'I take pictures I am compelled to take…'
Posted: 23/08/11 02:26 | 23 Comments
Some videos which appear in WeAreOCA benefit from explanatory text. I don’t think these two interviews which Jose and I filmed with photographer Briony Campbell need any further explanation.
To see more of The Dad Project see Briony Campbell’s site:
The Dad Project film
The Dad Project stills
Posted by author: Mark Lomas
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23 thoughts on “'I take pictures I am compelled to take…'”
Very moving and thought-provoking films. Her approach in The Dad Project is a very restrained, less-is-more way of exploring the subject which nevertheless manages to convey intense emotion. It’s an intensely personal approach – as one would expect – all the way through I was as much aware of her and her reactions as her father. There was a very definite sense of the work as a collaboration between the two of them. I thought her final picture ‘Me as Dad’ was a very compelling choice on many levels.
It is interesting that you alighted on the ‘less is more’ angle Eileen as The Dad Project caused significant debate here in the OCA office when we saw the video for the first time yesterday. In particular, we felt it was so moving precisely because of the understated nature of the work, and it led us to discuss the work of a friend of yours – where we thought this quiet image was the most impactful.
Glad you like that particular image Gareth – we are working on a book and I have earmarked that for the cover.
I had quite a lot of internal debate about the film myself. This is a much more palatable version of the illness and death of a loved one than some I have seen. My debate was about whether it was better or worse in consequence. Being more palatable might be helpful in terms of communicating with most people, but is the role of art not sometimes to make us face things that make us very uncomfortable? Richard Billingham’s ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ came particularly to mind as an alternatvie approach.
The family dynamics in Billingham’s case were very different of course, and I think it very likely also that his work reflects his own personality quite strongly. I don’t know that I reached any definitive conclusion other than that Briony’s work is a very effective and moving communication. And also very personal, in both subject and approach. I think that any story is capable or being presented in a variety of ways, and that many will be equally valid and compelling. Perhaps the answer to making good work on any subject is to be as true as you can be to your own vision.
A wonderful film and set of photos. As you say Eileen – very restrained and all the more powerful for it.
I recall seeing this series in the Guardian about 18 months ago and how the images made me feel at the time and despite the very personal nature of the subject, it is also very universal. Touching and memorable. Great to see her talk about this project so sincerely and openly, and see her sensitivity come through in her images.
I was moved to tears by the film of the Dad Project. At first I had thought that the project had maybe been a means of necessary distraction from the impact of her father’s dying process. On watching the film though I can and see and feel how it enabled them to talk about what was happening. Seeing images of him as a young man compared with the present gave me a sense of a life well lived and loved. It brought life into death for me.
Very well-observed comments Catherine. I don’t think the project was a distraction from her father’s dying either. But I have the feeling that it was a way for her to deal with that process, turning something inherently ugly into a message about life and love. Now, doing that is not easy task; it needs an enormous output of emotional energy which Briony was able to deliver.
I was very taken with the films,particurly by the,I take pictures i am compelled to take VIDEO.Yes i feel thje same way,just because you like taking pictures,and you posess a camera dose not mean that you have to be always taking pictures. unless it is (as the film explains)for a client,or it is for a oca photography course,were assignments require.Other than that it is personel choice.The dad video was the one that moved me most,personaly.Because i never got to see my dad before he died wich is something that i have always since regreted.So yes once again great videos.
moving, beautiful and courageous.
The Dad project was very moving. It personally reminded me of my grandfather who passed away three months ago and I would consider him as a father because I lived with him and my grandmother as a child.
Unfortunately, the images I have of him are taken by others as snapshots, I wouldn’t have the nerves to do such a project. It was such a nerve breaking time for me and I’m glad I still have memories and pictures of him at least in my (heart).
So brave of her
I struggle with the ethics of the Dad Project in general. The notion of informed consent was critical here, and was very clearly obtained from all involved, at least as far as the taking of photographs was concerned. Were there any limits placed on where these images might end up, and how they were to be used?
I would agree with you Jim if the relationship between photographer and subject was different than it is. In this case though I think the project was both a project in its own right and a prop for the photographer’s way of dealing with the situation.
