Respected African leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Robert Sobukwe, championed the cause of the African Philosophy of Ubuntu, “a person is a person through other persons (Shutte, 1993)”, as the solution to resolve the major issues of inequality, poverty and dehumanisation of all people in South Africa. My intent is to critically investigate the impact of this philosophy in series of images.
“Photography has always been fascinated by social heights and lower depths. Documentarists prefer the latter. For more than a century photographer have been hovering about the oppressed, in attendance at scenes of violence with a spectacularly good conscience. Social misery has inspired the comfortably-off with the urge to take pictures, the gentlest of predations, in order to document a hidden reality, that is, a reality hidden from them (Sontag, 2005, p. 42).”
Sontag’s negative observation made in 1974 is still relevant and arguably informed by the socio-political-documentary photography in this period. Many journalists and documentary photographers gained photographic “immortality” and “fame” as they engaged in documenting the social injustice, suffering and struggle of the non-white communities in South Africa between the 1960’s and 1980’s. In spite of this, it managed to serve a moral purpose.
Another of Sontag’s critical observations was also upheld.
“Photographs may be more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow (Sontag, 2005, p. 11).”
The Journalistic and documentary photograph was used to promote support for the anti-apartheid movement and there are many memorable moments permanently captured in the minds of many via photographs of the South African experience.
Who will forget this tragic image of the shooting of Hector Peterson that arguably changed the mind of any further international support for the Apartheid regime.
It also divided Afrikaner unity…
“A careful chronological reading of his (Gerrit Viljoen, the rector of the Rand Afrikaans University and the head of the Broederbond in 1976 ) published speeches suggests a fundamental shift took place in his thinking after July 1976 student revolt, as a sort of protest, had revealed to him the bankruptcy of Verwoerd’s claim that black urbanisation would be turned around during the 1970s… the actual significance of Blood River lay not in the Voortrekkers’ physical survival against Zulu attack but rather in the values and culture they represented.
Four sets of values were paramount, he argued:
the political values of freedom for all nations;
the economic values of the Protestant ethic;
a fundamental (Christian-based) humanity in dealings with other nations and persons;
and a rich spiritual life of cultural appreciation and open, critical conversation.
Viljoen admitted this was an idealisation. Basic humanity had been transgressed, he conceded, in job reservation, the application of the Group Areas Act, migrant labour, the quality of life in black townships and the handling of political prisoners, but these issues were being raised and debated. One might well wonder what remains of Afrikaner ‘Christian humanity’ after this list (Moodie, 2017).”
However, documentary photography is more than photojournalism. It’s the documentary photographer’s “interest in capturing a living record of extraordinary people, places and stories that emerge from creative treatment of actualities (Franklin, 2014, p. 9).
In South African documentary photography, the oppression resulted in a new approach to documentary photography called:” Resistance or struggle” photography. South African documentary photographers decided that they “were not above the struggle for change, but part of it”. Photographers in this genre include Omar Badsha, Paul Weinberg, Albie Sachs, and Guy Tillim. (Krantz, 2008). However, there was not complete consensus among documentary photographers
“David Goldblatt, South Africa’s pre-eminent documentary photographer, voiced the contrary position observing that ‘the camera was not a machine-gun and that photographers shouldn’t confuse their response to the politics of the country with their role as photographers’. Photographers required a degree of dispassion. They should not deliberately seek to be positive or negative, but should attempt to convey the reality of things, with all its attendant complexity. ( (Krantz, 2008)”
Resistance and Struggle photography was fulfilled when Apartheid was abolished, the criminalisation of apartheid and the handover of power to a black majority government.
While there have been some movement, it must be stressed that abject poverty, dehumanization of people, injustice, violence, and corruption persist.
Omar Badsha reflects: “I was told by an Old man from Amouti: ‘Take your pictures, show the world the how we black people are forced to live. But don’t show too much suffering. It makes those in power angry. No one likes to be shown the results of their stupidity and neglect! But if you are brave then you must tell the truth.’” (Badsha, et al., 1985)
It is tragic that this statement is still true despite the change in political power, and the dismantling of Apartheid. But international interest in the challenges South Africa disappeared due to the “normalization”. South Africa has become just one of many postcolonial African States with similar issues. And the Sontag’s Flâneurs disappeared.
Nelson Mandell made this prophetic call at a union meeting: “Power corrupts. Anybody is corrupted by power, can be corrupted by power. And a society should have means of ensuring that power will not corrupt those you have put in power. And one of the ways of ensuring that does not happen is for you to be critical, to be alert, to be vigilant.” (Africa Check, 2019) It is as if he posthumous calls documentary photographers into action.
While, in my view, there is no need for resistance or struggle documentary photography, there is still an urgent need for socio documentary photographers to act as prophets. This practice is not spurned on by sensation and funded by newspapers. And we need to look for ways to make it relevant. South Africa require David Goldblatt style of Socio-political commentators and if done well may, as in the case of the Americans like Dorothy Lange, Walker Evans and Robert Frank be able to re-establish the importance and value of Photojournalist and Documentary Photographers.
Whether we can make a difference is a matter of debate, but I conclude with this background statement By Susan Sontag: “Photographs cannot create a moral position, but they can reinforce one-and can help build a nascent one. (Sontag, 2005, p. 11)
Franklin, S., 2014. The documentary Impulse. s.l.:PHAIDON.
Kleinman, P., 2013. philosophy 101. Avon: F&W Media Inc.
Krantz, D. L., 2008. Politics and Photography in Apartheid South Africa. History of Photography.
Krotopken, P., n.d. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. [Online].
Louw, D. J., 1999. Towards a decolonized assessment of the religious other.. South African Journal of Philosophy 18 (4):390-407.
Moodie, D. T., 2017. Vicisstitudes of the National Question: Afrikaner Style. In: E. Webster & K. Pampallis, eds. The Unresolved National Question. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, pp. P 227- p 228.
