Belfast Photo Festival by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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Summer in Belfast is often short-lived, but it's absolutely glorious while it lasts. Last week was been the best weather I've seen in Belfast yet. It's been hot - even by my estimation as a St. Louisian who religiously believes in 35 degree heat, quick dry fabrics, and swimming pools.

A funny thing happens in Belfast when the sun comes out. When it's just 14 degrees, if the suns out, half of Belfast's men misplace their shirts. Yet, contrastingly, when temperatures break 20, there is a huge proportion of people who are not sure how to dress in the heat. Last weekend I saw a people jogging in hoodies, shopping in coats and hats, and going to work in sweaters. I think that maybe people don't trust the sun to stay out. Meanwhile, I embraced this glimpse of summer, pulling out all of the dresses I bought in Thailand and feared I'd never wear again.

This sunny weather gave me a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the Belfast Photo Festival! Not only has BPF set up a number of exhibitions around the city, but they have also organised events, workshops, talks, and (my personal favorite) an outdoor photobook library! We took advantage of the sunny weather to attend the Architectural Photo Walk through the city centre.

I'm not very well versed in architecture, but I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn a bit more about the city that I'm making my home. It was a really enjoyable afternoon, led by a guy who clearly knows the city inside and out. He was able to beautifully tie the history of Belfast to the buildings in a way that I would have never imagined.

One of the biggest take aways? Look up. The first floor (or second floor, for my American readers) often has more character and exposes more of the historical context than you will see if you keep your eyes at ground level.

Workshop: Understanding Ethics in Photography by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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As some of you may know, my academic background isn't in photography, but in anthropology. In some ways, I think that not studying photography formally has been a disservice, mostly because my lack of formal training makes me self-conscious about my credentials, second-guessing my abilities as a photographer. In other ways, I think that there is no better subject for photographers to study than anthropology.

Anthropology helped me to develop skills fundamental to photography, from strategies for gaining access to observation techniques to thinking critically about what I see. I think that there are many things that photography and photographers can learn from anthropology, but I think the single biggest contribution that anthropology can make to photography is the understanding of ethics.

My passion for ethics in photography began a little over a year ago. Since then, I have been talking with photographers and artists about ethics, reading about the various perspectives on photography ethics, and following the latest ethical discussions taking place online (my friend and fellow photographer wrote an excellent, reflective article on the recent case of ethics in the work of Souvid Datta). I have combined my research and my understanding of ethics from anthropology to design workshops for photographers on ethics.

So far, I have conducted two pilot workshops, one in Chiang Mai, Thailand and one in Hanoi, Vietnam. These pilot workshops will help to inform the workshops that I will soon be offering for hire and the development of a bigger project that I have brewing. I can't say any more on what's to come just yet, but I'll keep you updated as the project progresses!

Photograph by doc.arts.asia

Portraits one year on by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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Last year, the Yangon Photo Festival coincided with Myanmar's historic presidential election. I photographed the streets on that day, and those images became my Election Day series. The series includes several portraits of people I met downtown.

I was impressed by the willingness of people to be photographed. Perhaps this is because Myanmar only recently opened to tourism and people are not yet fatigued by the onslaught of tourist cameras. But I worried that people would feel like I was taking their image and leaving them nothing in return.

So this year, as I packed my bags, I included a selection of prints from the portraits I had taken last year. With the immense help of a friend and translator, I was able to locate 11 of the 20 portraits I brought. Each time we located an image, we asked to photograph the individual with the print from the previous year and we gave him or her the print.

We were not always able to find the individuals pictured, but friends, family, and coworkers were happy to step in and accept the photograph on their behalf. I think people were happy with the images, and many were eager to direct us to the person in the next photograph.

Of course offering a photograph is a token gesture. But maybe the next time someone asks to take their photograph, they will remember this experience. Maybe this is a step toward a more reciprocal relationship. Maybe it is a step toward nothing in particular, but it feels good to give something back.

Yangon Photo Festival by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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This year's Yangon Photo Festival was remarkable and inspiring in so many ways, but one of the most significant ways was that the exhibitions were presented in a public park without any censorship!

Last year Myanmar underwent a massive political shift when a civilian president was democratically elected for the first time in over fifty years. Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who could not legally run for the seat, was appointed State Counsellor of Myanmar following the presidential election of her proxy, Htin Kyaw.

Under the previous government, censorship was a major obstacle for events like this. Although there are still human rights concerns in Myanmar under Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the new government seems to uphold the freedom of speech, even when that speech highlights some of the ongoing problems in the country.

In addition to the exhibitions in Mahabandula Park, YPF hosted two public outdoor screenings of photo stories shot by local photographers. In previous years, censorship meant that screenings had to take place in private galleries. The public screenings greatly increased the potential impact of the images and were extremely well attended. 

