LensCulture: Magnum Photography Awards 2017 Review
This is a lovely selection of photographs, and I like the range of different strategies and approaches on display here. As you are looking to shoot professional down the road, I think that it’s good to focus on developing this kind of portfolio that offers a range of different styles to cater to a variety of different clients.
For me, the strongest image of this group is Children of the Ati. I think the quality of light and the gestures you’ve captured are really intriguing, and the image really portrays a great level of humanity in the various emotions that are expressed here.
Splash of Kokonuts is a great action shot, and I think the angle you used and the body gesture you’ve captured both click together nicely. On a technical level, the tonal range seems a little flat, and I think a small boost in contrast could help to give the scene a little more visual pop.
For me, the least engaging image here might be God’s Janitor. I really like the idea of portraying a different side to this kind of religious place, but the framing seems to emphasize the ground more so than it does the subject of the picture, and photographing him from behind creates a really passive sort of tone to the image. A more active measure would be to photograph him from the front, perhaps even more up close. But there are many more communicative decisions to account for here. What do you hope your viewers think of this man? Is his role as a janitor in this space important? Should he be the subject of celebration, or disregard? Depending on how you portray him in the frame he can be characterized in many different ways, and as the author it’s up to you to take a more active role in how he is understood. This image seems more influenced by the formal qualities of the walk way.
Life is a Video Game is an interesting image, but again the visual characterization of the man here isn’t something that I think would give me the impression he is a gamer and producer. The emphasis of the image again is on the environment he occupies, so as a subject he seems more like an afterthought against the more visually exciting mural behind him. I think you should spend some time with the work of Arnold Newman, a master of environmental portraiture who was very good at using environmental context to characterize his subjects, rather than compete with them for attention within the frame.
In Merry Christmas Mr. Cheng, I like the perspective from which you shot this, and the composition is tightly balanced. Shooting head on is a more active approach that I was referencing to some extent in God’s Janitor, but again, how do you hope this figure is understood? By shooting this, what are you seeking to communicate? The sight of a homeless man with a Christmas cap on contains a great deal of novelty, but is this an image were you are seeking to deliberately communicate a certain idea, or is it simply a matter of happenstance that you encountered this man? I also think that the title you’ve given the image has a degree of humor and irony to it, but it seems to work against the emotional tone of the image itself, in which the man seems to really need help.
So overall, I think you have a strong eye and a good set of technical skills, but I would suggest that you consider photography not an act of making interesting looking pictures, but an act of creating a type of visual literature. And that you should consider yourself not just a photographer, but an author of your work. When all is said and done, what do you hope your work communicates to the world? What are the perspectives and ideas inside you that you want to be heard?