Max Colson: Tales

Photojournalism MA student at the LCC

Archive for February 2011

Rappers, photo fraud, and a multimedia video what I made

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When Melanin 9 dropped his High Fidelity mixtape I was about 20, so he must have been 20/21 at the time. He’s easily still one of my favourite rappers and if you haven’t had the experience of listening to his portrayal of a city’s moral subterranea or his views on gun crime I would advise you to check out his videos for Strange Fruit and Shot. Both are pretty hardcore, but the latter is the visual equivalent of being punched through the iris. I’ve included it below:


It took me 3 years to send him the e-mail that would lead to us working together: I would eventually shoot an album cover, his family, freestyle sessions, and his slot supporting the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, amongst other things. He’s also introduced me to a lot of 90’s boom bap hiphop (check out Heltah Skeltah, Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun for more).

I also produced the below video, which I guess is essentially a comment on my approach to representing the whole project. More and more I find myself feeling uncomfortable with the pseudo-authority that the photograph can have over its subject; not only because they are too easily seen as the definitive way to view an event/person (although perhaps less so now) but also because of the ease in which they can be passively, unquestioningly, consumed relative to other more ‘difficult’ media, particularly text. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t mean that those words aren’t generalising.

None of this is new obviously. In fact Mr Roland Barthes summarised the paradox of the photograph as a piece of information in 1980 when he argued that the image, when generalising,

“completely de-realises the human world of conflicts and desires, under the cover of illustrating it.”

But how does one get away from generalising? Shall I read less? Should I research more? How do I escape this nebula honestly!?

I can say from experience that I don’t feel comfortable producing an authoritative portrait of anything, and this multimedia piece that I produced in collaboration with Melanin 9 is an attempt not only to get him to comment on the way he feels rappers are represented by themselves and the media (and me), but also to undermine the authoritative guise that any photo I’ve taken has decided to give itself; particularly when I’ve been photographing him outside his estate. Good or bad, I’d be interested to know what you think of it:

This inspires me

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This is pure ambition. and a touching, powerful idea bonded inextricably with it’s own means of promotion = Next level stuff!

Serious Wow Wow Wow factor.


Written by Max Colson

February 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Protest Outside the Egyptian Embassy, London. 28-29.01.11

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Ahmed Yusin, Balfour Mews (opposite the Egyptian embassy), London, 29.01.11

On the 28th January I went down to photograph the protest outside the Egyptian embassy in London.

On the 29th I went down again and saw a few of of the people who I had photographed and chatted briefly with on the day before.

I learnt the name of one man. Ahmed Yusin had arrived at the Egyptian embassy at around 1200 on the 28th of January by himself and knocked on the door. He said that he had a letter to give to Mubarak. The officials told him to wait outside. Then they came back.  They said that he was not allowed to give his letter to Mubarak as he was not a diplomat.

He went away and found the nearest shop that sold stationary, bought himself some cardboard, some pens, and walked back to the embassy with two handmade signs. Standing at the front of the crowd, he held them high above his head as he shouted with the rest of the protestors outside the embassy on the cold January afternoon.

I saw Mr Yusin when I came back again the next day, slumped against the side of building, on the road opposite the embassy. He was looking at the crowd that had gathered to protest outside and seemed exhausted. With a hoarse voice he said he wouldn’t stop coming to the embassy until his letter had been delivered.

He then asked me to take his picture. Here it is along with some of the others I took:


Ahmed Yusin and other protestors opposite the Egyptian embassy, Balfour Mews, London. 28.01.11


Protestor standing in front of the Egyptian embassy, South Street, London. 28.01.11

Protestors opposite the Egyptian embassy, Balfour Mews, London. 28.01.11

Protestor standing in front of the Egyptian embassy, Balfour Mews, London. 28.01.11

Protestors opposite the Egyptian embassy, Balfour Mews, London. 28.01.11


Protestor with megaphone in front of the Egyptian embassy, South Street, London. 28.01.11

Written by Max Colson

February 9, 2011 at 6:47 pm

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The Theatrical Backdrop (more thoughts on the street photograph)

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I was reading Uta Beyer’s post on street photos (which also has some lovely images and can be seen here). Aside from her images the other thing that I respond to is her enthusiasm for the ‘theatrical backdrop’ approach to taking the photo.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, snapping a moment is incredibly difficult. I’ve tried walking down the street snapping people literally in the face and to be honest it really doesn’t work for me at all. It’s not very nice; I’m not Bruce Gilden enough; I don’t like fights; it’s also an inefficient use of a frame. It’s a bit like cold calling I guess, because in that context people are really not expecting anything. In addition, sticking a camera directly in their face is a fairly violent act. I’m sure Gilden doesn’t think so, but it is. (At a public event I feel it’s quite a different matter however – more on that in a later post.)