Given this I wonder what sort of use you would determine to be unethical? I cannot think of one – eg even if they images were used commercially.
Not sure how you can agree with me, as I was just asking a question.
To answer your question though, in my view it would be unethical to use these materials beyond the extent of the original permissions.
Good question Jim, but the fact that Briony’s family are perfectly aware of the amount of exposure her images are having makes me think that they’ve agreed for the images to be made public. Perhaps because what the photographs do is actually good: they convey a sense of common humanity which, in the end, my help other people in similar circumstances.
Is it not possible that death is a taboo subject though? Is death something we do not dare talking about, or showing in any way, because we think it might have some imaginary harmful effect on us? As if it could come to us earlier than anticipated?
The positive side to this set of images is surely that it does attempt to shed light on what is usually seen as a dark subject although it does not have to be viewed that way. The general attitude towards death in the UK has changed dramatically since the last war and some people have different outlooks such as that of the Buddhist view of death which does not hold to a negative connotation of death.
I wonder though, as a photographer, about what the photographer here is achieving for themselves. Is it really about coming to terms with death or has it become a subtle means to avoid it? Of course, not the actual event but the feelings surrounding it. Has the camera acted as an anaesthetic? The camera has helped in accepting the emotional impact of the event and the bereaved now have the photographs to remember it all. To me there are unanswered questions that need addressing even if one can not draw any conclusions.
I have dwelt on these images for a day or two before responding because I wanted to be clear about my response and yet, it is not easy to be clear about death which remains a mystery and in some sense a fiction.
Recently, while travelling I was asked to photograph a death celebration; here the body was brought out and people danced wildly around it while the family sat closer in meditation. The body was then carried out amid scenes of jubilation, traffic drew to a noisy halt and the body was taken to a place by the river where it was set fire to and burnt. It was a gripping occasion and instead of sorrow, there was a sense of release, of a body freed from it’s mortal coil. I don’t know if my images really caught all this but some went up on Facebook not longer after.
In the West, we tend to have a rather serious view of dying; it is surely in need of a little enlightenment and work like this helps in that.
You pose the question ‘Has the camera acted as an anesthetic?’. I would like to pose the opposite question, has the camera allowed for a depth of interaction and experience that might have been avoided without its catalyst as an accessible vehicle for exploring, accepting and sharing difficult emotions.
I find your idea of the camera as an anaesthetic very interesting Amano. It is a theory which perhaps explains how photographers can approach hardcore subject matter such as extreme poverty and death without suffering serious psychological wounds. Although one could argue that if a photographer is de-sensitised they may not be able to empathise with their subject effectively.
In the case The Dad Project we can only speculate, but Briony said that her dad was a very productive person and in photographing him they – because it was a collaborative project – would be producing something: photographs which would outlast him. That’s production vs. the inherent destruction of death. Destruction is generally seen as something negative, at least in our culture. So the production of something has positive connotations. I understand that Hinduism has a very different take on it. Kali, for example, apparently the destruction she brings eventually allows new growth, new production. I’m sure you know far more about this than I do…
Well, I have heard about Kali certainly and the story around her is a fascinating one.
I am not though a Hindu so I do not know that much about all the mythologies that exist preferring instead literature like the Upanishad whose texts adhere to quite basic themes of which death is one.
It all depends more on understanding than knowledge.
As Berger writes, we see before we think … !
Amano, you would enjoy reading Sven Lindqvist http://www.svenlindqvist.net/frameset.asp , in particular his books Desert Divers and Exterminate all the Brutes. It was Lindqvist who said that we already know enough, that what we need is the courage to understand what we already know. He’s an excellent writer.
I have just become aware of this book which I think will be of interest to anyone who has been moved by the Dad Project
An the book is available from Amazon also as a Kindle but hradly cheap …
Yes, might wait for a few ‘used’ versions to appear before purchasing, as it looks a good, if expensive, read.
A very moving and eloquent video. I particularly like the images of the ‘cheering up’ details. A reminder that small moments of beauty exist to sustain us whilst we deal with intense pain and sadness.