Category Archives: press photography

Red Carpet

Serendipity is when two areas of interest overlap. I have a soft spot for a particular actor – and I love all kinds of photography. Ooops, that sounds as if I am open to paparrazzi photography – that’s about the only genre I am most definitely not interested in. But these two passions collided nicely a couple of days ago when I went to Berlin to attend the European Premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: an chance to see my movie boyfriend favourite actor up close and  an opportunity to try my hand at red carpet photography.

I had made a half-hearted first attempt at this last year, when the first instalment of The Hobbit trilogy was launched in London. I had left it too late to get accredited for the event, and then found myself locked out of the fan area despite hanging out around Leicester Square for most of the day… I decided to give it another try this year as the European premiere was scheduled for Berlin – and I still have a suitcase in Berlin, as Marlene Dietrich famously sang , i.e. I have good friends who will put me up for the night if I so wish.

A number of my fandom pals were going to be at the premiere – therefore it was clear from the beginning that I would most likely be shooting from the fan area, not the press pit. Moreso, as I again had left it too late to get accreditation for the press pit. (I did try to get late accreditation on the day, but I must say that Warner Bros did not even open their press box until very late. I kept hanging around their press tent all through the morning and over lunch, but their booth was unattended so I eventually decided to stay where I was and observe the proceedings from the fan perspective rather than the press perspective.)

The spot was strategically chosen: It was towards the beginning of the long stretch of red carpet, but not too close to the start. A row of spotlights illuminated the red carpet right where I was. Initially there were fans only on one side of the red carpet – my side – and later there were few people opposite me which meant that the stars were working their way up the railings on my side and neglecting the other side. Best of all: The railings were lined two, sometimes three rows deep but I was able to stand on a handy bench, behind the throng, close enough to shoot with my regular 28-70mm lens, but higher than the fans, and therefore got an unrestricted view of the stars. And I was able to see in advance who was making their way towards us.

I had lugged all my kit to the event – the battery grip was on, the speedlite in my bag, and the 70-300mm zoom at the ready. The latter was not even needed, I was only a metre away from the railings, with unrestriced view of the celebs. But I ultimately made the wrong call when it came to shooting. I opted to shoot without flash, cranking up the ISO instead, assuming the spotlights would give me enough light. However, in the heat of the moment (or in the excitement of seeing those actors, whose journey I had been following for the last year or so), I did not factor in that I would shoot at a very large aperture and slow shutter speed which would blur my pictures. And thus I am not particularly happy with the images I got. At the biggest size they are fuzzy – I can just about get away with crops, but that is it. Also, the higher vantage point meant that I was shooting down on the celebs – who had their heads down, anyway, for signing the autograph books that were held out to them.

Thus, my favourite picture of the day is one that is not really a red carpet image of a famous actor, but one that captures the magic moment of the situation:

IMG_4908-001

Capturing the magical moment

Mr Movie Heartthrob is blurred out in the background, but you get an impression of the buzz and the excitement and the fan activity on the red carpet – the fans (mainly fanGIRLS) waiting for their star, all heads turned toward the star, holding out their autograph sheets and their presents… Ultimately, and in hindsight, those impressions were visually much more interesting than the view of the stars signing the autographs. The elation of the fans when their admired star was in front of them, happy smiles, excited screams, waving arms, outstretched hands, the surge of the fans towards the railings. If I am ever doing this again, I would actually be more interested to observe that from the other side, catching their faces as they interact with the actors. There are enough images of the stars, anyway, and technically brilliant ones at that.

On a personal note: As I confessed mentioned at the beginning, I was there for a particular actor myself. My own fan recollection of the moment when he was in front of me, is actually really blurry. As blurry as my pictures of him (camera shake from being over-excited???). That is something I had actually feared anticipated beforehand, based on my experiences with music photography at concerts. Essentially, the buzz and the excitement of seeing him completely passed me by as I was in work mode, rather than fan mode.  My attention was taken up by framing the shot, by keeping him in my view, by capturing him at the best possible moment, by taking as many shots as I could. In a way, I was removed from the action as it unfolded in front of me – a screen between me and him. When he had moved on, I could not even tell what clothes he wore. And I did not have time to “squee” and “thud” when he actually looked up to smile directly into my lens… The so-called “feelz” only came with a time-lag.

But you live and you learn. Red carpet photography? Great if you have no personal interest in the attending stars. If you *are* there for your movie boyfriend, however, it is better to rely on the camera in your head. Those images will be there forever – and sharper, clearer, more colourful than anything you could ever capture on sensor.

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(Anti-)War Photography – Part 2

It has taken me a whole month to finally conclude with part 2 of my impressions of the thought-provoking photography talks that I attended at the Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas 2013. (Read Part 1 here.) What has finally prompted me to conclude is the arrival of a photobook that I ordered as a result of the talks, and I will discuss that in a separate post at another time. But back to Borris, Co. Carlow, where A___ and I had travelled with the intention of fangurling over Don McCullin.