Paul recommended the Mutual Aid book by Peter Kropotkin, and I have been reading. It does inform the position from a modernist thinking point of view. It is what aid means to a capitalist where I see a disconnect. Kropotkin refers to mutual support and I think that is more in line with what I am looking for. Ubuntu is more about social responsibility rather than optional almsgiving…
What I am going to say now may be controversial so please bear with me. The Afrikaners were Calvinist and this thought was embedded in their ethic – refer to the Swiss. Calvinism originated there and influenced the Dutch philosophies and ethics which traveled to the Cape. Social Responsibility and Mutual aid were embedded in terms such as “menslikheid”(translated directly means being a human being) and “gasvryheid” (hospitality). However, Post-war poverty, industrialisation and urbanisation of the Afrikaner lead to unhealthy selfishness and internal focus. It lead in aspirations of upliftment for the Afrikaner people. Exclusive Mutual aid… It worked… but the Exclusiveness of this mutual aid was the major issue. in less than 20 years the Afrikaner and other Europeans experienced growth and strength. While some mutual aid did cross the line it was insufficient. The way I was taught “Separate Development” meant that all people needed to be developed but due to disparity and between levels of urbanisation and education, they thought this had to be done at different rates of change. However, this principle warped when the Afrikaner was corrupted with political and financial power and of course racist views that were common in South Africa at that time (Dutch (Afrikaners), English, French and Germans colonialists).
I have the same concern for the new South Africa: that Ubuntu will similarly be misdirected by those in power for capital and racist goals. I fear a new form of apartheid or nationalism. i.e. discrimination between European, Eastern and African or even nationalism. Even Ubuntu does not discriminate on the basis of race or nationality. Neither did Calvinism. Looking past the errors of the apartheid system there were programmes that were implemented by the apartheid government that, if applied or re purposed will help the new South Africa. If South Africa can apply mutual support to all as described by Ubuntu and Peter Kropotkin, in the same way, we will survive the future. In that, I agree with Peter. Urbanisation was not the survival of the fittest. It is the week organising in a way that aims prosperity for all.
Getting back to my photography I will be covering these issues in photographs in my project and in a small way help to keep the process on track. I know it it is idealistic. I know that most post-modern artists seem pessimistic. But the artist has been known to provide a vision of a way forward or at least act as a prophet by comparing intent versus reality.
My most Controversial Photograph on the Course so far!
During Webinar Week 9. Thursday 1st August. 2019. 1600-1730hrs BST (GMT+1) I presented my peers and our tutor this photograph with the assumption that they understood where I was coming from. Wrong….
Generally I did not understand my audience and I they did not understand the context of my photograph. Part of it may be due to a discussion that took place before I joined, where abuse by two dominant males was discussed and secondly not all have seen my presentation.
It was interesting how what I saw differed from what people see when they view this photograph. And yes, it is about context and audience. How you prepare your audience and share the photographs does influence the way they experience it. But you may have a photograph that cannot be contained within its original context… This is a good example of that.
Lets first explain the context within which I took this photograph. As a person, I am predominately driven by western modernity. That means I am influenced by that philosophy. This photograph intended to show how the Cartesian Cogito, ergo Sum negatively influenced western philosophy. Making the individual the centre of all truth.
As part of that project I want to change my gaze to see other philosophies interacting on my world. In my world both philosophies exist and influence the economy, art and politics and even individuals.
I attended a Film and Photography Experience expo where, apart from the workshops and expo areas, various practical shooting areas was set-up for photographers to use or try out various camera equipment. When I passed through this particular area I took one photograph of a young model posing next to a car merely as a composition and colour exercise when the above photograph happened. A photographer was done shooting the model and car and as she relaxed, the model took out her cellphone, kneeled down and started taking a selphy of herself. I realized that I am seeing a very self absorbed moment where the model was focusing on herself in front of the car which in my mind represented the abuse of modern/post modern use of the “I am”. I can never be sure what of her actual thought or motivations.
However, I had four people viewing the photograph. My tutor at first saw the photograph as the model angrily photographing the photographer and it brought up that the photograph brought up many topics – using sex to sell? which side tracked my intent.
One of my fellow students and passionate champion for feminine and children rights raised that in her mind it presented the exploitation of the model. And I must admit my response was typically that of a male photographer, so I won’t venture into that. She saw something that was way off from what I saw.
Another student with whom I have been engaging reviewed my oral presentation and could reflect immediately on what I saw.
It does speak to how we see the world. Our photographic gaze!
When I showed the second set, we aligned a bit more and we started to discuss what I was intending with my project. I had the feeling that even Paul had a problem understanding where I was coming from but we did reach a touch point when he suggested I read.
When I showed the second set, we aligned a bit more and we started to discuss what I was intending with my project. I had the feeling that even Paul had a problem understanding where I was coming from but we did reach a touch point when he suggested I read Pëtr Kropotkin Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.
Just to reflect on something important regarding Ubuntu. The western concept of aid means the great I am…. help others. Ubuntu is bigger than that. Your humanness is defined by the way you treat those that require your support. Pëtr Kropotkin uses two terms Mutual aid and Mutual support. I believe the “mutual” part is more in line with the Philosophy of Ubuntu.
Nelson Mandela stated: it takes a village to raise a kid. Those of us in happy families knows that being able to support a happy family does raise your self steam and sense of being, especially if you do it because you are a human being not because you feel obligated to do so. The well known Jewish Rabbi, Jeshua, promoted this oneness, the love driven support to all our neighbors. As in the case of the the Hawain Ho’oponopono, and the Jewish Mensch, it promotes that the person that support others is the also a beneficiary or gets the healing. The become complete and balanced individuals or get healed. The Hindu faith and Budism embeds this connectedness. We forget that modernity raised multiple ideologies which either reject these philosophies or supports it. e.g. Socialism and capitalism.
It was recommended that I don’t use this photograph as part of my submission as it distracts people from my intent.
After thinking about it a bit more I decided I will use it. The reactions reflected a paternal post modernist view in it’s own. I however altered it to try and eliminate the alternative readings.
In my opinion, it is also a worthy picture to use in my teachings in the future without any comment to illustrate the principles of interpretation of a photograph.
The First semester is gone. Time to reflect on it all….
