The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Midsummer moments

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Death of a loyalist soldier 1936 by Robert Capa. This is perhaps Robert Capa`s most famous photograph and there has been much debate about whether it is a real event or not click here for an interesting investigation into it authenticity. Why am I talking about Robert Capa? Please read on.

Following on from the last post I was reminded by a photographer friend of mine, Andy Miles, of the old war-reporter maxim that goes: “Set camera to f8 and be there.” Of course there is more to it than that but being in the heart of the action seems to be the way to get the very best shots of that action. This is not easy and the quick thinking needed to frame and take the shot under the stresses and dangers of the situation is a special sort of skill. But with a scene that has a lot of action: a war, festival or some calamity or celebration photographers are to a greater extent invisible and the people in the images are busy with their own purposes and sometimes willingly available to be photographed. It is documentary photography, the ordinary, the mundane made beautiful; the story told where that story is very private and not “on display” that I really admire. The photographers who are good at this difficult art are just as brave as the ones dodging bullets but in a different way. Their skill is gentle, they tell a story often by being part of it and it must take time to be welcomed so freely into a stranger`s life so completely. Often their images record all the moments that go to make up that life they share: births, deaths, weddings, arguements; private homes and spaces, private thoughts and fears or joys. Some of the images you may not feel comfortable looking at others you know were events, until recorded and published, that could have been a secret even from the subjects` own family and friends. 

For some of the best work of this type have a look at Juliana Beasley`s website particularly the lap-dancing gallery. Also check out the on-line photography magazine Blueeyes which I came across tonight especially Julie Leonard`s “Found” and Matt Black`s “Mixteca”. Really good photography.

There is perhaps time in an artist`s life for only one such story. I call it a midsummer moment after the writer Laurie Lee`s book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. This moment happens when you have not yet found your voice. It always takes some courage to start out on it but when you do it will forever change the direction of your life; it will become the story you want to tell and it will give you the confidence to tell it. For Laurie Lee it was walking down through Spain before the civil war, For Robert Capa it was the civil war itself. For Juliana Beasley it was a lap-dancing job.

Mine may be coming to Japan. There are almost too many stories to tell here however!

Damon

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