351MC Photography and Narrative – Session Six

On Wednesday 5th November 2014 I attended my sixth #phonar session for our module. At the beginning of the day, we started by looking back at important themes that we had discussed so far before taking time to listen to interviews taken by Jonathan Worth with both Sara Davidmann and Shahidul Alam. After this, we then walked over to The Herbert Museum and listened to a talk called “The Portrait Journey” with Niall McDiarmid and Jason Scott Tilley. Below you can find the notes from the day:

Summary of #Phonar so far…

These notes were taken by peer Jenny Stonely who kindly sent them to me after lectures:

Fred Ritchin:

  • The loss of the front page, which gave you something to focus on
  • The internet doesn’t have a front page, “how can you talk about it on the way home?”

Stephen Mayes:

  • Was much more positive
  • The difference between the image and the photograph
  • The photograph is fixed in time and space. The digital image is fluid and it can go out and reach people.
  • Photography used to be for eveidence
  • Now photography such as ‘Instragram’ uses it to communicate

David Campbell:

  • Alan Feldman “the event is not what happens, the event is that which can be narrated”.

Wasma Mansour

  • Sensitive when revealing their identity, so she left it down to the participant and included them in the whole process.
  • All brought their veils; each of the bags said something about the people. So she made still lives of the bags.

Dalia Kameesy

  • Lebanese photographer
  • “The missing” 17000 people who went missing during the Lebanese war
  • Not the stories of the mothers but telling the story of the missing people themselves.
  • We need to remember we are telling their stories, not our own. We need to respect them and have knowledge before we start.

Robert Capa

  • “If you pictures aren’t good enough you aren’t close enough”
  • Todd papgeorge
  • “If your pictures aren’t good enough then you aren’t reading enough
  • David Campbell
  • Contextual understanding so that you understand the context before you start photographing


Sara Davidmann Interview:


  • Started working with photography in 1999
  • Up to that point she was working as a painter then moved into objects, sculpture
  • 1999 – had an exhibition on her sculptures and a drag queen called Milly-Mop came to the private view
    • She sparked her work in the transgender community and within photography
  • From an art background she’s moved into this collaboration
  • Collaboration is so important because she’s working with transgender people and the fact that they are transgender may not be known – it’s very important that she allows them to have control over what is seen and what is shown about them
  • There is a lot of transphobia and she doesn’t want to detrimentally affect someone’s life
  • She hands over control to her participants – this aspect continues way after the process of taking photos and interviews have taken place
  • Moving from sculpture to photography she moved from a single-point-perspective to telling somebody else’s story, collaboratively
  • Sometimes having a larger camera gets in the way of achieving the personal story you are trying to tell
  • Crossing the Line” published by Dewi Lewis Publishing
    • Her learning photography and working with people within the transgender community
  • In the Picture
    • Working for 14 years with trans people
    • PhD 2003-2007 – working very closely with four other people
    • Exploring what photography meant for the people she was working with (mainly Kitty)
    • Took photographs that were governed by her (Kitty) and what she wanted to be represented as – posed herself reminiscent of paintings by Manet
    • Worked with a medium format camera
    • Because of the way she looked she had real trouble interacting in public spaces
  • Similar thing has occurred throughout her work – she was interested in why the participants want to take on the image? How do they want to be represented?
  • Wasma Mansour – is one of her PhD students
  • Uses Mamiya RZ – she’s very comfortable with it, it becomes and extension of herself and it enables images to be printed up large
    • It’s good to be confident with your equipment to put your subjects/participants at ease
  • Authorship is very much there on her part but she still allows her participants to choose images that are to be deleted straight away – they have power and control
  • It’s very important that they want their image out there – they should be proud of it
  • It’s important that they have images that show themselves exactly how they want that can then be shared with the public
  • Viewpoint
    • She needs to reclaim her role as the photographer and her perspective from time to time – that is part of the process
    • It’s not just about the people she’s working with but it’s about her
    • Worked with people she knew really well
    • Had very clear ideas with what she wanted for this series – wanted to ask the viewer to think a little bit
    • Get an interesting angle within the photograph looked like they were upside-down
    • Wanted to draw a parallel between the images and the perspective in which trans people are seen within society
    • It’s only one of many possible viewpoints
    • The viewpoint of the subject within the photograph is very deliberate
    • At the scale that they are printed, they become icons
    • All quite large (5ft) apart from one which is about 10in – becomes like a religious icon that you can find in the V&A
    • When you see it small it has that iconic feel to it and when you see them large they are iconic
    • Backgrounds in the pictures are very luscious – important in creating an environment in which the portraits were taken
    • She wanted trans embodiment to be seen as magnificent
    • The body is important to trans people and it was important that the body would play a role within the photographs
    • Became conscious that whilst photographing people nude, she was clothed and behind the camera
    • There was imbalance of power between the person she was photographing and herself, the photographer
    • Robert (one of her subjects) said “I don’t mind at all because I’m looking at you as much as you’re looking at me
    • She worries as a photographer that she is taking something from somebody – you want to produce an image that is from them, of them
    • Photography was at the centre of their relationship
  • “Robert And Me, Me And Robert”
    • Took a mass of photographs
    • Chose two images that connected to her concern about the power imbalance
  • Now frequently photographed alongside the people she’s photographing – she wants to balance the power
  • Every photograph she takes there is another photo that the subject has taken of her – it will be shown smaller below the image that she’s taken
  • It is very important to her that she is aligned with them
  • Describing a very mediated practice does it affect the way you teach? – Yes it informs how she teaches tremendously as she can not only teach the practical side but the collaboration and the idea about respect and power
  • Ken, to be Destroyed
    • Unity theatre in Liverpool
    • Had no idea there was a trans person within her own family – it was a family secret
    • She couldn’t keep it a secret because of all of the work she’s doing – it’s wrong to deny a trans member of her family
    • All along there had been an understanding between her and her mother about bringing this fact to light
    • She would not have produced the project without her mothers permission
    • It isn’t just revealing the family secret, it’s bringing forward the story of individual family members and how they reacted to the trans member, Ken
    • Family photograph albums are one of the key ways in which family history are retold – but they don’t tell everything, there are things missing from the difficult areas in family life


