Max Colson: Tales

Photojournalism MA student at the LCC

Archive for January 2011

I’m not a stalker, but I do do street photography

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On to Street Photography. The next assignment. I guess one of my incentives to start photography was the street itself. I was backpacking. I remember holding my Canon point and shoot tentatively in my hand in Rio de Janiero and feeling strange. If I remember correctly I think I was looking at the surroundings, wide eyed with the wanderlust, naive as hell, and not quite sure where to start. WTF barely covers it – perhaps it’s more ‘WTF Standing Outside of its Comfort Zone with some Drool Coming Out of its Mouth’. Or WTFSOOICZWSDCOOIM for short.

So naturally I just shot everything I came across, burned it all to CDs, and mailed them back home in installments as I travelled: through southern Brazil, past Iguaçu, Buenos Aires, Bariloche and all the way down the spine of Argentina to freezing Ushaia. The tip of the iceberg. I was learning a lot (still am, and always) and learning that photography is difficult, even with auto focus and auto settings glued to just about everything on your little machine. But I was fascinated.

The thing I found with the little experience I got shooting on the street before I got a proper job was that you never know what you’re going to photograph until it happens –

(NB: it took a journey that included point and shooting across Brazil, Argentina, Chile, NY, Washington, New Jersey and London to teach me that. Am I slow or what?!).

But anyway planning is impossible, and I’m so easily distracted by ANY movement happening in front of ANY corner of my frenetically darting eyeballs at ANY point in time, that in the moment thinking rationally isn’t quite so attractive. It’s all stressy, cos where the hell does the ‘moment’ start anyway? Blink and you’ve missed it. To hell with focusing on one thing – I might miss something, somewhere else. It is a kind of madness I guess.

And there is the other thing, the worry that creeps up on you. Should I be doing this? Is this completely right? Do these people mind? You dart around, unblinking; you eventually lose the angry faces you think you saw in the crowd, and five minutes later you’ve re-appeared and the scene has changed. You hope.

No one likes being watched unannounced, and no one likes CCTV cams studded over every building in central London, and certainly in this day and age no one likes where their picture can end up.

However, this is what I’m doing. Here’s some of my faves from back in the day to start things off:

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Written by Max Colson

January 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

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Blow torched chicken and lamb cubes: My trip to the Halal Butcher

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As I referred to in a previous post, it took me 4 separate attempts to be allowed to photograph inside a Halal butcher. It was hard.

After being labelled an “uneeded factor in the equation” by one man sporting a gleaming business smile, a Bluetooth earphone and a knuckle crunching handshake, I nearly called it quits on my attempt to capture some of Shepherd’s Bush’s finest meatmongery for my ‘people at work’ photo assignment.

However luck finally came my way when I chanced upon ‘Zee’, the genuine and incredibly friendly manager of another joint down the road. Having absolutely no problems with me protruding my lens into the nooks and crannies of his lamb sawing schedule or the intricacies of smoking chicken via blowtorch I was given a time, a handshake and the affirmative. Perseverance does work if you smile enough.

I’d say that 80% of the frames I took were out-of-focused pants quite frankly, so I didn’t decide to show any of the shoot in my tutorial. However there was a blow torching scene at the end of my shoot which is actually quite interesting to look at. Here the selected frames in all their meaty glory (really, really, sorry but I so had to get that pun in there somewhere):

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January 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Manual Labour (going back to the basics)

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Well all I can say after my experience of the group tutorial sessions is that I’m impressed.

Some of the work from people on this course is really getting me going, making me want to go out and improve, and I don’t think you can ask for much more than that. I need to learn more and I need to learn more fast. I can confirm that I’m getting some great incentives to do so.

