This month, we hear the thoughts of Still Life .3 Judge Brian Stewart:
A camera is a dangerous weapon. Recently I met Tom Stoddardt, a world class reportage photographer. I'm also a photographer. I'm a car shooter: I do it for food and shelter.
The cynic in me asked how Tom financed his photography. His reply floored me: Get the pictures and the money comes later. Somebody has to record this stuff. It’s not comfortable and it doesn’t sell newspapers: people are numbed to it. I can be in an airport two hours from Bosnia surrounded by people going on holiday, completely oblivious to the fact that, in a location closer than their hotel, people are dying, starving, oppressed, sold into slavery by their parents or forced into prostitution because there is no other way to feed their children.
On they go and on he goes.
Tom’s work is driven by a passion to record. Aesthetics take second place but a trained eye prevails. The pictures are the testimony of his subjects and show that he was there with a camera and not a gun. Paper and silver are his ordnance of choice. His pictures have their own beauty. The stealth of immaculate composition draws s you into the truth of his subjects.
I arrived back at my studio with one thing left on my 'to do today ' list: judge the 'Still Life' competition for The London Photographic Association. Passion, truth and beauty were foremost in my mind. Look for them and the winners would shine like diamonds in a coal mine.
Nobody that entered was without passion for photography (they wouldn't be here otherwise) but it was still hard to judge. Who am I to search with such a high minded philosophy? (Remember that I’m a cynic.)
My choices were driven by a very high bar and I feared that I wouldn’t reach it.
Nicolas Michaelides’s images of items in his Grandmother’s house shone through. They were pictures as a record: discarded ugly hangers, tidy dressing tables. The record of an uneventful life, shot because a record had to exist. She could have been forgotten: not now.
I was reminded of the pictures by Henryk Ross taken in the Lodz ghetto; of Robert Frank; of Lee Friedlander; of Danny Lyons; of Joel Sternfeldt, and of Graham Smith. I called to mind the found collections of 'amateurs': pictures that had to be made otherwise there would be no evidence of the place or the time.
It's not 'about' what most of us think it’s 'about'. I would like to thank the LPA. Next time I pick up my camera, I intend to look harder.
Brian Stewart www.brianstewart.net