PEOPLE AT WORK – Some Concluding Thoughts…
I feel that I will walk away from this assignment with several positive and constructive ideas. The items at the top of list are not technical but quite ‘internal’. The old saying ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ certainly rings true. Previously, most of my own work has relied on serendipity and being in the right place at the right time (although there are plenty of pre-planned shoots too). Very rarely has my practice involved phoning and emailing unknown people to request access to their daily vocational routines. The assignments have demanded that I do just that. I was a little outside of my comfort zone. I deliberately contacted people that I didn’t know and knew very little about their professions. I sent out at least 10-12 emails covering chocolatiers, dog groomers, farriers, taxidermists, microbreweries, vets, sausage factories, farmers, Hitachi (who are making the carriages/engines for the new HS2), clairvoyants, heritage railway museums… As could be predicted, not all responded. Some politely declined, some were more than happy to cooperate. Basically, making relationships and building a short-term rapport with people has been a necessity for this unit. I’ve realised that I enjoy doing this. After 43 years, perhaps I’ve found a new skill!? (But, I am by no means an expert). Forming associations and trust with strangers is not that easy, learning to ask questions and take an interest in what they do has been paramount to making the photo shoots succeed. Luckily, I didn’t need to feign my interest, I found all my shoots interesting, fascinating and utterly intriguing, primarily because of the people involved.
On each photoshoot, for at least the first 30 minutes, I didn’t take any photographs. No recording was made. Just conversation. In fact, in the case of Tony Hughes, the first time we met we were chatting away for over an hour, so long that I didn’t take a single shot that day, I had to go back the day after! I found this essential. Firstly, getting to know the person, their history, how they arrived at doing what they do etc. Secondly, asking questions to ascertain how their environment plays a part in their work and what key processes and tools are integral to their workflow – I attempted to include these elements/objects in the photoshoot alongside the ‘person at work’ factor. The ephemera, equipment, paraphernalia, maybe even the junk that occupied their spaces played a crucial, defining part of the story. In short, people, their motivation and their things are bloody interesting, the photographs hopefully illustrate this.
Technically, it was good(ish) to think about the ‘exposure triangle’ and switch off from the safety mechanism of aperture priority which I use for about 99% of my normal shooting. Although I’ve never forgotten about the holy trinity of ISO, shutter speed and aperture (far from it), it was not a great experience to use manual focus. Once or twice I thought that perhaps I was starting to ‘feel it’ and get a sense of man-machine autonomy. But, no. It wasn’t happening. Sorry, I have auto focus lenses for a reason. Switching to manual focus really applied the brakes. I missed LOTS of good shots. Sharpness is not everything (think of Capa’s Omaha beach landing images or Moriyama’s street work), however, blurry and technically shoddy output drives me crazy when I know that AF would have nailed it. It also made me ‘chimp’ far too much. God, I hate manual focus. Manual exposure wasn’t too much of an issue, I think you get a quick feel for light and metering after a while. However, I’ll returning to AP and Auto focus ASAP. In fact, for the last ‘Bonus Shoot’ at Schoolhouse Brewery I did just that. Sorry.
Towards the end I began to wonder who the audience could be for this work.
These images are not cold and objective. My approach became subjective and quite ‘snapshot’, although consideration to composition, line, framing, light and viewpoint all played a vital role. They take a particular point of view of the events (the people at work) in both the mode of production and the messages that they imply. Yes, they are factual images, but they are not neutral and unsympathetic, they are human. They contain an event, a process and experience. Well, that’s what I tried to capture.