Written review by
Photo editor of the FINANCIAL TIMES Weekend Magazine, visiting lecturer, UK
‘This story is the beginning of a bigger project about small trades that are making a come back in the daily urban life.’ Nicolas Dormont. For his project Nicolas Dormont chose to photograph at Brulerie de Belleville in Paris. His aim was to document the implications of man and his work, and the product itself.
This project examines the intimate nature of man and machine. With strong use of portraits and details, it gives its audience a multi sensory experience, revealing the intimate nature of coffee production. It is my opinion that this is a successfully executed project, technically well produced and conceptually precise. The series begins with a portrait of two coffee roasters. It is a formal set up, a solid opener to introduce us to the protagonists for the piece. Well composed, they sit on sacks of beans, which works as a suggestion of theme to come. They look relaxed and welcoming.
The next picture is a full frame still life of green coffee beans. Graphic in its approach, the viewer experiences the tactile nature of the raw material. This picture invites us to dive our hands in and feel. The effective sequencing of the following picture, the dark roasted beans swirling, hands plunged, allows for this sensory experience to develop further- smell, taste and touch are communicated here. There is good use of movement- the close up staging and energy allows the viewer to experience the process in an immediate sense, to be part of the adventure.
The intimate portraits of David Flynn quality checking and Anselme Blayney ‘cupping’ demonstrate a level of precision and the uniqueness of coffee production. Both men are shown to be skilled, dedicated and passionate with their hands-on technique. These portraits are compositionally strong, with effective use of depth of field and light.
Reportage of everyday life, ‘Anselme Blayney delivers the coffee in a coffee shop’ and another cupping portrait follow, both serving to move the narrative along. There is continuity in the style of these pictures, which creates a strong visual language. It is important to recognise this and build on it.
The next picture of the delivery does not work for me photographically. It’s messy with a lot of dead space (this can sometimes be good of course). It lacks the visual style of the preceding reportage picture, which I felt was more intimate in tone, almost cinematic. I feel this shot would have worked better if focus had been placed on one or other person carrying the sacks of beans, drawing focus to theme of man and work.
The following delivery picture in the street is not a bad picture in isolation, but I don’t think it works here as part of this project. The outdoor light is harsh, colours become saturated and the shiny new car makes it look more like an advertising shot. I feel both scenarios are integral to the project, so if there was time to go back, I would suggest reshooting these two pictures with the style of the first, thinking about light and composition. One wide environmental shot could work well here.
Shooting from inside into the daylight can be problematic and the picture of the garbage man is no exception. Moving on (I will return), I very much like the final two, more formal set up portraits. They are an effective connection to the first in the series- the portrait of Flynn and Blayney. I would suggest shooting the municipal worker in that same formal style, and to possibly continue along these lines to shoot a few more characters: workers, customers. This might make an interesting addition to the project, in keeping with the visual language of the piece.
Pictures of this style could either be placed through the running order, or better used as a separate entity at the end of the work. I’m thinking now of how it could look in the magazine, a possible grid of players.
There is one more photograph of the coffee roaster at work- a pulled out version of the first. I like this picture, and feel the project could use some additional still life elements. As with the first graphic picture of the green beans, being sequenced through the run, they would serve to break up the reportage and give the viewer a real sense of the product and it’s production first hand. That, and further successful reportage would make this an assignment that I would be happy to see in the FT Weekend Magazine.
For inspiration take a look at photographer Maurice Broomfield’s marvellous photographs of post war industrial Britain. http://mauricebroomfield.com/