Oromia: Reflected Journey

Oromia: Reflected Journey was my first attempt at documentary from photographs taken from a car journey for my work. See:

Adobe on-line interactive e-book from Illustration 2 Assignment 5 as submitted for assessment.

The project was image-led. The photos were taken according to a part random method in towns where I could maintain the same focus and speed was slower (ie photo every minute regardless of content) and part purposive method for rural areas and cities where I needed to adjust focus and framing more and adjust to accommodate much faster speeds. As the photos were taken from a moving car, few would stand as photos in their own right. However they do provide very interesting glimpses of peoples’ lives, as well as varied landscapes and economic development issues.

The feature image at the top of the page is of a goat browsing amidst the mangles mess of burned trucks and coaches along the road as a result of recent conflict. A key set of questions for my documentary approach was therefore around the causes of that conflict – would it be possible to understand or communicate anything from the snapshot images?

I was particularly interested in implications of this type of working process as a style of reportage illustration that I could use and adapt in other work contexts. And for other sets of photos I already have. What is the distinctive contribution of illustration and book of illustrations compared to photography and photobooks? How can I further build on and develop this as an important part of my role as an illustrator?

The images so far

When I returned home, I started by doing a quick mock-up of a photo-book in Adobe Lightroom, keeping photos in broad time sequence, but also grouping photos by theme within that broad framework. My next step was then to print these photos out on normal A4 paper and collage these into a series of one-page narratives and/or photo sequences. This process made me look very carefully at each image and the types of story they could tell.

I worked into some parts of some collages and photo sequences with gouache and crayon to clarify a set of ‘snapshots. This style seemed well suited to ‘romantic’ rural scenes (eg children playing) and colourful town vignettes. Many of these images throw up interesting gender dimensions that could be further emphasised. It is only men who are sitting in the town bars, riding motorbikes or even bicycles. Apart from a few exceptions, women are mostly sitting by the roadside waiting for buses, walking with heavy loads or being driven.

Some of the collages, particularly those with a clear developmental content and/or geometry, could stand alone as interesting collages.

Other collages I further developed through layering and blend modes on my iPad.

In the process I also discovered some interesting gouache and watercolour effects that could be used for more imaginative projects.

See also two books I started to develop using gouache and watercolour experiments from the Ethiopia project:

Finally on my iPad I started to experiment with different images as the basis for Ethiopian-style kaleidoscope image in Pixelmator on my iPad. These opened possibilities for ‘concealed images’ eg the first kaleidoscope from the burnt trucks was intriguing.

However the situation in Ethiopia was extremely tense when I took the photographs and the political future was unclear. I was not sure how I could take the project forward at that time without affecting my possibilities of getting a return visa or putting colleagues in a difficult position if I said anything controversial. Particularly if I attempted to disseminate any publication beyond OCA. The resulting e-book is very superficial and clunky.

This project is now being updated as ‘Ethiopia: a Fractured Journey’ for Visual Communications Advanced Practice – combined with further photographs and drawings and discussions with women and men in communities and colleagues on the ground.

Creating illustrations from the photographs makes me think and observe a lot more instead of just flipping through photos. These images of a journey are inevitably more random than photo documentary where the photographer has time to really think about and carefully compose shots. Collage enables putting multiple images together – to be further worked on as drawing and/or painting. As such it is potentially ‘truer’ if based on research rather than just pretty pictures. But it also potentially significantly increases the outsider interpretation as opposed to just letting the reader do all the work (apart from image selection and cropping).

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