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Njut Lagom! # 12

 “Photography is a language – and I had to use it.” Mitch Epstein

In conclusion, I would like to say, that my observations of Swedish leisure activities brought me a great understanding of this culture. With this study I understood that the behaviour of Swedish people is formed by various norms, which can account for their social interactions in public places. Social norms are essential in understanding human behaviour. A norm is described as an unwritten rule on how society must behave, and what the majority of people believe about others and how they should act in a particular social group or culture.

While working with this documentary project I´ve found a new approach to the photographic subject, which is more personal, sensitive and intimate. I employed various methods to reveal and emphasize the emotions of the scene depicted. I think I managed to render visually obvious the relationships between people and their neighbours, their belongings and their surroundings, providing evidence of a moment in time. My objective was to express it simply and without confusion.

I believe that the success of a documentary image is often a reflection of the documentary photographer’s working method. Spending time and working closely with my subjects helped me to produce emotive and evocative images, which in essence is the aim of documentary photography. These are the images that give the most intimate view into the lives of the people or situation captured.

Documentary photographers are very much reliant on their subject matter to produce an effective image, but this is not the only ingredient. I believe that well-executed aesthetics can enhance the level of communication projected by an image. The right composition, lighting, color, etc. helps transmit the information needed to make the photo more powerful. In this body of work I was, at times, more concerned with the content than the strength of the image as a piece of art. But the longer time I spent with the subjects the best compositions were conveyed.

Mainly documentary photographs draw meaning, like all cultural objects, from their context. Many of the images can seem boring when viewed on their own, but they reach their meaning through their viewing as a collection and through the context within them. Pictures can convey their meaning also from what has been written about them, either as a caption or introductory text. Some photographers choose to show their photos without any added text, encouraging viewers to use their intelligence and personal experiences, to comprehend the information presented, and to provide the context by themselves. While I was working with my book on this project I decided to add text, because I believe it gives more understanding about this social anthropological study. To enrich the project I added short captions, where I described the actual happening and place of the happening.

In conclusion, I want to point out that during this project I have been lucky to meet interesting people in various places. I have photographed relaxing vacationers at their camping places and garden houses, swimming pool visitors, students on their graduation day, teenagers in a waiting room at the bus station. I have attended most of the favourite Swedish traditional celebrations: the midsummer party, various old car shows, folk festivals, Walpurgis Night and highly visited flea markets.  I enjoyed meeting such individuals as plane and bird watchers, line dancers, skiers, dog owners and many more. I have had very interesting encounters with all the subjects I have photographed.

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Njut Lagom! # 11

Previously described research shows that Swedes follow so-called “unwritten social rules” which have great importance and have been passed from one generation to next. These social pressures are in focus in many people’s daily lives. For most people maintaining and upholding an “image” has become a social norm. This norm extends not only to appearance, but also to the gender roles one is imprinted with at a very young age. Throughout their lives, majorities of people are trapped within the confines of these roles.

During my observation, I saw interesting gender dynamics, which I decided to include in to this study. I tried to capture how these dynamics are transformed into “appearances” which my subjects feel they must uphold in diverse public places.

Typical for Swedish people is also to keep a reasonable distance from others. An invisible “private zone” of about one meter radius has to be respected.  Most of swedes “want to be left alone” from strangers and respect of the privacy is expected. “Minding your space” also applies to gesticulating. Swedes keep their body language and hand gestures to a minimum, rather than relying on nonverbal forms of communication.

The climate is also an important factor of Swedish lifestyle. Weather affects people’s moods. Many Swedes become tired and depressed during the dark winter months, while the summer has the opposite effect. The blissful sense of liberation people experience at summer time is, however, tempered by awareness that summer is too short. When it is sunny and warm, people have a lot of different projects at once, as repairing the cottage, camping, planting and grilling, if they cannot do it, the disappointment is great.

