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Blog of the week: Shelly Holland

Hey! (by Shelly Holland)

Blog of the week goes to photography student Shelly Holland for her careful reflection on her neighbourhood images. Of the image above she says:
“In this photograph the old woman, wearing a blue coat that contrasts with her pink umbrella, has chosen a dangerous place to stand, where tiles from the roof of a derelict building could be about to fall on her head. The graffiti on the wall to the left of the frame seems to be shouting a warning ‘Hey’! to the old woman to look out. The woman is bending over and appears to be trying to avoid any tiles that might fall on her. Her umbrella may save her from the rain but it won’t save her from the tiles.
This photograph demonstrates how unaware we can be of the dangers in our environment. It has occurred to me since taking the photograph that I could if luck was against the old woman have been taking a picture of somebody possibly getting badly hurt rather than intervening. Maybe Susan Sontag was right.
‘Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention…..The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene’.
(Susan Sontag, On Photography, In Plato’s Cave, pages 11-13).”
Photographing graffiti seems like a safe choice – it’s there, you can take your time and it isn’t likely to take offense and biff you on the nose. And if you look at viewing statistics on flickr images of graffiti and street are are immensely popular. But it is actually a difficult choice – the message, if there is one beyond ‘look at me’, is already there on the wall and the challenge for the photographer is to add ‘something’. And you can’t add anything without thinking about it – something Shelly has clearly tuned into.

Posted by author: Genevieve Sioka
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9 thoughts on “Blog of the week: Shelly Holland

  • Hmmmm! An interesting, and close to home, intro to the inevitable debate about the stage at which you put your camera down and do something. It would be interesting to know if Shelly warned the woman about the risk of the tiles, or if the observations came after she saw the photo.

  • I would have warned the woman if I’d noticed the precarious position of the tiles. I was too intrigued by the woman’s behaviour to notice the danger she was in, though those tiles still haven’t fallen.
    Looking at the photograph again, what worries me is the position of the barrier. There are no barriers around the perimeter of the property. Could be an accident yet to happen, with this building being a magnet to local children (and apparently old ladies).

  • The tiles would have fallen a meter at least away from her (note the size of the overhang). Or ignore this – don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  • I just wanted to make it clear that I never intended to imply that Shelly would let any harm come to the old lady (so my apologies to Shelly for that).
    The picture set off two trains of thought in my head – the obvious one about ‘record or intervene’. The other, which Shelly has partly answered, was about what stage in the photographic process the juxtaposition became obvious. Was it just after Shelly pressed the shutter, while chimping on the cameras screen or later, at home, when she had a chance to reflect on the various elements? I’m guessing the latter.
    Shelly’s considered analysis of the shot just seems to emphasise to me that sometimes we take great photos, but don’t realise until later, and I wonder how many potential great shots get discarded as a result of not taking that time.

    • No worries, I didn’t view your comment as any kind of implication.
      It was many days later. I hardly ever give my camera screen more than a glance, mainly at the histogram. I have a quick look whilst importing to Lightroom, but it’s usually several days before I study the photos I’ve made.
      I made maybe a dozen images of the lady looking in her bag, putting her bag down, fiddling with her umbrella and walking away.
      I knew I had an image I wanted to use, just not which one. During processing it became clear this image carried the message I wanted to convey.

      • Thanks for confirming that. I wonder how commonplace this is as a approach (ido it sometimes, not others). Obviously film photographers had to wait, but it’s interesting that even with instantly accesible digital shots it still pays to sit and think about the final image.
        I really liked the concept of the whole series – the one that worked best for me was the shot in front of Habitat – suggesting (to me) that the man was at home in these surroundings and somehow ‘meant’ to be there or adapted to the surroundings – which I guess, in some sense, he is.

  • If you look carefully at this photo, its’ fairly obvious that if a tile did happen to fall from the roof, it would probably hit the bottom of the tree from which the woman is some distance away … the house has also obviously been run down for sometime so no tile is likely to move anyway; one can therefore put one’s Health and Safety concerns to one side!!
    What interests me here is the position of the woman! What makes her assume that rather unnatural pose? Perhaps it is just the way she walks since she is elderly or suffering from some kind of disease.
    Decrepit house, decrepit woman … the two mirror each other!

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