I think out of the things that I’m learning at the moment it’s developing a simple, careful, shooting methodology. I need the patience and the trust in my sense to find a scene amidst the chaos of wherever I’m shooting, and then being patient enough to sit with it, work it, work it again, and if all of the shapes of the scene are not there then leaving it, and coming back to it later when everything might hopefully be in place. And remember that there are only a limited number of frames: Foreground. Check. Background. Center. Check. Foreground. Right exposure? —-> Yep, seriously!

Really rudimentary, downright simple, basic stuff. I need to be slower. Back in the day everyone shot film and knew that each frame cost something. I sometimes pass over both.

There’s this phrase from the very helpful book ‘On Being a Photographer‘ (by the Magnum photographer David Hurn and the photographer/academic Bill Jay) which is haunting me at the moment:

“Very few people who take photographs are visual. They do not see. They record – but that’s not seeing. It’s very hard to see…”

At first I thought Hurn was talking about photographers not seeing images of historical significance and whilst yes you could infer that, I think really he is talking a lot more simply. It’s just about composition: I need to spend a serious amount of time looking and framing, and working out where the shapes are before I decide to haphazardly press the shutter and jump onto my next whimsical fancy. Breathing easy might help too.

To anyone who’s reading who is not on the course, we have just completed our first assignment shooting people at work. I took some okayish pictures and here’s one of them:

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The Charm-O-Meter

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In a field of work which often relies on other people allowing you to photograph them, getting other people’s permission is of course key (and yes I know, it is probably good courtesy as well). Charm is also important. But how much charm does one have? Can one rate oneself?

As etiquette goes, probably not – I’m not sure whether people will think I’m particularly charming if I rate myself. And in any case we always need a good dollop of objectivity in these situations don’t we? —–> Therefore I’ve constructed something which can take the burden off my shoulders. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Charm-O-Meter.

How it works: quite simple really. Everytime I try and persuade someone to give me permission to take photos of them I note down whether the response is positive or negative and convert the final number of positive answers into a %, where ‘%’ represents one’s verbal dexterity in any given situation. I have broken the scores down below and given each bracket its symbolic representative going from 1 (Steven Segal) to 10 (Harrison Ford). Ben Affleck is the badge for anything below 0%. And lastly, ‘maybe’s’ are latent responses and therefore mean nothing until they are finalised. Ouch.

The Charm Board:

91- 100% – Harrison Ford
81 – 90% – George Clooney
71 – 80% – Leo Dicaprio
61 – 70% – Jake Gyllenghall
51 – 60% – Russell Crowe
41 – 50% – Bruce Willis
31 – 40% – Arnold Schwarzenegger
21 – 30% – Sylvestor Stallone
11 – 20% – Dolph Lundgren
1 – 10% – Steven Segal
-10% – Ben Affleck

My Charming Stats:

Old man pub 1 – NO
Old man pub 2 – NO
Church – MAYBE
Hairdresser 1 – NO
Hairdresser 2 – MAYBE
Traditional ‘Pie + Mash’ Restaurant – MAYBE
Halal Butcher 1 – NO
Halal Butcher 2 – NO
Halal Butcher 3 – NO
Halal Butcher 4 – YES (give me a hell yes for perseverance!)
Hairdresser 3 – YES
Hairdresser – YES
Welder – YES
Mechanic – NO (cos I’m a “complete insurance liability”)

Current conversion rate: 29% (4 out of 14).

Current Charm-o-meter value: well it’s great to know that my chat is about as versatile as Sylvestor Stallone. Maybe I should try Rambo it at the next place I barge into instead?

Written by Max Colson

January 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm

When I was young, I wanted to be a rapper actually…

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Promo photo for my old rap group 'Dark Trade'. Yes I know, the name makes no sense

I’ve always been a fairly creative person, but I’ve certainly never wanted to be a photographer all my life. I didn’t even own a camera until 22 (25 now) and to be honest I really wasn’t interested even then, I always wanted to be a rapper anyway. I was quite serious about it: I went to open mic nights in London, I freestyled in the street ciphers with other London emcees, rapped about being much better than all of the other rappers, and all the rest of stuff that you would normally expect. I even recorded a 5 track EP ‘Something I Made Earlier’ which still lies on my hard drive, completely unreleased  (however two of the tracks on there can be listened to on my old Myspace page. NB: be warned they are fairly cringe, but they’re still kinda funny to listen to now).

