Inspiration from Level 1

Every now and again I come across work at Level 1 that denotes skills and photographic maturity well beyond that level. John Chapman’s compelling and thought-provoking final assignment for Art of Photography, which focuses on one of the Emmaus villages, is one such body of work.

“I chose the subject, Emmaus, because I was interested in what they do and their story. I have found the end result to be much more gratifying when I have completed projects/assignments around subjects I am interested in, rather than finding a subject purely to fit the exercise.”

John’s images show developing narrative skills that are rare at this level of study. The photograph of a guitar tells about sensibility and hope – isn’t it true that music has always been a channel for people’s hopes?

A photograph of a bedroom full of personal paraphernalia, very much like everyone’s bedroom, is remarkably ordinary. It shows an environment lived by people who are, well, like you and I. It speaks of homeliness, ordinary, peaceful and comforting homeliness. John was aware of the connotative value of this image.

John set out to tell a story, and he knew exactly what his position as artist and author was.

“I did not want to dwell on [the Emmaus residents’ complex past]. The people at Emmaus are there because they’re ready to turn their lives around, and that’s the story I wanted to tell.”

And that’s the story you will find in the PDF book that John submitted for his final assignment. His intention as a photographer is loud and clear, particularly in his portraits. They show honesty of purpose, that elusive but essential quality in any photographer. John didn’t ‘take’ anyone’s portrait at Emmaus. He exchanged them for a genuine interaction with his subjects based on mutual respect: what John gave back in exchange for his photographs was dignity for his subjects.

What is even more remarkable is that, after careful planning and preparation including obtaining permissions to photograph on location, John produced the work on a single photo shoot.

And there is a word that accurately describes that attitude and performance: professional.

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14 comments for “Inspiration from Level 1

  1. 3 December 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Fabulous work—John must be really proud of his submission—even though it strikes fear into me as I struggle to finish this module and find subject matter for that final assignment!

  2. 3 December 2012 at 9:29 pm

    It is a really good piece of work and an interesting book. I thought that the portraiture really stood out also – there is a real sense of connection with the subjects. I hope to see more of John’s work in due course.

  3. Dewald
    4 December 2012 at 1:56 am

    Beautifully photographed and edited! The project final result also really brings across a feeling of hope, with mutual respect between those photographed and the photographer, rather than what is so (too) often hammered on, the downside.
    As the other comments say, I too look forward to see where John’s work go from here… nice one!

  4. 4 December 2012 at 11:45 am

    Wonderful piece of work, conveying so well the hope that projects like Emmaus can give to people. The portraits are excellently done – yes people are posing but as if in a brief aside before they get on with the day. I too look forward to seeing more from you John. Well-done!

  5. Jim S
    4 December 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Very interesting indeed, and beautifully photographed – particularly the portraits. I found the inclusion of the rather more ‘mundane’ shots of furniture, CDs, bedroom etc more difficult to understand. Clearly these are thought important by John, and by the OCA, but I’m not sure that I would have had the the perspicacity to see the relevance of taking such shots, or the courage to include them in the set. Anyway, a much appreciated look into the Emmaus way of life – thank you.

  6. Mark
    4 December 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Inspiring work. Great example of how good photography can assist NGO’s etc.

  7. 5 December 2012 at 10:32 am

    Superb work – inspiring, a really intuitive flow through the images.

  8. 5 December 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Beautiful work indeed! Very inspiring…

  9. 6 December 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing this work, Jose. Very strong indeed. It is great to hear John’s wish to base assignments around subjects that interest him, not just to fulfil the assignment briefs alone – a real lesson to other students of how successful this approach is, I think.

    • 7 December 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Whole-heartedly agree with the comment. But sometimes as a student it is scary to think outside the box; and then push that idea forward.

  10. John Chapman
    7 December 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks to Jose for taking the time to write this post – its great to get this sort of encouragement and it spurs me on to take my studies further.

    Thanks also to everyone else who’s taken the time to comment, I really appreciate all the feedback.

    • 13 December 2012 at 10:50 am

      Hi John,
      I was really touched looking at your book, the sense of hope shines through all the pictures. It’s a nice balance between explaining the way they work and the way they are constantly changing and improving the future of the people working there, but also the organization itself. But above all it shows the potential and value of people and things that society doesn’t seem to need anymore. Congratulations!

  11. David
    8 December 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Many years ago I worked as a nurse in the Detoxification Centre run by St Annes Shelter and Housing Action. A charity in Leeds, Yorkshire. Part of the philosophy was to take homeless people from the streets after they were arrested for being drunk and then take them into the Centre instead of the courts.

    A key part of the St Annes philosophy was the creation of an alternative (normal) social structure through ‘dry houses’ where people lived in small communities rather on the streets for those who wanted to take that path.

    Having worked in that environment I think John has captured the story in each face and the idea of that return to normality from the horrors of living rough. He must be pleased at raising the profile of the facility and with the positive comments he is getting.

  12. 16 December 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Congratulations on an awesome final assignment, John. All the more so having shot it in one session. Very impressive.

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