Saturday, 18 October 2014

24: Eight ways to change the world

This exercise requires that we consider two bodies of work from Eight Ways to Change the World (EWtCtW)  that show different conceptual and visual styles and write a short reflective commentary in our log.

The context of this is an essay by Max Houghton called “Seeing is believing” in which he argues (in 2009) that a new approach was needed to documentary photography in the developing world to replace the paternalistic, subject as victim, images that had become common place following the African famines of the 80’s. It fairly clear that the images in EWtCtW are provided under the auspices of this new agenda. While there is undoubtedly poverty and hardship in these images, there is also a significant measure of humanity and a much greater sense of shared concerns, albeit in dramatically different contexts.

Take for example Zed Nelson’s images – the last 5 on this page. Apart from their use of colour they are fairly standard documentary fare – which is part of their strength. They are, to my eyes relatively easy to read and the narrative is fairly clear – this is a mother and father engaged in back breaking labour to provide sufficient food to feed themselves and their family. The images themselves are straightforwardly descriptive. Here are two people at work – hard work. And here are small quantities of food – presumably the small quantities that their work allows them to buy – or , as the caption states, beg or scavenge. In reality, the words are not needed - the images speak for themselves.

Chris de Bode’s images (the first dozen here) are conceptually different. Instead of concentrating on the difficulties of here and now, they concentrate on aspiration. For the most part they concentrate on individual children, posed in a manner, or with an object, symbolic of their personal hopes and dreams. the words provide slightly more support here than in the Nelson examples above, but even here they are secondary to the narrative. Interestingly the set is strengthened by the opening shot, which simply shows kids running to school,illustrating their determination to improve their own lot and by the chair and football, which illustrates the paucity of resources available to them.

Would these images work as well in monochrome? I don’t believe so. There are some in the total set, and to my mind they appear dated, and slightly unreal. Colour emphasises the idea that this is happening here and now – it is not some abstract concept. To my mind they simply emphasise the point that monochrome images throw out information that can be used to communicate.

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