Category Archives: Part One

Research point – What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The medium of photography began with the development of the monochrome / black and white image and for decades photographers honed their skills learning how to work with a very limited pallet of only shades of grey.  However, photographers quickly realized that black and white could produce stunning images and could exaggerate a sense of atmosphere that normal colour vision could not.  The portraits of the Hollywood stars of the 30’s and 40’s are a good illustration on the power of black and white.

When colour photography first came in to being it was a costly process and did not really take off until the cost of film and development fell in the late 1950’s.  At this time established photographers were reluctant to start working in the new medium.  I suggest that this was partly due to being nervous about moving out of a familiar and tried and tested photographic field in to a new area that was also gaining a reputation for amateur ‘snappers’.  Professionals with reputations may have found this intimidating and threatening and at that time colour theory was still a mystery kept and only practised by the painters in the art world.  However, in the film industry colour had been in regular use since the late 1930’s and interestingly one of the great pioneers of colour film photography was a keen painter who enjoyed making copies of famous masters for his home and to understand how they were made.  I refer to the British cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff who was the first British cameraman trained to operate the Technicolor movie cameras.  I would recommend watching some of Cardiff’s films of the 1940’s to see some good examples of how Cardiff understood both lighting and colour: ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Black Narcissus’, A ‘Matter of Life and Death’ to name just a few.

William Eggleston has been credited as the photographer who made colour photography excepted in the photographic world of fine art when John Szarkowski, )Director of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) discovered him and his work.

Black and white works to simplify an image creating a sense of past tense something that happened, an event, a ‘moment’.

Colour adds a new dynamic, if used well, it can add impact, by using colour theory and with the right combination on colours an interesting composition can be created from something ordinary and bland.  We see in colour; and strong colours have impact on our senses and with this in mind, interesting and attention grabbing photographs can be found.

 

 

 

Research point – Robert Frank

Robert Frank (9th November 1924)

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=robert+frank+photographer&view=detailv2&id=CD92DB350E261C9003F43B325A958F106983A024&selectedindex=23&thid=OIP.Md8695de70b6d67b81f1c6eac59266c96o0&stid=93b38e8f-4fd4-156c-2f72-2b08d34ad379&cbn=EntityAnswer&mode=overlay&first=1&ccid=2Gld5wtt&simid=608036021296958550

Frank’s most famous work is the book ‘The Americans’ which critics have said changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it.  It is considered to be the most influential photography book of the 20th century.

 

Research point – Martin Parr

Martin Parr (23 May 1952)

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=martin+parr+photography&view=detailv2&id=B4C221C49D71E3DA49056F5BCC9A1EF23196D23D&selectedindex=36&ccid=iw1vvH%2Bb&simid=608032061335277320&thid=OIP.M8b0d6fbc7f9b9502bb1367f0b01fd675o0&mode=overlay&first=1

A documentary photographer and photojournalist Parr is also a book collector.

Parr is famous for his photo projects that takes an intimate look at aspects of modern life from a satirical and anthropological prospective, documenting the social classes of England and more broadly the wealth of the western world.

Major projects: Rural Communities (1975-82); ‘The Last resort’ (1983-85); ‘The Cost of living’ (1987-89); ‘Small World’ (1987-94); ‘Common Sense’ (1995-1999).

Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1994 and had published over 40 books and exhibited at over 80 exhibitions.

 

Research point – Joel Sternfield

Joel Sternfield (30th June 1944)

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Sternfield is a fine art photographer specializing in large format documentary pictures of the USA.  He began working in colour in 1970 after learning the colour theory of Johannes Itten and Josef Albers.

Sternfield’s most known publication is his book, ‘American Prospects’ (1987) exploring the irony of human altered landscapes in the USA.  Other publications of note, ‘On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, (1997) about violence in America, Sternfield photographed sites of recent tragedies.

Between 1991 and 1994 Sternfield worked with Malinda Hunt to document New York city’s cemetery on Hart Island, producing the book ‘Hart Island’ (1998).

Other published books on subjects such as social class and stereo types of America, ‘Stranger Passing’ (2001) Abandoned elevated railway lines on New York, @Walking the High Line’ (2002) ‘Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America’ (2006) and ‘When it Changed’ 2006 contains portraits of the delegates debating the climate change at the 2005 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal.

 

 

 

Research point – Paul Graham

Paul Graham (1956)

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http://paulgrahamarchive.com/index.html

Graham, has been extensively published in recent years as a fine art and documentary photographer and his work has been published, exhibited and collected internationally.

