process

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.

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

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.