Shahidul Alam Interview:




  • Born and brought up in Bangladesh
  • From a middle class home – you’re expected to get a respectable job
  • 1971 The War of Liberation takes place
    • Dedication system was in shambles
    • Family sent him to Liverpool to get an education in life sciences
  • Went on to do a PhD
  • Freddie Laker introduced the first budget airline
    • Went to New York
    • Travelled round USA and Canada
  • Being a chemist allowed him to experiment in the darkroom
  • He was very involved in the socialist workers part getting involved with social movements and he began to see how his photographs had an important within this space
  • Wanted to do photojournalism and documentary photography but didn’t have the credentials so he did commercial photography
    • Whilst he was doing that he got very involved with a Democratic movement
  • Started doing documentary photography but was only needed in great floods and times of famine
  • Had a show in Belfast
  • A young girl was shocked to realize that Shahidul was from Bangladesh and had money in his pockets – he began to question the cultural, social, and economic idea of different nationalities representing poverty
  • The way to change this is to start with the mechanism in the first place – he started trying to set up his own agencies that worked closer with the photographers so that they can tell more local and personal stories
  • Set up “Pathshala South Asian Media Institute” in 1989
    • If a photographer had one sellable photograph, they tried to sell it, took the money and gave it back to the photographer
  • In 1993 they, as an institute, introduced email to Bangladesh
  • Interacted with World Press Photo and brought their exhibition to Bangladesh in 1993
  • Whilst working with them, he became very interested in the educational model that they had to offer
  • The next step was to have a festival where the world can come to Bangladesh
  • More recently we recognize that while photography in general had made such phenomenal gains within Bangladesh, this couldn’t be said about the photojournalism side of photography
  • Looking at the power relationship between the photographer and the subject, they decided to hold workshops for women and working class children in order to allow them to achieve and create more personal responses and narratives
  • These trainees have become very successful and one of them even won the first Emmy Award for Bangladesh
  • “Rural Visual Journalists Network”
    • Another programme
    • Group of rural journalists that produce multimedia feeds from wherever they are about rural Bangladesh
  • To see Pathshala South Asian Media Institute as just a photographic industry is incorrect, we need to relate it to social change
  • “Majority World”
    • Introduced a knew term
    • Set up in 1997
    • If we have to change perceptions we have to begin with the lexicon – we had to address how these ideas came about
    • Now has representation of Asian, African and Latin American photographer
  • Addressing social justice – it is the power of photography that made it the appropriate tool, but not just photography
  • It is a continuum for striving for social equality using whatever tool which is appropriate at any particular time
  • To see ourselves as photographers is a very limited way of seeing us – he see’s himself as a storyteller
  • We in some ways need to transport people around us into a world where things happen in a particular way and help them to visualize this world by identifying mechanisms for transporting them
  • Began to question modes of storytelling
  • If we only define literacy through the written word we undermine the knowledge that everyday people have
  • One of the things we need to be able to do is to see how the building blocks add up to conveying an idea to someone else
  • Digital allows simpler, more quality production and dissemination
  • Jonathan Worth – “When everyone can be heard, is anyone heard?”
  • Is there such thing as truth or are there many truths?
  • Turn the lens around and look at yourself critically – what is preventing you from becoming the champion of change?


The Portrait Journey Talk by Niall McDiarmid and Jason Scott Tilley:

Niall McDiarmid:


  • January 2011
  • Enjoyed the process of walking and meeting people that he can photograph
  • “Crossing Paths”
    • A project on a mans journey round Britain – we are presented with the people he meets along the way
    • Is a narrative of British culture through a mans journey
    • He was interested in shape and colour within his portraits – very graphic eye
    • The core group of photos needed to include colour which he used to represent the vibrancy of British culture
    • He doesn’t wait around a particular background as he’ll miss opportunities – he walks around looking for his subjects
    • Conversation is important in gaining that context with what the photograph is really about – it gives meaning and adds value
    • “It’s not easy but it can be done” – on the struggles, both personally and generally, when doing photography projects
    • You don’t have to start a project knowing the outcome of it, the images produced will reveal the choices of what to do with them


Jason Scott Tilley:


  • Began career in Coventry as a press photographer for a newspaper
  • It was quite a successful career and he did enjoy it for a time but he wanted to create his own project
  • In 1999 he started his “People of India” project
    • A narrative of personal heritage and Indian culture
    • He took his grandfather back to India to return to his Anglo-Indian roots
    • Got in touch with channel 4 and got funding from them
    • Started taking his own photographs at this point
    • Choosing his portraits – there was a community of people that were still being looked down upon and wanted
    • Conversation is important between the photographer and participant in understanding their story
    • A portrait is identity so that was as much as they were prepared to give you – the subject is maintaining control
    • Jason’s black and white images are timeless, India has not lost their culture and inspired him to revisit India again
    • Some images can elicit sadness but the stories behind them have a sense of humour – Talking to the subject and the context of the photograph is always key
    • I don’t change the moment I just capture it

Both photographers only take a few frames per subject – if it works it works, don’t force something that isn’t there


Storify of Session: