In 2013, in his book, Bending the Frame, Fred Ritchin asks us a simple question: “What do we want from this media revolution? Not just where it’s bringing us – but where do we want to go? Since all media inevitably change us, how do we want to be changed?”
Investigating how traditional photojournalism and/or documentary photography can be combined with contemporary art practices, Wendy Marijnissen, documentary photographer, curator, and author, aims to help create photo-based projects that bend the frame, to enable participants to think, execute, and showcase their work by exploring new perspectives into the visual narrative.
What you end up putting in the frame says a lot about what you are trying to show. You’ll find certain things, stories, in abundance; others, not so much. Would you rather then stress over it and go on repeating the stuff already out there or would you take your time, exhaust your options, to find the more difficult ones? Maybe, the chase is only difficult in your mind and you have to stop taking everything by face value. Maybe, shift your gaze or look at things in a different manner.
For someone working in media (a handful of us), for those consuming media (all of us), looking at the world in a different way can make all the difference. It kind of makes you alert; you can be on a bike, en route to someplace, you can be sitting in a park thinking intently, but every time that you revisit the item, without manipulating the composition or the light you found that object in, you will see it in an entirely different way.
Putting things in perspective
Violence against women is prevalent everywhere in the world. It’s estimated that one in five women will become a victim of rape or an attempted rape. These are important stories to tell. While working for her non-profit organisation in Pakistan, Wendy found that it is difficult and not everyone’s cup of tea, but it should not be the reason to stop you. One can still be creative in how they handle such sensitive issues.
For one, the victim of rape or their family might object to being photographed. No matter how big or small the case you are working on, you have to have their permission, even more so if you are going to exhibit it or publish it in a newspaper. Explain to them in clear terms what it means to have their pictures in newspaper. Make sure they understand and only then take the decision whether you still want to photograph the individuals. It is your responsibility to protect their identity.
Headscarves were useful in changing appearances, but Wendy discovered another way. That of photographing specific scenes where the actual rapes took place. Different photographers have employed various techniques; some of you may recall Glenna Gordon’s pictures of possessions, like notebooks and uniforms, of the 276 girls kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram. There are so many ways you can tell the story. Lighting and framing also helps in photographing the location and putting the context there!
The magic of (simple) images
Babs Decruyenaere is less in touch with the whole digitalisation that’s going on nowadays. “Everything is with a mouse click. We create images with Photoshop and all these techniques.” She went in the opposite direction and have started exploring analog photography. She works mostly with everyday objects, something she finds on her nature walk, for instance. Having studied graphic designing and still in the experimenting age, she doesn’t restrict herself and is all for learning through trial and error until she finds out what works for her. It’s an amazing experience when you catch a glimpse of the world she’s created. Her exhibitions are so beautiful, so graphic, they become an installation on their own. As an artist, that’s your job: to translate something as small and ordinary as twigs into something completely different, kind of bring it together and create your product.
It doesn’t always have to be black and white
A visual artist and photographer, Rafal Milach’s work has a specific theme, which he explores in a number of ways. All of it is kind of related to the transformation in the former Eastern Block and what it means for the country and what it says about Polish identity. “I wanted to be a kind of mirror that reflected the ideological state that is Belarus," he says. In his series, The Winners, he shows how society works, commenting on how bizarre it can be, by photographing numerous winners of the local as well as state competitions supported by Belarusian authorities. Moreover, in his exhibition, Refusal, he did not frame and hang the pictures in the traditional way.
So, let’s start with the books. Supposing everyone wants to make a book. The question is, will you make one, too? Whenever you are working on a project, ask yourself is it necessarily a book project or not? Are you using a specific/particular form just for the sake of using it? If you get a chance to exhibit, think about how you will use your space. You can do a lot more than just pictures, depending on the type of space that is, and make it interesting.
In response to March 2018 protest in Warsaw where the police intervened and the legal demonstration was stopped for a moment, Milach along with Karolina Gembara performed Seeding. Pictures of high poles of black, billowing smoke circled the media and were memorized as one of the visual representations of that afternoon. They also opened a space for discussion on the radicalisation of women’s movement. By using that one symbol in a very simple gesture, they filmed a visually-stunning masterpiece so that it was no longer limited to that one moment in history.
His series The First March of Gentlemen is a fictitious narration based on real events. Historical events related to the town of Wrzesnia came to be the starting point for reflection on the protest and disciplinary mechanisms. In the series of collages, the reality of the 1950s Poland ruled by Communists blends with the memory of the Wrzesnia children strike from the beginning of the 20th century. This shift in time is not just a coincidence, as the problems which the project touches upon are universal, and may be seen as a metaphor for the contemporary social tensions. The project includes archive photos by Wrzesnia photographer Ryszard Szczepaniak. A complex political topic dealt with collage technique – very graphic and easy to digest.
So, if it’s a book, elements such as its size, material and, of course, the editing and sequence of images are all important considerations before publishing. It’s not just a random book. It will be an object on its own. Everything has to be selected for that specific project. You will be offering an intimate, one-to-one experience of your work to the viewer.
Sometimes, photography is so harsh and in your face that you kind of switch off. Sometimes, it’s humorous and fun. In the end, it all comes down communicating with your audience. So keep exploring new territories to construct beautiful photos.
Pictures by Wendy Marijnissen
Camera obscura, Latin for “dark chamber,” consists of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result is that an inverted image of the outside scene cast on the opposite wall, which was usually whitened. For centuries the technique was used for viewing eclipses of the Sun without endangering the eyes and, by the 16th century, as an aid to drawing; the subject was posed outside and the image reflected on a piece of drawing paper for the artist to trace. Portable versions were built, followed by smaller and even pocket models; the interior of the box was painted black and the image reflected by an angled mirror so that it could be viewed right side up.