For me this semester was most definitely a decision to select my practice and positioning myself as a contemporary documentary photographer . However, it was never easy for me. In Brassaii’s words: “I’ve always hated specialisation. That’s why I constantly changed the medium I express myself…that way I can breath, I can see things anew (Gautrand, 2008 p 9).”
I realized at the outset that I needed to select a specific “practice”/ genre that I want to use to grow . I have done many personal projects ranging from landscape, abstracts, flowers, portraiture, wedding and events and other “eye candy” work. I definitely did not want to socio-political documentary. I even stated that to my on line tutor, Paul. But that intent was short lived.
When I started the program I wanted to break away from my past. I did not want to engage with a political agenda. I just wanted a “normal” project. But this changed when I was challenged by the reading work from “Practices of looking” (Sturken and Cartwright, n.d.). This monograph highlighted that my gaze as a photographer may be from a Paternalistic Western view and that I may not be able to see other original philosophies prevalent in my context as a South African. I knew I wanted to pursue the Documentary photography practice from the start, but thought I can get away with a simplistic subject. This was not to be…
My Oral presentation became a deep self analysis, and from it was borne a need to investigate the post apartheid South Africa and the collision between unpopular and sometimes condescending Colonial philosophies and Ubuntu, believed by many to be the answer to South Africa’s challenges. And I started on a journey of discovery far beyond my expectations of the course.
In an earlier blog I mentioned that I no longer wanted to define myself as white and South African, but I have discovered that it is not easy to break those bindings. I discovered how I am entwined in the knowledge of major socio-political issues still prevalent in South Africa. I found myself being alien to the challenges of my peers to the extend that I was alienating myself from them.
Reading “On Photography (Sontag, 2014)” I came to realize how unpopular the practice of documentary photography has become, reinforced by the inability to ensure the delivery of “truth” with the arrival of the digital age. (Ritchin, 2013)
That being said, I also found a diamond where Darren Newbury quote Susan Sontag at the “Photography, Politics and Ethics seminar”, held in Johannesburg in 2004, where she talked about being struck by a strong moral and ethical dimension within South African Photography and the attention given to the politics of photography (Newbury, 2009). This has made me realise that I have an obligation to attempt to uphold such a standard.
One of the most important things I did discover is in my picture taking. I needed to learn to detach myself my believe systems and opinions. I needed to become dispassionate with my subject matter, following in the path of my favorite documentary photographer, David GoldBlatt.
I started reviewing the work by my favorite photographic mentors and among of all the gold nuggets I found a mantra to work towards during the coming semesters: Don’t be a Thief; don’t take people by force. (Gautrand 2008 p9)
I will also pursue the following as a creative principle: “There are two gifts which every man of images needs to be a true creator: a certain sensitivity to life, to living things, and at the same time, the art which will enable him to capture that life in a certain specific way. I’m not talking about pure aesthetics: a confused photo isn’t capable to penetrate the the viewers memory. I’ve always felt that the formal structure of a photo, its composition, was just as important as the subject itself… you have to eliminate every superfluous element, you have to guide your own gaze with a strong will. you have to take the viewers gaze, and lead it to what is interesting“- Brassai (Gautrand 2008, P 12) .
Gautrand, J. (2008). Brassaï, Paris, 1899-1984. Köln: Taschen.
Newbury, D. (2009). Defiant Images Photography and Apartheid South Africa. 2nd ed. Pretoria: Unisa Press.
Ritchin, F. (2013). Bending the frame. New York: Aperture Foundation, Inc.
Sontag, S. (2014). On photography. New York, NY: Picador [u.a.].
My name is Andre Nagel and I consider myself to be a “Light Scribe…. “
Let me explain.
This photograph, by Gary Winogrand (Winogrand, 1969), resonate with me and my past in so many ways. The little boy on the bench looking at the world represents me. I was 10 years old when this picture was taken.
Slide 4 and 5
Ever since I opened my eyes to the world I was fascinated by light, shapes, lines, form, texture, the people and the world around me. From the start I felt the urge to talk and tell stories using pictures and build visual models in my head when describing complex theories.
At first, I just wanted to, as Gary Winogrant asserts, “see how something looked Photographed. (Directive, 2019).”
This is one of my earliest Photographs. I was learning to see light. The soft focus and reflection in the eyes have a certain dreaminess,and in this I see myself reflected in this picture. My teachers always said I was a dreamer.
It was my first attempt at doing a “Rembrandt” using window light. I can’t remember, but I was possibly reflecting Art works that my Dad shared with me. Today I see a bit of Julia Margret Cameron in it too.
I took this image of my cat, backlit with my study lamp in
A photograph reminisced of Brassaii’s Paris at night. However, for me it reflects on a time I deliberately removed myself from general societal issues.
I no longer involved myself with the lives of any communities outside the perimeter of my protected life of relative bliss; deciding that I had too much of politics and violence in my military years, I immersed myself into my studies, starting my own career and finding love.
However, The Poem by Rod Mckuen I added into my album, amplify how I felt about myself at that time. Especially the line: “I do not live within a lie. Because I do not live at all (Mcheuen, 1972).”
Before finding love of course…
In the same way this photograph haunted me. “As If I we needed something else to worry about. ” This is a quote from “A Tree of wooden glogg’s , 1978”. A film by Ermanno Olmi , which I saw in 1979.
It was a story about Young love, getting new clogs for the son, slaughtering the pig, and daily laboring in the fields, while being oblivious to the outside world, where the Italian revolution raged.
It’s exactly how I lived!
Ironically, this photograph juxtaposes the wealthy and the
poor embracing each other.
Slide 9 and 10
Franklin in his book; “The documentary impulse”, write that “the documentary impulse is about human experience in all its range and complexities (Franklin , 2014).”
The impulse to document my life and that of those around me is prevalent in most of my photography.
I strive “to describe the world as I see it with my naked eye (Franklin, 2014).”
At first, I did not know how to define my photography, but two years ago, when doing the course: “Looking at Photographs” with the Museum of Modern Art, I realized that I have been primarily taking documentary photographs.
