Tim Head, 1987

Above: Tim Head, Toxic Lagoon, 1987 (detail). Credit: Tim Head.

Localize and Personalize

One way into creative photography is to begin with a socially engaged topic that interests you or concerns you: urban inequality, air pollution, teenage radicalization ... The first step is to start researching your topic. Plug some search terms into Google, or better yet, look out some books on your topic. (Georges Monbiot's book Rewilding is good example of an inspiring non-fiction work of campaigning activism on the topic of environmentalism.) The Golden Rule with Internet research is to only collect information and articles given by reliable sources--that is news sources which actively fact-check their copy before publishing, for example, BBC, The New York Times, or The Guardian. Other examples of reliable sources include government websites, and those run by registered educational foundations--such websites have a legal obligation to be factually accurate. It is important at this research stage that you refrain from using information found on random blogs and unverifiable sources. Whether you plan to be working in directorial mode or classic social documentary mode the basic research process is the same: always build-out from information gained from reliable sources. Print out the most interesting articles that you find. Next, having read through the material, begin to think about how you might bring this back to photography, and specifically your own photography. As you bring the topic back to your own photo-intervention, it can be helpful to personalize and localize the topic.

So, for example, if a photographer is interested in ecological-environmental issues and has been looking at how much unrecyclable plastic is still used in food and product packaging in the Developed West, then it might be valid to actually collect all such packaging materials for a period of time. All this packaging might not turn up in any final photos but the personalization of the issue may be a useful stage in a creative process; a mechanism for taking a general social ill and beginning to connect and engage as a unique actor in relation to it. The big hazard when taking on any major social topic is that the photographer becomes swamped and overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, and the issue floats around their work as a series of generalizations. Bringing the topic back to you and your life is a way of avoiding this.

For Example, for his Toxic Lagoon series of photos from 1987, Tim Head used a range of cleaning fluids found in his own home--augmented with clumps of toilet-paper, etc.--to make a series of work about pollution and harmful chemicals in daily life.

(30 December 2018)