Booking the second photography-related talk that was on the same afternoon that we had heard McCullin being interviewed by Colm O’Gorman, was a bit of an after-thought. Billed as “candid discussion on war journalism by three of its most admired practitioners”, I had never heard of the other two particpants, Ben Anderson and Giles Duley. To my shame! There was only sparse info on the Festival website, but the main attraction for booking the event was hearing Don McCullin speak twice. At € 10 a no-brainer, considering that we were over there in Borris, anyway.

The Venue in Borris, Co. Carlow. Incidentally I snapped Duley and Anderson in the foreground of the iPhone image – before I knew who they were…

The talk with McCullin had been great, but in retrospect we had heard nothing that we hadn’t already seen in the eponymous documentary. Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly then, the talk with Duley and Anderson turned out to be the highlight of the day. We were in the presence of three impressive, remarkable men. – Duley set the tone of the event right at the beginning. The talk was taking place in the private chapel of Borris House, where the panel sat behind the altar rails at the front. Duley had been setting up a slideshow of photographs at the front, facing the audience as he was clicking on his laptop. Clutching his beer glass, he turned around and took the right-most seat and deposited his pint next to his chair to his left. As the discussion had just started, he suddenly broke out in loud laughter, leaned over to Anderson who was sitting in the middle and whispered something to him. Anderson got up and moved Duley’s beer glass from his left to his right. “I haven’t got a hand on that side!”, Duley cheerfully informed the audience and chuckled again.

As I had not done my homework – again! – and researched the participants prior to the talk, it only occurred to me then that Duley was missing an arm. But from this episode it was already clear that this man was not in any way broken, despite a broken body. Duley duly took the lead in the discussion, launching it by explaining his own path into photography – a path that was actually inspired by discovering McCullin’s work at age 18. He became a photographer and specialised in music and fashion photography. Burnt out after a few years, he completely stopped, not seeing any value in his work. He abandoned his career as a photographer and stopped photographing entirely. Instead, he became a careworker, intensely looking after a single client. Gradually, it occurred to him that he wanted to tell the story of his client through photography. Motivated by compassion, this launched an interest in telling the unheard stories of those without a voice. He started covering the stories of conflict victims and humanitarian issues and shot in places like the Sudan, culminating with a project in Afghanistan where he wanted to show the impact of conflict on all victims of war, including soldiers. While embedded with the US Army in Afghanistan, Duley stepped on a landmine, losing three limbs – and almost his life. He became the story. And he became a victim. But not really a victim – the audience could clearly see his unbroken spirit, positive attitude, courage and will.

Anderson’s track record is equally impressive. An investigative journalist, Anderson has been covering conflict for the last ten years. He has filmed a number of in-depth documentaries in conflict zones such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba. In 2007 he was embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan, later he followed the US Marines on their battle for Marjah which resulted in an insightful documentary of the same name. His most recent work is the deeply disturbing documentary “This is what winning looks like”, which again took him back to Afghanistan, covering the preparations for the take-over of the Afghan security services after the international troops leave the country in 2014. (Urging all readers to watch this film online on Vice.com. The documentary will have you shake your head in disbelief, disgust and horror!)

It was clear from the introductions and the following discussion that neither of these men are in their dangerous business for fame and fortune. They appear to be deeply compassionate people who have an urge to tell stories, to document, to give a voice to the victims of conflict and to speak the truth. They embodied that in the way they appeared on the panel and spoke candidly of their experiences and their work. It was clear that you can and must believe them and trust them.

McCullin stayed at the side-lines in this discussion, allowing the two younger men to explain their perspectives and to talk about the challenges of their work. What shocked me most was that both spoke of their difficulty of getting funding for their work. They are both free-lancers. There is no media corporation in the background to pay and pamper them. Their way of working is the way all free-lancers work: You work first, and get paid later. With an outlay of time and money, they have great difficulty getting their work published. Noone wants to see this??? Where has the world come to? A dumbed-down celebrity culture?

That was McCullin’s description of our contemporary world. When directly asked for advice on the future career paths of Duley and Anderson, McCullin emphatically discouraged them from continuing with conflict coverage. “It is not worth the high price that you pay, personally!” His view is, of course, shaped by his own experiences. It is a retrospective view and an honest answer. Somehow, though, I disapprove of his honesty here. The world needs courageous people like Anderson and Duley, to push our noses in the mess that we have created on this planet. Even if McCullin’s experience tells him otherwise, the public still has to be able to see reality, if we so wish. Not all the world is disinterested. And maybe we, as the public, should make that clear by supporting the work of documentary makers such as Anderson and Duley by buying their books and by pushing for publishing. Buying their work would also help fund their future projects. (See links to books at the bottom of the text.)

Anderson and Duley, thankfully, expressed in clear terms that they will not cease their pursuit of truth. They clearly held their “elder” in respect and awe, but their own convictions clearly shone through their contribution to this panel discussion. Both spoke eloquently and awarely of the challenges and ethical dilemma of their work – documenting the essence of human suffering by shoving a lens into the victims’ faces. They appear to be very conscious of the dangers of their professions (well, obviously) and the exploitative nature of photographic/cinematographic documentation. They are a generation after McCullin whose (provocatively emphasised?) outdated views occasionally drew a hiss from the audience – such as his slightly chauvinist remark, that he could not understand why women would cover conflict as reporters, photographers or filmmakers. – But then again, what do we know? We have seen nothing yet, while he has been there.

