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Buy All Quiet on the Home Front here.

All Quiet on the Home Front is almost sold out. You can buy the last copies from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderfu...

Friday, 9 November 2018

Black Art, Black Hollywood, Bristol University and Doing the Right Thing

Whoever Heard of a Black Artist, Britain's Hidden History was a wonderful BBC documentary that looked at the artists, themes and ideas that emerged from the 1960s on about what it meant to be a black artist in Britain.

It looked in particular the Black British Arts Movement, a group that started up to counteract the marginalisation of black artists and to present new ideas on what art was in 1980s Britain (and here's an interesting read on why that time really mattered). Black Art was about marginalisation and the patronising tone of the establishment but it was primarily about great art and the energy and ingenuity that went into making it.

The 1980s was a time which had a huge before and after in photography, a time where the subcultural influences of the 1960s and 1970s were exploding into political and artistic directions with photographers like Vanley Burke, Ingrid Pollard, Clem Cooper, Pogus Caesar, Colin Jones, Dennis Morris, Neil Kenlock and many more creating a politically charged record of the time that extends into landscape, art and fashion. But the programme didn't really touch on that, it was far more conceptual than that. But as some of this work is possibly the most politically relevant and interesting of all the 1970s/1980s documentary work (which currently has such high profile here in the UK) to be made, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of it soon, but then again, I'm not holding my breath.

That's art then. Then there was film. It was really enlightening and entertaining to watch Simon Frederick's Black Hollywood: "You've gotta have us" on TV. It's a series in which Frederick (who also has Black is the New Black, photographs of successful Black Britons on show at the NPG) interviews a whole slew of successful actors, directors, writers and producers from Harry Belafonte to Boots Riley on the barriers, borders, excuses and lies put up to prevent black people making or appearing in films. It's about racism in the film industry then, but actually first and foremost it's about all these amazing films that have been made and the brilliant ways that people talk about them - and the ways that people tried to stop those films being made - the excuses ranged from "People aren't interested in that sort of thing" to responses like "A Black Henry V, whoever heard of such a thing!" which would be fine if movies were about any kind of accuracy, historical or otherwise. "A rabbit that talks, whoever heard of such a thing, A car that goes back in time, whoever heard of such a thing. " You could go on and on.

It gave me the excuse to watch some movies for the first time - films like Carmen Jones. a movie with an all African-American cast filmed in 12 days by producer/director Otto Preminger, and then watch  films again like Do the Right Thing.

One thing I'd forgotten about Spike Lee's film is how considered it is, how thoughtful and considered it is. Also notable is the use of a still photograph in the film. Running like a thread through Do the Right Thing is  the symbolic power of the photograph as the character Smiley tries to sell to whoever will buy them his hand-coloured pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

One person who will not buy them is Sal, owner of the local pizza parlour, a restaurant which has a wall decorated with stars of Italian background; Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Robert de Niro etc etc, they're all there.

And so the film goes on, with every character flawed, imperfect but thoroughly human in some way, every character filled with a spike of life that rubs up against other spikes, until Radio Raheem (another flawed character who plays Fight the Power and nothing else at full volume on his boombox) gets killed by the police. That was then, it could be now.

And then all hell breaks loose, and violence against the person is responded to by violence against property and the demons of the past are let loose on Sal's pizzeria. History isn't static in Do the Right Thing. It's embedded in the present, its traces live on, its traumas evident as the older you get the more injustice you have witnessed, the more it needs catharsis, the more time folds in on itself as repressed anger explodes into the destruction of Sal's pizzeria. It's not a like for like response, it's not an eye-for-an-eye, it's impotent at heart, another expression of rage, but if that's what you've got, that's what you've got.

But then there's Smiley's picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and ultimately that picture does get shown, it does get put up on the wall. Because pictures matter, they contain within them repressed histories, memories, injustices. They can have beauty, they can have violence, they can have depth. They can be like the character Mother-Sister who is all dignity and grace, until Raheem is killed and the depths of pain, memory and unexpressed anger explode into agonised screams of "Burn it Down, Burn it Down".

Pictures are like that. What you show, what you see, what you acknowledge is what matters. It mattered then and it matters now. And acknowledgement isn't much to ask.

I watched Do the Right Thing one day, the next day I saw this tweet on the new staff lounge at the Royal Fort Gardens at the University of Bristol. It features a painting of the Tyndalls Family, a family which had major slave-trading connections, and the Royal Fort was built with profits from the slave and allied trades. In other words they are a family who made their money and built their reputation on the back of kidnapping, imprisonment, rape, torture, and general brutality, all of which somehow evaporated over the distance of the Atlantic Ocean - and time.