To Illustrate briefly, I present one of my photographs from a series I took while visiting Turkey in 2000. I used the repetition of the obelisk and towers to accentuate my sense of the intertwining of Egyptian, Roman and Turkish Histories and architectures.I missed the top of the obelisk because I used a 35mm Instamatic Camera.
As part of my personal growth I started to study Theology and Philosophy. This introduced me to critical thinking, I found that things were changing in me at a deeper level and the way I see the world…
Some may call this the “dark night of my soul.” I died to my egotistical self.
As St John of the cross wrote in the last stanza of his Poem
“I abandoned and forgot myself,
face on my Beloved;
ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares ( The Value of Sparrows, 2019) ”
Slide 14, 15
This led me into a new phase of my photography. I was looking deeper…
It is what David DuCheman says: “When we look at our photographs and find not the slightest reflection of ourselves, it’s a good sign that our images have lost their souls (Duchemin, 2019).”
The digital age arrived, and my wedding business expanded at a rapid pace.
This new learnings,and the experience with some Social documentary work I did for the church, taught me storytelling, which found its way into my wedding photographs and my popularity increased.
My personal research led me to investigate ways in which I can make my photography more significant and to re-establish the links to my artistic self.
This newfound passion for photography, and the effort to develop myself made me realize how much I had to offer as an art and photography teacher.
As Frank Oppenheimer said: “The best way to learn is to teach (Oppenheimer 2019)!”
I developed training courses for amateurs and, in a way, this was my informal tertiary education. I was being inspired by the practices and photographs of the masters I was now referencing in my courses.
As Desmond Tutu said:
“We are all connected. What unites us is our common humanity. I don’t want to oversimplify things, but the suffering of a mother who has lost her child is not dependent on her nationality, ethnicity or religion. White, black, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim or Jew – pain is pain – joy is joy-(Huffington post, 2019).”
At first, I mentally changed my nationality from “Afrikaner”
to “South African”.
In my mind I would no longer associate myself with a
specific group being defined by race, creed or religion.
Taking a position require you to draw lines…“apartheid!”
More recently I have decided to even relinquish my position as a South African. I have become Egalitarian
I removed the following due to time constraints. < I am… just me. And you are just you…. No need for pretense to be accepted. Like every sparrow I am special to God or if you prefer the Universe. A Unique person, living in a world of special and unique people.>
This is a photograph taken at a retired apartheid Police general’s funeral. It was attended by Rightwing AWB members and his ex-colleagues; some which happened to be African. All unified in grief.
This new freedom from the constraints of my ego; conforming to someone else’s views on politics, nationalism, religion, and economics allow me to see people as people.
South African’s love sport. This moment was captured during the celebration of Wade Van Niekerk’s World record. The diversity of people celebrating the event, standing on a stairway, seem to celebrate our ascension from our past.
For my project I propose to use the Hegelian Dialectic as a basis to describe through images, our current societal development documenting the resolution of the conflict between Western Modernity and African Ubuntu.
I am heavily influenced by, what Sturken and Cartrwright describe as Colonial modernism or Paternal Modernity.
As a descendant from Europe, I tend to consider it better than any other philosophies.
The theory is that if Western Modernity was and is still seen as superior and influenced us, and keeps on influencing us, then I am a product of that philosophical system.
It presents the thesis of society before the handover of political
power in South Africa in 1985
To explain: Using architecture as a theme.
This is the head office of Sasol – Originally a parastatal company created during the Apartheid era, to overcome the embargo on fuel by producing oil from Coal.
A Symbol of progress
Today they provide labor to over thirty-one thousand people
in thirty two Countries.
“In Southern Africa we have a concept called Ubuntu – which is that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. You can’t be human all by yourself. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas what you do, what I do, affects the whole world. Taking that a step further, when you do good, it spreads that goodness; it is for the whole of humanity. When you suffer or cause suffering, humanity is diminished as a result (Desmond Tutu, Huffpost.com, 2019)”.
The anti-thesis is the African philosophy of Ubuntu, a Zulu word meaning “Humanity”. It has been prominent in the minds of African people, but I want to learn to see how they see it.
I want to capture this anti-thesis in my images.
It may allow me to change my gaze to something that is
unfamiliar to me.
This is an architectural drawing of the Ubuntu center in the Zwide Township, Mandela Bay.
The Ubuntu centre currently feeds 2,000 poor children each day, provides holistic support to 3,500 clients and their families, delivers after-school education to 250 students, and issues HIV counselling and testing to 6,000.
If the Hegelian dialectic is a valid approach, then one can expect a natural synthesis of the two philosophies where conflicts will be resolved, and a new thesis be developed that is uniquely South African.
I want to also investigate if I can observe this synthesis
in my photographs
This architectural drawing is of the latest retail space in
“The Mall of Africa.”
It provides 485,000 Square metres of space, the shopping space itself is “only” 131,000 squares.”
This is a view of the Western Gateway, a post-Industrial building, at the main entrance of the mall.
“Here is a tree rooted in African soil, nourished with waters from the rivers of Afrika. Come and sit under its shade and become, with us, the leaves of the same branch and the branches of the same tree- Robert Sobukwe (Sobukwe, 2019).”
This image not only stimulate my visual senses through the aesthetics and lines but fills me with an excitement. My children may still have a beautiful future ahead of them!
I realize that a work of this magnitude could take more than a lifetime. And I have little of that left….
So I will address themes in workable chunks clearly demarcating the scope to achieve the desired outcome. The depth of my research will depend on time constraints and my commitment to the task. But the work can be done iteratively with each cycle building on the other. ..
In this semester I will open my photographic eye and do an initial photographic survey, critically read Franklins book “the documentary impulse”, and scholarly works on Ubuntu. I will also attempt to identify knowledgeable collaborators to assist me in reviewing my future work.
I will record my
findings and determine which themes I want to pursue in the other
As my ultimate intention is to teach, I will also focus my research on the documentary approach and aim to prepare for a workshop to share my learnings at the end of the MA.
And if I am successful do my first exhibition in South
I believe that I need to do this, and keep on doing it,
to improve my practice and to progress from a successful to
a significant documentary photographer within a contemporary South African
And maybe do some penance for my ignorance in the process.
