Photo Essay/story on prison gang tattoos

chris861

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Hello all!

I am new to this forum and struggling with a concept. I am currently studying journalism and we have been given the assignment of creating a photo story/essay. I am wanting to do it on South African prison gang tattoos as I am already in contact with a number of gang members currently on the outside. However, I am struggling to conceptualise how I will shoot this. I understand that there are a number of key shots needed to create a successful essay/story. However, when tackling the topic that I have chosen I am struggling to picture how I will construct a number of the images. Especially the wide and interaction shots since the tattoos lend themselves to more intimate photos. Has anyone got any direction for me?

Thanks in advance!
Chris
 

EIngerson

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Not to sound like a dud, but it's YOUR project that is supposed to reflect YOUR creativity. Give it some more thought and come up with the ideas yourself. You'll be much happier with it in the end.

I look forward to seeing it on here when you're done though. lol

Good luck.
 

The_Traveler

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I would suggest that you use this idea as an entry to that world. A better story might come out of it.
Just start taking pictures, lots of pictures and see where it goes and what the experience suggests.
 

curtyoungblood

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I think the problem that you're having is that you have chosen to tell a story about an object. The tattoos themselves don't really do a whole lot and don't really have a story. Sure, there's probably a story about how and why the tattoos exist, but it lies in the past. As a general rule, you're going to need a human element to make a successful photojournalistic story.

In my opinion, you're next step should be to verbalize what you're story is going to be about and why you're interested in it. Right now you're saying that you want to do a story on tattoos. What is it about this particular set of tattoos that interests you? Why would anyone else care? What is special about these tattoos that their story needs to be told? How do the people who have these tattoos factor into your story?
 

D-B-J

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Just take lots and lots of pictures. I've found that when I have NO idea on how I want to shoot something, I'll figure it out halfway through the shoot. Every once in a while I'll take an image on a whim, and suddenly realize that gives me the look I want.

Jake
 

The_Traveler

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I think the problem that you're having is that you have chosen to tell a story about an object. The tattoos themselves don't really do a whole lot and don't really have a story. Sure, there's probably a story about how and why the tattoos exist, but it lies in the past. As a general rule, you're going to need a human element to make a successful photojournalistic story.

In my opinion, you're next step should be to verbalize what you're story is going to be about and why you're interested in it. Right now you're saying that you want to do a story on tattoos. What is it about this particular set of tattoos that interests you? Why would anyone else care? What is special about these tattoos that their story needs to be told? How do the people who have these tattoos factor into your story?

Just take lots and lots of pictures. I've found that when I have NO idea on how I want to shoot something, I'll figure it out halfway through the shoot. Every once in a while I'll take an image on a whim, and suddenly realize that gives me the look I want.

Jake

I think both of these responses strike right to the heart of the issue. The tattoos are really only a visible representation of the environment as the owner sees it. They are, however, a terrific, non-threatening way to approach the issue. If you start by getting the tattoos and the stories associated, that may be a good entree into a better bigger story.
 

AceCo55

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Since a tattoo is often intrinsically bound to the owner and often represents significant periods/moments in their lives, the I feel you need to "tie" the person and the "tattoo" together. I think this would tell a much stronger story.
Since the are tattoos of prisoners (and I may be showing my bias in thinking they are men), I think the lighting style you use is going to be essential. At least some of the shots may have strong directional lighting, with a "gritty" edge. Lighting that reveals only part of a tattoo or part of of a "sleeve".
Wide variety of body parts, subjects, tattoo styles. Full back with head back and arms stretched out.
If there is a tattoo about never give up / determination then maybe sweat soak person with strong side &/or back lighting
You might be able to "tell a story" of non-stereotypical tattoos - ones that you might not expect to see on a prisoner.
If a tattoo is significant because it represents some relationship to the prisoner, it might be worth tracking that significant person to include (eg tattoo of daughter, parents, brother, street gang)
I think this is a very exciting project with a perfect opportunity to combine images with text.
 
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ryanwaff

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As everyone has alluded to, tattoos themselves don't really hold much significance to the outsider looking in. So IMHO to make a photo essay that will hold your viewers, maybe you could try juxtaposing the tattoos with either the gang members surroundings or props used. Doing that along with moody lighting and I think you have quite a good idea. Living in South Africa myself I have seen quite a few of the gang member tatts and some are quite impressive.

I dont know why, but when I read your post I initially pictured a medium shot of the tatt on the gang member who is normally stereotyped as being grisly and toughened, either holding cute and fluffy things, like say a kitten or rabbit or even something that juxtaposes the tatt itself. Kind of playing on the idea that everyone has a thick skin, especially gang members, but under that skin there is compassion and love. Or in the case of juxtaposing the tatt itself, simply to create that juxtaposition, which in itself could enthrall the viewers if it is well executed.

So im not sure what feel you are going for, whether you want the dark and moody shots that simply highlight the tattoos or you want more of a narrative behind your images.

It will be interesting to see what you come up with. Keep us posted! :)
 

mishele

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I can't wait to see the story you came up with!
 

DougGrigg

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Don't forget to capture some 'Detail' shots too to connect your essay together, for example in a wedding you'd capture some shots of the rings and stuff like that, really ties everything together looking forward to seeing the essay in its entirety
 

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