 

Nut Lagom! # 10

“Part of the role of photography is to exaggerate”. Martin Parr

As part of the project, I am tried to critically evaluate my work within the broader context of photographic practices. To stimulate new ideas and ways of working, I have been looking through other pieces of work of documentary photographers.

One of inspirations was Mitch Epstein´s work.  This photographer shows the American way of spending leisure time in his book “Recreation” (http://www.mitchepstein.net/work/recreation/index.html).  Everyone uses their free time in their own way: alone or with others, for sport or for relaxation, at home or on travels. Accordingly, his photographs cover a wide range of situations: they depict anticipation and a new beginning, but also bizarre circumstances, because sometimes people just don’t seem to know what to do with the time they have. Also while working with my project, I felt that people seem do not know what to do and how to behave on their free time, when nothing really happened. At most situations an empty gaze appeared on their faces.

It seem that Epstein brings in himself into situations, as an unobserved observer, serving up slices of American life. Epstein’s interpretation is characteristically perceptive and sharp-witted. He makes extraordinary appears at perfect ease in the world with an eye that preserves ordinary things in a state of lasting amazement. What is equally impressive is the sensitivity and variety of Epstein’s response to his surroundings and subjects, so that at no point do the photographs become boring and didactic. Mitch Epstein about his work says, “I am compelled to interpret, not record the world around me.”

Epstein through his observational and neutral style shows the anecdotal specifics of clothing, colors and cars, which excellently show the specifics of people lifestyle at that time. I felt inspired by his genius captures which were making visually legible the relationships between people and their neighbors, their belongings and their surroundings. This skill manifests itself most obviously in portraits of groups of people, whether it is a family – were each member subtly failing to connect either physically or by eye contact with each of the others – or a crowd of Vietnam veterans, each individuated but not one detached in terms of the composition.

Other photographer who records his observations with his camera and became my inspiration is Martin Parr. His photography seems complex though it appears so simple on the surface. The question could rise, “What the photographer is trying to say through his photographs?” I think that first of all cultural perspective is important when looking at the work of Parr because he is primarily concerned with culture—how it is lived through consumption and everyday fashion and how culture is represented in images. Part of Parr’s message appears to be that how we dress reflects who we are or are trying to be. His subjects’ collections represent their identification with their culture.

“Part of the role of photography is to exaggerate” says Martin Parr. In an interview he elaborates: “With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try and do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving this a twist.” Parr is finding the absurd in everyday life. His process of documenting and recording is led by his passion and a curiosity, taking inspiration from his surroundings. His intimate approach, photographing his subjects in their own environment, gives him space to explore their lives and values in ways that often involve humor. Therefore his images are vivid and comedic, touching perspective on the diversity of people.

Njut Lagom! # 9

you’re in the here and now, and you’re in the moment!

In order to get the solid documentary material I went to photograph every possible event and every possible place that would be interesting for Swedish person to attend.  I took my camera everywhere I went. At the start of this project I had decided to shoot with Polaroid film camera. But the results of the first photo shoots showed a quality, which I was not satisfied with. I changed my mind directly and used my digital SLR camera instead. I decided to use fixed lenses, just like Cartier-Bresson most often worked with cameras and lenses that were rather limited and simple. His normal setup was a Leica rangefinder with a 50mm lens. Mostly I used 50 mm lens and was shooting with a large aperture (small f-number) in order to get more focus in on a subject. In some cases I used 24mm, when I wanted to include more of environment.

But being a documentary photographer means far more than being a mere machine operator. When photographing people, especially when they are fully aware and expectant of what you are doing, the picture-making process involves more that pressing the button of the camera. There is a long, complex and intensely human process, which makes them unveil their nature. I believe that what makes a picture great is everything that happens before you press the shutter button.

