Archive for November, 2010

Donald Weber on documentary photography

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I’ve always enjoyed hearing other photographers talk about their work, so it was with great pleasure that I was able to attend Donald Weber’s workshop at Pikto over the weekend.

Don has an interesting background. He trained as an architect and later freelanced for the Globe and Mail during the same period when I worked for the paper. He’s been in the photography business probably less than a decade and has already won several prestigious U.S. grants, including the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize and a Guggenheim fellowship.

From hearing him talk, grants are what pays his bills these days. But Don says he still dips into the freelance world while working on his documentary photography. He recently went to Brasilia for a magazine.

The main message he stressed to our class was the importance of creating a single body of work in documentary photography, and the importance of editing down that work. The former can be daunting unless you break it up into pieces – what he calls strands. In fiction/non-fiction writing, those would be chapters.

The approach to his work is very much like that of a novelist. He considers theme, voice, plot, scenes, etc. With his Chernobyl project he has devoted six years of his life but the work was broken up into a few weeks here and a few months there in the Ukraine. He shot thousands of images for that project but you’ll only ever see the 60-odd images that ended up in his book, Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl.

He went through his book and showed how it came together and discussed the sequencing of the images. He was very adamant too that you print 4×6s of your selects while editing your work. The American photojournalist Peter Turnley, who I wrote about in 2006, does that too.

It was also good to get acquainted with documentary photographers that I had yet to come across and hear about blogs/websites that Don likes. They include but aren’t in any particular order: Chien-Chi Chang; Jocelyn Bain Hogg; Stanley Greene; Tony Ray-Jones; Richard Mosse; the British Journal of Photography; Foam; Gup; Colors Magazine; DVAFoto; Conscientious; and Private.

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