#Phonar The Portrait Journey – Niall McDiarmid & Jason Scott Tilley.

As part of our Phonar session 6, we headed over to The Herbert Art Gallery to hear a live talk from Niall McDiarmid & Jason Scott Tilley. Here are the notes I made from their talks…

Niall McDiarmid

  • Photographer for 20 years.
  • Work for magazines and newspapers.
  • Began personal project 3 years ago.
  • January 2011 – went for a walk with his camera, crossing London taking portraits.
  • Interested in response to his work online.
  • Wanted it to be about the people he met and his journey.
  • Focusing on unphotographed towns outside London.
  • Summer 2011; “Crossing Paths”.
  • All about meeting people and taking their portraits.
  • Cohesion and continuity.
  • Needed a base to a group of pictures – interested in the idea of colour, shape and pattern.
  • Whilst we all used to be similar, today we all look different.
  • Made up of a huge range of different backgrounds.
  • Began travelling around the country.
  • Not interested in fashion, but different people.
  • Pre-prepared through Google street view.
  • No set way of getting somebody to take a photograph.
  • Loved the interaction of meeting people, used the camera as an excuse. In the end, it didn’t matter if he didn’t always get a picture.
  • Liked the idea of the subject feeling challenged/uncomfortable rather than posed.
  • Grew up with film, progressed to digital.
  • Shoots his work in film but sometimes in digital to mix it up. Wants to continue challenging himself.
  • Highpoint being able to go to a town for no reason other than “I just want to be here”.
  • Expense of travelling by rail.
  • What he wanted to do, fantastic meeting new people.
  • Always had an interest in books.
  • Launched book in November 2013.
  • Go out and do it yourself, gives a sense of action.
  • Working on a second book for 2015.

Jason Scott Tilley

  • Press photography for Coventry Telegraph.
  • Newspapers and magazines, sometimes worldwide.
  • Wanted to do own projects.
  • 1999 – questions why his Grandparents had not gone back to India, and did they want to?
  • Grandma didn’t want to spoil the memories she had but Grandfather wanted to go.
  • Grandfather was previously a photographer for The Times of India – saw horrendous violence and became too dangerous.
  • Aged 85, 50 years since he left.
  • Went to Bombay and Bangalor.
  • Jason started taking his own photographs and portraits of his Grandfather.
  • People asked him to take pictures.
  • Loves black and white prints, traditional dark room. Wanted to get back into it.
  • Shot 40 rolls of film.
  • Timeless photos inspired him to go back.
  • We make judgements but we can’t help it?
  • Bombay was so busy and nosy.
  • Became desensitised after being there for so long.
  • Photographed a disabled man after he tugged at his trouser leg asking for money – ended up leaving each other laughing.
  • “Make interactions with people”.
  • Tend not to take more than 2 or 3 frames – “if it works, it works”.
  • Stepping back from ‘professional’ work.
  • Whilst he was warned away from people, he became friends with them.
  • Love ‘instant’ moments.
  • Communication.
  • “Recording that moment.”
  • Uncovered stories of Grandfather’s true love and reunited his photos with her.
  • Been able to talk about history like never before.
  • Discovered a man on the side of a road who was dying in Central New Dehli – lead him to question himself.
  • Only dignity was photographing him from the opposite side of where his skull had caved in.
  • Never expected for the project to last 15 years.
  • Put budget together and printed work himself.
  • First e-mailed The Herbert 6 years ago. Meeting 2 years ago of how to put exhibition together – shows huge scale of a project.
  • Shows both his Grandfather’s work and his own.
  • Properly speaking to people.

