A picture, it has been said, is worth a thousand words; a truism if you’re feeling charitable, a cliché if you’re not. Interestingly, the phrase is American in origin and attributed to one Frederick Barnard who used a variation of it to describe the effectiveness of graphics in advertising in an article published in 1927. Perhaps Mr Barnard didn’t realise just how profound his phrase would become as the world began to turn from a text based one to one in which the image is king; not only in advertising but across most areas within the digital globe. Think Facebook et al…
The phrase’s strength is derived from the fact that it encapsulates a concept neatly and effectively and consequently, like every good adage, this hackneyed phrase contains a certain amount of truth. That it can be applied across a variety of disciplines and its use is not merely limited to graphics, makes this simple phrase flexible, widely applicable and ultimately, powerful.
Indeed the history of photography is littered with examples where the solitary image demonstrates its ability to capture everything from an intimate moment to momentous event in a single frame. In such cases, any descriptive text would be superfluous. Consider Capa’s fallen soldier, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V.J. Day in Times Square and Bill Eppridge’s photographs of the assignation of Bobby Kennedy; all prime examples of what Cartier Bresson called “the decisive moment”; capturing the essence of the occasion at precisely the right time just before that split second turns a great photograph into …. just another image.
An effective photograph will trigger an emotional response from its audience. An effective photographer will be able to determine the precise nature of that response and evoke it time and time again through their work. Philadelphia based photographer Hannah Price recognises the potential power of the single image and her work demonstrates how she channels her life experiences into her photography. Her photo series, “City of Brotherly Love” documents one aspect of her relocation from a semi-rural to an urban environment; verbal harassment from anonymous males.
Much of what we regard as photography is concerned with narrative. It’s about telling a story – no matter how many or how few frames are involved. What we term “the decisive moment” is the pivotal image within a sequence of events; it tells us everything that we need to know. And Hannah Price demonstrates her understanding of this concept in the “City of Brotherly Love” series. The title is ironic; it serves as a sarcastic comment and a warning of what is to come. This is the work of a photographer who is an activist, not a passive observer. Tired of being harassed by catcalling males, Price took affirmative action, photographing perpetrators immediately after they harangued her and the result is dramatic. What we see on these faces is a delicious mixture of surprise, anger, regret and fear; what, these new victims wonder, will happen to these photographs?
What makes these great photographs is Price’s timing. We see these predatory men captured at precisely the moment they realise that the tables have turned and the hunter has become the hunted. Price springs the trap and they are captured. But these are not mug shots; Price considers her photographs as portraits;
“One thing you’re missing with portrait photography is the time the camera can allow you to spend with the person. I hope my viewers notice my growth with these men throughout the series on my website. All I’m doing is switching the power dynamic; taking control of the inappropriate manner from a stranger and turning it into an art project, leaving as friendly acquaintances. There is no social commentary; I am not calling them criminals”.
This is an interesting stance. Price is seeking to record the moment without offering up any form of judgement or condemnation, leaving any conclusions to be drawn to her audience. There is an element of understanding, even forgiveness, in her approach and this appears to be having an effect on those she photographs:
“In fact, I ran into one of my subjects a year later. The second time around, he approached me as a photographer. I didn’t like the photo I took the first time, and asked to remake his portrait… We ended up making photographs for the album he was working on and I was able to get the photograph I wanted.”
The revised portrait of “Hassan”
What Price is doing is confronting prejudice, tackling unacceptable behaviour head on, her weapon is her camera. But this is a single woman subjected to a mild form of sexual harassment you may think; a small incident. But there is no scale for social injustice. This “small incident” highlights a major problem. Some men think this is acceptable that women are fair game and that vulnerability invites abuse.
Such men revel in their anonymity, in their victim’s fear, in their reluctance to turn and confront their abuser. Not if their intended target is Hannah Price.
As we look into the eyes of these men, we see realisation; this is the decisive moment. This is when the penny drops. That’s another cliché. .. but it’s a good one.
We asked Hannah Price about her approach to photography in general and this series of images in particular:
- Do you regard your photography as documentary or photojournalism or do you feel your work sits across several disciplines?
“Documentary – I was documenting a transition in my life… I used photography, to confront and understand a situation I was unfamiliar with. Resulting in something that I had more control of and became accustomed too, as well as something I considered beautiful”.
- Do you feel that your formal training in photography has formed a major part of your current practice?
- Who would you regard as your major influences amongst contemporary and historic photographers?
“Robert Frank, Robert Adams, Phillip Lorca-diCorcia”
- What equipment do you use and do you have a favourite piece of kit?
“All natural light, rangefinder camera and tripod”.
- Do you use any form of photo enhancement in your work?
“No, just basic photo prep for print and presentation”.
- How do you go about identifying a project; do you have specific themes that interest you or are you more pragmatic?
“I usually take from life”.
- Is there a project you would really like to tackle?
“I’m trying to teach myself film- moving image”.
You can access more examples from Hannah’s series, “City of Brotherly Love” on her website by following this link:
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