I conclude in the words of David DuChemin:
“The camera on its own is a wonder, but in the hands of the poet, the storyteller, the change seeker, or the frustrated artist, it can create something alive that touches humanity (DuChemin, 2019).”
Franklin, S. (2014). The documentary impulse. Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (n.d.). Practices of looking. Oxford University Press, pp.95,96. Versace, V. ca (2007), “Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography”. Kleinman, P. (2013), Philosophy 101 pp.108,109,110. McKuen, R. (1972). To every Season. 1st ed. Simon and Schuster.
The tree of wooden Glogs. (1978). [film] Directed by E. Olmi. Italy: RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, Italnoleggio Cinematografico.
Reflection on my readings and the impact on my Project.
We are almost halfway in the semester and I can honestly say that I am only getting a handle of the course now. This weeks content had the greatest impact in my mind. It takes time for one to assimilate, internalize and synthesize information and in this week it all sort of came together. Such a shift changes you as an individual.
My mind shift occurred while reading Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright’s “Practices of looking: An Introduction to visual culture (spectatorship and power)” and specifically the section “The Subject of Modernity” (Sturken,M and Cartwright, L : p94).
It changed the way I will approach my project and me trying to find myself in a post-corporate role. I agree with the authors that to understand our role as image creators we need to understand ourselves, the subjects gazing at the image after I have taken it , the people gazing at me in the image and the context of the “field” as defined in text. I believe that doing so will improve my interpretation and understanding of my own images and and has the potential to take my documentary photography “From success to significance”.
The article impressed me as it uses philosophy and modernity as the point of departure in this introduction to visual studies.
However, what surprised me was the I had an epiphany in the realization that much of what is happening in South Africa ( a Ex-European colony), in the newly “liberated” or freed society may be explained in the following profound portion from the text. “These colonial strategies of modernization were justified by the Eurocentric belief that European practices and beliefs were objectively better (more advanced, more sanitary, more ethical , more modern) than the cultural practices and ways of knowing and living in the world that had been in place prior to colonization.” (Sturken, M and Cartwright, L : p95, p96). I believe that it is that lead to supremacist views, racism in the colonies and finally “segregation” and “Apartheid”.
To be effective I need to see how much of this is these views are in-bedded in my thoughts. I know that in certain ways I still hold some of these believes.And I am still a male….
About a year ago my best friend, who happen to be a coloured, accused me of wanting to enforce my western ethics onto Africans. My simple answer to him was, ethics are ethics… Its important to know that my dad was a liberal that grew up in a integrated society in Observarory Cape Town and we were taught to respect all people irrespective of their race, colour or creed.
A second thing I came to realise when photographing Black brides I found that I could not view them as I do white women even if they followed western traditions. Facing this realization made me change the way I look (Gaze) at these pretty woman and my photographs normalized as they started to gaze back at me differently. This activity within myself improved my photographs and I can now relate fully with the individuals. But I know I am still a work in progress.
The impact of Modernity in South Africa is also a work in progress.
Modernist thinking led to the Dutch to travel around the Cape of Good Hope finding a route to India. The early Dutch and French settlers came from a stock that fought for their convictions and had to flee to the Cape province to avoid persecution. As in the case of the early Americans they fled the imperial aspirations of European monarchy and in the case of the British settlers, poverty and injustice in England. There aspirations driven by modernist ideals and led them to create two independent republics separate from their mother countries.
Jumping ahead to the 20th Centuray, Our founders and political leaders were well educated in western philosophy, rational thinking, science and and modernist view. Dr. D.F Malan the early protagonist for “separate development in the 40’s and 50’s, was trained through the Anglo/European Tersiary education systems at Victoria College (now klnown as Stellenbosch, where he earned a Bsc in Science and mathematics, did an MA in philosophy before getting his Bth and Doctorate in Theology (Koorts,L:P23).
Malan went to the same school and College as Jannie Smuts in his youth. (Koorts,L:P29). While Malan who did some of his education in the Netherlands during the Boer war is today seen as a racist, Jan Smuts who was 4 years older and Studied Law at Cambridge, and who fought against the British during the Boer war and with the Allied armies during world war 1 and II, turned out to be a romanticist, botanist, war hero that became a peacemaker and world leader. This is a story very similar to that of Nelson Mandela whose statue today stand next to that of Jan Smuts in Trafalgar square.
This is part of a discourse happening in my mind and those gazing with me at the new South Africa. This expands my image making process. There is a “now” to be recorded. Midrand, a vibrant and a developing city, nested between the Johannesburg , the center of commerce, mining and industry, and the Tswane (formally known as Pretoria), the center of our democracy as political power, is my home. It hosts the PAN African Parliament and most of the post industrial, technology companies. I am living in a cauldron of modernity that is affecting and shaping our society, religion, culture and economic lives. An ideal opportunity for me to document!
South African Artists tend to interpret what we gaze at South Africa through “Apartheid” and “Colonization” and “White/Non white glasses” but maybe we should expand this gaze and “Modernize” it when we interpret what is happening to us in global terms.
Putting it in the words of a Non-white South African:
“As we stand atop the political ruins of the Afrikaner nationalist project and, staring at the horizon, see in rough outline what looks like the makings of an African nationalist wreck, we might think there is nothing worth excavating from these ruins. But, as Lindie Koorts shows in this fascinating biography of D.F. Malan, there is much that South Africans, still have to learn about their collective past. She has produced a book that shows how one can go about writing a history that is understanding but not apologetic, sympathetic but not justificatory. Malan was not an evil man. He certainly meant to do right by poor whites and to achieve Afrikaner unity. But, and this is perhaps the most important lesson to take from this captivating book, Malan could not see beyond his narrow community interests. That, ultimately, was the greatest irony of Malan’s life.’ – Jacob Dlamini, author of Native Nostalgia and Categories of Persons (edited with Megan Jones) (Koorts, L:Afterword)
You may well ask why I reflect on this… It’s the incoherent “separate” and asynchronous way that the positive and negative sides of modernity has hit the different groups of people in South Africa and the collision of thoughts and discourses, that is reflected in my field of gaze and interest me. The introduction opened my eyes to see this in practical terms. And I now have the urge to develop this understanding my Gaze and the Field in my practice as a documentary photographer.