The discussion, although light in tone, was one of the most impressive talks I have ever attended. The personalities of the three speakers held everyone in thrall, as they spoke openly and honestly about their experiences, the media, their respective areas of media, their view of their work and the state of conflict zones in general. There was no bravado and no non-chalance in the face of war. All three, McCullin, Anderson, and Duley, came across as honest, deeply humanitarian individuals. Frankly, with people like this in the world, we can rest assured that the stories of the victims will be heard. That does not absolve us from our own responsibilities, and we should be conscious of the fact that they are paying a high personal price for the pursuit of truth. The least we can do, is spread their message by talking about their work and by supporting them through buying their books or pushing locally for opportunities of showing their projects.

Ben Anderson: No Worse Enemy

Giles Duley: Afghanistan 2012

Don McCullin: Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography

Photography – a Sexist’s Paradise?

You wouldn’t think that “women and photography” is an issue worth broaching. The contribution that women photographers have made to photography is undisputed – from early pioneers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, to early art photographers such as Marianne Breslauer, Ilse Bing, early war correspondent Margaret Bourke-White, first woman-member of Magnum Inge Morath or documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. I won’t even mention the countless female photographers who pushed the boundaries of art photography from the 1960s onwards. Actually, I will because I like to name-drop women photographers get brushed aside all too readily still and any opportunity to mention their names must be seized: Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann, Hilla Becher, Cindy Sherman, Rijneke Dijkstra… oh, the list goes on and on.

Strange then, that photography seems to be still dominated by men. Strange, but maybe no wonder. Photography is still perceived as a technology-driven medium. It is inhabited by gadget-obsessed males who can spend hours discussing the advantages of Fuji Provia 200 over Kodak Ektachrome 200, tenderly hugging their 5 d iii and comparing the length of their penises lenses. Photography, it is by-and-large accepted, is a weird mixture of art and technology. To be proficient in photography, you cannot just be intuitive, you need to know the workings of the machinery you are using, you have to understand the laws of physics that govern the realm of optics and you have to keep up-to-date with the hardware development. Machinery, physics, hardware. Three keywords that seem to exclude the participation of female enthusiasts. Ok, I am being deliberately provocative here – we *are* living in the age of emancipation and equality and the small(er) number of women photographers may not just be down to the legions of male photographers who are jealously guarding their profession from contamination by female participation. It might be the women themselves who shrink back from photography, for whatever reason. And not all genres of photography are characterised by the dearth of women practicioners. It is safe to say, that within art photography women are well-represented and there is little sexism among art photographers.

In the area of press photography, I am not so sure. This seems to be a part of the industry that is still ruled by testosterone. As was brought home to me recently, when I attended a major, global public relations event in London. I had travelled over there to fangirl at cover the UK launch of “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”. At the back of my mind was the tentative idea to wangle my way into the press pit in order to ogle Richard Armitage unrestrictedly get pretty pictures of the main stars. With my press card at the ready, I attempted to secure a place in the cordoned-off press area. Alas – I was too late to be accredited and therefore had to restrict my ogling photography to watching from the sidelines, literally.

This is as close as *I* got to Mr Armitage.
Pretty close, huh?
Am I fooling you?
Ok, didn’t think so – this is Armitage on screen, cropped to within an inch of his life.
Click on pic to see the uncropped original.

In the end, however, I was quite happy to have been excluded from the press area. I had finally positioned myself in a spot from where I had a view of the entrance to the press area. Deliberately so, as I wanted to drool a bit over the photography hardware on view. When the event finally ended after about two and a half hours at -2 degrees Celsius (my dedication to my movie boyfriend craft knows no temperature limits bounds…), I waited with bated breath to see my fellow professionals emerge from behind the barriers. I was not disappointed –  they spilled out in groups of two and three, laden with three or four cameras each, rucksacks full of lenses and other assorted paraphernalia on their backs, the occasional stool and stepladder under their arms, or monopods over their shoulder. I counted 40 press photographers present. But then the shocker: Among them there was just one woman. ONE!

I am not lying when I am saying here that I was shocked. I truly was – I just cannot quite fathom how this area of the industry cannot reflect the gender balance the same way all other areas do. Photography does not demand particular physical strength which might exclude females from practicing the job. Why then are there so few women in this field? Are there socio-cultural reasons? Are male practicioners in press photography more aggressive, therefore get the better shots and are simply more successful than women? Do women not feel wanted in the ranks of press photographers? Do they not have what it takes to get the shots and sell them off? I am genuinely at a loss here – why? Does anyone have any idea? Is photography a sexist’s paradise?

The experience has taught me something. Be early if you want to get a close-up of Armitage. Sexism is somehow alive and kicking in photography. In a day and age where women are train drivers, army officers and carpenters, there can’t be anything that would hold them back to become press photographers. Yes, I know. The mere fact that there are *more* male press photographers than female, is not yet an indication of sexist behaviour and/or attitude of the industry. But there has got to be something at the bottom of this. And it certainly puts me off *big time* – because *I* have not got a long penis lens to compete with.