Graham has exhibited at Venice Biennale, Italy; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Tate Gallery, London; touring Germany – Museum Folkwang, Essen and Deichtorhallen; and White-Chapel, London.

Research point – Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz (6th March, 1938)

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=joel+meyerowitz+street+photography&id=B95A11F223F9EE32C348A82DF90DA2CC40924DF2&FORM=IARRTH

Meyerowitz specializes in Street and Landscape photography and began photographing in colour in 1962 during a time when there was still a resistance against colour photography in the art world.  in the early 1970s he taught the first colour classes at the Cooper Union in New York City.  Inspired by Robert Frank, Meyerowitz quite his job at an advertising agency to take photographs on the streets of New York with a 35mm camera and black and white film.  Joining the ranks of Tony Ray-Jones, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge.  Meyerowitz has also taken inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atget.

Meyerowitz switched to large format cameras and in 2001 was became the official photographer to record the aftermath and wreckage at ‘Ground Zero’ New York City with exclusive access whilst the clean up operation was underway.  Meyerowitz involvement was documented by Channel-Four and his work has been critiqued by the writer David Campany in his 2003 essay, ‘Safety-in-numbness’ (http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/).  He is also featured in a 2009 BBC documentary ‘The Genius of Photography’ and in 2013 the documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’.

Research point – Walker Evans

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Walker Evans whilst in association with Helen Levitt.  Hidden camera view of passengers on subway train, 1939.

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Walker Evans (1903 – 1975)

Evans was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a fairly well off middle class family, his father was an advertising director.  He spent his youth in Toledo, Chicago and New York City.  He studied French literature at Williams College but dropped out and went to Paris for a year (1926).  When he returned to New York he took a job as a clerk for a stockbroker firm and got to know the literary and art crowd in New York becoming friends with John Cheever, Hart Crane and Lincoln Kirstein.  It was in this period he took up photography and his influences included Eugene Atget and August Sander.

In 1930 he first got published with three photographs in a poetry book ‘The Bridge’ (Brooklyn Bridge) by Hart Crane and was sponsored by Lincoln Kirstein to take a series of photos of Victorian houses in Boston.

In 1933 Evans visited Cuba on assignment to take photographs for Lippincott for the publication -The Crime of Cuba’ (1933) by Carleton Beals.   During his stay he became friends with Ernest Hemingway who lent him money to stay on in Cuba an extra week and kept and hid 27 of Evans’ photographs that Evans thought might be confiscated off him when he left the country.  These photographs have only recently been discovered in Cuba and displayed.

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In 1935 Evans spent a two month fixed term photographic campaign with the Resettlement Administration (RA) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  In 1936 Evans joined the Farmers Security Administration (FSA) for the Southern USA.  In the summer of 1936, Evans and James Agee where sent to Hale County, Alabama by Fortune magazine to cover a story that was never used.  Evans and Agee got to know three white tenant families and their stories and photographs were later used and published in a ground breaking book ‘Let Us Know Praise Famous Men’ published in 1941.  However, when Fortune did a follow up story 75 years later it was learned that the families had and were still very angry that they had not been given so much as a copy of the book and that they had been represented as being unable to do no better for themselves and doomed to be ignorant.

1945 – 1965 Evans was Editor for Fortune magazine and in 1965 he became a professor of photography at Yale University School of Art. In 1973 – 1974 he shot a long series using the then new Polaroid SX-70.

Research point – Helen Levitt

 

Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009)

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=helen+levitt&view=detailv2&id=6903AB5FBE89AE410DCFFF8FE510F465B59297CF&selectedindex=48&thid=OIP.M1d5f60d970b33c3a45d4134dd9b15e2eo0&stid=95741f51-9e1f-dfd5-db72-de71795093ae&cbn=EntityAnswer&mode=overlay&first=1&ccid=HV9g2XCz&simid=608021122055274964

 

 

Helen Levitt - Two kids dancing, ca_ 1940

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Levitt grew up in Brooklyn N.Y. she dropped out of school and went to work for a commercial photographer and she taught her self photography.  She became interested in the children’s chalk drawings that the children made on the pavements and walls and using her Leica camera began photographing the drawings and the children.  These images were eventualy published in a book in 1987 ‘In the Street Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York city 1938 – 1948.

1938 – 1939, Levitt associated herself with Walker Evans and in 1939 The Museum of Modern Art in New York City exhibited some of her work.  In 1943 Levitt’s work was exclusively exhibited by the curator Nancy Newhall entitled Helen Levitt: Photographs of Children.  Her next major show was in the 1960’s.