This discourse will form the basis of my oral presentation and as Paul suggested I need to verbalize it concisely and slice the effort into workable realistic chunks of work. Truly a challenge as my mind races towards a accomplishing a huge body of work that will probably take the rest of my lifetime to achieve.
Reflections on Ethical Discussions:
The Fisher Cohort started our discussion around the abuse and misinterpretation of a photograph by UKIP for political purposes. It was as far as I am concerned the best discussion so far.
I could see how the debate raged internally within each one of the participants, specifically Bekkie. I was not new to the debate and added my 10 cents worth which was well received.
My mind started to wander to ethics at a different level. I came to realize and acknowledge my personal responsibility as a photographer for the pictures I take and the story I tell. But this responsibility include the assignments we undertake to do and to whom and for what purpose we deliver their images to. We no longer can use the Nuremberg excuse. Issues that was discussed was copyright and publishing rights, codes of conduct and ethical standards. I also added that as photographers we need to take responsibility for our own business and make sure that the Law reflect our ethics by lobbying an fighting for justice and appropriate use of our works. This include social media and news and media agencies that can only be governed by Law.
The aforementioned discussion and the Alan Kurdi video brings to bear a need for a deeper analysis regarding ethics.
It chalenged me to reflect on other aspects of ethics such as our purpose to take a photograph, i.e the reason for our gaze as a photographer. Was the journalist taking the picture to make money? Or is the purpose fame and honour such as a pulitzer prize, Or commercial, merely wishing to produce shock for some agency to get legal tender to live. What responsibility and ethics was applied by not publishing it in certain countries and alternatively, which of the photographs was actually published? And lastly, the impact it has on us sitting in an environment of calm and peace viewing the horror of what is happening in the world desensitizing us to the truth out there.
For me the shock was the quality of the child’s clothes. He does not represent poor down trodden unwanted members of our society, but present modern, well loved and a well cared child, rejected by our society. I must declare that I too have become desensitized to the horror of famine, war and injustice in Africa. How did we react to the horor of the Ethopian Kids migrating in Africa.
The death of Alan Kurdi had a desired outcome and opened the door hearts of many countries to the Syrian refugees and their plight. Does the end justify the means?
It then brings into play the ethics of censorship. With reference to my in discussion on censorship in the Article in week 4 about of citizen journalism in the Boston marathon attack and the linked impact assessment where the American authorities wanted to switch of the cell service to reduce the impact of the story to the general public.I was also prevented from watching McCullen in South Africa. Was it a regional block or a censored video as it include black on black violence.
Just a general note. The group is mostly in agreement and unfortunately we are not really getting to debate differences of opinion. I see Paul raised some questions that could produce this outcome but unfortunately my time was up. In future I will see that if the opportunity arises that I will add an alternative perspective to the discussion and see if it produces a deeper outcome. In my opinion the group and myself has not broken the politeness barrier yet.
Reference: STRURKEN, Marita and CARTWRIGHT, Lisa. ca. 2001. “Practices of looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.”
KOORTS, Lindie. ca. 2014. “DF Malan and the Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism”
Jessie in introduction lecture to this highlighted solitary pursuit of the photographer in ” the act of taking a photograph and the intimacy and exclusivity of the viewfinder, which usually allows just one person at a time to make judgments about framing and timing, that leads us to associate photography with a strongly singular point of view in terms of authorship.” or the freelance photographers “indeed work for themselves and conduct their business as sole traders, operating as a single entity.”
In my practice as a wedding photographer this may seem the case but it is not true. Even a sole proprietor my work requires me to collaborate with other service providers (videographers, DJ, etc) and our customers and to be able to record the event fully I require a second shooter and an assistant. This process lead to choreographed dance of interaction, shared creativity , timing and provisioning of space. Although I do my own post production work at this time a number of my peers make use of Photoshop specialists and graphic designers to finalize their vision with great effect.
This collaboration is required even in journalism where as in the Case of the Bang bang Club journalist hunt together for the story. In Fashion the collaboration occur between the photographer, stylist and creative director. and even as a amateur, it is better to collaborate with others to go out and find the perfect picture, even join photographic clubs.
I find that these collaboration brings about some competition and creative tension that lead, in my case to better work. In their Video tutorial ” ” Rocco Ancora and Ryan collaborate to teach and on occasion do work together. They formed a social media group with a number of wedding photographers to send each shared photos taken with cellphones on the back of their cameras to compete at who can get the best in Camera shot. According to them this resulted in them improving their skill to such a level that reduced their post production work immensely.
This week we were challenged to find a collaborator and deliver a presentation. I posted a group to participate in discovering “alternative portraits” and unfortunately did not manage to invite someone specific to join After 1 day I realized that I was not going to get someone and I contemplated joining one of the other teams. I fortunately decided not to do so and I advertised for participants to join by sending out a proper brief. This turned out to be a success when “Buzz” Christopher Matthews Joined me. It was a start of a pleasant journey and we managed to complete the task in one day. Unfortunately due to technical difficulties I could only submit our work two days after the webinar. I do feel that we both achieved our brief and each of can list at least one failed attempt. Our work was diverse with creativity being our only link.
Looking at the work done by some of our peers I came away with the impression that they all experienced the process positively and those that participated grew in trust and respect for each other.
On the question of authorship, it became less of an I and turned into a we as all parties influenced each other in one way or another.
In practical terms,it is best to consider signing agreements up front around copyright, intellectual property (ideas) and distribution rights. Beth and Thom Atkinson even illustrated what can be done if a shared authorship model is undertaken. As Beth said, it sometimes become impossible to remember who shot which photograph, something I experience regularly with my second shooter as we align in style and purpose. Fortunate the meta data on the photograph allows us to manage it.
Husband and wife and family teams abound the industry such as the Dianne and Olivier Follmi (French Travel Photographers), Bernhard “Bernd” Becher, and Hilla Becher (Famous for their water tower photographs) and the Van Den Berg’s (Heinrich van Den Berg and his family:South African wildlife Photographers ), to mention a few. In some cases no differentiation or separate accreditation are given for their work.
