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News & Insight

On Reportage {Documentary} Photography with Kevin Mullins

By Dave Kai Piper on June 29th 2014

It is safe to say that ‘reportage’ (or ‘documentary’) is a big buzz word in photography, especially in the wedding world. There is an argument still to be made that the still image is the one of the most direct ways to communicate. Of all the styles of photography, the one that I still find works best is the art of proper reportage photography if you are trying to convey real stories. We talk to photographer Kevin Mullins about his documentary style, all things reportage, weddings, books and about the recent cesarean section birth commission that he shot in the UK.

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Image by Kevin Mullins

[REWIND: WHY I HATE FLOW POSING FOR WEDDINGS…]

To begin with, it is fair to say that the reportage/documentary term gets used by many people in many ways, and sometimes not correctly, but, what is reportage to you and what is it about this style that attracts you?

For me “reportage” or “documentary” photography is a means of shooting without any intervention or contrived image creation at all. Of course, there are different variants – for example, ‘Fashion Reportage’ which is often directed images. However, when shooting weddings especially, I believe strongly that referring to oneself as a “true” reportage photographer should involve no intervention from the photographer at all.

I love taking photographs of human interaction. When I’m shooting I’m looking for that fabric of humanity that is represented through eye contact, touch, humour and emotion. I don’t want to be someone who stages those emotions, but I want to be the fly on the wall that photographs it. I like to deliver my clients back to the very moment in time the image was taken and let them experience those memories as if they were happening again.

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Image by Kevin Mullins

What is your photographic history? Who are the people that have shaped Kevin Mullins into the image maker we have today?

My history is quite short to be honest. I didn’t even own a camera until around 2005. A change in personal and geographic circumstances meant I was looking to do something new with my life. Something more creative. I’d always been drawn to storytelling pictures; the imageS from Don McCullin in the Sunday Time Magazine when I was growing up are still etched in my mind.

I started shooting candidly at friends’ weddings around this time and realized that I enjoyed it, and that I really wanted to make something of this “people watching” bug that I adopted. Of course, my style has evolved over the years. I shot my first professional wedding in 2008 and since then I’ve shot well over 200, all in a reportage style. I was greatly inspired by the likes of Jeff Ascough in the UK and established wedding story tellers such as Denis Reggie. I knew instantly that it was that style of photography that I wanted to embrace.

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Image by Kevin Mullins

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Image by Kevin Mullins

The caesarean section birth commission is very interesting from a number of views. As you mentioned, the humanitarian angle is a heart-warming one, but how did it all come about ?

I shot some images of my own son’s birth a few years back. Nothing too detailed, but I put them on my blog. Occasionally, since then, I’ve been approached a few time to shoot a birth, but timings and circumstance have never allowed it. I was then approached by another photographer here in the UK (Agata; http://www.agataphotography.co.uk/) who had attended one of my seminars previously. She asked if I would shoot it, and of course, I jumped at the chance.

Because it was a caesarean, it was easier to understand the timings and there is a lot more control. Agata spoke to all the necessary clinicians and got all the permissions herself. She really wanted this stage in her, and her daughter’s, life documented and so it came about.

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Image by Kevin Mullins

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Image by Kevin Mullins

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Image by Kevin Mullins

Is it something you would do again? (photographing a caesarean section birth )

Absolutely. I loved it, and it’s really connected with me as a story-telling photographer. Of course, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea and I’m extremely proud of the images, but more importantly of giving that story to the family for them to relive and future generations to see.

You can see a little bit more on my thoughts of shooting the C-Section here.

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Image by Kevin Mullins

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Image by Kevin Mullins

You have spoken many times for companies like Fuji, you have travelled to Japan and you now have a book all about the Fuji X100s. Fuji has had some amazing success recently, but where do you see the future for them? Will they ever branch out into DSLR cameras? Do they need to? I guess the question I am really asking is… Where are Fuji going to be in 10 years?

When Fuji released the X100 a few years back I was very excited by the possibilities it would offer me as a documentary photographer. The small form factor, weight and price point were all perfect. After a few iterations, the (now) X100S is by far my favourite camera that I’ve had the opportunity to use. Coupled with the X-T1 at a wedding I am far more dynamic in the way that I can work. My back thanks me mostly the day after a long shoot and my bank balance is healthier.

I’ve been an advocate for the Fuji X-Series for a long time, but it’s the whole mirrorless revolution that I find very exciting. Of course, companies like Sony and Olympus and beating the drum too and I would encourage anyone who is labored by the size of their DSLR to investigate further.

I’m not sure of the direction that Fuji will take, but I’m proud to be an official Fujifilm X-Photographer and I can honestly, hand on heart, say that without my little X-Series cameras, I would not have been able to shoot the caesarean birth in the same way. The surgeon afterwards asked me if I’d actually taken any shots as he just didn’t hear a thing.

I think in ten years’ time, equipment will have changed dramatically. It seems that most things go down the route of “smaller and better” over time. Look at phones, watches, calculators, televisions, etc. I’m excited by the camera gear I use now, but very much looking forward to how the line-up will mature over the coming years.

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Photograph of Kevin Mullins talking at CP+ in Japan for Fuji Film

I guess it must be a such a wonderful feeling to be asked to travel to somewhere like Japan and talk on behalf of Fuji, is this where the seeds were sown for the X100s book or was this something that was already on the cards before the trip ?

I was approached by Peachpit last year to write a book about the X100S, “Fujilm X100S: From Snapshots to Great Shots.”

I had a conversation with Zack Arias whilst in Tokyo about the project and it was he that encouraged me to take the project on. The book is essentially an advanced user guide and I take people through the way that I use the camera, the settings I use and set assignments for them to follow. It was great fun, though hard work, and I’ve definitely got the “writers bug” now.

Have you ever thought about making a book about reportage photography? Do you think there is a market for it still with the current trends for documentary photographers decreasing in the commercial world – thinking of photojournalists for newpapers mostly.

I’ve always thought there would be a market for a documentary wedding photography book as there are a lot of people who shoot in that manner these days. Whether there is enough of them for a publisher to think the project is worthwhile is a different consideration. We are seeing a lot of “citizen photojournalism.” For example, whenever there is a news event, the BBC will ask for people to submit their mobile phone images. People are doing it, and some are doing a good job – it’s always important to have the news stories covered, of course, but at the same time, in the UK at least, a lot of news photojournalists are being put out of work or having their fees drastically reduced.

Thank you to Kevin for speaking with us. You can see more of Kevin’s work on his website and Facebook. Read more Fuji news and advice on  The Owl.

CREDITS: Photographs by Kevin Mullins are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Founder of Ideas & images Dave Kai Piper is a fashion based imagemaker and retoucher from the UK.

Ideas and Images works with small to large businesses in the photographic & fashion markets. Fuji X-Photographer & Adobe Community Pro.

http://www.ideasandimages.co.uk/

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for posting

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