Authentic voices from Magnum Documentary Photography students
In its fourth year, our three-week Magnum Intensive Documentary Photography Course in association with London College of Communication and Magnum Photos has brought new talent to the surface yet again.
The course is led by Magnum photographers Stuart Franklin and Chris Steele-Perkins, and by Max Houghton, course leader of MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC. It aims to create a space for students to become absorbed in the practice and history of documentary photography, Magnum’s and LCC’s legacy and its contemporary contribution. Supporting the development and production of an in depth photographic project from start to finish.
Magnum and LCC equip students with the historical and contextual framework required for critical thinking around documentary photography, as well as providing technical guidance and tutorial support. Students are asked to focus on how to develop a personal project with an authentic voice, to explore and define an individual approach to documentary photography and will consider all elements of successful project development; from research phases, to access and shooting, to the editing and creation of a zine and public projection.
We caught up with some of the students on their course experience and journey from project idea to forming a final zine.
Originally intending to focus on the brutalist Trellick Tower, I started to explore the surrounding area and discovered a concealed walled garden nestled at the base of the tower – the walls of this garden tall and covered in street art. Artists from around the world come to paint here – I was hooked! This is where my project started. Photographing these anonymous urban artists, (their faces must remain hidden) leaving their temporary tags and paintings on these walls and in different locations across London.
“This course has reinforced, through talks and critiques that only when you spend time, sometimes even years, with a subject, can you start to get deeper, broader and more personal pictures and find your voice as a photographer.”
Born out of frustration at the lack of diversity in body shapes in mainstream media and youth culture, as an Asian woman growing up in a relatively homogenous and hyper weight conscious city like Hong Kong. Normalcy always came in sizes too small with ideals too narrow. From the moment I set foot in London, I experienced diversity in the most personal and visceral of ways which inspired “A Body of Work”. I wanted to explore the photographic process as a form of therapy and empowerment, to dismantle the oppression and discomfort of the ideal corporeal form through a collective unfolding of the fear of inhabiting our bodies. The project depicts seven women I’ve met who have fearlessly shared their stories and trusted me to capture their deepest vulnerabilities with a complete stranger. Despite the recent uprising of fitness culture and body positivity movements, this experience has revealed to me that there is still so much work that needs to be done in order to disrupt the status quo. I hope that by honouring the painful parts of our collective feminine history, we can continue pushing our voices forward to the forefront of a more equal and empathetic future.
This course has compelled me to distill the issues I’ve always cared about but have been too afraid to broach. The intensity of having to research, plan, shoot, edit and print a zine in three weeks really pushed me to dig deep and incited a new-found courage and confidence in transforming my ideas into action. I’ve left the course with a broader understanding of the nuances of the photography industry, a greater appreciation for visual storytelling as an art form and a restored belief that there is room for my perspective in the world.
I spent 3 weeks in South London photographing the Benson’s funfair, a family run business touring around suburban neighbourhoods in London. When I first arrived at the Benson’s I was struck by the difference in the economic condition between the workers and business owners. I first thought this would be a story about the haves and have nots, but the more time I spent with the people at the funfair, the more I saw the lives of funfair workers who were often at the fringe of the society, as well as the constant daily struggles, compromises and virtues of the working class small business owners who provided a sanctuary for those workers.
This program has opened my eyes in photography and art as a whole, I think in order to produce meaningful work, one needs experiences that is outside the realm of photography so that one can use photography as a tool to express creativity rather than letting the techniques of photography dictates the creative process.
This is a portrait of Rye Lane in Peckham, one of London’s most diverse streets. Once known as the “Golden Mile”, it has always been a commercial hub for local communities. It has a rich history of varying cultures, tastes, and socioeconomics. With the recent influx of wealth, the area will likely undergo a dramatic change in the next decade. Much of what is there today will be gone. I wanted to capture a photographic record of the street as it is now.
This course was life changing for me. I thought I’d learn how to take a documentary project from start to finish but I ended up learning so much more.
Most people are too busy to notice the world around them and as a photographer I am interested in closely documenting the streets of London that people do not pay much attention to. For my project I selected the Old Kent Road in South London as my subject and I created a series of images that documented the local architecture, light and colour of this road. I purposefully chose to not include any people in these images in order to present the street as a kind of stage and to emphasise the spaces where people live and work as subjects in and of themselves. These images were the result of walking for many hours along this street at different times of day and in differing light, a walk that totalled a distance of over 40 miles.
The course taught me to be highly disciplined when shooting but also ruthless in how I select my images during the editing process… It was a rare privilege to be able to be taught by photographers of such a high calibre. We were able to gain an understanding of how they approached their own photography and also received close feedback of our own work.
I was looking at what depression is and the life of a friend who is suffering from depression. An image of static/white noise on TV woke me one morning, I took photographs of the TV with white noise as the background, in a series of exposures using the zone system technique. The pattern of static I captured I then associated with my subject. I asked if I could live with him for a few days, in order to breathe the same air and feel the same emotions as he does, to see the impact of his depression.
I learnt a lot over the three-weeks, how to make a story through photography was the key skill. Many photographers also took their time to educate us and show the processes used in professional work. I would describe the course as immersive, coherent and it helped me to build determination further.
More about Magnum and LCC
Magnum Photos is an agency synonymous with integrity, curiosity and ‘concerned’ photography. Magnum’s international photographers have chronicled the world; helping to shape documentary photography as a modern form of both artistic expression and a tool for change. As a modern agency, the current preoccupation is focused on the role of authorship in an image-saturated world. With seven decades of experience and with access to world-leading photographers and industry professionals, Magnum Photos is committed in the transfer of its accumulated knowledge to a new generation of visual storytellers.
LCC’s reputation for documentary photography is second to none in the UK. Year after year, graduates find international success in prizes, awards and grants. Three alumni – Kazuma Obara, Michael Vince Kim and Mathieu Willcocks – have won World Press Photo prizes in the last three years. With a focus on context, text and audience, as well as the image itself, experienced tutors and practitioners helped students find the best way to tell the stories that matter to them.