- You have continued to develop your own voice well with this assignment. I get the feeling that you are reconciling two different motivators - the need to meet the brief and following your own inclination concerning a particular photographic project connected with your own maturation.
- You have succeeded in satisfying both aspects, but have been held back from following your natural inclination to fulfill the brief and in so doing have perhaps not succeeded with the brief as well as you are able. However, you have progressed very well in terms of progressing your own particular photographic development.
- As before there is clearly a good deal of thought behind your work - including what you want to say and best to express this. You show good creativity and imagination in your execution of the work but your submissions lack a clarity in execution that I feel is born out of the split motivations referred to above.
This is not bad feedback, but it is quite critical and also valuable. The key is the final sentence, a lack of clarity caused by split motivations. It has taken me 6 weeks to work through my thoughts about this and get to the point where I feel comfortable enough to work a response. I also had a long and useful conversation with my tutor around the assignment which helped me to understand where I had gone wrong.
The first and most fundamental problem was that I put all of my energies into developing the book concept and then created a set of images for the assignment submission as an afterthought. In doing so I failed to editorialize my work and essentially presented a synopsis of the book with a nod toward human interaction. I tried to be non-committal, objective, to avoid forming and presenting an opinion about the event I was documenting.
I explored this theme in a previous blog entry, that asked questions about truth and objectivity in photography. I considered a number of "opinions" that I could drive through my photographs of the Fest and was rather critical of Walker Evans' own editorialization of the photographs that illustrated "Let us Now Praise Famous Men". This generated more comments on a blog entry than I have ever experienced, I think my choice of a sacred cow for a rather flippant critique touched a nerve - fair enough, with hindsight I now get it.
Documentary photography need not be objective, indeed, it works better when the photographer has a statement that they want to make. As with written journalism (thanks to Les Johnstone for making this point) photojournalism can have a viewpoint and project the political or social stance of the photographer. This may seem obvious to some, but it was not to me. I was laboring under the impression that I needed to avoid my own opinion of the event creeping into my images.
In summary, I presented a set of photographs that met the brief, but did little else. What is worse is that the book contained material that could have produced a far more powerful assignment submission. My job now is to rework the assignment with this knowledge, taking on board the input from my tutor and adding something of myself into the set.
My first decision must be where to take the assignment, what stance to adopt and why. This is an easier decision than I thought it would be. Whilst working at the Fest I progressively became overwhelmed by the excessive drunkenness and sense of impending violence that I observed as I walked around. I was exploring the dark side of the event, both figuratively and literally, poking my camera into places the organizers would prefer to remain hidden. What I was seeing was the impact of colossal drinking and the wreckage it left behind, an image of the Fest directly at odds with the jovial merriment the marketing wonks like to project. I want my photographs to counter this image and convey that sense of menace and grime that is the other side of the Oktoberfest. When I first set out with this project that was where I thought I would go, I chickened out.
The next step is to reassess the original assignment material, decide what to keep, what to adjust, and what to discard. I then need to add new material to the set. Waiting so long has allowed me to detach from the original material and approach it with a new mind. Here are the 13 images submitted to my tutor marked up for edit:
In essence I am removing the more anodyne images, then editing the remainder for greater impact:
Although I am planning something dark, I still need one or two images that contrast that point, so not all of these are so gloomy. However, all contain drink and most a degree of threat or collapse. My next task having removed 6 images is to think about how to replace them. That will be the next step and a process that might also result in changes to the above images. I have 24 images (including the above) from which to select, once again I have produced a set of contact sheets to illustrate:
I have direction now, but still a large task ahead of me, getting down to 12 or so photographs is still a major task, but I feel a lot more positive about the set now. A key will be to keep in mind the original brief, that this is a set about human interaction, which illustrates the dark side of the worlds biggest drinking competition!