photography

Matca by Savannah Dodd

Photograph by  Ha Dao

Photograph by Ha Dao

While in Hanoi, I had the chance to catch up with the amazing team at Matca and I stopped by to take a look at their zine making workshop. I am totally inspired by the work that these local photographers are producing. As someone whose day to day work is largely solitary, it was so refreshing to be surrounded by these creative people, to see their work, and to speak with them about their artistic practices.

I'm also in awe of a lot of the work that Matca is doing. One thing about this workshop that was really cool was that participants had the option to donate editions of their photozines to local galleries around Hanoi to share their work in a public forum. This is such a great opportunity for emerging artists, and it's really wonderful that Matca is raising the profile of Vietnamese artists in this way.
 

Introducing the Photography Ethics Centre by Savannah Dodd

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If you subscribe to my newsletter, you may (but probably do not) remember a vague comment I made last March, that my work in photography might look very different at the end of the year. Or perhaps you saw my blog post in June about the workshops I conducted on photography ethics in Thailand and Vietnam. Well, many months later, I'm ready to tell you about the Photography Ethics Centre.

In anthropology, we talk about ethics all the time. This has greatly influenced my work as a photographer, and it has given me a huge advantage. Bringing ethics into my work has helped me to gain access to communities and situations in socially responsible ways, and to build relationships around the camera so that when I return, I'm welcomed. The ethical approaches that I have adopted  give me confidence to post photographs online or to share them with you here, because I know that I have consent and that I have respected the dignity of the people in my images.

When I began to get more involved in the world of photography about 3 years ago, I realised that ethics is not at the forefront of many photographers' minds - for some it isn't even on their radar. Exploring this more, I realised that it isn't so much a total rejection of ethics, but a lack of awareness about what ethics means. That's why I founded the Photography Ethics Centre: to bring the kind ethical training that we get in anthropology to photographers.

The Photography Ethics Centre is a social enterprise dedicated to raising awareness about ethics in photography. We offer workshops and consulting services, and we will soon offer online training. If you would like to learn more about our work, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, get in touch with me directly by email, or register for an invitation to our official launch in Spring 2018.

Family by Savannah Dodd

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I love living in Belfast. I have access to a reputable university, interesting professional opportunities, and a growing network of friends. But no matter how much I love Belfast, it will never be able to make up for the fact that my family lives very, very far away.

So when I was asked to photograph this family celebrating their parent's anniversary, I was thrilled. To have the opportunity to witness the intimate moments in a family, and to capture them on camera, is such a unique experience. Here are a few shots that they very kindly let me share with you this month. 

If you have a special day coming up, or if you simply have not enough photographs of you and your loved ones, get in touch. I'd be honoured to photograph those intimate moments for you.

Halina 35X by Savannah Dodd

On the first day of our honeymoon, we did quite possibly the most married thing ever: we went antiquing.

Within ten minutes, I had found my find of the day: a Halina 35X vintage camera.

The man who sold me the camera didn't know whether it worked. I tested the shutter, opened up the back, and decided I was willing to risk it.

It's a really heavy little camera. It came in a brown leather case with the original manual. My first roll of film was a complete disaster. It came untethered to the spool and I wound up spoiling the film. The second roll, however, was much more successful. You can see some of the results from the second roll above. The third roll I shot was in black and white at Tollymore Forest Park. You can see my favourites from those below. So far, I'm really pleased with the results, and I'm so happy I bit the bullet and bought it!

With everything that has been going on, it has been grounding to shoot with film again. I've been so busy the past couple of months that I have really neglected a lot of things, including picking up my camera. I feel like using this little camera over the past week or so has helped to centre my energy and get me refocused on the things that I love doing.

Belfast Photo Festival by Savannah 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 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

Yangon Photo Festival by Savannah 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 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.