First steps into documentary photography

I recently returned to Vietnam for three weeks to further two projects I’ve been working on since 2012. It felt like coming home.

The projects are on fishing communities and life around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Here I want to reflect on the former and share some new images. Continue reading

Street Photography India (New work)

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I’m preparing to leave India after four weeks of street photography that has taken me from Mumbai to Delhi via the southern most states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It’s been a great, if at times gruelling, trip. We have visited some amazing locations and managed to meet up with some India based photographer friends for the first time.

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Three views of a secret

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To the uninitiated,  street photography (SP) might seem a hap hazard activity pursued by camera toting odd balls looking to sneak shots of random strangers. While there is certainly no prohibition on odd balls using cameras, the serious street photographer is likely up to something much more structured and possibly even quite profound.

So just what is it these hard core street photographers are up to? Continue reading

To shoot, or not to shoot?

A major hurdle most aspiring street photographers have to overcome is the fear of pointing a camera at strangers. There are many reasons to think twice about photographing strangers on the street. Some relate to hypothetical ‘what ifs’ regarding the range of possible negative reactions. These are real but, in my experience, very infrequent.

However, it’s another set of reasons I want to reflect on this post. These relate to two ethical questions inherent in the practice of street photography. Continue reading

Every shot a throw of the dice

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(The tongue in cheek title for this post comes from some banter – about the role of chance in photography –  with my friend David Barrett on Twitter @streetfotouk. Thanks Dave.) 

I recently attended an engaging talk by renowned travel photographer and writer Michael Freeman. He voiced the perennial concern of travel photographers:

When global tourism grants camera toting tourists access to all conceivable locations, how do you come up with novel images?

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How do photographs work?

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Everyone with a serious interest in photography grapples, at some point, with the question ‘What makes a good photograph?’

In doing so, you inevitably come to understand the wisdom of Ansel Adams’ famous remark “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs”. Continue reading

The Challenge of Photographing India

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“Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab” Sir John Strachey, 1888

In his New York Times Magazine article ‘A Too-Perfect Picture’ (30/3/16), Teju Cole famously criticised the portrayal of India by the photographer Steve McCurry.

Based on a narrow reading of a minority of images contained in the photographer’s retrospective book India, Cole claims McCurry perpetuates an obsolete visual narrative and has a hackneyed style.  Continue reading

Breakfast can wait

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Much of my photography is done while travelling. However, even a cursory glance at my photographs confirms they are a long way from what might be thought of as conventional ‘travel’ photography. That is to say, colourful picturesque images of landmarks and ‘views’.

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Beware the photographic portrait

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Portraiture is the most duplicitous of all photographic genres. Not only is the deceit calculated, it is known to all parties in advance.

This situation arises because there are four people in every portrait. There is the person the ‘subject’ tries to project, the person they really are, the person the photographer is trying to present and, finally, the person the viewer thinks they are seeing. While they may not know each other personally, each is aware of the others’ existence.

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Teej Festival Jaipur 2016

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From the top of Jaipur’s famed Jawa Mahal we were surprised how close we were to the City Palace and Jantar Mantar in the city centre. We’d been there in the morning and learned that the Teej procession was due to start at the adjacent Tripolia Gate at six that evening. Although it was only 4 pm we decided to head for the location by cutting through the back-streets of Jaipur. This turned out to be a good idea as it threw up many photo opportunities of life on the streets of the ‘Pink City’. Continue reading

Panna Meena ka Kund

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Located close to the famed Amer Fort in Jaipur (India), Panna Meena ka Kund is a 16th century stepwell originally built as a source of water and place of recreation for the local community.

When I visited with a photographer friend in August 2016, the place was buzzing with the energy of some local guys enjoying a cooling swim. They were completely relaxed about us photographing them and gave no suggestion we were intruding. Continue reading

Some thoughts on portraiture

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Igor Stravinsky, New York NY 1946 by Arnold Newman

Portraits are an integral part of our everyday lives as staff identity cards, passport mugshots, driving licences, etc. Portraits as advertising images bombard us on television, in cinemas, shops and on the streets in a bid to shape our consumption. Finally, they act as visual synapses transmitting relationship bonds between friends and family members in our private lives.

In short, the photographic portrait is the most ubiquitous of the medium’s genres. Their prevalence in the public and private consciousness means it’s easy to forget the complex nature of what is shown and how they are produced.  Continue reading

A Glimpse of India

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In late June 2015 I travelled to India with my wife for a four week photography expedition. Months in the planning, our itinerary included New Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, Chennai, Pondicherry, Madurai, Alleppey and Mumbai.

Just 4 days into our trip we had to return to the UK (family emergency). Coming within hours of completing a 19 hour train journey from Delhi to Jaisalmer the timing was unfortunate.  Nevertheless, refuelled with some excellent vegetarian curries, we headed for the only approved booking agent for rail tickets in Jaisalmer. We secured berths on the return train departing at 1am. Continue reading

In praise of imperfect photographs

I’ve always found the most interesting photographers to be those who go out of their way to deliberately manipulate the inherent physical properties of the medium.  Yes, I know, it’s an unfashionable modernist view that’s been sidelined by the art world’s promotion of post-modern conceptualists (a.k.a ‘artists working with photography’). However, I do think John Szarkowski was correct in expounding an “essentialist” view of photography (see). Not that I agree with what he saw as its essential properties. Continue reading

Interview on Fujiholics.com

I’m honoured to be one of the inaugural interviewees on the newly launched Fujiholics.com website. http://www.fujiholics.com/blog/a-fujiholics-story-john-meehan

John Meehan for Fujiholics-8

Thanks to Matt, Sarah and Jack for the opportunity. Best, John

Vietnam Street Portraits

Obsessions with subject matter are commonplace among visual artists. Photographers are no exception. Famous examples in photography include Eugene Atget’s early morning documenting of empty Paris streets, Alfred Stieglitz’s twenty year portrait of his painter wife Georgia O’Keefe, W Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh odyssey of 1955, and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s cataloguing of industrial structures. Continue reading

Colour crept in

Bear with me; I am going to make a digression before the main part of this post.

In 1946, the most celebrated exponent of formalist black and white photography, Edward Weston, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Just two years later the 60 year old photographer ceased taking pictures altogether. However, during that two year period he took up colour photography seriously for the first time. Continue reading

On the nature of street photography

(This piece has its origins in a blog post by Steve Coleman of streetframe.co.uk  – about the ‘rules’ of street photography – and developed through discussions with Steve and the other members of the ‘coffee shop collective’, namely, Matt Hart (http://www.matthewhartphotography.com), Jack Mayall (http://www.jackmayall.com/), and Stephen Hart (@HartMediastuff7).

The views below are my own and no blame should be attached to the above named. Continue reading