For the final assignment in The Art of Photography I am asked to create a series of 6-12 photographs that could be used to illustrate a story for a magazine. The series will begin with a cover picture followed by several photographs that will relay the body of the story. The photographs should also be accompanied by captions to help link each picture. I spent a lot of time thinking about ideas for assignment and considering what kind of story did I want to tell? Freeman (2112, loc 1018-1244) discusses the different kinds of stories that picture essays can be loosely grouped into. He describes these as follows;
- People Stories
- Location Stories
- “Making-Of”- Stories
- Commodity Stories
- Activity Stories
- Collection Stories
- Institution Stories
- Concept Stories
Reading about these categories helped me to narrow down my thinking to either a People or Location story as these are the types of stories that generally have the highest interest level for viewers, myself included. Short (2011, p42) notes that when choosing a subject you should be clear about why you want to photograph it and what you want to communicate. She explains that the commitment to your photographs is what makes them breathe. Considering Short’s advise I decided to develop a location, Dubai, as the concept for the assignment. I decided this as I am preparing to leave Dubai, my home for the past 6 years, to return to Scotland. However, I did not want to show the city as an array of towering skyscraper, five-star hotels and beach clubs, as is it commonly portrayed. In previous assignment feedback my tutor suggested that instead of showing Dubai as ordered and precise it would be interesting to photographically seek out the imperfections and disorder of the place. Considering this advice, and that of Short, I eventually decided to focus my attention on Dubai Creek, an area commonly referred to as ‘Old Dubai’. It is a place where you feel as though you have almost stepped back in time, where shopping is carried out in souks instead of shopping malls and where people commute via abra rather than the Dubai Metro. It is an area of the city that is steeped in tradition and I wanted photos that would communicate the noise, activity, colour and diversity it holds.
I began by undertaking some research on the Dubai Creek area, including its history, demographics, industries and key features. Freeman (2012, loc 108) notes that when shooting a location story the most well-known aspects of the site should be shot. However, he continues, the key to making a location story work, is to try to capture it’s character. This involves spending time to get the personality of the place and the details. While I had visited the Creek area many times before I visited it again, walking along the Creekside and through the streets to both scout out possible shots and to try to connect with the place. On this visit I also took some test shots as a form of practical research as suggested by Fox and Caruana (2012, p63) to view the subject matter in 2D form. Amongst other things, the research reminded me that the souks that surround the Creek only open for business after 4pm each day. With sunset at around 6:30pm this gave me a relatively short period of time to shoot in natural light therefore I planned multiple visits. I then began to develop a Picture Script using the six categories suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335), Events, Locations, Setups, Activities, People and Add-ons. I also included a section on category labeled keywords listed words that I wanted to the overall series of photographs to convey, such as heat, noise and bustle.
My planning and approach to this assignment has been influenced by the work of British photographer Martin Parr (b.1952). Like Parr’s work, I wanted my photographs to have a bold use of colour and to demonstrate a sense of place through symbols, behaviours and traditions. An example of this is GB. England. Dorset. Taken from ‘West Bay’, 1996. The photograph shows 2 seagulls feasting on a discarded tray of chips. Behind them flaps a Union Jack flag and colourful bunting set against a blue sky. The flag informs the viewer that the location is in the UK, while the seagulls and bunting signify a seaside setting. The discarded chips a nod towards the great British seaside tradition of consuming fish and chips. The colours in the image make it eye-catching while the content makes it engaging and understandable to anyone who have experienced a day at a British seaside resort.
I also found the series of work Parr produced for an exhibition in Barcelona title ‘Souvenir’, that was commissioned by the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona to document the expanding tourist industry in Barcelona, to be of interest. He fulfills the brief by making clever use of objects, behaviours and symbols associated with tourism in Spain, such as close-ups of cliché souvenirs and shorts groups of camera wielding Japanese tourists at tourist attractions.
I also have been looking at the work of US photographer David Alan Harvey (b. 1944). Harvey began taking photographs at the age of 12 and throughout his career he has produced over 40 photo essays for National Geographic. I recently attended a talk with Harvey at a GPP13 event (which I wrote about in a previous post) where he stressed the fact that he wants his photographs to tell a story. He also likes to have a lot going on in his images with the elements juxtaposed in certain ways. This is something that I wanted to achieve in a few of my assignment images in order to show the energy in the area surrounding Dubai Creek. Harvey advises that photographers should not shoot what it looks like, but instead should shoot what it feels like. I believe that Harvey’s ‘Divided Soul I’ and Divided Soul II projects, which document the Spanish cultural migration to the Americas, conveys to the viewer what the scene would feel like. The use of warm sunlight shows the heat of place, bull fighting shows energy and fervor while religious symbols and festivals relay the passion and spirituality of the people.
