5 Things We’ve Learnt from Matt Black

By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)

Presenting a slew of works as part of the Singapore International Photography Festival, the Magnum photographer shared some insights into his works

Any documentary photographer worth his salt will know of Magnum, one of the most prestigious photo agency out there. As part of the Singapore International Photography Festival, Matt Black from the agency was here to conduct a workshop. For non-workshop participants, Black has also delivered a concise presentation of his works, and gave an in-depth look into his photography. Here are 5 things we’ve learnt from the full house, 1-hour presentation at DECK.

1) Photography in itself changes
On this, Black was sharing that in the 1980s, the newspaper he was shooting for still had wet labs processing Tri-X black-and-white negatives, and then printing on fibre-based paper for prints. These days, digital cameras have made such processes redundant and the transfer and sharing of images are much more immediate, to a wider audience.

2) Mediums change, but your concerns don’t have to
To add on to the first point, the Magnum photographer said that you can shoot with different cameras in different mediums; ie digital vs. film, 35mm vs. medium format etc. However, these shouldn’t change your viewpoints in your photos. If there is something you care deeply for, you should, and can still show them with different equipment.

3) Fill in a chapter of history with a camera
In Black’s exact words, “You can fill in a chapter of history with something as simple as a camera.” Black still believes that photography can make a positive change in a person’s life, a community or the society in general. In so doing, the camera, through the photographer’s use, changes the outcome and “fills in a chapter of history”.

4) Exploiting social media
Black uses Instagram, and from there he realized that his works can reach new audience who has never encountered documentary photography before. This is certainly interesting. The Magnum photographer shared that Instagram shows photos in a single format, whereas he typically works on a multiple image essay basis. But this allowed him to grow as a creative person.

Currently, Black is showing Geography of Poverty on Instagram, and you can follow him over at @mattblack_blackmatt.

5) Curiosity + camera = voice
The value of a photographer’s voice equates to his curiosity and what he chooses to portray through his lenses, said Black. And this value is something that cannot be discounted. For Black, being a documentary photographer means that the stories he wishes to tell are borne first and foremost, out of his curiosity. From there, his concern for the subject grows and the images then follow.

Leonard Goh

Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).

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