Week 3 notes

This weeks class had some interesting powerpoint presentations, along with discussions etc.. I have decided to blog the notes I took so that I can go over them later for inspiration.

The powerpoints in particular, were wonderful inspiration for WHY documentary photographers do what they do.. by documentary, I mean not the correspondent photographers, but personal projects.  I hope that by referring to these notes, I can be inspired with my photo essays, which at this stage, while being assessed, are personal as well, as I have been able to choose the subject.

NO SECONDS – Death Row Meals by Henry Hargreaves

This photo essay can be seen at http://www.dripbook.com/hhargreaves/portfolio/no-seconds/

Hargreaves has researched the last meals of many of the American’s who have been executed for their crimes and recreated those, with appropriate settings, ie; cutlery, tableware etc.  He has also listed the criminal and some details, the crimes for which they were executed and the contents of the meal.

These photographs are quite stark, all photographed from the same angle, straight above, with quite harsh and flat lighting, with the emphasis being on the contents of the plate, which are not unattractively styled, but not beautifully presented either.  Care has been taken to recreate the meals within the constraints of the era, using correct cutlery stules etc.

Hargreaves makes no judgement on the people who ate these meals, the chosen meals were selected because they were unusual and appealed to him, he has noted details that fascinated him, like the former KFC manager who chose that food for his last meal, is it irony, or was it included for it’s ‘creepy’ factor?

Reasons stated for this image series were firstly curiosity, how is a last meal served?? And when researched, Hargreaves could find no previous work on this subject.  He hasn’t tried to create any messages that need decoding with this series, merely to start a dialogue, and making people aware of the use of the death penalty .  He considers the negative reactions that this series has gained (comments like “cashing in”) as a measure of success, because it’s a reaction.

This series is ongoing, as it has been exhibited, and updated for that.  As he believes that food tells us about ourselves, he hopes that maybe we will discuss our last meals and what they would say about us.. perhaps to find some common ground with someone who has been put to death by their own people??

Stephen Dupont

Dupont is an Australian photographer who has captured many haunting images of conflict around the world.  He has received numerous awards for his work, and published several books of personal projects that are not conflict related as well.

Dupont works in the instant, he rarely has preparation for a shot, and will even use a blurry image as he believes it can still tell a powerful story, capturing the emotion of the moment.

Closeness is his trademark, he becomes part of the scene he is photographing and has taken harrowing images from less than a foot from the subject, although he feels very responsible for infringing someone’s personal space, and remains aware of the very fine line between documenting and invading in that sense. He frequently finds himself having to cut off emotionally in order to continue his career, but is always affected after the fact.

Dupont’s images rarely tell the whole story, they always leave the viewer asking questions and wanting to find out more.

Watching these two interviews and presentations made me aware of some important considerations in documentary photography, and the class discussed the following points.


  • – Intervention – do you always JUST take the photo, or do you step in.. how do you decide which?
  • – Social responsibility – which is more important, getting the story out there to the rest of the world, or doing something immediate, this relates to the above point very well.
  • Controversy VS Intention – are some images published merely because they will create a storm of controversy, is that a good enough reason to take an image?
  • Truthfulness – will an image be taken out of context and not tell the story it was intended for
  • Exploitation – should consent be gained from subjects at all times?? if you are profiting from someone’s misery, how do you reconcile that?


These relate to ethics.

Impartiality – a documentary photographer must document, not enter a conflict

Permission – ideally, get it beforehand, or at least ask afterwards


Along with responsibilities, photographers have certain rights when on public ground, but it is ultimately up to the individual to check that those rights apply on location.


Assessment 1 part 2 – Researching

Research your proposed publication and its agenda and aesthetic. Who is its audience and how is photography used to communicate ideas?

With a range of topics discussed in each issue, the Big Issue reaches a wide audience, but appeals directly to those who consider they have a ‘social conscience’.   The magazine is very pro active in maintaining transparency, with several areas of the website, and each issue explaining exactly how the consumer price is divided up, and re stating their independent stance.

The photographs in the magazine are used to highlight stories, and especially to put a human face on the articles.  While many articles have only one image, there are several articles in each issue with multiple images, varying from quite candid shots, to technically complex, well set up studio images, and everything that can possibly range between.

Describe the magazine’s typical reader

A typical purchaser of the Big Issue is me.  Well, probably a little younger than me (I am 49), judging by the people who I watch stop and buy outside Southern Cross station (where I first became aware of this magazine).  To hazard a semi educated guess after watching one vendor, I would estimate the average age at 30.  They seem to be quite well educated, judging by the breadth of articles, have a keen interest in the world around them, and are willing to step up and be counted about current issues that affect their world, and the world of those around them.

What kind of stories does the magazine run?

There are many subjects in each issue, with the publication priding itself on covering a variety of topics and in their approach.  Serious when needed, but always with a number of humorous or quirky articles to maintain reader interest, I have seen articles on creating the perfect retreat for a teenage girl’s room (thus confirming my belief that middle age Australians, who I am interested in reaching, are among the target audience) to an article on touring abandoned buildings in Europe, through to interviews with celebrity chefs.  Each issue contains an article which highlights one of the vendors of the magazine, keeping an important human face on the enterprise.  The website and several advertisements in each issue also offers information on other programs that the organisation runs, with an emphasis on empowering disadvantaged or marginalised women, and education of children about social issues.

How many photographs are used in a feature story?

Each story has varying requirements for images and word count, with guidelines being listed on the FAQ page, however, there appears to be a lot of flexibility around those guidelines, with my count for one article being six images, which appears to exceed the stated guidelines.

How are the photographs used within a feature story?

Photographs are used to create interest within a story, portraits of interviewees being quite common,  pictures of topical interest quite often being on the cover (the current issue shows a horse and a pretty girl in a spring races outfit), several stories will show pictures that illustrate various points within that story, and others will depict and emphasise the humorous or serious side of the story.

Are the pictures mainly informative or illustrative?

The vast majority of the pictures do appear to be illustrative, but again, there is a wide range that changes per issue, I can discern no set ratio.

Does the magazine use one style of photography or a variety of approaches?

With many photographs being taken by the contributing author, they vary widely according to the taste and style, and indeed, the equipment available.  The magazine does frequently commission photographers and other artists for various articles.

If the magazine commissioned you, what other factors would you need to consider when planning your shoot?

As I have changed the focus of my story after discussions with several people, including my lecturer and some potential subjects,  I would need to consider the national focus of the magazine, and attempt to find sources from different areas, so as not to seem too ‘local’ for publication.  I would also need to keep the tone quite upbeat to appeal to the widest possible number of readers.