After hearing about Jason Scott Tilley’s work through a guest lecture in November 2013, I was excited to be able to hear about his work again. I enjoyed looking round the prints round the Herbert Gallery, both by Jason and his father, Bert Scott. By each image there was a small snippet of information telling you a little bit about the photograph and the story behind it. After photographing so many different people, it amazed me how Jason could remember something about each person and how the photograph was made. It also stood out to me the relationship he had built with some of them which allowed him to go back and re-photograph them. I think this is such a beautiful thing to appreciate as Jason built a bond with someone who was essentially a stranger through photography showing how powerful it can be. Even as Jason was warned away from some, he got to know them and made friends. Is building relationships with our subject the key to creating brilliant images? As well as hearing about Jason Scott Tilley’s work, it was great to hear about Niall Mcdiarmid’s personal project. Both the photographer’s projects explored portraiture and it was interesting to see the comparisons and differences between their stories and approaches to their project. I also felt that the way they presented enhanced this, as although it kept chopping and changing between the two of them, it broke up their talk into particular sections and made it easier to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences.

What stood out to me most with the work by Niall was his passion and love for meeting people which he turned into a personal project – he travelled to places because he “just wanted to be there”. Even if he spoke to people and didn’t get to photograph them in the end it didn’t matter – I think something this simple is actually really important. Whilst we are all keen to pursue something we love in photography, the final outcome can become so important we could forget the passion for it in the first place. Always remember why you started out in the first place. Niall presented a picture to give us an idea of the volume of train tickets that have been purchased in order for him to complete his project. By travelling all over the country, the expenses are going to add up and it was actually quite shocking to see the amount he had bought. It just goes to show the amount of effort, money and time which goes into these projects in order for a photographer to share their message.

An interesting difference I found between the two photographers is their approach to the image taking. Niall spoke of having no set way of getting someone to have their photograph taken and used communication to engage with the person before potentially photographing. It highlights the importance of building a bond with your subject. In contrast to this Jason Scott Tilley explained how he often had people coming to him wanting him to take their picture. In both situations, the camera became a point of interest but encouraged the building of a relationship. Niall explains how he liked how some of his subjects looked uncomfortable in their photographs – even though they granted permission for the photograph to be took, it didn’t necessarily mean they liked being in front of the camera. However with Jason Scott Tilley’s images, the subjects look quite confident – is this down to personality, culture, the relationship he built with his subjects? It’s interesting to consider the various aspects which can affect how a person reacts to a camera but also highlights the importance of making them feel comfortable (depending on the type of image being taken!)

Finally, something which stood out to me with Jason Scott Tilley is when in Central New Dehli he discovered a dying man on the side of the road. Although he photographed the man, it lead him to question himself and why/what he was doing there. This reminded me of the quote from Fred Ritchin which stood out to me “photography does not celebrate itself but to be useful in the world to get us to a better place”. Undoubtedly, it was an incredibly hard moment for Jason Scott Tilley to photograph this man but he did so in order to share it with the world. Although it was a significant moment in his project, it wasn’t in a good way – not a ‘celebration’ of the power of photography. However, by taking that picture it raises awareness and can ‘get us to a better place’. It has often been questioned as to whether the photographer has the right to intervene as a situation but also do they have the right to do nothing? This made me think back to learning about photojournalist Kevin Carter last year, winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1994 for his image of starving child with a vulture looking on whilst photographing famine in Sudan. The same year, Carter committed suicide after handling such an awful time dealing with all the death and destruction he had seen. It’s situations like these that lead us to question whether photography of war, famine and death is too far. How do photographer’s handle this? Whilst for some they may be able to detach themselves away from a situation and essentially just do a ‘job’, for others this may not be possible. It is certainly not something I would be able to do. But if nobody did this, how would we know about these things? Although the media has huge control over the information we see and receive, there are still great amounts of people that have to document these awful happenings – journalists, film crew, producers and editors all have to face these situations in order to share these messages and essentially ‘change the world’. However this also made me think back to the talk between Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes ‘New Media New Journalism’ where it was considered that without a solution to problems, journalism can become ‘entertainment’. We normally consider entertainment as something we enjoy however this is anything but. It becomes entertainment in the sense we are able to understand and engage with it but whilst we appreciate these things are happening all over the world, what are we doing about it? Will this always be the case with media?


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on November 6, 2014.

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