Most of all I liked to photograph at previously chosen places where I could make my observations over a longer period of time. I believe that a big part of a success as a documentary photographer is a sense of observation. I have been studying social anthropology for a while, so I used the skills acquired in observation strategies in the field. Most of days I practised naturalistic observation, thus observing subjects in their natural habitat. This means being unobtrusive, unnoticed, and non-interfering. I spend at least 2 hours at the place allowing people to accept me and forget about me, so that I could capture their natural behaviours. I wanted to feel a subject be relaxed in their environment and unaffected by my presence.  Therefore I chose to ‘disappear’ into a scene, “pretending” to be a part of the surrounding and environment. This enabled me to capture more intimate moments in everyday life without the resulting image feeling either too staged or else incoherent. At the same time I was like McCurry would describe “You’re in the present, you’re in the here and now, and you’re in the moment.”

However at every place where I went I had to ask permission to photograph the subjects, besides I had to explain the purpose of this photography project. Actually I found it as a good way to initiate a conversation with the subject and explain my intensions. Besides by being involved and open with the people I photographed I gained their trust, which created a more comfortable environment. Mainly Swedish people did not mind being photographed. Only I found it distracting, that especially children paid too much attention to my presence. They would look straight into the camera with a nice smile on their faces, ready to be photographed.

Documentary photography requires immense and emotional commitment with the situation and peoples being photographed in order to produce effective and emotive photographs. While in the field, I looked for the people and situations that were interesting to me and more or less corresponded to habitus I have done research about. There I had to wait for the moment to come. My intension was to show the feelings of the subject photographed, whether he or she was feeling lonely, bored, and thoughtful or feeling distanced. This I tried to depict through observing activities and relationship interactions, body language, facial expression; also carefully listening in to conversations of the subjects. At the same time it was important to show the environment and were the subject/s were placed. I found it very challenging to capture the right moment and produce a good composition at the same time.

In conclusion of this chapter I would like to add that I believe that it is very important to spend quality time working on every project. Even if that means taking it one step further by going back for a second or third time to visit your subject/s. The more time you spend on a project the more possibilities you create to witness something special or unique that could give your story more depth.

Njut Lagom # 8

What is a documentary supposed to do?  

I grew into a documentary photographer as I spent more time working on projects and getting deeper into the matter I studied. With this project I aimed at refining the necessary skills to produce dynamic, insightful images infused with feelings and deep understanding of the documentary tradition and its methods.

I was questioning myself “what is a documentary supposed to do?”  The documentary photographer has many purposes: to record, reveal or preserve, to persuade or promote, to analyze or interrogate and to express. Indeed, producing a documentary is a complex craft and it demands several layers and a focus on the overall intention.

Walker Evans said that the term should be “documentary-style” photography, because it was really meant to be art, where true “documentary photography” would be photographs that served a function. Yet the term ‘documentary photography’ has a more specific meaning. The Life Library’s Documentary Photography (1972) defined it as “a depiction of the real world by a photographer whose intent is to communicate something of importance—to make a comment—that will be understood by the viewer”. The authors proposed three phases of its development over time: conveying visual reality (for example, the work of Eugène Atget); social reality (Jacob Riis); and psychological reality (Diane Arbus).

Karin Becker Orn, Professor at University College of Arts in Sweden, writes: “The cluster of characteristics defining the documentary style incorporates all aspects of the making and use of photographs. Although not rigid, these characteristics serve as referents for comparing photographers work within… the documentary tradition – a tradition that includes aspects of journalism, art, education, sociology and history. Primarily, documentary was thought of as having a goal beyond the production of fine art. The photographer’s goal was to bring the attention of an audience to the subject of his or her work and, in many cases, to pave the way for social change.”

Therefore documentary photography has a social function. It refers to the area of photography in which pictures are used as historical documents. Rather than serving as a source of art or aesthetic pleasure, documentary photography is often used to trigger political and social change due to its ability to capture the “true” nature of an image or location. This photography style is giving information about reality, creating social consciousness and broadening the viewer’s horizon.

