Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Words and Pictures are not Competitive. They are Complementary

all pictures by Kazuma Obara

We're big fans of Kazuma Obara here at Photobook Bristol. We bought one of the 45 original copies of his brilliant Silent Histories (more of which in an upcoming post), and we were delighted to have him as a guest at Photobook Bristol 2015.

Kazuma is one of the hardest working photographers we know with an attention to detail that is incomparable (he made a total of 16 dummies before finally coming up with something he was happy with for Silent Histories). He is also supremely modest, charming and generous. And he wears a hat far better than any photographer we know. We truly love Kazuma Obara!

So we were delighted when he won The World Press Photo First Prize in the People section. Delighted and a little bit surprised because the project does not look entirely like your typical World Press Photo stories.

But at the same time we were not surprised because the project continues Kazuma's investigations into the material and the way in which they can carry the narrative thread of the story he is photographing.

And in that sense they are perfect pictures for the World Press Photo. This is a photo-essay in the sense in which Harold Evans describes it in his excellent Pictures on A Page (this post by Graham Harrison gives a great overview of Pictures on a Page).

'Further to his call for clear terminology in Pictures on a Page, Harold Evans complains that ‘essay’ and ‘story’, are used interchangeably by newspapers and magazines. A picture story is essentially narrative, the record of a single event. Whereas the essay, unconfined by either time or event, “Will argue and analyse rather than narrate; it will make points,” writes Evans.

We are all very much in favour of World Press Photo here at Photobook Bristol. It still has photojournalism at its heart; heavyweight photography that really matters and that very directly attaches to the world in which we live in. It also actively seeks out and addresses the many, many criticisms it has faced over the years; it has a transparency and an openness to adaptation and change, qualities that are very rare in photography.

In Pictures on a Page (which is still one of the very best books on the concrete function and ethics of photography -  Evans was the Sunday Times editor who employed Don McCullin and helped define photojournalism at its very best - and most campaigning) Evans talks about different uses of the photograph, how it can be used to complement a story, how an editor can see a picture in a text, and how the photograph can can take a story beyond the image.

Kazuma's essay (and it is an essay) does argue and does analyze and does take the story beyond the surface of the image, and he does it in a very low-key and charming manner in which the material nature of the chemistry combines with history, text and indeed the trails of Kazuma's own practice.

It's a story that is told in multiple layers in other words - through images that reference a kind of idealised dream-like life, through the distance created by this radiation-infused film, and through the text that accompanies each image. And that is what is being recognised by World Press Photo, that the telling of a story can take place in multiple ways that create eddies and counter-currents of understanding. The story lies beyond the image in other words.

This idea of the photograph not being a unique and self contained thing is another element addressed by Evans, who questions the Cartier-Bresson notion...

 'that if a photograph is really evocative it carries its own message. The only information required is the when and the where'

“That,” Evans counters, is “a piece of intellectual debris from the early idea that photography was an art or it was nothing”

Words and photography are not competitive, they are complementary, says the newspaperman. “They explain relationships. They fix the time. They may elaborate on what is happening. They can point to an elusive detail. They can attempt to counter our irritating perversity in each drawing different, even contradictory, meanings from the same image. They can confirm mood. And with a single photograph only words can explain how the event occurred or what its effect might be.” He also points out that “photography is limited in its power of analysis”.'

Anyway, in celebration of Kazuma Obara, here are some images from his World Press Photo Prize Winning Entry.

See the full entry here. 

Read Graham Morrison on Harold Evans' Pictures on a Page here. 

'The world’s worst nuclear accident happened on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Just 5 months after the disaster, a girl was born in Kiev just 100 km south from Chernobyl. The wind included a great amount of radioactive elements, and the girl became one of the victims of the tragedy. This series of pictures represent the last 30 years of the life of that invisible girl. All pictures taken on old Ukrainian color negative films, which were found in the city of Pripyat, located 5 km from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.'

"My mother said that it was a typically quiet day, warm and windy. She and my father opened the window and they felt completely safe on the day of the explosion, the 26th of April 1986."

"I was born just five months after the day of the explosion. I was a very sickly child and I remember feeling like something was wrong, not growing like a normal child. When I was born I was quickly admitted into the intensive care unit. I had cramps and I was very weak. Half of my childhood, I spent in hospital without receiving a diagnosis. I was treated for bronchitis, then pneumonia, and then neuroses."

"You might think there should be nothing from Chernobyl in my identity because I was not born at the time of the explosion. I was in my mother's belly and I did not yet exist in the outside world."

"I did not have the opportunity to be active. Children who were born in the year of Chernobyl were the most adversely affected. I was lying in the hospital, without my mother all the time. That is, perhaps, reflected in my character today."

"My grandmother became disabled in a very early stage of life. It had nothing to do with the accident, but it was also an autoimmune processes. Then my aunt became disabled. And for me, the word ‘disabled’ is really terrible, full of stigma. That’s what I faced every day, and my family saw it. It's still, for me, a great discomfort, very frightening. It’s significant that the word is placed next to my name. It really bothers me, and caused me to reject having a disabled certificate for a time. I thought, if the word was written next to my name, then I could go no further. I know it's weird, but I had a sort of feeling that the world would bury me."

"Recently, I just realized that I was not guilty. This is nobody's fault. I'm working on it, and everything is much better. I understand that all the worst is over, and now I'm trying to reestablish contact with my parents. They thought that I grew up very strong and independent. But it is not so. Now it’s like I just came back to life and I'm a child again. It’s interesting for me to touch, feel, play, go on a picnic. I just learned how to ride a bike this year."

Read a review of Silent Histories  here.

No comments:

Post a Comment