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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The famous war photographer Don McCullin was interviewed in today’s Independent to promote a national amateur photography competition, Faith Through A Lens.

And what he has to say is exactly what we’ve been saying since we started fotoLibra 10 years ago.

“I love photographing beautiful things. I don’t want just a reputation for always being in among the blood and the gore. I have an amazing repertoire of landscapes in my collection.”

But he suggests that up and coming photographers cover the poorest communities in Britain, in an effort to stop them becoming further marginalised.

He said: “I don’t see enough people chronicling Britain. You don’t have to get on a plane; there are lots of social wars in our cities. There’s poverty and loneliness. You don’t have to go to the Middle East to find unhappiness and sorrow.”

McCullin is happy to judge shots taken by cameraphones. “There’s a lot of snobbery about pictures taken on phones but a vision is a vision, I don’t care how you acquire it. An artist will find any means to create a work of art.”

When contributors ask fotoLibra what they should photograph, the answer is always the same. And it’s the hardest answer.

People. Not picturesque, colourful ethnic dancers, but people going about their everyday lives. Your neighbours. Your colleagues. Your friends. Your family. The travellers who are camping at the end of the road.

People.

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28 Responses to “What should I photograph? Don McCullin tells you.”

  1. I follow this blog but I don’t contribute photos to PhotoLibra… but what are the submission requirements for model releases for photos as you describe?

  2. Derek Metson says:

    Getting much harder. Used to be able to stand anywhere in the open and photograph anything anybody – even kids.

    Now we hear about schools banning parents from taking pics on sports days or concerts (could it be ‘concern’ always or selling DVDs?). Either way open use of a camera is now at risk of ‘health & safety’ coppers finding an easier target than criminals or a thumping from an enraged parent or nasty adult would be photo subject.

    For most people its not a problem, but who’s going to risk reactions with open shots (they used to be called ‘candids’) these days? I stick to long lens shots and back views – I’ve never been bashed yet and don’t intend to start.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Because the Daily Mail has terrified every mother into thinking anyone with a camera must be a paedophile.

      I’m amazed when I see schoolchildren in the street that their faces aren’t pixelated out.

      • PAul says:

        Now there’s an app for Google glass.
        Pixelate out all children’s faces but your own.

  3. Philip Carr says:

    Last time I photographed travellers they threw bricks at me.

  4. kevin says:

    I agree with idea but accept the point raised that you get more trouble than it is worth to try to photograph people you do not know. You do not need to go abroad to find the subject, you need to go abroad to be free to photograph it. I photograph models with a model release form signed and put them on location by computer manipulation. Not the same at all but you do not have the hassle of taking shots of unknown individuals.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      It takes more bravery than I’ve got to photograph strangers. And even if you have the courage to ask, then the moment will certainly have been lost.

      I think one of the best assets a photographer could posssibly have is the ability to run away very fast indeed.

      • Gabriela says:

        Yeah, I agree w you, Gwyn, the moment is lost if you ask permission. I dont often photograph people, but what I do if I see a moment I just shoot without asking, if I see an angry look then I smile and ask if I can take it, except that I had already taken it. I think a smile makes wonders, and it also works for people if you tell them how great they look under that light, etc., and even offering them to send them a digital copy. Some might still not be willing nor friendly, but at least they dont feel they are being invaded by a stranger nor they would through any bricks at you anymore.

      • Paul Verizzo says:

        Surreptitious snapping is certainly a lot easier with digital cameras than film. Even “silent” range finder cameras like the Leica, made some noise, and the you had to advance the film between shots, put it to your eye or guess, etc. And to say nothing of SLR mirror slap.

        I’ve had great success with my Konica-Minolta A2 with it’s flip up LCD screen sitting in bars. All sound off. It’s totally stealth.

        • Peter Cope says:

          I’m with Paul there – with my Canon G12 with it’s tilt and swivel screen I can get away with some candids as the subjects see me (if not the camera) looking to one side and apparently just fiddling with my camera!

  5. I agree with Don, I do social commentary especially the homeless in Britain, I shoot from the hip to avoid hassle or any confrontation, I recently had a miffed stranger get angry at me on the London Underground, so I pointed t the big brother camera he was standing under. when I get the dirty looks from people I just carry on shooting, a man with a camera has been deliberately demonised by social engineering,I ignore all complaints

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Good for you, Peter. There are more CCTV cameras per head of population in Grat Britain than in any other country in the world. Yet try to photograph a policeman and see how far you get.

    • Gabriela says:

      I do think people have the right to say no, Peter, no matter what you are trying to do that they dont want you to do with them. This is Respect 101. Perhaps you can try being a little friendlier to your unpaid “models”. Why not? Let us not use the camera, like the paparazzi, as a weapon against others… That’s not cool. Camera at a hip level is a good idea, I think.

  6. Brian Murray says:

    Don was already high in my estimation, now he’s even higher. I’m trying to write a book on photography for beginners, to teach them how to see a photo and just enough technical stuff to achieve what they want. Photography books tend to show impossible images for beginners to aspire to, (famous foreign landmarks, models etc), but people need to start with the ordinary, on their own doorstep. And, as Don has said, this should happen anyhow.