Most likely I would say that documentary photography is the art of documenting human patterns, livelihood in their social and cultural setting. Thus I agree with a statement of Antonin Kratochvil, a freelance photographer based in New York City, who is with the VII photo agency, where he says: “Documentary photographers reveal the infinite number of situations, actions and results over a period of time. In short, they reveal life. Life isn’t a moment. It isn’t a single situation, since one situation is followed by another and another. Which one is life?”

As documentary photographer Robert Frank wrote; “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough – there has to be vision and the two together can make a good photograph. It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins.” In simple terms, through documentary work, the photographer has a chance to show the interwoven layers of life and the aspects of daily existence. He or she has a connection to real situations and attempts to represent those situations with minimal distortion. The photographer has the capacity to capture moments of time and the various emotions of the people who come under the camera’s gaze.

In the end, like all art forms, documentary photography contains an essence of the image-makers interpretations of the situation. Basically also during my project I was following these simple terms and, as McCurry said –  “What I do and what documentary photographers do is we see the world in a particular way. We make these observations and we photograph them”.

Njut Lagom! # 7

In order to maintain this documentary material I tried to carefully investigate and question. First of all I had to decide where I am going to photograph. This was a pretty easy task. I have been living in Sweden for eight years and I have got a good picture about favourite Swedish leisure places. There is a wide range of places for every season. Swedes love the outdoors. All year round, there’s at least one activity that can be enjoyed come rain, shine, or winter snow. In wintertime many Swedes spend their days in mountain skiing and cross-country skiing resorts. The absolute “must” is to take coffee breaks between ski passes. As an indoor leisure place Swedish families and elderly people like to attend a swimming pool. In early springtime many garden lovers come out to their little garden houses and start to prepare for the summer. During summer, you’ll find people out hiking, camping, wandering through forests picking wild berries and mushrooms. Very popular in Sweden is to attend such organized happenings as flea markets, old car shows, car bingo, dancing events and many more.

During their holidays free time is filled with various projects that need to get done. Ideally, one should of course leave the city where you live and get to the summerhouse, the red cottage with white corners or load the family and animals into the caravan and head to a campsite. Swedes are big fans of caravan camping. In Sweden they started building caravans in 1932 and now, 80 years later, there are about 280,000 registered caravans in Sweden. The Swedish campsites are well attended and many stay at the same place with their caravans throughout the holiday. Favorite places are booked early and then a small vacation home is built up with awning, deck chairs, washing lines and barbecue. Some of these homes even remain throughout the winter.  Though their caravans have wheels, they stay immobile with a thought “we can be mobile”.

Njut Lagom! # 6

“A cultural ticket” to more transparent behavior.

Another phenomenon is the strict borderline between private and public live. Swedes like to divide their time exclusively between work and leisure. They also like to separate work colleagues and private friendships. A commonly used expression is “Never mix work and pleasure”.

Swedes behave differently while together with family members, other relatives and close friends. They are relatively passive in conversing outside their private sphere. One important exception to this is professional talk: many Swedes like to speak about matters where they feel safe and competent. While spending time together with family relatives is not the same, because everyone knows each other so well that there are no feelings of insecurity.  There is no reason to pose questions like “What do they think about me?” and “How can I be sure what they think of me? ‘. The silence and the slightly rigid behavior that characterizes many Swedes while their communication with strangers, is turned into friendships with a louder and above all transparent and not so conservative behavior.

During their free time and relaxation Swedes gladly take some drinks. Drinking spirits also should count as a social and psychological function in Swedish culture that reduces the individual’s fear of making a fool of himself, such as fear of saying something inappropriate. It is like having a permission to get too sentimental, too loud or excited. Nelker say it is not so much about the physiological effects of alcohol, but a “cultural ticket” to a freer and looser responsibility to socializing patterns (Nelker 1985). However drink consumption is controlled by the rule “Lagom”  – one should not drink too much or too little.