I have been to India maybe thirty times, business took me there and privately, we have made many friends there, had a few dramas, got caught up in terrorism, been hospitalised and needed operations – I’ve lived to tell the tales and whilst this isn’t the point of this entry, it does start to paint a picture. I started taking a camera sometime after I first went to Bombay (as it was called then) and Bangalore (ditto) to record, not necessarily to document, what I felt about what I saw. I remember deliberately choosing a 35mm manual camera and choosing very fast film black and white film for the purpose, The camera was fast, I was used to it, the film would do a better job in recording the detail in the shadows, which is where I felt I wanted to be able to record. I exposed many hundreds of negatives during those years that I went there. I produced a book of those images which worked for me in expressing my feelings towards a country and society that is rushing headlong to become something something that it isn’t into something that it thinks it needs to be – western.
I suppose my reasons for undertaking this course might be summed up with a couple of photographs. Ernest Cole was a photographer who worked in South Africa, I wasn’t aware of his work, though I recognised a few of his prints, until I went to the Barbican to see the “Everything was moving photography from the 60s and 70s” exhibition. And this is the first post from me from that show, there was just too much there to post a ranging piece, so I will come back to individual photographers periodically.
These two photographers are, one by me and one by Cole – here they are:
This photograph came about when I commissioned a small boat to take me over the river from where I was staying to a small fishing village on the opposite bank. The village was very small and had a daily fish market, which I missed, a few ramshackled huts and, what I think was the only solid building, a schoolhouse. We were allowed in, despite the two room school being occupied by children studying and were welcomed – the children all rose and said hello – we later found they were taking exams. There was no electricity and the school day was defined by the available light coming through open windows – I suspect in the monsoon they would close the class. I asked and was given permission to take some photographs. As you can see the boy was very happy to have his photograph taken, despite being ready to leave school and play with his friends. A charming shot perhaps.
I was reminded of this shot of mine when I was in the Barbican. Ernest Cole had taken one, not entirely similar but, and perhaps this is where I remember Goeff Dyers book “The ongoing moment” about how photographers will visit the same subject either by conscious or subconscious decisions. Cole’s image though has so much more about it.
Here is a boy intent on learning, there isn’t anything that will distract him, it will be his salvation. The intensity is palpable. His focus is solely about improvement.
Mine is a happy sweet picture, Cole’s has a poignancy that is missing from mine. It is about the difference between a photography student and a photographer.
Cole’s photography catalogues the plight of South African black’s in a way that would have been difficult even if he hadn’t been black – I shall review David Goldblatts’ work soon, whose ‘view’ has to be different. There isn’t a great deal of Cole’s work around, he died penniless after apparently selling his negatives to help pay for basic provisions. I have added my thoughts on David Goldblatt here on my Documentary blog http://umneydoc.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/david-goldblatt/