I was lucky enough to attend a lecture, today, hosted by documentary photographer, Mishka Henner. Henner works along side his partner Liz Locke in collaborative commissioned projects across England, dealing mostly with issues affecting the North West.

This is the second time I have heard his views and opinions, which included ideas on how to approach a subject matter right through to the current destination and direction of photography itself. Both times I have found my preconceptions challenged in a way that not many other people have managed.

Henner comes across as motivated, intelligent and most of all honest. He spoke openly of his accidental discovery of the medium of photography along with the negative aspects of working in the industry.  He mentioned the difficulty in drawing up proposals, dealing with arts councils and one instance in particular when a commissioner rearranged his work as it was, “not sending the correct message”.

Unacceptable view of Oldham?

Unacceptable view of Oldham?

However what interested me most, was his approach. When faced with the task of tackling a commission based on the regeneration of Oldham (a town in the North West of England) he literally immersed himself within it. Trawling through archives of imagery of Oldham from times gone, in order to get an understanding of how these areas of planned rejuvenation were once used.

Then there was this process of researching without an idea. By that he meant approaching a topic without a preconception, as nine times out of ten that preconception is incorrect, and allowing yourself to be taken through the project by the project. This is something that resonates deeply with me as it is something I have unwittingly ignored.

When handed a brief I instantly think of ways I can represent this, ticking all the boxes along the way. Subtle? Yes. Emotive? Yes. Etc? Yes. Then there is a development process, an expansion of that idea, a tweak here and there before ending with a variation of that original picture I had in my head. I feel now that I am missing a trick, the idea should be developed from research not from and idea.

Unfortunately the piece of work which inspired this comment, is still in progress so I am unable to show any of the images to back this up. Although hopefully it will figure on their website soon. Which you can view here.

**EDIT** 22nd Jan 2008

I have just been sent a link to the series of images I mentioned above. The series is entitled “all that you can afford” which looks at the growing poverty divide. It focus’ attention on Hackney -London – a notoriously poverty stricken fastest developing boroughs in London and  also a site for the upcoming 2012 Olympics. Henner infuses public advertising bill boards, text slogans from said billboards and images of the reality of day to day living in Hackney.

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picture-5This series is one of the most emotive and well constructed bodies of work I have come across. The idea that everything is a valid source for an image intrigues me immensely. I genuinely feel that we are seeing a new take on documentary photography, one were all aspects are consider worthy to be in front of the lens. To quote Henner “who decided what is acceptable to photograph, who says a document or a letter is not a valid documentary image?”.