, books and other supplies thus enabling them to attend school. Oh, the money raised also pays school fees for these children.

"School is not free in our country," Mirawati explained. "We raise money so that smart children even if they are poor can go to school to be educated." She went on to tell us that she hopes one day school will be free for all children.

Many of us (I wonder, how many though) know that being a school teacher means a lot more than just standing in front of a class. Teachers everywhere are engaged in all kinds of extra-curricular activities to support the children in their charge and the schools they teach in. It is a sad but true fact of life in our money mad world that schools and education generally are way down on the budget priorities of most governments.

So, as long as we place such a low priority on education, and as long as we continue to crave pleasure (and the material trappings that go along with it) at all costs, then I suppose teachers will not only continue to have their efforts under-valued and under-rewarded, but they will be forced to continue to put in more effort, time and energy than we should reasonably demand of them.

Tourism, in this situation, really is a two way street: teachers selling goods on the street to rich tourists to pay for the education of children while at home most of those tourists and their children get a relatively free education only valued to the extent that it makes them "employable". This post is not about posing questions about "what would the poor children of Bali do without the tourists?"; It's more about highlighting the dedication, commitment and passion of teachers everywhere and these teachers in particular. It is also about pointing out the injustice of allowing the exploitation of these virtues, while at the same time perusing more short-term (and short-sighted) agenda.

PS: I have tried to be accurate with the spelling of the names in this post. The notes I have are sketchy and I apologise for any mistakes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: A Little Light Flirting

A Little Light Flirting (Perth Australia December 2013)

I've recently started reading a little about the French Humanist photographers. In a nutshell, after World War II, French photography began to focus on the "ordinary people" going about their daily lives. It was a way to celebrate humanity, to find a new view of the world after the horrors of the war. Of course, there is a bit more to it than that: for example there are several "categories" or types of images that are defined as being humanist photography as expressed at that time in France.

At this stage, I don't feel I know enough about that particular movement to write too much. But, for this week's Pick I have chosen an image which fits nicely into one of the "categories". While I can't for the moment remember the exact label used, the category includes images of young people courting (I think that this could be where the tradition of photographing people kissing in Paris began).

It is a joyous sight to see. Two young (or not so young of course) people courting or, as we like to say, flirting. These two are clearly attracted to each other and the image appears to suggest that they are going to be much more than friends before too much longer.

Of course, like any photograph, this one is open to interpretation; the "real" story could be totally different from the romantic one I have presented here. But, to me at least, it's pretty plain to see what is happening here.

Humanist photography focuses, obviously enough, on humanity. Humanity and the way we behave, the way we communicate and the stuff we do in our so-called ordinary lives. Well, as you know, I am famous for saying that there are no ordinary moments. Nor are there any ordinary people. In fact this photograph records what to me is a really rather special moment: that small space and time when two people find each other, when they both realize that the attraction is mutual, and when the possibilities, at least for that brief interval of time and in that space (which for the moment has become all their own) seem to be endless.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: My Work Goes On despite distractions

Hi everyone
This week's Pick is actually my Tumblr Pick of the Week from this week. I just felt that it is such an important post that I really needed to repeat it here on Instants Out of Time. Hope you don't mind!
As always I really do welcome your comments or feedback.

An Outstretched Hand Ignored (Ubud Bali Indonesia)

Our five weeks in Bali is rapidly drawing to an end. And I thought for this week’s pick I would just talk a little about some thoughts I’ve been having the last couple of days. You see, I have felt distracted here. Yes, I know it’s a funny word to use in the circumstances. I mean, here we are in Bali for crying out loud! It’s a beautiful place in so many ways; it’s given us so much to think about and it’s been overall a hugely interesting and valuable travel experience.

I find it hard to just have a “holiday”. I want to be out on the street working all the time. But as I’ve just said there is so much to see here and such colour to occupy the eye and mind that focusing on street photography has been just too difficult. I know, I really should have just said, “Hey, relax. You’re on vacation.” But there you are. I can’t and couldn’t. So I just did the best I could, and in the end I have managed the odd image that I think works.

Anyway, the thoughts I’ve been having about distractions. I have decided that I don’t really want to photograph pretty landscapes or other scenes. I don’t want to do flowers or trees or sea scenes or anything else. All I want to do, all I’m any good at all at, is humanist street and social documentary photography. You see, when I go out to the streets I want to just be there, and not looking around for the pretty scene, building, tree or statue or whatever else that isn't about the people and life there and then.

I’ve found it’s pretty much impossible to do justice to my work or even to whatever it is that distracts me when I am not focused on the work. And, at the end of the day, that’s the point really. The work I do is too important to allow it to be diluted by a wandering eye and mind that is distracted by other things. I do not suggest that those other things are “bad” or it’s wrong to photograph them. Not at all. There are so many wonderful and talented photographers who show us every day what a wonderfully beautiful world we live in with their landscapes, nature photographs, and the rest. I for one am grateful to them all.

My role however, is as a street and social documentary photographer. I am rededicating myself to my work and my aspiration to become good at what I do.

The photo I have chosen for this week’s pick is stark and dramatic.  It is a market scene that could be anywhere in the world. But it happens to be in Ubud in Bali. I will let it speak for itself.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Colour: It's all around you, but you have to see it!

Ubud Market Colour (Ubud Bali Indonesia March 2014)

Twice today I've had colour mentioned to me. Nothing unusual in that you might say: after all I am an artist. But, these mentions were quite specific and really hit home because as you know by now, we're in Bali.
  As we walked around this lovely village of Padangbai, my partner said something to the effect of: "We mustn't become so used to the beautiful colours here that we stop seeing them." And then, later, an online friend commented on a photograph posted from here: "Those beautiful vibrant colours, just how I imagined Bali to be"
   Firstly, Bali is an extraodinary colour filled place. The many and varied greens of the jungle and rice paddies, the many types of palms, the emerald green of the tropical seas. Then there is the really striking powder blues of the skies: I've never really seen skies quite like them. And this is saying nothing of the wonderful colours and fabrics worn by many of the people, especially when it comes time for ceremonies and temple worship.
    These two comments on colour got me thinking how easy it is for us to become blasé to our surroundings and in particular how indifferent we can so easily become to the colours in our environment.
    We do this all the time as we go about our daily affairs. No time or energy to notice colour, too much to do and so little time. So, you might think when we go on holidays, when we take a vacation, that we have a little more time, even a little more inclination to notice the colours around us.
     Well, it's a nice theory, but I think it isn't always that simple. After all, when we're on vacation, we bring ourselves and our habits along with us. And it's still quite easy to quickly become accustomed to our surroundings to the extent of failing to notice colour or other elements of this new environment. I do try not to ever become indifferent, but even the artist in me sometimes gets so used to what's around me that I can stop seeing.
     Ubud, as you will know if you read my blog post about the town, was a noise and traffic nightmare. When one is in a town where it's almost impossible to hear one's own thoughts, where it is dangerous to walk on the sidewalks and where the noise and chaos is almost maddening,  then maybe it's quite understandable that one fails to notice colours or other striking elements of one's surroundings.
     But, the truth is, I still managed to see something of what was there; I still saw some colour. So, this week's Pick is just that: colour. A market stall full of extraordinary colours.
    It takes great efforts sometimes to take in our surroundings, to notice the colours that surround us. Like this market stall. I'm glad I didn't miss it.
Now, I share it with you.