The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Flocking Brilliant

Good news on the World Press Photo Awards, whose results are in today. Not for me I`m afraid. But I am pleased to announce that my friend, Paolo Patrizi, has won in the nature section with his haunting image of starlings flocking in Italy.

This year the winner will again be a note of contention for some. I like the shot but think there are better stories on his website. What is striking this year is the distance of the photographer from many of the subjects in the winning images. Of course there are some close up and personal stories but a surprising amount are taken from a distance. Maybe this reflects the new style, the images look, in many cases, as if they could have been taken by a citizen journalist who just happened to be passing by with a camera and didn`t want to get in the way. Subjects in the larger frame are nothing new and have a place. David Guttenfelder and last year`s winner Anthony Suau do it brilliantly: whenever the people in their photos are small and distant, the shapes, actions and motivations are still clear, there is a graphic quality to the positions and angles of their bodies at the moment of the photo was taken and there is no mistaking the story even from far away. When these images are combined with the close up work both can do equally adeptly the story has place and power and is something you want to look at again and again. But many of this years winners I found the subjects just a little too far away to be engaging, the moment, or at least the exact positions and attitudes of the players at the moment, a fraction off. They are good shots and the details are clear, after reading the caption it all makes sense, but even the winning shot, though beautifully lit and self-evidently exotic and thus interesting, doesn’t really show me anger and the seeds of revolution or counter revolution in Iran; indeed it could be women hanging out laundry!

What I like, though it is harder to do of course, is to get closer. Perhaps the buying and reading public don’t like that anymore having got used to cell phone images in the media, but I think it is great to get as personal as you can with your subjects as Paolo is doing in the picture above. This was shot at the Hanami parties in Ueno park I went to last Spring. These events are great for photographers, there is a deeper, more gentile and cultural meaning tacked on obviously as this is Japan, but mostly it is all about having a good time with alcohol. Having got myself invited into one of the parties I had walked past and photographed earlier I found the hospitality of my “hosts” without limits and enjoyed the freedom of shooting up close with people whose drunkenness allowed such a thing. As I was doing this I noticed Paolo walking past. I said hello and being the charming, friendly person he is he was soon sitting there with us, loaded with food and alcohol and chatting away in his better Japanese. He is also a very good photographer (he just won a prize in the World Press, did I mention that?) so soon he was shooting away and I`m sure he got some amazing images from the evening. Up close and personal ones where the good feelings these strangers had given us comes across in the proximity of their smiles and gestures. That`s the sort of photography I like.

Damon

UPDATE 25th Feb 2010

Paolo’s images of starlings have also shortlisted for the Sony World photo awards.

He is also publishing a book of the series. See a preview here.

Find a short interview here with Paolo, about how these images came about, by the wonderful Yumi Goto.

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