Creative paths

Head back­wards and take ad­van­tage of this new view­point to use scale as an ef­fec­tive tool

NPhoto - - CONTENTS -

Michael steps back this month to demon­strate why do­ing so will give you a new per­spec­tive on your pho­tog­ra­phy

Af­ter last month’s sug­ges­tion for clos­ing in on a sub­ject to ex­plore de­tail, what more ob­vi­ous a suc­ces­sor than do­ing the op­po­site? Step­ping back isn’t just a re­play in re­verse of mov­ing for­ward, how­ever. It calls for a dif­fer­ent mind­set – one that might not come nat­u­rally, but which has ac­tu­ally played a large part in the rise of pho­tog­ra­phy as art since the 1970s. To be per­fectly hon­est, I only shoot like this some of the time, be­cause I’m nor­mally in­ter­ested in a more hard-work­ing com­po­si­tion that calls for ef­fort and skill. If you’re fa­mil­iar with the Düs­sel­dorf School of Ger­man pho­tog­ra­phers who stud­ied un­der Bernd and Hiller Becher, no­tably An­dreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth (these three some­times un­kindly re­ferred to as Struff­sky), you won’t be sur­prised that I’m not a fan. Nev­er­the­less, I’m duty-bound to give it my best pre­sen­ta­tion, be­cause the dead­pan, cool, de­tached and phys­i­cally dis­tant style of shoot­ing is un­doubt­edly ma­jorly suc­cess­ful.

In the case of this as­sign­ment, the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween two styles of shoot­ing – close and im­mer­sive ver­sus cool and de­tached – was a real one that I had to deal with quickly. The ur­gency was be­cause I had much less time to shoot than I’d hoped for, forc­ing me to choose which ap­proach would be the most ef­fec­tive for a very large-scale op­er­a­tion – the dis­man­tling by hand of mas­sive ships. The lo­ca­tion was the coast of Gu­jarat, In­dia, at Alang, which has be­come the world’s largest ship­break­ing yard. 80 per­cent of the world­wide ton­nage sold for scrap last year ended up on South Asia’s beaches, and most of these ships are in­ten­tion­ally run ashore in the con­tro­ver­sial beach­ing method, to be taken apart by hand.

Into the heart of dark­ness

This is dan­ger­ous work, and there were eight fa­tal­i­ties last year, even with the new use of safety hel­mets. As you can see from the smaller pho­to­graphs here, when I pho­tographed the Alang beach in 2002, there were ab­so­lutely zero safety pre­cau­tions, and that ended up be­ing my prob­lem. Get­ting per­mis­sion was al­most im­pos­si­ble. What ship­break­ing yard would want this kind of pub­lic­ity? Se­bas­tiao Sal­gado had al­ready ex­posed the dangers in the late 1980s in Bangladesh for his 1997 book Work­ers, and all the guys here knew that pho­tog­ra­phers were bad news. Some­how, by per­sis­tent ca­jol­ing, name-drop­ping and the prom­ise to be there

and back in a flash, I got my­self a short amount of time on the beach. The work­ers them­selves were de­lighted. I started with them, 20mm lens from very close and in­volved, but nag­ging at me was a strong Sal­gado pic­ture I re­called, also from very close, and I didn’t want to at­tempt to copy that. The al­ter­na­tive was the de­tached, dis­tant view with a longer lens – this rapidly be­came the more at­trac­tive idea. I had time to con­cen­trate on only one of the two ap­proaches, and I set­tled on this.

But it de­pended on tim­ing, be­cause the key was to have some fig­ures so dwarfed by the huge ships that they would not im­me­di­ately be vis­i­ble – yet be­cause of their po­si­tion and move­ment will be seen in large print. This was the best, be­cause of the men step­ping out onto the mud un­der­neath a huge tilted ves­sel, but as I’ll ex­plain in more de­tail on the fol­low­ing pages, it’s an im­age that needs to be seen large for it to work. As a thumb­nail, it doesn’t work at all, be­cause the fig­ures just don’t reg­is­ter.

Ship­break­ing, Alang, Gu­jarat, In­dia

Our glo­be­trot­ting Con­trib­u­tor at Large, renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and pro­lific au­thor Michael Free­man, pre­sents a month-by-month mas­ter­class that’s ex­clu­sive toN-photo, in which he ex­plores his tried-and-tested paths to more creative pho­tog­ra­phy. Michael has pub­lished dozens of books on pho­tog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing the best­selling Per­fect Ex­po­sure.

If you en­joy this ar­ti­cle and want to learn more, there are 50 more paths to be dis­cov­ered in Michael’s new book Fifty Paths to Creative Pho­tog­ra­phy (NB: all 50 are dif­fer­ent from those that will be fea­tured here in the mag­a­zine)

A more im­mer­sive ap­proach, close to the work­ers and ac­tion

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