The idea of ‘don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’ was at the forefront of my mind as I planned and carried out the shoot. I wanted to convey the hot desert temperature, the smells in the spice souk and the general street sounds. Short (2011, p55) calls this ‘missing information’ and suggests that we should consider the ways in which we can include or refer to background noise, smells, temperature and climate and people’s accents and dialects in photography to make the experience more 3D.
I initially considered structuring the picture story as a sequential journey down the Creek with stop off points on the way. However, I then realise that this would place restrictions on the layout choice, which I wanted the freedom to organise. I then decided to adopt a more ‘travelogue’ style. Where each picture would show an aspect of the ‘story’ that builds to give an overall impression as discussed by Short (2011, p102). As previously noted, the best time to visit the Creek was in late afternoon as this coincided with the opening of the souks and also would have the best natural light. I visited the area half a dozen times over a period of a few weeks. One of the visits was unfortunately useless as a sandstorm blew in. I shot from both sides of the Creek, in both directions and from onboard an abra. All the images were taken with available light. The lighting in the souks proved to be challenging as in some sections it was quite low while in others there was a garish mixture of tungsten and fluorescent lighting. The photographs were shot using a 18mm-55mm lens and a 55mm-300mm. I also used tripod for the low light, closing shot.
Post-processing was carried out using Photoshop Elements 11.
Short (2011, p86) states that the way an image is presented is an important aspect of the context in which it is seen and therefore interpreted. She continues by noting that it is the size, shape and ordering that are the main ingredients that inform how a series of images relate to each other or highlight the significance of a single image. Bearing this in mind I gave careful consideration as to how I laid out my picture story. From over 300 images I selected 20 that I felt relayed the story best and printed these off. Taking Fox and Caruana’s (2012, p122) advice on testing scale, tone and colour balances I placed these on a dining table and began experimenting with layouts based around the picture story structure suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 190);
Opener– very important, as in photography this has to grab the viewer’s attention
Body– can be any particular length, but should be appropriate to the interest level of the story.
Climax– the key shot, the highest-impact photograph in the set
Closer– should bring completeness to the story Other factors that I took into consideration where rhythm; visual and emotional variety in sequence, pacing; where key shots are held back until the right time (Freeman 2012, loc 369) and what Short (2011, p106 terms as ‘visual punctuation’; where pace can be influenced by a particular size or shape of image. The pdf of the layout can be viewed by clicking on the link below with individual images following after. The layout was constructed using iStudio Publisher.
The assignment brief asks that the cover picture should utilise some of the techniques of illustration. Bearing this in mind I selected this image that clearly shows the Creek, helping to establish the location. Alongside the Creek the mooring bollards suggest maritime activity and the orange rust complements the dominant blue colour. The strong diagonal leads the eye up the Creek and makes the composition quite dynamic. Of the potential opening shots I had taken this wasn’t my personal favourite, however I do think it shows an overview of the story subject well and is interesting enough to grab attention and hold it. The water area in the foreground also provides a good space for a heading and opening caption.
Page 2 & 3
For the second image in the series I selected this image to introduce the Dhow Wharfage. I decided to opt for a medium distance shot to vary the scale. This allowed the structure of the dhow to be seen as a whole. The UAE flags on top of the dhows help to reinforce the location.
I wanted these images to convey the work that goes on at the Wharfage. The top image to show the bizarre assortment of goods that are imported and exported on the dhows and the bottom to show the physical work the men undertake. It is not perhaps as colourful as I would have liked, however the odd position of the car and the man still provide a lot of visual interest. I consciously positioned the image of the man sitting on top of the goods at the top of the page as I felt this helped show how high the goods were stacked. The scene in the bottom photograph caught my eye because of the strong yellows and reds of the containers, fire hydrant and road markings.