In the Late 40’s Levitt made two documentary films with Janice Loeb and James Agee, ‘James Agee: In the Street’ and ‘The Quiet One’.  Loeb and Levitt were nominated for an Academy Award for the screen play for ‘The Quiet One’.  Levitt went on to do more films.

In 1959 – 1960 Levitt received two Guggenheim Foundation grants to take colour photographs on the streets of New York and they were published in a book ‘The Way of Seeing’  However, much of her colour work of the 1960’s were stolen in a burglary of her apartment.

 

 

Safety in Numbness by David Campany

Safety in Numbness – I have just read this essay by David Campany that he has re-published on the internet.  http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=joel+meyerowitz+911&id=6FAC7DC1F327BF6E1C1A68054C31CFAB44445701&FORM=IQFRBA

He makes some interesting observations that modern still photography photojournalism has moved from the moment of action ‘hot-action’ to ‘cool-photography’ as Peter Wollen has named them or the late-photograph as Campany describes them.  Referring to the official photographs produced by Joel Meyerowitz who photographed the ruins soon after the tragic events of 911 and was the only photographer permitted full access to the site during the clean-up operation.  These types of images are intended to suggest to the viewer what has just happened and often show only empty buildings, rooms, the smoking reminisces, suggesting the past battle or tragic event.

He suggests that with the development of the video photographer the still photographer has had to move from covering the action to following up on the stories and recording recently past / post event.  He reasons that technology has dictated the pace of change and as video technology has become cheaper, smaller and portable and with higher picture definitions the images can be transmitted from source to consumer much faster cheaper and easier the video image can also now be frozen for quality still images as and when required.  This has also blurred the boundaries between still photography images and video images.  Hence why more and more still life photographers are specializing in the ‘cool-photography’ photojournalistic genre (and although Campany doesn’t comment on it, this type of photojournalism comes with fewer risks to life and limb).  Campany also points out that although the Vietnam war has been called the photographers war and to some the last photographers war he points out that Vietnam presented photographers with a lot of opportunities thanks to amongst many things American administration and army that kept changing its agenda.  In comparison the first Gulf War in 1991 presented photographers with very few ‘hot-action’ opportunities due to both the restrictions placed upon them and the focused and brief period that the war lasted.  As a result all the memorable images of the Gulf war were just that ‘memorable’ images taken days after the battle, burned-out tanks, burning oilfields, burnt skeletal remains of the Republican Guard.

Campany states that a thousand words can be said of a photograph rather that a photograph can say a thousand words.  By this he means that a photograph taken after an event can be examined and re-examined over and over and without the actual event recorded the post event can be re-interpreted and remembered differently from the actual event as time passes.

Campany points out that still photography by it’s very nature works well for cool-photography as it’s images can produce a real sense of stillness, quietness, like that experienced after the bombardment has stopped.  Video has to transmit images of still pictures often focusing in on a small detail or panning around in the frame to different elements in the picture in order for the viewer not to confuse the photograph with simply a static image.

Campany comments that although Meyerowitz said that he simply took the photos as he saw them and as they were presented to him, Campany recognized in one image a similarity with another picture that Meyerowitz took some 20 years before of an old torn down film set.  Campany suggests that photographers may carry a set of mental compositional templates around in their heads which can be unconsciously pulled out and used, he wanders if Meyerowitz had even thought of his earlier photograph when composing his picture at ground zero.

Campany ends his essay with a warning that, “The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern.”-” There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance. In its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.”

 

Research point – Project 2 – Photojournalism

Photojournalism is a word that has been coined to describe news images, i.e. images that are made to support news stories.  This type of photography can often be regarded (perhaps sometimes mistakenly) as a factual way of presenting information to the public.  However, we only need to visit a news stand on any typical day to see that the viewpoint that these images present to us are typically more reflective of the Publisher’s / Photographer’s employer’s own agenda than a strictly unbiased representation of the ‘Truth’.

This argument has been debated by many photographers, art critiques and scholars over the years.  Three prominent writers who have examined this topic are Marta Rosler in her 1981 essay, In, Around and Afterthoughts’ available to read in the book ‘The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography’, Edited and published by Richard Bolton,  MIT Press Cambridge.  Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’ Penguin.  Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her 1994 essay ‘Inside/Out’ available to read in the book ‘Public Information, Desire, Disaster, Document’ Edited by Kara Kirk, Published by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  All three of these author’s works are summarized in a very helpful book ‘Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.