The photo stories this year covered a number of social and political issues, including child labour, domestic violence, and internally displaced persons in Kachin State. Projecting these stories in a park offered a unique opportunity to raise awareness and to address these issues in a public space.

Aung San Suu Kyi showed her support for the photo festival's work by speaking at the awards night and sitting on the jury.

The creative process by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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At an art fair last autumn, I was asked to describe my creative process. When I first heard the question I felt a tinge of panic. The last time I was asked to talk about my creative process was by the Saint Louis Artists' Guild in 2013 and, reading it again, I absolutely hate my response. As I fumbled through my reply, I became more and more animated in my answer and, by the end of it, I had two realisations: that my practice has evolved quite a bit since 2013, and that I actually enjoy talking about it.

So the aim of my second newsletter is to explain this process better than I did in the webpage on the Saint Louis Artists' Guild website.

Photography as meditation

Like the last newsletter, I struggled to begin this one and looked for inspiration in lists of photography quotes online. I succeeded when I found this quote by Elliott Erwitt: 

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

To me, photography is a largely solitary activity. It's not that I can't take pictures when I am out with other people, but that it makes me an rather unpleasant companion. I pull into myself, I stop talking, and I wander off without a backward glance. What could be written off as absentmindedness is actually focus.

When I am out photographing, I’m looking at the world differently than when I’m not photographing. I’m looking for the details, the beautiful mundane things that I normally overlook - pretty patterns of light on the cafe floor, the curl of old paint on a wooden board. I feel like my eyes are more open when I'm photographing. I am more present, more attentive to my surroundings, more aware. It’s almost meditation.

Learning how to see

Because of the solitary nature of my practice and the meditative mood required, I am careful about when I bring my camera and when I leave it behind. I've found that, even when I choose not to bring my camera, I am more aware than I was before I first picked up a camera. I stumbled upon another apt quote from Dorothea Lange:

“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”

When I decide to leave my camera at home, I am aware of how I interact with the world and how having my camera with me impacts this interaction. Do I want to watch the world through my camera lens or without a mediator between the world and my eyes? Do I want to take what I experience and hold it, commemorate it, in an image? Or do I want to experience it, then let it pass? By choosing whether to take my camera, I am choosing how I want to approach the world around me, at least for that day.

Somehow the process of consciously making this decision makes me more aware of temporality, of the constancy of change. It makes me more willing to let moments pass, and to really see them, without grasping after them.

Blank page by Savannah Danielle Dodd

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The turn of a year is like the turn of a page.

It's like that feeling you get when you open a leather-bound journal. The pages are off-white and weighty, and you feel that every word you write on them should equal in weight and depth. It's terrifying to be faced with a blank page, even one like this, backlight and autosaved every twenty seconds.

New Years resolutions have never been my strength, but I've been thinking a lot about the kinds of things I'd like to incorporate into my workflow this year. The first of which is this very post.

Every month I'll write updates about my photography, and likely some musings about life. (I'll try - and fail - to keep them brief.) Feel free to contact me to let me know if something strikes you! I'm always keen to have a chat.

2016 recap

If you haven't been diligently stalking my Facebook page, I imagine you may have missed some of the exciting ways in which my photography has grown over the last year! Here's a brief recap of what my 2016 was all about.

First off and most importantly, I moved from Thailand to Northern Ireland. Although it probably sounds like I literally moved in the wrong direction, I am loving my new life in Northern Ireland. Belfast has opened up so many opportunities to me, from exhibitions to publications.

On the topic of exhibitions, in 2016 gave me the chance to open two solo exhibitions, one in Thailand and one in Northern Ireland. The first exhibited Sacred Spaces as part of the F/28 Chiang Mai Month of Photography, and the second exhibited Election Day at the John Hewitt Bar. My work was also featured in three curated exhibitions in Bangor, Northern Ireland, in Los Angeles, California, and in Saint Charles, Missouri.

Belfast has also paved the way for me to begin selling my work at art fairs! These fairs have been so much fun and have led me to meet some incredible artists. If you are in Belfast, you should definitely come around to the next one!

Last but certainly not least, for the very first time, my photography has been printed in a journal! Here in Belfast there is a brand new journal for the arts called The Tangerine. Four of my photographs were printed in the first edition.

What's on tap for 2017

First and foremost in my mind for 2017 is my upcoming trip to Vietnam. I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to live in Hanoi for two months, and I anticipate full creative flow in the new environment. As preparation for the trip, I've decided it's time to invest in a lens that can give me a wider angle, so I'm currently in the throes of an online shopping crisis.

But besides that, my lips are sealed! Stay tuned to my Facebook page for more news coming very soon ... particularly in regard to publications (hint, hint)