Page 4 & 5
These two images move the viewer onto another part of the story, abras on the Creek. They also have similar, subtle colour palettes that I think helps to relay the hot 30c temperature of the afternoon. The top image shows abras sailing across the Creek. I left some space in front of the first abra to suggest movement and direction. I also wanted to show more than one abra to convey the frequency at which they sail and the activity on the Creek. The bottom image is much closer in scale, showing an abra driver mid-shift. I consider this to be a key shot in the narrative due to the very direct, intense gaze of the man. I did consider making this a full page shot however the course notes state that our interest in and familiarity with other people’s faces makes it easy to read people images even when they are very small and therefore I decided to stick with this size.
This page introduces the souks that sit on the Creekside. I wanted to show the hustle and bustle of the souks therefore used a slow shutter speed to get some motion blur. I also wanted to show tourists, expats and locals in a single shot, therefore I had to wait for quite some time for the right combination of people to stroll past. I liked the alternate back, front, back, front positioning of the four figures in the foreground. The Arabic shop names visible in the background helps to reinforce the sense of place, as does the UAE flag plastic bag the woman is carrying.
The next images shows a close-up shot of various spices, which adds visual variety while helping to suggest the smells and scents of the souk.
I placed these three images together on page 6 as I felt they were linked due to content, merchandise for sale at the souks, and also because are linked by a gold/orange colour. The first image was on this page was inspired by Parr’s ‘Souvenir’ collection which contains many photographs of tourist souvenirs from various places. The idea was to show two faces of Dubai in one shot. The shiny skyscrapers, juxtaposed with the old souks. I included the photograph of the carpet seller at this point as I felt his lowered head and calm posture offers some emotional variety to the narrative. I also cropped this into a square to place the focus more on him and not the carpets behind him. The third image shows the detail of the numerous gold bracelets for sale. I chose a shallow depth of field and to over fill the frame to suggest never-ending rows of jewellery.
As all the image of page 6 were fairly static I wanted the narrative closer to be a little more dynamic. Using a tripod I waited until just after sunset, when there was still a little residual daylight and the lights on the souks and buildings where beginning to be lit. I used a 2s shutter speed to show the movement of the abras while capturing the buildings behind. The idea was to show that even though the narrative was concluded the activity on the Creek would still continue into the night. I consciously framed the shot to include the two lit minarets from the mosques that hopefully helps to cement the sense of place and suggest the sound of the call to prayer that calls out across the city five times a day.
Carrying out the exercises and assignment for Narrative and Illustration has helped me understand that due to different social, cultural, geographical and topical experiences it is not always possible to gauge how an audience will respond to a photograph. However, as Short (2011, p68) notes the picture making process can be influenced by the photographer’s connection to their subject matter and clarity as to their intention.
As I researched the subject I began to realise that Dubai Creek, as a whole could be a massive topic to capture in 12 pictures. Freeman (2011, loc 875) notes that you can de-focus a story by trying to include too much. I therefore narrowed the scope to the wharfage, abras and souks and planning for this helped me to be more focused when it came to the actual shoot. For the majority of the photographs I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to achieve. The Picture Script as suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335) was a very simple but useful tool in planning for this.
What I learned previously in the exercises on symbolism and juxtaposition was also useful in planning individual shots, particularly when I was considering how to include, what Short (2011, p55) describes as, ‘missing information’.
When taking the photographs for this assignment I was probably the boldest I have ever been in taking photographs of people on the street. I have always been a little wary of this before, not wanting to impose on people and concerned as to the reaction I would receive. I was quite encouraged at the response I received as the majority of people responded well to my nod or gesture to the camera as a way of asking for permission.
It seems that when I have previously viewed magazine picture essays I have been solely unaware of the amount of work and thought that goes into the edit and layout. The narrative that I chose was not sequential but it did continue several ‘mini-stories’ such as the wharfage, abras and souks, which required these photographs to be positioned together. I also did not want to change a photographs orientation or shape merely for the sake of it, instead attempting to see how the photographs worked together with the other images in the series. Simply put, I have learnt that when it comes to layout there is not any one right or wrong way to go about it. In this instance I have tried to introduce each section with a leading picture then with others that in some way support it and each other. The task of printing off images and physical arranging and then rearranging them on a table was extremely useful in producing the final layout.
I shall continue to look at the layouts of picture essays in magazines and journals and consider how they have used rhythm and pace in order to achieve visual variety. This will no doubt help me when planning edits and layout for future narratives.
Fox, A. & Caruana, N. (2012) Behind the Image. Lausanne: AVA
Freeman. M. (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. Lewes: ILEX (Kindle edition)
Short. M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA