Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Documentary and the Pot Noodle

The Ian Parry Scholarship is a memorial to potential denied.  A young photojournalist struck down at the beginning of his career and the feelings that must still engender in his friends and family is the catalyst for this prize. It feels like a genuine attempt to nurture and encourage a new generation of student photographers working in documentary by offering the opportunity to be involved in an exhibition, award and commission.

The 2012 show is now installed in the reception of a trendy advertising agency.  I am unsure whether a temple to the pursuit of selling Pot Noodle is quite the appropriate venue for a serious exhibition of documentary photography and the exhibition certainly lends the agency Mother more credibility than it returns. I cannot rationalise why they moved out of Getty Images Gallery.
There is a party atmosphere and as I walk around I have to remind myself of the age of the finalists selected, youth is all about unfulfilled potential and here there are seeds of a future generation of photojournalists.

Curator Rebecca McClelland, introduced me to the winner Adrian Fussell, 22.

Fussell comes from a family steeped in American military tradition but he is the first in the family line not to serve. He is cautious about sharing his opinions too openly on the military, out of respect for his family members who are veterans of recent conflicts but he shares some of his views and there are hints at a personal perspective in his images, perhaps more so in the line of portraits of teenagers with guns on his website. We talk about the power of the editing process and what he left out.

We are all trying to make sense of the world and our place in it and these early attempts are visible in this exhibition; photography gives us an excuse to explore other lives from the perspective of our own.
I admit, I am not the biggest fan of 'traditional' documentary practice; I feel it masks the prejudices of the photographer and presents images in a form that the genre forces us to accept as truth. But Fussell and the others affirmed by the selection in this show are starting to learn that their images can affect people and the photographer can stitch an agenda into their work. There is a moral question to be addressed at some point between ambition to succeed and our personal values.

Robert Capa's famous images in Spain now seriously undermined, said "The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda." In lieu of revelations of Capa's whereabouts during the civil war, this quote can be read as an accidental betrayal of his true motivations. In the creation of a great image, the truth can be subjugated. See Thomas Hoepker's image of Brooklyn New York, September 11, 2001.

It is hard for Fussell to comprehend what makes his series worthy of the prize and i agree that all the projects have equal value. Fussell's commitment to the telling of the story is on show and I think this gave him the edge. There is a unique perspective that can only be gained by the winning. Its an early and complicated lesson offered to very few and an incredible opportunity to grow.

Cadet First Lieutenant William Wiedenbaum shoots a toy gun at his drill teammates in Louisville, KY, on March 30, 2012, a day before the team competed in the Army JROTC National Championships. © Adrian Fussell

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