A Single Image

Sugar Beet, Ben Dolman 2012

This is my first reflective journal post for my two year part time Photography MA course at Nottingham Trent University. I have been asked by my MA supervisor to select ten images from my portfolio for discussion and then select just one image that I have to write 500 words about. Below are the 500 or so words about a photographs I took in the Fens in the east of England of a pile of sugar beet.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to visit London to see a selection of photography exhibitions and as an after thought decided to take a compact camera just in case anything caught my eye. After two and half hours travelling cocooned on the train and underground I emerged at London Bridge tube station to be confronted by the throng of busy London street life and then as I looked upwards the Shard was looming down on me. The camera was itching to get out of my pocket but I wanted to get my bearings as I was slightly disoriented, have a smoke and start to make sense of the place. As I continued to walk to the Thames Embankment the City of London emerge on the distant bank of the rivers Thames that was both impressive and disheartening at the same time, after viewing the dynamic architectural vista I quickly began to see it instead as a great pile of pillage and plunder of the country’s collective wealth striped bared and concentrated in a few square miles for the select few.

Just as I was about to take the camera out of my pocket in response to my musings on the architectural follies and human spectacle I started to notice that seemly every other person around me was taking photographs. People were using smart phones, compact cameras to high digital SLRs with huge lenses to photograph the views, each other and even each other taking photographs.

Making my way to the Tate Modern along the embankment watching people photograph ‘things’ I lost any interest to take photographs myself, I felt there was no need for me to capture what I saw around me though I did enjoy just looking. I began to wonder why the camera stayed in my pocket, the street life around me seemed rich in material, perhaps the exhibition of William Klein and Daido Moriyama I was going to see at Tate Modern might help why I suddenly felt photographically impotent.

William Klein and Daido Moriyama are both masters of urban street photography whose work I admire and enjoy, at first the exhibition mirrored my experience emerging from the underground to the throng at London Bridge tube station. The exhibition was at first glance big, loud and full of relentless energy with huge blown up mural sized images of both photographers work that were visually impressive and foreboding.

After the initial shock and awe the exhibition revealed the real gems of the photographers work in their books and original prints. These were neither brash or bold but humble and thoughtful that evoked a deep empathy with their subject and shared intimacy with the viewer noting in particular an early small print of a blurred nude by Daido Moriyama. The work that resonated most with me was when they captured the mundane and the overlooked and made it poetic, moving and gently provocative when seen at the original scale and in the pages of their books. I could see that both of these photographers walking along the same path I made to their exhibition could have found a image that all the mass of photographers I have passed on the way could never have discovered including myself.

On leaving the exhibition and re-entering the hustle and bustle of London it dawn on me why I did not take the camera out of my pocket and take a photograph. I was happy to let others capture this subject, each other and become the collective viewers of their moment, it was not for me I had no real empathy with the subject and could offer no new visual insight that day but I wondered if  they ever thought of photographing a pile of sugar beets and wondering what kind of image it would make.

Tate Modern : William Klein + Daido Moriyama Exhibition 10th October - 20th January 2013