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Magnum Documentary Photography summer school: 5 student journeys


Written by
htownsend
Published date
12 October 2016

Students developing ideas and shooting images. Image by Natalia Ortynskaya.

In collaboration with Magnum Photos agency, London College of Communication recently hosted the Magnum Documentary Photography 3-week intensive summer school course, which allowed students to immerse themselves in conscious photography.

We spoke to 5 of the summer school students about their experiences of the course, learning curves and future projects.

Stuart Franklin, Max Houghton, Chris Steele Perkins were some of the renowned photographers to tailor the Magnum Documentary Photography course and ensure students covered key topics including how to develop ideas, master the art of shooting and creating memorable photobooks.

The theme of the course was ‘responding to the city’ and through a series of lectures, practical workshops and offsite visits – including the V&A, Magnum Photos print room and LCC studio spaces –  students were able to complete a comprehensive documentary photography portfolio.

LCC students at the Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Bryan Lanas.

LCC students at the Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Natalia Ortynskaya, Jiye Kim, Mary Frances Scott, Sandro Georgi and Kyun Ngui discuss their experience:

My relationship with photography

Natalia Ortynskaya: My first encounter with a camera was about 10 years ago, back when I was a high school student. After about 3 years of casual shooting and some basic training, I lost my equipment and gave up for some time. Last year I moved to London and decided I just had to come back to shooting. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about photojournalism and documentary photography, and took an online course at UAL (Documentary Photography – Seeing The World).

Jiye Kim: I have been taking photos for many years as a way to document overseas travel. Yet I have only recently started to investigate how I could use photography as a way to express emotions, as well as make a social statement. I majored in sociology and am very intrigued by works of photographers who are self-reflective or subversive, even within their own practice and medium. Of course, this line of thought on photography has developed and deepened significantly after taking part in the Magnum Documentary Photography course.

Mary Frances Scott: I used to photograph with analogue cameras many years ago, developing film and making both black, white and colour prints. I took some evening courses after work at the time and found that I most enjoyed portrait work. I am learning more about digital photography, but have only scratched the surface. So I have much potential to deepen the relationship!

Sandro Georgi: I’m a freelance photographer based in Switzerland having studied photography in Zurich. I specialise in documentary photography, as well as people and their stories in general. For my photos I look for simplicity, graphical details, clear lines, forms and structures. I was recently nominated as an official Fujifilm X-Photographer.

Kyun Ngui: I started SLR photography in the days of film, but then stopped for a long time until 2-3 years ago when I started shooting more regularly with a DSLR. I am largely self-taught and would describe myself as fairly proficient technically, though I am aware I still have areas to learn. Academically, I have had no structured photography training.

Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Natalia Ortynskaya.

Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Natalia Ortynskaya.

Why I joined the Magnum Documentary Photography course?

Mary Frances Scott: To immerse myself for a 3-week period in both theory and practice of documentary photography (and London)! I wanted to learn from the professionals at Magnum and LCC, and of course, meet other people and see how they approach photography.

Jiye Kim: I always wanted to find an opportunity to immerse myself in photography and take on a challenge to break out of my comfort zone. The course was very focused; absorbing a considerable amount of knowledge, taking part in-depth discussions on important topics of photography, whilst producing a solid body of work, was both scary and fascinating. The fact that an established creative college in the city of London hosted it, was also a deciding factor.

Natalia Ortynskaya: I am amazed by what Magnum and other documentary photographers do, and I’ve been thinking about taking this direction for a while. I see photography as a means of exploring the world, events and people around me. I hoped this course could help me get ready for this exploration. For example, I would like to go back to my place of birth in Transnistria in Moldova and try to understand what it has become, how people live there and how I relate to this town.

LCC students at the Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Bryan Lanas.

LCC students at the Bieke Depooter workshop at Magnum Photos agency. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Learning curves

Sandro Georgi: Patience and perseverance pay off in the end. Good photographs don’t just happen, but are the result of hard work and going back to a project for shooting again and again and again. I have become more aware of critical issues that need to be thought about, as well as the fact that a photograph is never objective (the photographer choosing the framing, his own position, the moment he presses the shutter and so forth).

Jiye Kim: I learned so much from the course that I can write a book about it! To highlight only a few key lessons:

  1. History of documentary photography is a history of photographers responding to pressing and critical issues of the time.
  2. Various modes of engagement and photographic styles come about as a result of efforts to address a certain topic or subject effectively.
  3. It’s imperative to be aware of the political implication of rhetoric used in photography.
  4. Establishing a careful relationship between images and text is often helpful.
  5. Show up. And be patient. Shoot with precision of vision.

Mary Frances Scott: During the course I learned that while starting a project takes a good deal of thought, the real magic comes when you go out and just start trying something. The first ideas do not always develop so well, but one thing leads to another, and you begin to get the momentum. Then you have to stick with it and focus. And all those mistakes I made were great for learning how to do it better next time.

Students working on their photobook during their bookmaking session at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Students working on their photobook during their bookmaking session at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Photobooks preparation at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Photobooks preparation at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Bookmaking session at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Bookmaking session at LCC studios. Image by Bryan Lanas.

My best bits

Natalia Ortynskaya: The workshop about printing and bookmaking. I also enjoyed the presentation by Matt Stuart, where he told us about his childhood passions and showed us a set of pictures he submitted to Magnum. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed all the course speakers and will remember their wise words forever! Matt just felt like one of us and he made us see that it’s more realistic for us to be Magnum members than we think. It’s like a little girl somewhere inside me started to jump around and shout out happily: “ I told you so! It is possible to have fun, enjoy your work and be happy by just doing so! Now you know what to do!”

Kyun Ngui: There are many highlights but the top ones for me were learning from working photographers, especially veteran Magnum photographers Stuart and Chris; hearing about their experience and having them mentor us through our project was invaluable experience. Working with other enthusiastic, like-minded student photographers with a passion for documentary photography; learning about and developing the ability to analyse a photograph critically; and being able to produce a good piece of work – good enough in the eyes of seasoned documentary photographers is a huge achievement for all of us.

Mary Frances Scott: The lecturers and other participants! I learned a lot from the discussions we had and was inspired by the different approaches to the brief. The tutorials were also very helpful in finding my way to a subject. Having an intense 3-week period to dedicate to doing photography was a real catalyst; it allowed me to focus on this one thing. Carving out that time was fundamental.

Magnum Documentary Photography Class of 2016 at LCC. Image by Bryan Lanas.

Magnum Documentary Photography Class of 2016 at LCC. Image by Bryan Lanas.

What will I do next?

Natalia Ortynskaya: I would like to take a few more pictures to add to the series and make a small book out of it.

Kyun Ngui: I will follow the advice that Chris (Steele-Perkins) gave: “Keep going!” Good documentary photography takes time and effort. I am looking to develop a portfolio of work to showcase. I have a few projects that I have been thinking about. I can now build on them with what I have learned from the course and hope to produce photobooks from them.

Sandro Georgi: I will revisit my ongoing projects and apply the newly gained insights, which might result in some changes to my projects (scope as well as the approach). I will also start new projects I didn’t dare approach in the past because they felt too daunting, but now no longer do because of what I’ve learned over the during the 3-week course.

Mary Frances Scott: Continue with my project. I will develop it further from Basel.

Jiye Kim: I look forward to sharing my work from London! I am a member of an international photography collective, Punctum, and am currently looking into having a small group exhibition in Tokyo with a few colleagues to showcase my photos from this course. Also, of course, I am very excited and energised to pursue a next project about Japan.