Martha Rosler’s 1981 essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’

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Walker Evans (1903 – 1975)

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00651773/resource/

In Rosler’s essay she looks at the photograph used in social politics between the haves and have-nots, she begins by asking why are photographers still making documentary style photographs of the Bowery area on New York, notorious for its drunks and down and outs which have has been covered by many photographers over the years with much questionable motives. She states that documentary photography in the USA represents, ‘a liberal social conscience’. However, she makes the argument that documentary photography has failed to achieve any status of ‘truth’ as it gained associations with ‘muckspreading’ and has ‘been partly strangled by the myth of journalistic objectivity’. She argues that the believability of documentary photography has come under attack from two political opposed camps. The left attack it as being a social institution that serves only the wealthy and helps to enforce the wealthy classes dominance over the poor. The right sees an attack on its truthfulness beneficial to their standpoint which considers social inequalities and elites as natural.

To support her argument She examines the history of documentary photography in the USA beginning at the turn of the century when some socially concerned individuals such a Jacob Riis tried to highlight the plight of the poor migrant works living and working in the slums on New York, the Farm Security Association (FSA) of the 1930’s and 40’s to changing attitudes in the later part of the 20th century.

She argues that in the early days of documentary photography by photographers such as Lewis Hine who were ‘propagandizing social work’ and trying to right wrongs, didn’t understand that it was not in the interest for the establishments to right these wrongs, as these wrongs were essential to the social system. She cynically argues that these conscientious, privileged, do-gooders were simply expressed sympathy for the poor and appealed to the self-interest of the privileged. They were making a strong case for charity rather than self-help.’ She goes on to make the case that, ‘charity is an argument for the preservation of class as it encourages the giving of little in order to pacify potentially dangerous lower classes.’

She gives examples of famous documentary style images to support her opinions. In the 1930’s, the period of the Great Depression in the USA and the Dust Bowl disaster an organization was set-up called the FSA to investigate and report back Washington the situation amongst the farming community as their work photographers were sent out to document what the saw. One such photographer was Dorothea Lange and she came across a women and her children in California who were victims of the depression, she took some photographs and made a note in her diary that she (the mother) ‘She thought that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.’ One of these photographs was to become one of the most iconic photographs ever produced and has been used re-used copied, imitated all across the world. Although the picture has become so famous no such fame or fortune fell upon the subject or her children. It has been argued that the camp that she was living in at that time received funding for better facilities that the mother Mrs. Thompson would have benefited from. The point that Rosler is making is that again nothing was done to help Mrs. Thomson get out of her poverty trap and when a follow up story was made in the 1970’s her identity was revealed to the world for the first time and she was still impoverished living on state benefits in a Caravan / Trailer. Rosler uses Mrs. Thompson case as an example of how documentary photography can abuse / victimize its subjects by publicly humiliating them by exposing their misery and in Mrs. Thompson’s case she suffered this form of victimization twice the second time with the 1970’s follow up story. Rosler also uses another example of multi exploitation of victims of documentary photography and uses another FSA photograph taken in the 30’s and published in the 40’s of a Tenant Farmers Wife and published in a book ‘Let us Praise Famous Men’ which documented the marginalized sharecroppers and children. A follow up story in the late 70’s published in the New York Times Magazine – Rosler cynically states that there a double irony with this follow up story as it first re-consigns the original story from marginal and pathetic to marginality and pathos and gives away the victims true identity thus making the subject a new victim. She also points out that the type of reader of the New York Times will get a certain satisfaction from this story that although the poorer are now better off they haven’t caught up.

Rosler has clearly put a lot of thought, research and work in to these arguments; but I am not sure she is fare in her judgments. She talks with the power on hindsight. When these photographs were taken the photographer was trying to show the world what they themselves saw. Riis and Lewis Hines tried to use photographs for a good cause, how their photographs were later seen, used, read or edited was beyond their control. The problem with anything a man does is that it can be often interpreted by others in ways beyond their control. This can be true of photographs – we will see what we want to see. A photograph of an unconscious drunk can be seen either as an image to highlight the plight of a down and out or cynically regarded as exploiting a vulnerable man’s dignity. Is it important to understand the photographer’s agenda or is more important to simply see the image and take from it what you like? After all, you are going to anyway.

Having said that I believe that a photograph can change situations providing the image is seen at the right time in the right place. I believe that an image has to be topical if it is to make the most impact. For example the migrant mother at the time of the depression when any people across the world were experiencing hard times the almost saintly stoic pose of the mother and child touched a chord with millions. Images of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau at the end of the war probably had maximum impact because by then hatred for Germany and Nazis was at its zenith and also perhaps a war tired world needed that jolt to remind them for what the fighting and suffering had been for.

Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’

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– In this book Sontag believes that the human psyche becomes deadened to the effects of shocking images of war and death.  She refers to her own experience that she had when first seeing photographs of Bergen- Belsen and Dachau in a Santa-Monica book store, July 1945 when she was only 12.  She can now refer to a time before and after she had seen these images and experienced ‘the epiphany’ as a result of these shocking pictures.  However, she goes on to say that as time has passed and more and more similar images have flooded the viewing world she believes that a saturation point has been reached were it is now difficult, if not impossible, to experience that sense of shock and horror.  At the time of writing this only 30 years had passed and images of carnage, destruction and death was almost a daily occurrence with images coming back from the Vietnam war.

I agree with this argument (to a degree), as we have all become more familiar with pictures of the holocaust, world war one and two, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.  These photos all begin to take on a similar image in our minds and unless they are able to touch us on a more personal level such as somewhere where we have lived, people we have known, children like our own, etc. then the new images that we see on a daily bases won’t necessarily move us as perhaps they are intended.  However, exceptions to this are events that are extremely dramatic and rare such as the events of 911 in New York.  However, I personally liken this type of photographic genre to be similar to Hollywood’s horror movies that have to keep finding new ideas for even gorier and stomach churning stories and images in order to keep providing the audiences with a feeling of shock and horror for which they are demanding.  We now need to see something very extraordinary in a picture to effect us like that of Sontag’s experience or of many of us with 911. I refer to an experience that can be identified as how we were before and how we were after.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s 1994 essay, ‘Inside/Out’

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http://aperture.org/shop/books/nan-goldin-ballad

– Published in the book ‘Public Information, Desire, Disaster Document’, Edited by Kara Kirk, Published by San-Francesco Museum for Modern Art. – In Solomon-Godeau’s essay she argues that there are two types of documentary photography, Inside and Out.

The first are of images taken by a photographer who is involved and a part of the subject matter ‘an insider’. She gives as an example of this type of photography as taken by Nan Goldin with her photographic work entitled “Ballard of Sexual Dependency” a collection of photographs documenting her stormy relationship with her boyfriend with candid shots of both her and her boyfriend together. Clearly she had kept her camera with her all the time; so her boyfriend appears to be behaving naturally as if the camera isn’t there.  Her project, ‘The Other Side’, Goldin used this same ‘insider’ technique with her transsexual friends, living with these people she was able to photograph them in normally very private moments.  Despite the closeness of the subject matter Goldin felt that the camera still leaves something out of the image something that a mere machine can not capture.  “If it were possible, I’d want no mechanism between me and the moment of photographing.”  Solomon-Godeau acknowledges, “that both of these works can be considered as exemplary of the insider position.” However, with regards to ‘The Other Side’ Solomon-Godeau questions, “how does the insider position determine the reception of these images or even the nature of the content?”  Solomon-Godeau goes on to reason that for example to photos of her friends dressing / undressing, indicating the intimate relationship the photographer has with the subject, ‘has a specific valency with respect to cross-dressing and transvestism’.  In other words these images can be read as either identities, roles, masquerades or “third genders”, as the title of “drag queen” or “transvestite” suggests a transforming through dressing-up.’  These images record moments in that transformation from male to extravagant fantasy, Hollywood style femininity and glamour, documenting a ritual that is itself about exteriority, appearance, performance. Solomon-Godeau points out, ‘that the very presence of a camera as they dress or undress, make love or bathe – instates a third term, even as the photographer wishes disavow it.’ – ‘The photographers own eyes is inevitably frustrated by the very mechanism of the camera – which cannot penetrate beyond that which is simply, there’.

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The second – Out, is documentary photographs taken by an outsider, amongst the photographers Solomon-Godeau refers to is Arbus, who photographed social and physical deviants in a way that prevented compassionate involvement. Susan Sontag described Arbus’ work as morbid voyeurism and Sontage uses Arbus as an example of photographs taken from the outside, ‘On Photography’. America Seen Through Photographs, Darkly’.

I personally don’t think that you need to be on the inside to produce a successful documentary project; but you do need close co-operation with those that are in ‘the inside’ in order for your work to imply any insight to the subject matter. I would simply refer anyone to a scientific documentary show such as BBC’s Horizon or reading a magazine journal such as ‘The Economist’, or trade journals.