David is a member of the prestigious photo agency Magnum and has had much work published by National Geographic. I admire his work greatly. Whilst his photographs are documentary in nature he places great emphasis on aesthetic quality so form is equally or more important than content per se. He shoots mostly in colour and for many years used kodachrome with its rich colour palette.
He has become a specialist in latin countries often working in Spain and latin America. His subject matter varies from 'street' to sensitive portraits to cityscapes. He often shoots in marginal light and many of his images take on a monochromatic feel with a single colour dominating the scene. The photographs tend to ask rather than resolve questions. Here is an image which features on the cover of 'Divided Soul' one of his books which explores the culture of the latin countries he has photographed for many years.
As can be seen the image has a green/blue hue. The man looks away to the right - what is he looking at, what is he thinking. To the right is a hat on the bench - who does this belong to. The benches look like church pews but there are no other signs that we are in a church. One is left questioning what the image means but at the same time it is aesthetically beautiful. This is the kind of work I aspire to produce!
The goal of the workshop participants was to put together a joint exhibition called 'Juke' depicting the Mississippi delta and the blues. Juke is a shortened version of the term Juke Joint which is a informal private club- primarily used by african americans in the Delta and often in someone's home where people got together to drink, listen to music, gamble and in some cases meet prostitutes. We had a week to put together the presentation. The event turned out to be very intense. I worked 18 hours a day for seven days solid.
Each of us on the workshop gravitated to a particular niche of the overall project. I centred on two elements - urban landscapes in black and white depicting the nature of Clarksdale which is perhaps the largest town in the northern Delta and portraits of people visiting, performing and otherwise taking part in the Juke Joint festival.
The landscape work was inspired by my first impressions of Clarksdale. Looked at dispassionately it is a very run down place. As one walks around one seems much decay and very few if any people or activity. The place had its glory days when cotton was king - this is no more. And today most of what happens in Clarksdale takes place behind closed doors, away from the heat of the day. For the first two days I shot a number of urban landscapes attempting to capture this image of decay and emptiness. These are the four photographs which were selected for the final presentation:
|Clarksdale Mississipi - David Alan Harvey Lighting the Blues Workshop 2011|
I chose this subject matter because no one else in the group was tackling this aspect of the Delta and I felt it was an important element of the overall scene. It also followed on from the work I had done studying Robert Adams and the other photographers of the New Topographics exhibition. The downside was that it was a long way from the style of David Alan Harvey!!
The second group of photographs were a series of portraits of performers and visitors to the Juke Joint Festival. For this I set up an impromptu studio outside the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. I taped a sheet to the wall and invited people to step in to have their portraits taken. I was looking to capture a cross section of people taking part in what is a major event in the Delta. To begin with the light was very harsh even though I was using on and off camera flash, but then for a magical 20 minutes the sun set low in the sky, the light turned golden and the moon appeared - needless to say I got my best shots at this time. Here are a few.
So what did I learn from all this. First of all I learned that I have much work to do if my photography is to reach the high standards of David and indeed some other members of the Workshop. To some extent I found this a little demoralising, but on reflection I now see it as a learning experience. When shooting out on the streets as David does, I now realise that I need to anticipate situations far more effectively, and when I identify an opportunity I need to 'work it' which in David's terms means taking many many shots of the same scene as it develops until the magic moment arrives. For David a photograph has to not only be a photographically complete - it should include all the right elements in the right place, at the right time, with the right light - but also it should capture a moment - a look on a face, an interaction between two people, the right gesture, the right harmony between elements in the frame. It should also ask questions rather than resolve them - the viewer should be intrigued as well as aesthetically pleased. I have much to learn and this will only come with practice and by setting myself very high goals and not accepting second best!