The photograph as document – Project 3: Reportage – Research point

Research point

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

• What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

In the words of Paul Reas “colour is quieter”¹.  We are used to seeing the world in colour, which makes viewing colour images “normal”. We are all aware that B&W photography is more concerned with Composition, Form, Shape etc which although traditional, does not necessarily communicate what we want it to. For example, is the sky blue, without the blue? Is McDonalds McDonalds without the golden arches?² Although colour can be used to invoke a feeling, create balance etc (as taught in AoP), it can also be a distraction, or vulgar. I think that it adds a new dimension and opens up new possibilities in a genre that has traditionally been B&W. Ultimately, there is a place for both Colour and B&W in street photography, depending on what the subject is and what the photographer is trying to communicate.

• Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

Whenever I think of surrealism in street photography, I immediately think of Lee Friedlander, imposing his shadow on the scene, although there are many more great examples out there³. Cartier-Bresson I’ve learnt, had a formal education in painting, and learnt from a young age how to represent the 3D world in a 2D image. Essentially he used the 2 dimensional plane of the image to create his surrealist photographs. Although I can’t spot the actual shift, I can see the influence of surrealism in his work, and can identify works that don’t necessarily have a surrealist influence. Martin Parr, although working in a very different era, and adopting colour photography, uses surrealism subtly to add humour to his images.

• How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values? Make notes in your learning log.

Definition of irony: The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect – Wikipedia. 

I found this page which contains a gallery of 17 images of Parr’s, along with an interview for Lens Culture.  Parr states that he uses Irony  “as a device to engage his audience”. Looking at his images, predominantly, his irony manifests itself as humour, but has serious undertones in terms of social documentary. This is often achieved by the juxtaposition of symbolic elements against each other, the local population, or a symbolic place to create meaning.






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