My experiences and insights and solutions for operating effectively in this challenging profession.
How we address the issues above will determine the development of our own practices. It is continuous work. Photographer ….. suggest that we need to be like a shark and always move forward or die from from suffocation.
My experience in the highly competitive IT environment and process modeling has provided me with a model that I can share. Any process is initiated by an activity, be it a annual strategy session or a declining income stream. these triggers to the process requires of continuous monitoring of your situation. The change process is the evaluation of the circumstances and identifying those things you need to stop doing , those things you need to keep doing and identifying the changes you need implement. Changes are achieved by challenging yourself, research, education and re-education, finding the resources required for the change (people, money and tools/technology) and finally empowering yourself to accomplishing the change. Don’t blame your circumstances or be incapacitated by the “realities”.
I believe in my an inherent power to achieve my goals. Empowerment only means that use and release that power once I am enabled by information and clear vision.
I have split my photographic practice in the three distinct niches that I run independently from each other. My Wedding and portraiture photography business, My photographic education, my Art photography Development. While these niches operate independently, they do add value to each other.
In all of these niches. I constantly effectiveness and efficiency of:
my marketing ( the worst part of my armour),
the effectiveness of my business processes, and the resources for it
and the effectiveness of my practice as a photographer.
These compete for my time, but I find that the one practice encourages and inform the other.
In terms of motivation I use both a Industry mentor and business coach to assist my Wedding and portraiture photography business. (www.ludre.co.za)
For education take on-line courses on Creative live and Udemy, attend seminars and short courses provided by the photographic vendors, and I make it a target to attend a workshop at least once a year, and do a lot of on-line reading. The wedding business is becoming my primary source of income that needs to provide for my other two en devours. There is definitely activities and opportunities being provided by practitioners to improve the businesses and a great willingness to share experience and knowledge to improve these practices. Yervant, Marcus Bell, Rocco Ancora and Jerry Gionness are Australian based master wedding photographers that not only train wedding photographers but have been able to re-educate their customers to value the printed form and eclectic photography. Their initiative has now started to take hold in the United states (Joe Buisink ) and South Africa. (Brett Florrens- My industry mentor). These Master photographers is providing an un-measurable service to the Wedding and portrait practitioner. They all encourage closer collaboration between photography practitioners. I presume that similar initiatives are a foot in other photographic genres.
My art photography and education (andrenagel.photography and ANCRJ.Blog) was initiated by Britian’s Tom Ang who encouraged me to look more deeply at pictures, study Photography history and contemporary masters. This en-devours are the prime drivers why I have started to study at Falmouth. This initiatives was generated by my need to provide an proper education to my students and was further reinforced by non- accredited courses by MOMA and the university of Michigan on on Coursera. Bret Florrens. I truly appreciate the initiative by Falmouth to have a Photography specific education program that can and will address the need for developing the practice of photography at Tertiary level. Here I want to learn how to engage with the education and art communities, provide progress to become a master photographer and educator.
” I don’t have competition, I am unique. I just need to find my customer” Bret Florence – Five day wedding workshop 2018
What you are up against in developing a fulfilling career?
As a aspiring full time photographic practitioner I constantly need to understand my relevance in the world I live in, find ways to provide value to the community, find a way to sell a unique offering and provide add-on services that will differentiate me from the competition. The following are the current challenges to my photographic practice.
Perception The low cost of distributing a digital image and the high level of automation and marketing of camera equipment based on this of the has changed the perception professional photographer.
Economy The economic down turn has had it impact on what people can afford to pay for photographic work and they resort to taking their own photographs. A number of amateur photographers that lose their jobs resort to Photography to find a stop gap and are embarking in short term careers. Government and museum grants for the arts are also severely curtailed as money is channeled to more important agendas.
Lack of business skills. Even a Artist needs to build a business system to make their practice sustainable. Most practitioners believe that their skill will sustain them. I was working as a part-time wedding photographer for many years before embarking on a full time career. Your ordinary work life and amateur approach does not teach you how to market yourself, build business relationships and partnership, to business planning and just effectively manage their business. This results in unsustainable en-devours.
High pressure sales techniques Some photographic practitioners are bringing the industry in disrepute through hard sales and “free service” advertising in the hope to get sales making the photography practice a commodity
Stock photo libraries are overstocked. Supply and demand drives the economy. An oversupply of photographic content by stock libraries has reduced the price of photographs
The abundance,free supply and illicit copying of low resolution images. The internet has always been a source of “free” low res images and this floods the market
The over saturation and noise created by the number of images. Social media taught viewers to scan photographs. My experience is that the time a person spends on an image is approximately 2 seconds.
What the wider world makes of us as a photographic Practitioner…
Marvin Heiferman made the claim that photography is changing itself ( HEIFERMAN:2012). While he meant the way we view photographs, I want to add that it also changes the role of photographers.
“If photographers in the past were respected as skilled professionals and idealized as romantic truth-seekers, today’s model is more democratic. WE ARE ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS NOW! proclaimed the boldly lettered title of a 2007 exhibition of visitor-contributed digital content at the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland.” (HEIFERMAN:2012,P14).
David DuChemin is less eloquent and verbalises what we sometimes feel when he says: “Every one that have a @#$ Camera think they are Photographers”
However he continues:”When the words, “everyone is a photographer!” are muttered we show our true cards. We reveal first that we believe the very word “photographer” has intrinsic merit. We believe, mistakenly, that it implies something precious, not unlike our use of the word “artist.” For the record, I think our use of the word “artist” has become too precious as well. We say it with misplaced reverence. To be an artist simply means we make art. Some of it will be good, some will be garbage, and many will be the arguments about which is which. Oddly, the photographers who would never deign to call themselves “artists” for fear of being called out as a snob, will happily exclude others from their ranks as “a photographer.” It’s time to call this what it is: elitism, snobbery, and small-heartedness.”
More worryingly, when we bemoan the new reality, that so many people are in fact becoming photographers, we show an unwillingness to share the thing that has given us such pleasure” (DuChemin:2018).
