Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022
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Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Wednesday, 4 May 2022
Tuesday, 26 April 2022
Image by Diane Arbus
I love it when people write about photographs in novels. It so often reads like an example of photographic theory put into a real world/fictional setting with the moralising removed.
This is Abdulrazak Gurnah writing in Gravel Heart about how locals regard the new camera-wielding flock of tourists coming to his native island of Zanzibar.
'At that time, respectable women did not allow themselves to be photographed tor fear of the dishonour to their husbands if other men saw their image. But this fear was not the only reason to refuse as some men were also resistant. In both cases it was from suspicion that the production of, the image would take something of their being and hold it captive. Even when I was a child, athough that was later than the time of Maalim Yahya's photograph, if a tourist from the cruise ships wandered the streets with a camera, people watched warily for the moment when the foreigner lifted it to take a shot and then several voices screamed in a frenzy of prohibition, to frighten him or her off. Behind the tourist an argument would start between those who feared for the loss of their souls and those who scoffed at such nonsense. For these kinds of reasons, I had not seen a photograph of my father's mother and so could not tell for certain if he did take after her.'
I don't know. It reads incredibly close to the irresolvable polarities that pass for theory in photography, that gulf between the people who fear 'for the loss of their souls' (or have inordinate concern for the souls of others) and those who 'scoff at such nonsense.'
That's a Diane Arbus picture up top, one of my favourite. I reduce it to his legs v the first two fingers of her left hand. I don't think it's a wholely accurate reduction.
This is Susan Sontag writing about Diane Arbus. 'To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves.'
Nonsense to scoff at or have they lost their souls.
A little bit of both is not an option because it's the right answer - most of the time, or some of the time.
Go read the novel anyway - it's beautifully written, crystal clear and direct and transparent. And there is more on photography including a great little passage which reminds me of Annette Kuhn's The Child I never Was.
Tuesday, 12 April 2022
The people and the behaviour in the illustrations of Bedwyr Williams are instantly recognisable. Just look in the mirror and that is who he is talking about.
He mocks people who are constantly 'honoured,' 'inspired' or 'moved' by the inanities of Instagram. He points the finger at the constantly sycophancy of the art world. He mocks the strange rituals of the art world, its narcissism, its money-grubbing adulation of those who have, and much more beside.
He also talks about class and second-home ownership (he lives in Wales), which are things that almost nobody talks about because being an artist and responsible for homelessness and unaffordable housing is not a comfortable thing to talk about. Or renting someone's holiday home or airbnb, because that's part of the problem too.
It runs close to the bone, and if you don't recognise yourself in there, ha ha ha, who are you kidding?
'I started looking at what artists were going on about on Instagram. I realised there was this really weird fakeness (in their reactions), this blowing smoke up each other’s arses: ‘Love this!’; ‘Hoping to catch the last day of your show!’; ‘Beautifully installed’ - all this hyperbolic praise. Or liking pictures of curators’ children you’ve never met. What’s weird is, I’d never thought of artists as being that way. My experience of artists is to be quite mean. You have to have a fighting personality to do it in the first place. Nobody wanted you to be an artist. It’s either you’re up the arse of a curator or he’s up yours – metaphorically, of course. It’s a competitive world. I know in the back channels they’re as horrible about each other as they ever were. If that’s not ripe for having fun with, I don’t know what is. My thing is that I never make it about actual individuals. There are people I’ve met or who have my worst qualities injected into them. I consider myself no better than them.”
Friday, 10 December 2021
So it's time for a best-of-list. And again, it's not really a best list, it's a favourites list or a list of books that I really enjoyed or appreciated for one reason or another.
I want to squeeze a film in here as well. The most enjoyable film by a mile that I've seen for many, many years was Summer of Soul. Go see it, and don't leave till the very, very end.
This had amazing photography and was combined politics, fashion, protest, and loads of style. Strangely, very few people (even those who are really into music in a way I wish I was but aren't) have seen it. But when they have and you say to them, Have you seen Summer of Soul, the response is always the same - their eyes light up and they get all excited, and you get excited back. That's how good it is. And the photography is amazing.
And so on to my favourite photobooks. Again, it's not a best-of list because I feel like I have barely seen anything of what's been published year. Has anyone? But it's all work that I've enjoyed, really enjoyed, that has some integrity to it.
Unprofessional by Matilda Soes-Rasmussen
This is a fun book in a dark kind of way, filled with unreliable narration on being a model in Asia. The text is great. It starts on the back with a poem.
‘Dreams of idiot sorrow and pebble dash' by Robin Maddock
That's the title of my book. Every copy gets a different English title. But there’s a French title, which is England!? les anglais ont débarqué!
