Through this project we want to capture the portraits of those who migrated to Birmingham as a young person, to show the multitude of cultures, ethnicities and generations who inhabit this city. In order to do this we asked Dan Burwood from Some Cities to provide some portrait photography training.
To get started Dan got us used to using a DSLR and getting us thinking about how we as project participants approach subjects, how we may establish rapport and make subjects feel relaxed and open.
It was interesting to hear about Dan’s approach and his experience with working in a range of settings, from market communities in Henley-in-Arden to musicians in Cuba, families in Lebanon and a Christian ceremony in Maloula to name a few. What really struck me was the reminder that even in this digital age, with the spectacle of the image constantly transforming how we are experiencing things, we often don’t actually stop and look, look to consider what it is in front of us, and really examine what our relationship with that thing is. Whether it’s a plant, a person, a book or whatever, we as human beings create complex and emotional relationships with that thing. We as human beings invest complex values in objects. Dan’s training allowed us to slow down and consider what those relationships are, and to consider the responsibility of the photographer when documenting such situations.
We also got an opportunity to use an old school field camera that Dan brought with him which we used and then processed in the dark room to produce photographs that contradict the digital image that we are so used to. These photographs have a very human quality to them, they are scratched, over/under exposed, but they tell a story about the relationship between the photographer and photographed, they are very endearing, intimate and revealing.
After this we began thinking about how to refine our image. About our uses of background, light and technical camera settings. What do our surroundings say about ourselves, about how what sort of people we are, about how we situate ourselves in the world and what we want to reveal about ourselves to the world. We visited other tenants at The Old Print Works and took their photographs.
By the end of the day we all had gained skills not just in how to take a picture, but how to really look and see beyond the image. It was a really fun first day and set us up well for the next few days of training.