But the backdrop approach I find to be much more pleasant, and enjoyable even. 1. You’ve worked out your frame, you’ve worked out the appropriate settings, and you can wait for everything to form in front of you. 2. You’re also not targeting particular people, which you are consciously doing in the street walking approach. 3. You are not disrupting other people’s space; people are only drifting into your frame. (But then I have also previously commented on Jo Ellicott’s blog that street photography is also slightly creepy, so obviously my views on this practice are slightly contradictory at the moment.)

The only thing that this approach drains from you is time.

I’ve been walking through quite a few museums this past week and a half, but the place where I think I found the nicest spot was the British Museum. I don’t think that these images are quite there yet, perhaps there could be more going on in them perhaps, but I do like their simplicity.

Mobile Phone Camera, British Museum


Passers By, British Museum


Head, British Museum

Written by Max Colson

February 6, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Enjoy Poverty – Renzo Martens

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A man goes into the Congo and makes a documentary that attacks aid organisations, photojournalists, and politicians for making money out of the suffering of the poor. What’s hard to chew is that he intentionally uses the poor to make this point. The eventually culminates in Martens getting a village to construct his ‘Enjoy Poverty’ neon light display, so he can video tape the event for his documentary. Making your skin crawl yet?

It’s uncomfortable viewing to say the least, but everytime I watch Martens’ Episode III: Enjoy Poverty feel that there is little else out there that is challenging the genre of reportage in this way.

Written by Max Colson

February 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

Street photos: acting, tourists, and memories of the banlieue

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Couple, Regent's Park


Capturing the spontaneous moment is difficult. It says so on the tin (and if it doesn’t then some poor sod should carve it in with their nails in frustration). I’ve been thinking on the things I should be aware of for next time, and the variables which give a decent chance of a street photograph to happen. I give you:

Max’s Street Photography Suggestions for Max

**Go to places at the times where the people are, don’t wait for them to come to you.

**Try not to look as if you are seriously taking these photos. Try walking around, do whatever —-> squint your eyes and act as if there’s some funny dust in the air slightly near where your subjects are. Do some acting. Just don’t let them know that they are the main subject (unless you want that to be a key part of the photo that is.)

**Try to look unfocused, even if you are on a seriously frustrating LCC course assignment and especially if you are trying to frame kids in your photos —-> (looking rather intense whilst sneakily taking pictures of someone else’s kids AIN’T a good look Max, especially in Britain!)

**Don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Getting the shot is hard enough, so if you don’t feel that you’re blending in then it’s even harder. (Unless you’re Bruce Gilden – but then you think he sits in the ‘different’ box anyway).

You can make yourself less noticeable by tweaking with the following variables:

  • The size of your camera
  • Your dress
  • Your people skills on the day (obviously don’t be confrontational, and if they’re checking you out then smile at them and they will be less likely to think you’re weird)
  • Your acting & movement  (move around a lot, pretend you’re looking at other things – it’s kinda important to make think that you’re not taking a photo of them)
  • The kind of location you’re shooting in

**Location is really key, especially if you are you and are shooting with a large  “HEY GUYS! **WAVE, WAVE** LOOK AT ME, I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER!!” kind of DSLR. Tourist areas great to shoot in because:

  1. Everyone else has a camera the size of yours – they’re less likely to notice that you’re strapped with gear
  2. Everyone is taking photos of each other – this is perfect camouflage for your snapping
  3. Tourist spots are tourist spots because they are usually visually interesting landmarks. These can provide interesting backdrops to your ‘moment’
  4. There are tons of people walking willy nilly about. And they are moving and floating into all kinds of weird and wonderful arrangements in front of your lens.

Oh yeah, the last thing is quite important too – try and not go into areas that you don’t feel safe shooting in. Max, do you remember that time back in the day when you thought you needed to go to the banlieue in Paris in order to get some authentic ‘street’ shots? Thought so :-p  !! There’s enough of the above to stress about as it is without adding anything else onto your brain…

I don’t think this checklist is by any means comprehensive at all, so please feel free to chip in with your comments and experiences if you have any…

Written by Max Colson

February 2, 2011 at 9:25 pm