Maddock messes with the copies he sends out, so it's a messy, continually evolving publication, a slap in the face to the platonic idea of the perfect book. Fuck that nonsense!
‘The book was a swansong for me,” says Maddock. “It was my farewell to England. I knew that I wanted to get out after Brexit and the 2019 election. I remember where I was when it happened. I was living in Lisbon at the time and the results came in. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to celebrate with the most French meal possible. I didn’t know the country as well as I thought I did – otherwise I would have seen the result coming.”
Somersault by Raymond Meeks
I got this just before my daughter Isabel went to university. I wrote about that here and then I wrote about Somersault. It's a soulful look at the emergence of a distance of age, geography, and life. But with that distance comes a new closeness.
Five Dollars for 3 minutes by Cammie Toloui
I just got this as a christmas present. This is the blurb...
'The project was photographed in the early 90s when Cammie Toloui was working as a stripper at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco to fund her photojournalism degree at San Francisco State University....
“I smuggled my camera into work and got up the courage to ask my first customer if I could take his picture, offering him a free dildo show in exchange. He didn’t seem at all hesitant, and in fact I was shocked when he came back the following week, asking if I would take his picture again. This was an important lesson in the workings of the male ego and served me well for the next two years as a stripper, and the rest of my career as a photographer.”
Shikawatari by Chieko Shiraishi
This is a beautiful, beautiful book with the most wonderful printing - it follows deer across snowscapes. It's a delicate object.
The San Quentin Project by Nigel Poor
I remember Pete Brook of Prison Photography talking about this project a few years ago, and now here it is in print. Wonderful collaborative practice that sheds light on how visual literacy can have a direct effect on how we see and experience the world. And that ties back to how we see images, archives, power, and impression. And then back to the world again...
Photography: A Feminist History - edited by Emma Lewis
I ordered this for a university library and the following week students were taking it out. It covers everything from performance, body image, and violence against women to the rhetoric of challenging the male gaze, and the linking Instagram Culture to the feminist avant-garde. This book gives accessible and intelligent (hitting both those spots is the difficult thing) entry points into key topics with aglobal and historical perspective.
History of Life - by Cai Dongdong
A really beautiful but simple layout of historical found images laid out to tell a story of contemporary China. This is from a review of it....
'The images in History of Life sweep through the great epochs of Liberation, of the Great Leap Forward, of the Cultural Revolution, of the great economic reopening in images that might allude to these periods but never quite settle. Instead, the pictures used are often quietly personal, giving a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of ordinary Chinese, the people who lived through the political turmoil. It’s a quite beautiful combination of images where the pairings, the sequencing, the occasional flashes of the political and the violent hint at the life that lies beneath the conventional compositions and poses.'
Eikoh Hosoe - edited by Yasufuni Nakamori
Ok, Mack did loads of great catalogues and retrospectives and this is perhaps the best of them. It shows work that isn't really available even in facsimile form, and the accompanying essays are great and get into the idea of creating collaborative spaces through the act of photographing. And Hosoe collaborated with some amazing people. Here's a snippet from a review.
‘Instead of simply photographing a subject, he began to view himself as involved in the collaborative creation of a distinct space and time,’ writes Yasufumi Nakamori. ‘Armed with his camera, Hosoe created a rupture in the conventional time and space of reality, which Hijikata and Mishima could enter and perform within.’
Friday, 15 October 2021
It has been a delight to be involved in the Birds of a Feather publication. BIRDS OF A FEATHER is a publication that gives an insight into the organisation and functioning of OpStap, a group-based program for people with drug addictions and people in recovery. The focus lays on the guests of OpStap, who are given a meaningful use of time and meaning through meetings, activities and voluntary work.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER contains stories that are worth being told, faces that should not be forgotten, is a book that deserves to be printed.
And I also love the ongoing editing process, and seeing how people viewed (and edited pictures).
What do you think about the pictures?
- I do like them, but I also know the people who are in the pictures, and sometimes it us confronting to see them in the pictures. Because we see the people as we know them, but if you see some pictures, you see the people with they eyes of someone who does not know them. It sounds strange maybe, but you know what I mean?
Yes, I understand. But it is probably the same for the places, no?
- Yes the places too. … And some are really nice pictures as well. You know, a person who might have a more macho appearance looks really innocent in the picture. And that’s really nice. … Yes, I like them.
What do you think of the pictures and the project?
- It’s funny to see the things you see, every day, in another way.
You mean that you are used to see things in a certain way, and then you discover it can change?
- Yes, yes.