Ka Man Mak

ka-man-mak
Ka Man Mak

A Day with Dawn Chan

by Ka Man Mak (Norway)

Currently I am forging a career within journalism and documentary photography. As a British immigrant in Norway with a Hong Kongese background, I found myself questioning my own identity and values. I became naturally drawn to stories of migrants which I had the privilege to know about. Their stories deeply touched and affected me. I found my calling last year when I was photographing the Oslo demonstration for Hong Kong democracy and writing about a foreign girl being stalked.


Portfolio from the Visual storytelling workshop with Ed Kashi, April 2015.

Written review by DAPHNE ANGLES,
European photo coordinator The New York Times, France/USA

First of all, congratulations on your choice of subject for this day’s work in Barcelona. By choosing to tell us a day in the life of a Chinese woman who came to Barcelona from her native country and founded a family with a Spaniard, you are focusing on one person but also address the more general and endlessly fascinating issue of migration and identity. Identifying her first, then being allowed into her home and intimacy, is a tribute to your interest in people and your capacity to create an atmosphere of trust. The challenge , then, was how to best tell this story in pictures. In my view you can have gone much further in your visual exploration. Instead, you chose to photograph at the same distance and include Dawn in all the pictures. This leads to a certain monotony, a sense of repetition.

Here are a few recommendations I can offer for your future work.

Think of varying the distances at which you take your pictures. You can shoot large views with lots of different information for the eye to visit, from the foreground to the background. These pictures are ‘scene-setters’ that are used to introduce a subject or tell us something about the subject with a lot of context around him-her. From your take, the pictures that best do this job are the scenes of Dawn and her kids in the supermarket, crossing the street, and in the corridor of the apartment.

The second distance are tighter shots that bring us much closer to the subject: you have a few of those: Dawn giving a Chinese class and Dawn with her two kids reading books to her kids, and in kitchen with one child.

What I am lacking in your series are close-ups of details and objects . Small details can be rife with meaning. What did you see in her home that speaks of the Chinese-Spanish identity of this family? What is on those papers on the door of the refrigerator? Can you show us from up close what is on that dinner-table? The books that Dawn reads to her kids at night – are they in Chinese and/or in Spanish? A photograph of her Chinese family on a bed-side table? That kind of detail.

Finally,I feel we are missing a portrait of Dawn at a moment when she is on her own, a quiet, intimate, close-up portrait in which she would (or not) be looking at the camera , letting down her defense, reflecting on the tough day behind or ahead and giving the reader insight into her extraordinary story.

Also, there are a few pictures that, while being of an interesting situation, are just not strong enough and could have simply been left out. Images need to be able to stand alone as photographs in order to be considered for a series. The scene in the playground doesn’t come together: Dawn is not identifiable when leaning over and seen from behind. In the image taken in the bus, we can’t see either Dawn’s face or her son’s. Also, the wide-angle lens has created a distortion of verticals and keeps us too far from the subject. I’ll say the same about the picture of Dawn and her children waiting behind a metal railing. The bedroom scene is a good idea but none of the four faces are visible at all. You have two scenes taken at the kitchen table– just one is enough: the family having dinner together.

Now for the overall construction of your series: varying the distances of your views will not only enrich the information contained in your story. It will also provide a larger visual vocabulary from which to pick when you carry out your final edit. Your goal is visual storytelling so the order of the pictures is crucial: you need to draw the viewer into the story with a first, powerful picture, then lead us through the story from this beginning through a middle and to an end. We need to be able to understand at least the general gist of the story without, at first, reading the captions. Since this reportage was shot over just one day, then the obvious choice would be to follow her chronologically from morning to evening, with some flexibility in order to best use the visual material you have to choose from. I hope these few words of advice will make sense to you and help you in our career.

Good luck!


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