David warns not to disparage other photographers even the beginners. What we may need to do is to firstly acknowledge that all people that use a camera are photographers as they may be future practitioners and that we learn to edify our fellow practitioners and photography masters. This will reduce conflict and return the practice to some credibility and acceptance.
I still get asked whether I am a professional photographer and it still means something today for serious clients. As a long time amateur photographer that first turned semi-professional and who is now only embarking on a full-time career have the greatest respect for both amateur and professional practitioners. As a Photography teacher I have also come to appreciate the first attempts by new photography student s and the personal growth, fascination and wonder experienced by them, which takes me back to by early days. Whats more, I have seen that the digital photography has allowed some of them to leap frog their practice. One of my students bought her camera two years ago during my course and three years later she was invited to exhibit one of her Photographs at an Expo in Venice Italy. She still sees me as her mentor and the one that has opened her eyes to this world.
We can debate terms to define photography practitioners as Snap shooters, Professional, Amateurs and Fine Art photographers. But I doubt if the term snap-shooter still applies to the modern mobile device photographer “hibstamatic”. We can also define photographers according to their genre e.g. War Photographers, Fashion Photographers, Fine Art Photographers, Landscape photographers, Wildlife photographers, Travel Photographers, Journalists, Wedding Photographers and many more. But our opportunities and the work projects we do may be the defining us not what we define ourselves to be.
Don McCullen in the documentary of his life makes the point that we get defined by the the photographs we deliver. He became known a a War Photographer a title he in later life came to hate and has made attempts to change that.
Initially snap-shooters were limited to taking photographs and sharing it with family and friends through a private album. The advent of the internet, the smart phone or what is now called a mobile device and social media has opened this sharing to everyone. Photography for them has become a way for them to communicate. They have effectively become adept in using the visual image to communicate and in journalling their own lives. While it was still possible to separate the work of a professional or serious amateur photographer based on the quality of their work and practice the gap is closing. The “Citizen Journalist” has been created that can and will through practice be able to get to places and report on stories close to them in near real time in a much more efficient way than a hired pro could ever do. But this is not only for personal interest areas.
But events and opportunities may redefine us….
The Rapid development of the Citizen Journalist development can be tracked. While the 911 was covered by photo journalists and activist like Bill Briggart ( Briggart:2017 ), who gave his life at the World trade center, Documentary photographers like Magnum photographer Steve Webb, Street photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, (Harris:2011) a world renowned War Photographer James Nachtwey (Nachtwey:2017) and amateur photographers such as a John Botte a NYC Detective and some tourists present on that day. Photos were with an unprecedented variety of camera’s such as Instamatics, 35 mm film SLR’s and rangefinder cameras , Medium format cameras and their is even a photograph taken with a view camera. Todd Maisel a Photo journalist used the first professional grade DSLR an , a Nikon D1 and a photograph taken using a Sony Mavica. All of them captured the mood of the day and the events in their different perspectives. What is notable is that the cellphone camera has not been introduced yet
The cellphone camera launch in Japan and 911 happend in the same month. the Cellphone camera was launched in Britian the folowing year and it was launched in America in November 2002 (Hill:2013).
According to The Gaurdian commenting on the London Bombings in July 2015 ” The mobile phone photographers, the text messages and the bloggers – a new advance guard of amateur reporters had the London bomb story in the can before the news crews got anywhere near the scene.” and ” Seasoned news executives talk of a “tipping point”, a democratisation of the news process, the true birth of the “citizen reporter”. The public assuming control of the newsgathering process to a hitherto unimagined degree ” (Gaurdian:2005) . The world now needed to assess the impact of this new tendency.
A study done post the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013 discusses the lessons regarding information provided via the Cellphone users. While regarded negatively, the footage from cellphones was used to identify the perpetrators. This article however raises major issues regarding “Citizen Journalism”.
The american government is considering blocking this unstoppable natural progression. While clearly accepted by news gathering executives this new tendency threatens the careers of established professionals.
Even documenting peoples lives is done effectively by “Hipstagramers”. I have seen work done by some of these that compete well with those making a living of it. Don Mcullen states in one of his videos that he does not fear the social media a the difference would become apparent when a photograph is enlarged. The quality of smartphone cameras has already passed that of film and is no longer true. ….. Day in “the life of Grunts” proved that with sufficient skill the IPhone can be used for news gathering and even win journalistic prizes.
As a wedding photographer I feel constantly under pressure to produce better work and deliver photos as soon as possible as I may be embarrassed by “Aunt Joey” taking better photographs and provide it a half an hour later via social media. But even saying that, my greatest threat is from Professionals that used to work in advertising, fashion and journalism who are losing out to cheap stock footage and CGI that change their career to wedding photography to survive.
This change in demand and skill requirement is not limited to the Photography practitioner. I was trained as Electronic engineer and had to reinvent myself to become a IT professional. with the advent of cheap hosting services in the cloud it is no longer possible to solicit a high salary as an IT architect. It is said that all practitioners may only have a carrier of 10 Years after which they will need to rediscover and retrain themselves.
If photography is the new language, then it holds true that the ideal is that everyone learns it and use it to communicate. And as in the case of the written language there will always be those that excel in it and a demand for them to provide eclectic or other supporting services, such as master photographers that know their craft at its deepest level, post production specialists, colour experts, graphic designers, editors etc. In short mediocrity will not survive. Not unlike the other industries, if you want to be a professional you need to provide real value. There is also a need to train photographic ethics as the above discussion indicate.
In the Art community the artist needs to find a way that express contemporary issues or be so eclectic that someone consider their work collectible.
Its only the amateur that still have the freedom to pursue freely the whole gamut of opportunities available to us all and enjoy a photograph, even if a million similar images has been taken.
Reference: HEIFERMAN, Marvin. ca. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. Aperture.
BRIGGART, Bill ca. 2007. “21 Rare Photos Of 9/11 Attacks You Probably Haven’t Seen Before” Bill Biggart Photographer (1947-2001) [Online] Available at: http://www.billbiggart.com/911.html [accessed 20 June 2019].