A Talk with Photographer Tim Smith
I recently attended a talk at the University of Leeds from Yorkshire based photographer Tim Smith who has previously worked for The Guardian and Observer and is a current member of Panos Pictures. Tim had some noteworthy comments on working as a photojournalist, whilst his freelance photographic involvement into cultural research was particularly interesting.
The main advice I picked up on from the experienced photographer was to prioritize telling a story with your photograph. The photograph needs to sum up an entire story without having to delve too much into what Barthes would call the punctum (a reading beyond initial meaning or response). Of course, this would seem obvious coming from the perspective of someone who takes photos for news reports, but Tim applies this theory across his entire body of work. His shots of Polish, Ukraine and Pakistani immigrates tell stories of an entire lifetime. The destitution, honesty and concept of new cultural boundaries are all evident. Take the image below, which show these margins being competed with in the Muslim community.
There is of course a whole new reading into this image, one of the new generations, a new enriched generation of multi-ethnicity perhaps.
But, I digress. Tim stressed that he prefers working as a freelance photographer, getting to aspire to his own in depth projects involving long-term research. He puts it openly that there isn’t a lot of freedom as a newspaper photographer; your creative boundaries rarely get the chance to be developed. Tim says that all you need to do to tell the right story is to stand in the right place and press the shutter button at the right time. Then you can go home.
Tim provided an example, where he waited for the girl to walk perfectly into shot so that it almost looked as though she were being consumed by the Coca-Cola product i.e. the Western common culture (unfortunately I can’t upload this photo online, but you are able to view it in Tim’s book, linked here). This shot was significant to the project, as Tim was examining how Ukraine didn’t reach there longed for independence in the wake of the 1990s, but rather jumped on the globalization bandwagon. This is an example of how important the placement of objects and symbols are in a photograph.
View more photos from this project on Ukraine’s forbidden history here.
A quote I found very ambiguous was that “the best photographers always have the best luck.” No doubt, this is very true, as you need to be in the right place at the right time. The lasting pictures from 9/11 no doubt placed the amateur photographer in this situation. However, this is from the standpoint if we are to judge a photographer by their obvious chance shown in the photograph, rather than the consistent aesthetic beauty a photographer exhibits throughout their body of work. But, I am surely in no place to critique this statement; it definitely got an impulse of approval and laughter from the audience.
What got me really captivated was how Tim ascertained on more than one occasion, the photographers ability to exercise power. Of course, taking someone’s image is the ultimate power, but alongside this, it is the photographer’s ability to access any space with validity, simply by having a camera around their neck and calling themselves a photographer, that is power. “You can ask anyone anything,” Tim said, which is a beguiling thought. It certainly may not always be the case, but it’s definitely food for thought in the limelight of commonplace street photography.
That’s all I really need to say about Tim’s talk, it was undeniably interesting and he’s done some fascinating research working abroad. He is definitely an ambassador of exploring the infinite photographic discourse. Thanks for taking the time to come in and talk to us Tim.
View Tim’s website here to see his photography and more about what he does: http://www.timsmithphotos.com