About me: Having completed a Sociology degree at the University of Leeds and trained at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Press Photography/ Photojournalism course at Sheffield College, British photographer Susannah Ireland has over 8 years experience as an editorial photographer. Her principle clients were The Times and The Independent newspapers’ having won the Times Tabasco Young Photographer of The Year competition in 2007. In 2014 she moved to Delhi in India to embark upon more documentary-based photojournalism and longer-term assignments. Susannah continues to freelance for a variety of editorial and commercial clients both within India and the South East Asian region. Her work is currently syndicated through Eyevine agency.
I have shadowed world renowned Parisien choreographer and dancer Nadejda Loujine for two days amid her artistic life, teaching her students Russian traditional and character dance, and being influenced by the art around her for use in her upcoming shows. We visited Studio Yagenia for her teaching and the Musee D’Orsay for research into an upcoming show. I have tried to capture Nadejda’s personality and thoughts as she lives through her art form and takes inspiration from everyday life.
Portfolio from the Visual Storytelling workshop with Stefano De Luigi, June 2015.
Written review by
Director at GEO magazine
Alright, what could I say when viewing your portfolio. Technically as well as on a composition level, it is very well achieved, well treated and rightly defined. I don’t know if you are aware that I am greatly attracted to black and white reportage as long as it is justified. I resent that this powerful resource is being used to hide other defaults, be them technicals or on a story point of view. Don’t worry, it is not your case. Your choice seems right considering the approach you have been willing to give to your work.
It’s only been one week I had the opportunity to comment another work which approach was very similar to yours (http://www.eyesinprogress.com/participant/petra-barth). It was also a black and white story and it was about following one person for two entire days. Like I said at that time, black and white is fantastic for this kind of story: it gives depth and meaning, it makes the story close to us and allow us to feel about the person, it can even move us and on a general basis, it is interesting.
Looking at your work, I wondered why you chose this choreographer. Don’t misunderstand me. What I mean is why did you choose a character that is more or less aware of her fame, aware of her interest. When you choose a character from a certain category, complications arise. If the photographer is not experimented, if he does not have previous similar experiences, it is easy to fall into the trap that those subjects do. I don’t say they do it consciously, I simply say that they are jealous of their image, and for that reason they’ll try to save it as much as they can and show you only those parts that they want to show. It is not in vain that they have a reputation and need to keep it.
In the previous work I wrote about, your colleague chose an anonymous subject. This allowed her to enter into his life very deeply. I think it is because this subject was less aware of his image. For that reason, he opened more to the camera. The fact that he was also a photographer, I think, also played a role. In your situation, when I see your work – and as I said, it is technically very well achieved – I feel it does not move me, it does not reach my sensitive cord. I observe all required steps as if you were following a technical guide to have an interesting reportage.
But it does not reach me. I feel something is missing.
At first I did not know what it was about. It took me a while to realize, but now I think I know what it is. It is about, as I previously told you, that you did not manage to cross the obstacle your subject put between her and you. Differently said, I have the feeling that in every moment your subject is posing. When I look at your pictures, everything is perfect. Too perfect. I am pretty sure that she was very satisfied with the final result. And that is because the pictures tell the story she wanted to tell. However, and please correct me if I’m wrong, I am afraid they do not tell what they should tell. At least not what they should tell if you want your work to be more exclusive.
You follow your subject for two entire days and however, I am not taken. I don’t see it, I don’t feel it, I don’t believe it. If I do see what she does for a living, I do not see how she really is, how she feels, what she fears, what she hopes, what she desires. Including in the most touching scenes, like when she cuddles her cat, I cannot avoid to have the feeling that she is posing, photographically and inside her.
On the sidelines of those indications, and if you’re willing to take an advice, I would recommend that when you approach a subject like this you do it knowing exactly what you’re looking for. If you wish to resume the day to day life of the character (what he does, where he goes, what’s his work…) that’s fine, but this can be done by anyone with a camera more or less decent and a minimum of technical knowledge. However, if you wish to capture the true essence of the subject during the two days you’re living in, you need to think, talk, eat nearly sleep with him, that way, you ask a lot more from yourself. You need to go very deep. You need to cross the obstacle that they’ll surely tend, especially if this is a character more or less conscious of his image, and reach its very inner self. Only that way, the ones looking will be able to see and feel who is and how is your subject. This is only reached by the masters. And yet, not always.