My point is is that although I didn’t start photography until much later than most people, I’ve always been trying things out, adapting to different practices, and seeing what works best for myself. I think this experience of trying different things out and being ready to adapt is really key to my practice as a photographer today, and will be even more important in the future. We just don’t know what’s coming next in terms of storytelling technology. Look at transmedia for example, I mean wow, that’s a real opportunity to explore.

Taxi Cab, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 15.03.08

The Babysitter, San Antonio de Arreco, Argentina, 24.03.08

But anyway, back to me. I started taking pictures after buying my first proper camera (a Canon point and shoot) in early 2008 to document my back packing travels in South America and the USA. Needless to say I really enjoyed it, and when I got back I wanted to find something that would keep me going and help me focus on one subject. I would never have predicted that I would literally stumble across a cage-fighting gym near where I live, but obviously I was rather transfixed and started my first project on the UK full contact fighting scene then and there (that was in late 2008 – it’s still ongoing now). I’ve now worked on two proper long term story projects, the latter I’ve just mentioned, and then there’s also one on the UK rap scene and the lives of the artists behind it such as Melanin 9, Chrome, and the members of Triple Darkness. I’m also trying to cover the actions of the anti cuts movement in the UK, which I’m finding quite difficult to do objectively, as I’m a supporter yet have been involved in taking pictures which don’t always tell the whole story about the protests that I’ve attended (obviously this is one of the occupational hazards for any reporter, and I will do my best to dedicate a blog post on it at a later date).

Police wait for more orders in the midst of the 'kettle' on Whitehall, during the protests against the rises in tuition fees, 24.11.10

In terms of my practice up until late last year, I’ve always been focusing on telling quite literal stories: ‘x’ is what happened, ‘y’ is a main character in this story, ‘y’ is related to ‘m’ and they are both heavily involved in ‘n’, which eventually led to ‘x’ happening. Stuff like that. Although that’s important to editorial photography, I would like to try methods of storytelling that aren’t quite so linear in the future and this is something that I’m hoping that I can get started on MAPJD course. Having the privilege of being lectured by such visual and conceptual greats as Peter Fraser is a brilliant way to start. The work of Taryn Simon and Sophie Calle is of influence here too. Due to these photographers I’m quite interested in making work which comments on why and how the photograph is used, particularly in a commercial news context, because I think that is a story that’s seriously worth telling. I’ve made my first baby steps in this area by producing and shooting a short 5 minute film with the rapper Melanin 9, which is a comment on how rappers are represented in media. You can see that here.

PS: My last thing to say is that I’m very lucky that the digital age came along. Digital is intrinsically sympathetic to anyone who doesn’t quite get how the camera works, and I am still embarrassed to say that she has been very sympathetic with me. Technically I am an awful photographer, and have nothing more than a rudimentary sense of how the camera works. Thankfully photojournalism isn’t all about one’s technical ability with the camera, but obviously it’s fundamental to being a professional. It’s safe to say that my technical knowledge of the camera is an area of my practice that I clearly need to attend to. I need to be able to understand all of the possibilities available to be when I hold the camera in my hand, and that’s certainly something I also want to be forced to teach myself on the LCC MA course.

But that’s enough for now. More on me and what I do later….

First post jitters

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Hello everyone (especially people on the MA course), welcome to my little blog. In my experience I’ve always managed to find it incredibly difficult to work out exactly what I should be writing in my first post on any blog I’ve done, so I’ll keep it short: Hello!

This will be the place where I will do my best to document my experiences on the LCC’s Photojournalism course over two years. Let’s hope I stay articulate to the end.

Written by Max Colson

January 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm

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