John Szarkowski, a quote

In the past decade a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it.

John Szarkowski, photographer, curator, historian, and critic.

To know life.  I thought, 'Yes!  That describes how I approach photography.  To know life, to attempt to capture slices of it, with my camera.

To slip into the midst of it, to disappear, and to come away with images where my presence was forgotten.

A little more on documentary photography

I wanted to come back to documentary photography once more and just say, never stop watching.  For me, it's a little like hunting ... perhaps. 

I don't go in with a plan beyond the attempt to capture the story.  To tell it true.  I picked up a 3-day documentary shoot, over on Flanders Fields, working with the New Zealanders a few years ago.

The image that follows is one of my favourites and I have to confess, it really was about swinging round and capturing this exquisite moment without thinking too much about settings.  A hongi ... a Maori greeting, was being exchanged. 

I had been traveling in France with the New Zealand veterans the day before and so they knew me a little. The New Zealand London Rugby Club were playing a commemoration match in Zonnebeke. 

Moments like these make documentary photography a big love of mine ...



On Documentary Photography ...

Her photographic work is magnificent and I love her presence: her portraits are stunning, they expose intimacy, humor, and pensiveness; her photographs capture the space, the movement, human interaction deliciously, in a way that one feels invited to an event long after it disappeared from the public scene.

In all her unobtrusiveness when working with the camera, Di is great fun to hang out with, the artists, scholars, thinkers, curators of our Berlin exhibition highly appreciated her, and when working together in Cairo, Istanbul, Berlin, or wherever else, I enjoy her kindness, humor, and delightful presence.

Shulamit Bruckstein, Curator, director of TASWIR projects / ha’atelier

Shulamit wrote this after a series of projects together and, in so many ways, lays out what I want to achieve as a documentary photographer.

I believe I need to be unobtrusive, invisible ... disappearing into the moment I have been asked to capture.  At the same time I believe that there are going to be people I need to engage with.  It's about building trust, if there's time.  It's about being respectful - I want people to enjoy my work afterwards. 

I prefer to wear dark clothes and quiet shoes.  I carry cough drops and tissues.  Nothing about me should stand out or distract people from the event.  I don't make eye contact when I move around ... unless I need to or unless I find a 'favourite'.  A favourite is someone who embodies something of atmosphere ... the event.  And there is always someone.

I love my flash.  It's a Canon Speedlite 580EX II and over the years we've become good friends.  I know how to twist and turn it, to bounce light and avoid shadows.  I work with my favourite lens most of the time, a  Canon EF 70-200mm 1:4L.  Some people get hung up on the latest equipment but I simply love whatever works for me.  This lens is my baby.  Attached to my Canon 5D Mk II ... it's magic.

I prefer to zoom because it allows me to stand back, on the edges, while still getting up close and personal without people realising that it's all about them.

Documentary photography ... unobtrusiveness, respect, the building of trust, connections, communication.  It's all of that and more.  I love it.