People Surveys – B&W portraits as a documentary strategy – Zed Nelson, Irving Penn & August Sander

The next exercise has me looking at August Sander, a photographer that I have heard of, and looking more closely at some work by Zed Nelson (new) and Irving Penn (known) and comparing the bodies of work. Is there any connection?

Zed Nelson – Disappearing Britain

To find out if there is a connection I need to dig into Zed Nelson first…from his website:

Having gained recognition and major awards as a documentary photographer working in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Nelson has increasingly turned his focus on Western society, adopting an increasingly conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.

Love Me … reflects on the cultural and commercial forces that drive a global obsession with youth and beauty. The project explores how a new form of globalization is taking place, where an increasingly narrow Western beauty ideal is being exported around the world like a crude universal brand. The project spans five years, and involved photography in 18 countries across five continents. Love Me was recently nominated for the 2011 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize, short-listed for the Leica European Publishers Award for Photography, and received First Prize in the 2010 Pictures of the Year International awards.

Previous awards include the Visa d’Or, France; First Prize in World Press Photo Competition; and the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, USA.

Nelson’s work has been exhibited at Tate Britain, the ICA and the National Portrait Gallery, and is in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nelson has had solo shows in London, Stockholm and New York.

The images we had to review were from his body of work called Disappearing Britain, which fits in neatly with the ideals of Meadows, who also wanted to capture the vanishing ‘English.’ Nelson also travelled around the country, photographing people from different walks of life, with a variety of occupations and interests. Also some of the ‘style’ is the same, B&W images, people having full length portraits taken, staring directly into the camera, it was voluntary…as people came off shift etc they were invited to pose in make shift studios where they worked and lived. However, they were isolated from their ‘backgrounds’ but all had props to enable the audience to understand their profession or interest.

Within this work Nelson wanted – through his portraits of specific people – to archive the losses that Great Britain went/is going through, due to privatisation – causing pit closures, reduced fish stocks, hunting bans, cut-backs in shipbuilding and other ‘fading traditions’.

These stories are not just about fading traditions, but also a compass to political, environmental and moral change.

Nelson categorised his subjects by profession/interest and there was no age or gender divide, he also captioned each image with the name of the subject and gave a little background information, making this a more personalised, less anonymous project. Due to this more personal approach the audience tends to feel the loss slightly more than the nostalgia, or that could be because I lived through the miners strike etc etc etc…

Irving Penn – Small Trades

A brief intro for those who have never heard of Irving Penn:

Irving Penn was one of the most respected photographers of the 20th century. In a career that began at the premiere fashion magazine Vogue in 1943 and spans more than six decades, he created innovative fashion, still life, and portrait studies. His photographs are defined by the elegant simplicity and meticulous rigor that became the trademarks of his style.


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