Selecting & Defining a Picture Essay
From: On Being A Photographer
David Hurn/Magnum in conversation with Bill Jay
Published by LensWork Publishing
96 pages, November 1997
Third Edition, Oct 2003
“David Hurn’s candor permeates these pages. Nowhere else that I know of will photographers meet in print a mentor who can OR will speak with such directness and relevance to the step by step issues which are always present in the medium, but rarely discussed.” About David p8.
“When I talk about the picture OR photographic essay I mean a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others; not that the sequencing of the pictures can be read like a string of words.” Some Definitions p27.
(Bill Jay) “Images are not linear explanations OR narratives in the same sense that words are stories.” Some Definitions p26.
(Bill Jay) “…photographers of merit tend to work on projects involving many pictures, not just on single masterpieces.” The Picture Essay p55.
“So what transforms these simple records into pictures of lasting merit?” “It comes down to a choice of subject. The photographer must have intense curiosity, not just a passing visual interest, in the theme of the pictures. This intense curiosity leads to intense examination, reading, talking, research and many, many failed attempts over a long period of time.” Selecting A Subject p29.
“Write a list of subjects that fascinate you without regard to photography.”
Break down and eliminate aspects/subjects by asking the following questions:
- Is it visual?
- Is it practical (accessible regularly)?
- Is it a subject about which you know enough? (If not, research!)
- Is it interesting to others?
“Be as specific as possible.” Selecting A Subject p30.
(Bill Jay) “The important point is to plan, in order to provide a basic frame work to which you can return whenever you are stuck.” The Picture Essay p56.
“The second question, once the purpose of the project has been determined, is; How many pictures are required? …it might be only one image OR perhaps seven prints for a magazine layout; Forty for a one person exhibition; 120 for a major book…” The Picture Essay p56.
“…you must have divided your topic OR theme into many picture headings. List them, and alongside each heading jot down the words ‘overall/establishment picture; medium distance/relationship picture; and close up picture.’ The notes act as a shooting script and remind you that the final essay must have pace, that is, you avoid visual boredom by changing the rhythm of the photographs within the set.” The Picture Essay p56.
“…take on a project which is containable and can be completed within a reasonable period of time.” Selecting A Subject p31.
“Too many projects dribble on for years because the photographer has not cut it done to the essentials. They do not ask: “Why am I doing this (purpose)? What interests me (enthusiasm)? Where and how, will it be used (audience and means of reproduction)?” It is no good spending seven weeks shooting pictures for your local newspaper if it is only going to use one photograph.” The Picture Essay p55.
“…the intended audience, and the method used to reach that audience, are important factors when planning a major project.” The Picture Essay p55.
“(David Hurn often drives) …to a strange town, scans the local newspaper for current events, and invites himself to participate in whatever activity was going on – from flower shows to MG car owner’s ball.” Subcultures p16.
“…if the subject is an event which is repeated, you first visit it without a camera OR at least plan not to seriously shoot pictures, but make visual impressions of the key elements.” The Picture Essay p56.
“Then you go back to the club (event) and attempt to photograph those headings.” The Picture Essay p57.
“(Once you’ve successfully photographed) all of the ‘twelve’ headings, you know that you have finished the project. You have the story.” The Picture Essay p57.
“…the fact remains that it (the working method described above) works, and just wandering around looking for pictures hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.” Selecting A Subject p31.
“We all know of what I call the talk-caring photographers who are always ‘involved’ working on an indefinable, never finished project and who produce pictures that have no definable purpose.” Cameras, Shoes and Other Essentials p68.“A good photographer is always striving for the perfect image, knowing that it is rarely, if ever, likely to be achieved.”
Creating Contacts p51.
NOT David Hurn