In many ways sound is the ultimate visual medium. When we listen to something, or someone, we create images in our mind.

One of the clichés of photography, particularly humanitarian photography, is that it gives people a voice. Watch the video on the front page of the VISA website to see exactly what I mean. But if you break down why images are selected by editors, photographers and even NGO’s, hardly ever is the dominant reason that they feel the image gives the person in the photo a voice. That’s not a discussion that you will hear in editorial meetings. Aesthetics, information or emotional manipulation remain the dominant drivers of the images that we see (all good reasons to pick a photo).

As more and more and more and more and more and more (into infinity it seems) photographers scramble to get noticed the situation will only get worse. (here’s an example of what I mean on Burn Magazine)

I think one of the major differences between radio documentary and photography is that radio producers tend to know when something is over-produced, indulgent, mawkish or just crap, and generally they are happy to say so. Even though audio producers are dealing with people’s voices, they rarely, if ever, make claims about what their programmes can or can’t achieve. For me it’s always enough to know that someone is listening.

Below is a photofilm by Claire Barthelemy one of my students at The London College Of Communication.

I’ve shown this brilliant photofilm at pretty much every training I’ve run in the last year. It splits opinion, but I love it.

I defy anyone to watch this photofilm and not afterwards be happy to sit and have a cup of coffee with the man featured in it. Given his situation that’s a major leap for many people.

In this film we see the person, because we hear him. That makes all the difference.

  • iamnotasuperstarphotographer

    I love the images in the Burn article. Visually they are arresting, complex, interesting although very generic from a Magnum curated visual point of view. That is where my interest ends. It takes me about 15 seconds to absorb his 13 images.

    I learn nothing about the Kashmir. I learn that Andy Spyra can take a decent photo of it. Am I missing something in the 13 images being shown to me? I learn more from the text but that hardly counts as a piece of story telling.

    And look at image 14. What does it say? What do we think the purpose of this piece is in image 14?

    The read David Alan Harvey himself entry September 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm:-

    “Who in the world is this mythical “wider audience” anyway, and tell me exactly why we are appealing to them? wider advertising audience maybe just maybe? is the role of documentary photography only for the purpose of “information gathering”? the well done passionate singular microcosm is of more value to me personally and kicks me in the gut way more than the alleged “balanced coverage” for mass presentation…again, just my taste..besides, where in the world would you ever see that fantasy balanced visually powerful coverage by one person anyway?? name one…”

    I will name a few – Sabastiao Salgado in “Workers” and “Migrations”. How about Eugene Richards in the seminal work “The Knife Gun Club”. How about Christopher Anderson’s magnificent “Capitolio” or Bendiksen’s informative “The Places We Live” (Magnum photographers too!).

    DAH celebrates authorship as he was an author and must care about that concept enough to want to perpetuate it through Burn. The wider audience that he describes as “a myth” have plenty of places to see a “clearly authored” 13 image photo essay. I am and should be part of that wider audience and I hate the idea that I am treated with such contempt. This ideology is revealed in the structure of the product – why I am supposed to go off by myself and research the Kashmir situation from the power of 13 images when with a little more hard work and better curation I could see 70 images of a story in the same visually authored style?

    The magazine is curated to serve as a platform for emerging photographers. I must presume that a Magnum photographer is taking it upon himself to create some space for a sort of Magnum-lite magazine because Magnum has no space inside it for this to happen. I must presume that Magnum either does not make enough income to re-invest in these kinds of ventures to help emerging talents come through its own system or that it does not care enough to make it any sort of priority of theirs. That is their right and I am only presuming.

    I do not want to fault this initiative because there is nothing but good in the declared intention behind David Alan Harvey’s venture. Yet as far as I can see, the question is “Does he risk spoiling that intention to help by treating the wider audience with such contempt?”

    Is it turning into a magazine that celebrates the cult of the frame and the power (or ego) of the author-photographer? That is a hugely congested space. That is not to deny its right to exist and of course David Alan Harvey has the right to do whatever he wants to. It is up to others to have a go at doing something different if they do not like it. He is entitled to his view and at least he is doing something. Is it going to work though without an audience?

    Good luck to him but all I would ask him in regard to caring about his audience when he says “tell me exactly why we are appealing to them?” is to think about this:-

    If you bite the hands that could possibly feed you, how long are you going to last? If you do not last, how are you going to help emerging photographers in the long run? What is the point of Burn if it ultimately does not help emerging photographers? Who do you want to sell to as you must want somebody to buy it? To your existing network who will always support you? Are you speaking to the same people again in that club called “the photojournalism industry today”?

    I want to go back to duckrabbit’s post about using audio to tell a story. Note how the student leveraged off the skills of another industry – audio story telling skills. Note the humility required to look for the best story telling solution to enhance the images. Is Claire as great an image maker as Andy Spyra? I probably do not think so in the traditional sense yet that is subjective but I would argue that she is a much more effective photographer. Anything that does not enhance the story should be eliminated and anything than can help should be used.

    To David Alan Harvey:- Do I care more Andy Syra in image 14 than I do about Eric? As a member of your mythical audience, Eric’s I min 35 secs will stay in my mind long after the 15 seconds it took to skim Andy’s lovely pretty pictures.

    For that, well done Claire!

  • iamnotasuperstarphotographer

    p.s To be honest, I am still going to buy Burn01 in print as it does look like it could be lovely!

  • Wonderful Wonderful Images, a big cheer to you Claire, and the audio lifts it to another place of emotive realism.

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White.

We specialize in digital storytelling.

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