Part two of this exercise was to take a second set of images with a DSLR, applying a ‘craft approach to the scene … that shows the area at its best or most intriguing’.
In my approach, I was mindful of the words of Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson: “It is beside the point to argue about the degree to which facts have been altered, because all photography does that … I am more interested in the truth in what they have to say, even though I know it is subjective. I don’t need an algorithm to know that I am looking at a lie. I know because the world we live in does not look like that. My mind knows it, my heart [knows it]. When a suburban kid in garage in New York is retouched to look like he is in a burned out alley in Aleppo, I don’t have to examine the raw file to know that the photographer has created something that has nothing at all to do with facts.” (1)
My local area has been widely photographed and visited so my images of it must look believable. I decided to created an impression which might appeal to a key demographic for the locale. Apartment-buying hipsters, I suppose. I still wanted to capture the gritty, urban feel but also showing the open spaces, the greenery, the gentrification, the playfulness. This is a place you can feel comfortable and safe but which has an edge, a distinct street culture, a dynamism. A place that is teeming with all kinds of life.
Whilst these images are very honest, I have omitted signs of poverty and vandalism. There are no indications of the casual littering, the drug trade or the deep social issues affecting inner-city areas. We see an old church, ‘Boris bikes’, a street art tribute to Terry Pratchett, coffee shops, a place to get your pictures framed…
It is of course possible to create a false impression as a social documentary photographer. I do not believe that any communication can be neutral. Most of the scenes I have captured in this set are just a few feet away from over-flowing bins or gang-related graffiti. Just last week a video went viral about some brutal beatings on Brick Lane which remind us of the cultural, racial and class tensions on our doorstep.
As a society, and as cautious, intelligent individuals we have learned not to trust everything we see and it is also clear that a set of images can never be comprehensive – short of photographing every square centimetre of a place. And it is still possible that we all live in Plato’s cave.
There is also an important distinction to be made between social documentary and photojournalism as it would be expected that the latter is guided by a more stringent ethical code. Integrity, however, is still an issue for the documentary photographer but will be related to their intention and the nature of their social investigation. It is entirely reasonable that the information in the images is very deliberately ‘skewed’ to illustrate a specific agenda and a truth as perceived by the artist.
Phil Maxwell says, “Coming into Brick Lane is like coming into a theatre, where they change the scenery every time a different play comes in – a stage where each new set reflects the drama and tribulations of the wider world.” (2) I would like to be able to capture that more effectively.
It would be good to see more of the work of Markéta Luskačová and to understand how much her images of this area are influenced by her being an immigrant to London.
There are also some great Homer Sykes images from in and around Brick Lane here.
- Laurent, O. (2013) ‘World Press Photo controversy: Objectivity, manipulation and the search for truth’ In: bjp-online.com 22.5.13 (online) At: http://www.bjp-online.com/2013/05/world-press-photo-controversy-objectivity-manipulation-and-the-search-for-truth/ (accessed on 12.9.15)
- Maxwell, P. (2014) Brick Lane. London: Spitalfields Life Books.