Category Archives: On Being a Photographer – David Hurn in conversation with Bill Jay

On Being a Photographer -David Hurn in conversation with Bill Jay

About the Photographer

David Hurn’s approach appears to be chameleon-like (page 32) – blending in with whatever scene he is present in. Unlike some photographers, he enjoys company whilst shooting, however he doesn’t take his mind off his art and can leave his companion talking to air whilst he takes his shot (page 33).

Some Definitions

David Hurn is a British reportage photographer who has covered many events across the world. Hurn prefers the term ‘reportage photographer’ as “it implies a personal account of an observed event with connotations of subjectivity but honesty. It is eye-witness photography.” (page 40).

Hurn prefers the term ‘essay’ to ‘story’. He states “when i talk about the picture or photographic essay I mean a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others; not that the sequencing of the pictures can be read like a string of words.” (page 41).

Selecting A Subject

Hurn states that what transforms a simple record into pictures of lasting merit is “It comes down to the choice of subject. The photographer must have intense curiosity, not just a passing visual interest, in the theme of the pictures. This curiosity leads to intense examination, reading, talking, research and many, many failed attempts over a long period of time.” (page 44).

Hurn suggests carrying a notebook to write down ideas of things which interest. He then suggests cutting the list down by asking these questions:

  • Is it visual?
  • Is it practical?
  • Is it a subject about which I know enough?
  • Is it interesting to others? (page 46).

He also suggests keeping the topic as specific as possible (page 48).

Hurn makes interesting observations about how the link between love and knowledge of a subject matter makes a good photograph. Hegives the example of Stephen Dalton’s photographs of insects in flight (page 55).

Shooting the Single Picture

“There are two fundamental elements in all picture-taking: where to stand and when to release the shutter” (page 57).

“Photography is a matter of tiny details” (page 59).

“In all cases the pressing of the button is a reasonably continuous process, because you never know if the next fraction of a second is going to reveal an even more significant, poignant, visually stronger image than the previous one” (page 60).

Hurn’s approach is to wait through pregnant pauses, anticipate moments of interest and then shoot continuously, adjusting position to get the shot. Contact sheets show a staccato of images. You can see the intent of the photographer. (page 62).

“A painter can compose the main elements and then add the significant details in precisely the right places. In photography, you cannot do that. You are hoping, almost by instinct, that the small details which make or break the picture are going to be in the right positions.” (page 66)

Creating Contacts

Hurn describes how valuable a contact sheet is. he is speaking in the context of a film camera as opposed to a digital camera, however the purpose of a contact sheet is much the same for their type of camera.

He describes the following four purposes:

  • “dear diary” pictures which act as visual reminders
  • acts as a learning process
  • convenient for marking images for easy future retrieval
  • allows understanding of others’ work/process (page 73).

Hurn states that he likes to put aside the contact sheets for a few weeks to distance himself from the emotion of the picture-taking moment. (page 76) – this is something I should definitely consider doing!

The Picture Essay

“Photography is about communication” (page 84)

“Once you know the number of images which will complete the essay, you must divide your topic or theme into that many picture-headings. List them, and alongside each heading jot down the words: “overall/establishment picture,” “medium distance/relationship picture,” and close-up picture.” (page 85)