    But since “Selfie” is apparently word of the year (God help us), appealing to people’s vanity is easy enough these days.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      And the Urban Dictionary definition (dat’s where I gits all me meaningz, blud) is:
      “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to Myspace to find internet friends and post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves. A selfie is usually accompanied by a kissy face or the individual looking in a direction that is not towards the camera.”

  7. Mike Mumford says:

    What should I photograph anything outstanding and unique.
    You are quite right there is no hard and fast rule to capture a good image.
    Must be technically good, be in focused and good proportions, colour tones whether in black and white or colour to enhance the subject.

    It helps if it is outstanding and unique, a moment in time, a memorial rare event, of people or age pasting, or future beginning.

    Take simple street furniture like the Telephone kiosk, AA Kiosk, or Police Information Box, set in an urban or rural landscape.

    I feel strongly about our icons of Britishness, “Street Heritage Furniture in Danger”.
    Having had a recent holiday in Edinburgh, the tourists seem to be from every corner of the world.
    I expect London is the same, some places invite graffiti and rubbish.

    Take our iconic telephone boxes, now neglected and wasted, a target for vandals.
    I propose a renewal of their public service use, such as tourist information or simply their classical photogenic use to GB/UK unification.
    Save Britain’s Street Heritage for the whole of United Kingdom from Lands-end to John o’ Groats.
    Clean-up and re-use their appeal, what better pride is ensuring our Police Box, Telephone Kiosk and Pillar Post Box remain with us for future generations.
    All parts of our United Kingdom should wake-up to the present loss to our “Street Heritage Furniture”.

    The media have a large part to play in promoting GB/UK heritage, keeping us proud, under an union flag, stronger and united in 2014 and beyond.
    I have a large collection of images see http://www.mumfordbooks.com See the “History of the Telephone” has a free sample download.

    Please pass on this information to anyone who may help. A hundred years ago the Police Information Box was used for Fire, Police and Ambulance, 50 years ago a BBC Dr Who, yesterday just locked-up and misused or sold for heritage scrap metal.

    Please help our street heritage furniture, send your photographs via Mumfordbooks web site.

  8. Ron Tear says:

    People are more aware of you as a photographer. I usually shoot from the distance using a 70/300 mm lens, on occasions a wide angle or fish eye. Candids sum up the world we live in, cities such as Tokyo, New York are more relaxed than say Paris. London is my home town, blending in is important.

  9. I think Don McCullin has some inspiring words, but photojournalism in this country is largely dead and personally I am leaving the business as Daily Mail news pictures are not why I became a photojournalist. The genre has today been largely sidelined and combined with a fondance for Getty and Reuters wire images by newspapers and magazines, is dead in the water. It is replaced by part-timers who often lack good journalistic judgement and work largely for nothing. Don’s advice is great, but very few places publish hard reportage and I doubt we will ever see another Don McCullin (in terms of his British social documentary work), as there is simply no living in anything but flash in the pan news shots these days. Same with pro stock shooters, rates are so low that it is not possible to make a living.

    For those who are scared of taking candid images, don’t be. Just use your intuition and remember what Capa said…If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough! It does take some balls to photograph people in public places, but it is often a good image that results. In hard places, talking with people and getting to know them can gain their confidence that you are doing something good and then they open up to your shutter. Going into bad areas with a local community leader can provide great access or photographing the hardships of one family or group. And don’t just snap, help them as well. One story of many of Don’s great sense of humanity was a homeless woman he met in King’s Cross and eventually got her somewhere to live. Though gritty social realism has two sides, Henley Regatta can be equally telling…

  10. PAul says:

    Life, while it is being lived.

  11. Paul Verizzo says:

    Wow, Tri-X souped in Acufine and street photography is back! Grain is in, and Royal-X is still the prodigal film of the genre.

    OK, I admit, I’m, um, elderly. I came of age with these technologies, but more importantly, the art form. And I still love it.

    We will now resume regular programming….

  12. Paul eggar says:

    I was taking some shots in a poor part of the midlands i was threatened and later chased away by drug dealers i had a lucky escape soi wont be doing that again.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Cartier-Bresson and Snowdon always used small unobstrusive black cameras with the maker’s name taped over. No one noticed them.

      But people object when a whacking great grey 500mm zoom is thrust in their faces.

  13. Granville says:

    Back in the 60′s I seem to remember a documentary showing Don McCullin doing street photography. Before each shot he asked his subject if the subject minded Don ‘making a portrait of him’. There were no refusals, well not on camera anyway. Perhaps not true street photography, sure, but the shots were pretty good none the less

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      ‘Portrait’ makes it sound flattering. Good one.

      • Marty says:

        Just back from a trip to Kathmandu…people were literally thrusting their kids ( and themselves)at you to photograph…mind you, a lot of them were looking for some kind of recompense!!Used a Fujifilm X E1 throughout…nice and discreet

  14. Lynn Greyling says:

    I agree, even as an amateur photographer I feel that passion, I see the need – but what about model consent? It is not always possible or practical to aquire consent, especially written, from the person portrayed, or his property,be it rental or an object. what is acceptable in this regard when making images available. I know what is stipulated by the web sites like your own. Lynn.