Tristan Smith

tristan-smith
Tristan Smith

Documentary

by Tristan Smith (United Kingdom)

I am an amateur photographer who is interested in improving with the possibility of becoming a professional in the future. For the workshop I decided to focus on the NDSM Warf on the northern shore of Amsterdam, a small creative district which has been built around and within post maritime industrial complex. The second half of the series is a collection of images taken of recent trips to Russia. where I travelled between the Arctic Circle and the Caspian sea.


Portfolio from the Documentary workshop with Patrick Zachmann, September 2014.

Written review by TAJ FORER,
Photographer and cofounder at Daylight Publishing

Dear Tristan, Thank you for the opportunity to spend some time with your photographs. I must commend you on your work as a non-professional, I found your images to be quite strong and consistent; the latter being something that is rarely found across a group of photographs produced by someone with limited experience. It seems as if you are developing a visual vocabulary, to some extent, and this bodes well for your future imagemaking. So, in a formal sense, I find your images presented here to be well composed and quite beautifully exposed. I also recognize that you are patient - your photographs seem quite meticulously crafted, something that speaks to the patient observation of the photographer and a trait that I admire. This patience will serve you well as you move through your career.

Photograph n°2 does a nice job of establishing some context for the story you are telling. I responded instantly to the color, texture, and decay - an effective tool to use graphic elements to attract the attention of the viewer to an image that is otherwise quite subtle or quiet and might easily be overlooked. Then, having had my eye attracted by the formal / aesthetic qualities that you observed and depicted, I noticed that this seemingly abandoned space was clearly cared-for and occupied; the narrative (or story) starts to unfold. I then discovered additional clues that people involved in creative work must occupy this space when I noticed the gas-tank / Jesus sculpture and what appears to be a theater or performance light at the top of the frame. It is fantastic that you composed this image in such a way that emphasizes the space first, and those who occupy the space second. These visual clues that start to tell the primary story you are exploring are quite effective in eliciting a sense of connection with me as a viewer - I am told just enough of the story in this image to have questions arise in my mind, the aesthetics of the image are quite beautiful, so I want to see more - I want to move through the images to come so as to see what other clues I might be offered to help further develop the narrative I am beginning to sense in this picture.

Photograph n°4 is not dissimilar to the photograph I just discussed but goes a step further by introducing a human subject, answering the question that arose when encountering the first couple of photographs in the series: "Now that I understand this space is inhabited, who is it that lives or works here?" - and what I like most about the above picture is that while you depict a human subject, the environmental "portrait" says more about the environment, than it does about the man depicted therein. This is fantastic! It gives the viewer just enough to taste "knowing" the person or people who are pointed-to in the first images within the series, but then keeps us hungry. You show retraint as a photographer, another very powerful tool that supports the type of photographic storytelling that you are beginning with this series. Compositionally, this photographc is quite successful too - my eye is held within the frame and keeps making its way back to the man, who is partially obstructed, in the center ofr the frame - he appears at-ease, relaxed, at home - I begin to learn more but I still have questions; this is very good in terms of continuing to pull the viewer through a series of photographs.

Photograph n°6 is engaging but I think it could be much stronger. I appreciate that you waited until the man turned his head before making the exposure as this offers the viewer a bit more information about "who" this man is, rather than just seeing the back of his head - it also complicates the relationship between the two human subjects in a good way - this I like. However, I think that pulling back further to depict the entite boat behind which the people sit, would have been a good choice.

The structure feels cut-off / interrupted and the composition somehow lacks resolve in my eye. Additionally, by just moving upwards slightly, the horizonline in the background would not create a competing line that crosses the head of the man to the right. By interrupting the horizon line the composition feels further less-resolved. Just a small compositional note that would strengthen this image.

I do sense that this is just the beginning of what could be a much bigger body of photographs. I realize that there are limitations regarding the number of photographs you were able to produce and share but many of the photographs in the series presented here are redundant or repetative and it feels as if the narrative that begins to unfold never truly does unfold - as the viewer, I am stuck knowing just a very little bit about this place and those who dwell and/or work there, but there is not enough access to the people themselves, nor their creations, to suggest anything more than a cursory understanding of what is happening here in this community. I would encourage you to spend time working methodically - perhaps focusing some time on just depicting the people, then just the landscape, then just the still life work that shows the creations of the inhabitants within the broader context of the compelling landscape where they exist. To me, this is the story that has just begun to unfold and the story I would very much like to hear/see more of.

Lastly, while image n°11 appears to be quite a departure from the others I have seen / commented on until now, I must say that I really like this image. I know I am a bit of a "sucker" for photographs at night that use flash to depict falling snow (perhaps because I am odd in that I like the winter and snow ;), but something more is happening within this picture where the snowflakes, illuminated by the flash, appear to compete for attention with the lit-up windows in the building behind.

There is a fantastic visual conversation or playful aesthetic dance that happens between the falling snow and the lights in the building. I found this to be powerful, fun and very effective in maintaining my visual attention. Perhaps this is a technique you can further explore across other images as you continue your work. I will comment that, relative to the narrative presented across the other photographs, this nighttime-snow-photograph is very confusing. While I like it as a "stand alone" image, I do not understand how or if it relates to the other images in the series.

So, be careful when editing and sequencing so as to not confuse the viwer about the subject matter or narrative of your work, if you are taking a narrative approach, which I believe you are.

Thank you for sharing your work and best of luck with your cintinued photographic explorations!

Kind regards, Taj


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