After getting somewhat wound up over the brief for the last assignment, I decided that the first thing I’m going to do with this one is to take a close look at it. I’ll get a bit of thinking and analysis out of the way at the start so that I have a clear idea in my head as what I’m trying to achieve. That said, since this one is about producing images for a ‘thoughtful travel publication’, I don’t think I’m inclined to go off and do my own thing either.
The title of the assignment is ‘A sense of place’, so everything is going to be geared towards that overall objective. It is not to be about promoting tourism, but a ‘considered, in-depth treatment’, so a degree of sophistication is required. There need to be at least 12 images, but in the context that only about six might ultimately be chosen by the magazine – so no good producing twelve that all need each other; the images need a certain amount of autonomy. But there is also a strong emphasis on variety – visual, subject and scale. The aim is to ‘show the character of the place and of the people who live there ...’ – in other words, to create a ‘sense of place’. The brief also mentions drawing together ‘camera handling, observation and reaction...’ – so demonstrating an element of ‘technical’ capability (in the broadest sense) will be important.
I decided that getting my hands on a few travel publications might be a good start – albeit they aren’t all necessarily in the ‘thoughtful’ class. I’ve looked at four magazines.
National Geographic (August 2011) – I suppose, this would be regarded as the archetypal travel magazine. It is a very long time since I have looked at it, though it hasn’t changed a great deal, including maintaining its small size. The only ‘place’ feature in this edition was an article called ‘Land of Shadow’, about Myanmar (Burma).
· Comprised 24 pages of the magazine, with approximately two thirds of the space devoted to photographs. 15 images in total (so an average of about one page per image) but in sizes ranging from ‘double page’, through full page (both in portrait format and in landscape, spreading across two), to half page.
· The images are credited to Magnum photographer, Chien-Chi Chang, and I was particularly struck by the variety of subject, style and scale. There are people in most of them, though their presence is itself in quite different scales and serving different purposes. The subjects range from the slightly sinister and threatening, through people at work or in the street going about their lives, through landscapes, where people serve as the ‘accent’, more ‘recreational’ activities, then the military on the march, girls in a ‘fashion’ show, a man suffering from AIDS, children begging and a domestic scene.
· Scale varies from two full page ‘intimate’ scale photographs of contrasting images on mobile phones to wide angle vistas.
So, in the context of the assignment, there is an important lesson about variety – and that is variety in all aspects, not just subject matter. And, also worth repeating that almost every image includes people, even if they are ‘secondary’ to the subject matter.
Lonely Planet (August 2011) – this isn’t a magazine I’ve ever looked at before – published by the BBC, though it doesn’t carry a BBC logo or any obvious branding. Page size is about 50% bigger than NG. I suppose it is a direct competitor, though the style is a little different – more, shorter articles, in general.
One interesting concept, derived, I guess, from the bigger page size, is the regular use of what one might describe as a one-page picture essay – typically six images on a page, but in varying sizes from quarter-page down to about 3cm x 2cm (usually a highly selective detail). Whilst not necessarily immediately easy on the eye, and certainly not helpful in appreciating the detailed merits of a particular image, it does work well in creating a quick ‘sense of place’.
There was one ‘place’ feature on Namibia, which I looked at in a similar way to the NG article.
· 12 pages with a total of around 2/3 of the space devoted to photographs again. Photographs credited to Mark Read (http://www.markreadphotography.com/)
· Picture sizes ranged from double-page spread (1), through near double spread (1), full page images (2), one-page compilations at nine to a page (2), and then a series of very small images in a ‘step-by-step’ guide.
· Subjects go from a ‘pure’ landscape image of desert sands, through wildlife images, to 3 children posing in a dead tree, and an ‘atmospheric’ portrait of a woman. There are two or three portraits in the ‘page essays’, plus more wildlife shots, a full landscape, and some ‘intimate detail’ shots.
There is another feature on the Western fjords of Norway, which has a similar overall structure and, once again, a number of posed portraits. Images by Justin Foulkes.
I took a quick look at two other magazines, neither of which falls into the ‘thoughtful’ category. Discover Britain is more touristic in its style, with less depth. There were a couple of ‘place’ type features in the September edition, one on Highgate Cemetery and one on Liverpool, where the concept of variety was prominent again. Yorkshire Life certainly doesn’t fit the travel category, but I chose to look at it for comparisons in the treatment of Yorkshire towns and villages. Again, articles were shorter, with less depth; some use of the ‘single-page’ essay as in Lonely Planet; plenty of people shots, but often ‘named’, very posed, and a hint of the ‘snapshot’ about them – a characteristic I would apply to many of the photographs in this magazine.
Also of some relevance to this assignment is the recent Michael Freeman articleon WeAreOCA. I take three particular messages from this – the level of planning and preparation that went into the feature; the fact that several shots were pre-planned and set up for the purpose of the article; and that there was a point to the feature, something they were looking to communicate. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the ‘political’ element underlying the third of these, having a direction, something you want to say, even something as general as a mood, provides focus and direction to the images produced and is likely to ensure that they work effectively together as a set.
· Very useful to get a feel for what the magazines use; how images are presented and laid out.
· It is important to go for variety of 1) subject (and to include some/several people images); 2) scale (including some ‘intimate’ scale shots that can be printed on a smaller scale; 3) genre (with, ideally, some ‘documentary’, some ‘landscape’, some ‘portraits’, some ‘action’, and so on).
· Must look for ‘different’ and ‘creative’ opportunities as anything else can soon end up like just another set of ‘snaps’.
· Having a general theme/purpose in mind will help to give direction and cohesion to what I do.