Matthew Willman – Saturday 21 July 2012-07-30
Although the opening of Matthew’s exhibition was on 17th July he held a walk-around on Saturday during which he talked about the exhibition.
There are four elements to the exhibition:
a) Photographs of New York
b) Photographs of the Royal Dancing School
c) Photographs of South Africa, and
d) Some fun ‘pop’ compilations.
Matthew is a young (33) South African photographer who has made a place for himself with his work. What struck me about Matthew was his openness and willingness to share and discuss anything at all about his work and was happy for me to take as many photographs as I liked of the work on display. There was one photograph that had some limitations on it and that was a portrait of Nelson Mandela as the work he has done for the Mandela foundation is strictly controlled. During the morning he discussed each of the sections in turn.
The key element he felt for a photographer was to ‘Tell a story’ through your photographs and that those that rise above others are those that ‘master light and portrait’. In bringing these together in the photograph, the viewer should experience the following:
i) Recognise the subject as they have been there
ii) Know the subject and be able to relate to it,
iii) The subject should hold their attention as it mythologizes it. And
iv) It needs to capture the incisive moment.
He has done quite a lot of work with children and feel that they are a catalyst and in fact a barometer for the health of a society.
While trying to take a photograph of the Saint Peter’s in the Vatican he was fortunate enough for there to be a storm at which time all of the tourists rushed for cover leaving the square empty except for a monk who fortuitously strode through – one should note the three knots in his cassock rope Three knots tied in one end that hangs down on the right side are symbols of their vows (poverty, chastity and obedience).
While working for the Mandela Trust he regularly travelled a route and on one occasion was late for an appointment but was able to capture an interesting photograph a little way off the main road of the cosmos with a windmill in the background. This is so typical of the area and appealed to me. Unfortunately the glass in the frame means that my photograph does not do it justice. On the same route he captured a shot with a ramshackled house and a thunderstorm in the distance.
The key to making his photographs of New York was research. Here he emphasised:
- What makes the subject iconic and how will you show this
- Research: Google the subject to see what others have done and then,
- Plan light to achieve what you want.
The key things are however: Lighting, location and composition
Although I do not show it, his picture of the Statue of Liberty took 2 days to get the shot as he had planned to do it from one location that did not work and eventually made the picture from the ferry using a longer lens.
Some advise was that when stitching photos use portrait format not landscape and overlap at least 25% at a time.
The series on the Royal School of Ballet I found particularly appealing, I think due to the lines and composition. Also, maybe because they are images that I feel I would not be able to achieve and admire.
The four photographs above I felt deserve particular mention. Top left I will comment on below, Top right was particularly interesting from the point of view of the pose and the shapes created – curves, implied triangles and diagonals all in a single photograph. Lower left, also has interesting diagonals and curves. The lower right I liked but has the subject placed centrally creating symmetry around a central axis. I wondered about this as it is also seen in his images of the buildings in New York.
Of all, the image including the piano, appealed the most. Why? Probably due to the strong lines, the dancers framed by the piano lid creating the context of the school. One is left free to wonder what the music is and what instructions are being given to the students.
Although in making these photographs of ballet dancers he had to keep his distance, he was still able to show world something different, which was his objective. Interestingly, Matthew was trained in ballet and this is possibly why he is able to interpret the situations so well.
Finally, below are two fun composites of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu that he put together at the suggestion from somebody. They provide a different interpretation and in the right venue would be attractive. Although they are interesting I find the colourful backgrounds distracting from the portraits, but then possibly one should consider them as colourful pictures first and secondly a portrait. I will probably have a different view of these later in my development!
Overall, I enjoyed the exhibition per se, but more than that I enjoyed being able to sit and chat with the photographer. He was casual, relaxed and happy to share experiences and discuss his photographs. The exhibition provided inspiration and a desire to see more of his work and other photographers.