Max Colson: Tales

Photojournalism MA student at the LCC

Posts Tagged ‘learning

Some bookmarks

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Paul Graham A1- the great North Road

Paul Graham, from 'A1 - The Great North Road'

Haven’t posted recently again. Not that I haven’t been doing anything though, it’s more that I’ve been looking at others a bit more and then separately also trying to work out what the point is of the next thing I shoot.  That and a million other things. God, life is busy sometimes!

Everything is continuously punctuated by blown awayness. For me at the moment it is all about unearthing; I feel like I’m making up for lost time somehow.

The internet is great. It’s at once mountainous but also, inevitably, inspiring. Here is my current list of faves as of Nov 2011, the month of my 26th Birthday. I’ve enjoyed checking these guys out so I hope other people will find them interesting as well:

Walker Evans

Simon Roberts

Tom Hunter

Alec Soth

Vanessa Winship

David Monteleone

Yael Bartana

Walid Raad

Nadav Kandar

Simon Norfolk

Taryn Simon

Broomberg and Chanarin

Stephen Shore

Miriam O’Connor

Thomas Struth

Paul Graham

The good thing is that this doesn’t feel like proasic study, it’s just immensely enjoyable. I guess that’s a good place to be.

We-English-Simon Roberts

from Simon Robert's 'We English'

Historical re-enactment at home

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One of the main bits of feedback about my last photo essay (on Napoleonic historical re-enactment) was that although there were some nice single images they didn’t come together as a story that well. They didn’t really have a point besides showing that a particular hobby takes place. If you want to see what this piece of work looked like you when I submitted it you can see the website here.

My strategy with the first iteration of my re-enactment project was slightly misguided. After going through all of the images I had shot I saw that I had three categories of images (portraits, action shots, and anachronistic scenes) and so I decided to make sense of them by presenting them in their 3 simple categories. Obviously this was slightly silly; in effect my submitted piece of work was less an exercise in telling a story and more one in which I simply categorised some images of historical re-enactment. Nice if you want to look at a catalogue  of images, not so nice if you want an actual story about the hobby.

I guess what I’m interested in is giving the viewer a sense of the background on which re-enactment takes place, which is on the lives of women and men with historical interests in the UK. I will be doing this not only through some multimedia videos that I am currently producing but also through a series of portraits that I am doing in and around where re-enactors live. I will be using all of this to add another dimension to the images of the re-enactments taking place. Here are a few that I shot recently with the great Keri Tolhurst.

Napoleonic Historical re-enactment Max Colson Photography Photographs

Napoleonic Historical re-enactment Max Colson Photography Photographs

Napoleonic Historical re-enactment Max Colson Photography Photographs

Napoleonic Historical re-enactment Max Colson Photography Photographs

5 more portraits

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Boxer for Oxford University Varsity Team, Oxford vs Cambridge, 18.03.11

I’ve been shooting over the weekend at a couple of boxing fights and a modelling convention (as in minature models, not fashion ones). During the course of the shoots I tried some more portraits. I found I still need a bit more balls to direct the subjects, particularly in angling of the face against the light, but nonetheless I do like these.

 

Boxer for the Cambridge University Varsity Team, Oxford vs Cambridge, 18.03.11

Boxer for the Cambridge University Varsity Team, Oxford vs Cambridge, 18.03.11

Exhibition Attendent, Southern Expo Festival, 20.03.11

Tattoos, discos, and quite a bit of over-exposure

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Portrait of myself, aged 19 (the disco on the right)

Once in a time long long ago I was a bit younger than I am today and I went and got ‘disco’ tattooed on the side of my torso with a friend of mine. Oooops!

East London’s finest tattoo artist Mr Henry Hate was the man we chose for the job way back in about 2005 and I thought I would go back to his shop ‘Prick’ for my recent portrait assignment. He agreed which was very nice of him. Check out his website here if you want to see some seriously fantastic examples of his work (they are examples of fantastically ‘disco-less’ tattooing I may hasten to add).

ANYWAY. I have to say I had one issue with this shoot and that was over lighting. Not being incredibly experienced in controlling light with portraits, I did find it quite a lot to think about when I’m also trying to maintain a comfortable, flowing conversation with my subject and direct them at the same time. I did get better over the course of the portrait assignment; in all I shot 5 people, and in practicing I gained more experience, but I’m definitely going out to do more portrait sessions so I can really get some real control over this powerful mode of photography. I can see it being real fun once I’ve got all of the technical considerations well and truly under my belt.

As I had decided not to spend a bomb on a off camera flash set up just as yet, I went for the good old natural light with Mr Henry Hate. Unfortunately for this session in my not particularly thinking state I think I made a bit of a rookie error by placing Henry in the middle of some very strong midday sunlight with white paper all around him and didn’t compensate for it properly; in the process I managed to produce a lot of over exposed photos that I’m definitely not putting up! = DOH DOH DOH.

I started to think a bit more sensibly towards the end of the shoot and dealt with the strong sunlight a lot better and cranked out some acceptable shots.

All in all it was not a great start to my portrait assignment but I do think I managed to get some decent headshots, one of which is below:

 

Henry Hate, owner of 'Prick' tattoos in London

Written by Max Colson

March 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

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

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

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….