It's part of Britain's amnesia and  the historical gaps that you find all the time when you wander around places like Bristol and Bath in particular, where the classical architecture is a constructed facade behind which all kinds of horrors lie. Again, they're a bit like Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing. There is the beauty, but behind it there are beatings, rapes, whipping and lynching. The difference is Mother Sister is on one side of that, the Royal Fort and the Tyndalls Family on the other.

And again, what you show and how you show it matters especially in a city like Bristol. And what you don't show and what you don't say. Sometimes that matters even more.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Katherine Longly and my favourite book of the year

Last but not least a quick heads up for Katherine Longly's fantastic-but-pricey (it's the product of  a Reminders Photography Stronghold Workshop) collaboration on Japanese eating, disorders and neuroses. If you can't afford it you can see it at the Tipi Bookshop on the Polycopies Boat.

Chris Killip will be signing his brilliant Ponybox newspapers there as well. They are wonderful and look great with real nice pricing touches for the community the pictures were made in.

And Tipi will have some editions of Sohrab Hura's beautiful love story between his mother and her dog Elsa, Look It's Getting Sunny Outside. Which is probably my favourite book of the year.

And if he doesn't then somebody else will. Check out all the signings here from wonderful people at Akina (good luck Simone and Soham), Journal, EA. Witty Kiwi, Rorhof, L'Ascenseur Vegetal, Lyre, Gost, Dalpine,  and many more.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Arsenic, The Universe, Panama and Everything

More quick notes on books starting with the Eriskay Connection (and you will find them this week in Paris on the fantastic Polycopies Boat), a publisher who make beautifully designed and quite serious photobooks which approach subjects with a definite aura of sobriety.

Universe by Jos Jansen is a visual exploration of the cutting edge of scientific research. If you want to know what the edges of scientific imaging looks like, this is the book for you. Universe is s a visual template for how we frame this way of seeing, a kind of visual check sheet for the Scientific Gaze - which is where the Medical Gaze, the Surveillance Gaze, the Anthropological Gaze, Eugenics, and I'll stop there because it doesn't end nicely. You want to know where the end of the world will come from. The answer might be here.

The Arsenic Eaters by Simon Brugner slips into that scientific way of seeing - that's what Eriskay is all about - and examines the fascinating world of arsenic eating, but with added folklore and superstition. So it's science and superstition which is really what science is all about when it comes down to it, albeit superstition of a scientific bent. The basic story is a long time ago that is not really that long ago, it's within living memory....

Actually living memory is quite long ago. You've still go people alive whose met people who would have met Napoleon. There are people alive who knew people who knew Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein, there are people alive who knew people who remembered the Opium Wars. I'd better stop there before...

Anyway, people used to eat arsenic and Simon Brugner decided to follow the thing and photographed the archives, the places, the people, and the region of Styria where the practice was especially common. Essentially, Styria was a backward place filled with backward people, ugly backward people who were lethargic, bad-tempered and nasty. Until they started eating arsenic, which made you lively, vivacious and attractive in a mountain environment kind of way. It warded off other diseases (they were all killed by the arsenic) and gave you superhuman strength. The only problem was - stop eating arsenic and you die. There are lots of questions left unanswered in there I know.

In the Heat by Arturo Soto meanwhile offers up an urban examination of the accident of history that is Panama, a country that invented by the USA to enable them to build the Panama Canal. So right from the start, Panama is an extension of the USA. This theme is pursued in In the Heat through images that captures the Panamanian elite's attempt to build a Panamanian Miami on the border with South America. There are images of resistance in the black and white urban landscapes, the sad shadow of Hector Gallego appearing in one image. Gallego worked on cooperative projects in rural Panama and was disappeared for his efforts. The image serves as both a reminder of the brutality of the landowning and military powers that have dominated the country, but also of hope, that things don't have to be this way, that there is something good in this world, there are people we can aspire to be like. And that is something we all need wherever we are.

David Jimenez puts himself through the seven circles

David Jimenez's new book, Aura, is a book of luxurious blacks and sparkling whites. It's elemental, with water, wind and fire creating a metaphysical enquiry into who we are, where we live and what we are.

While some of the pictures are quite literal, others you are left wondering what exactly is happening - there seem to be interferences and interventions but nothing is quite clear.

Birds figure large (crows and seagulls), so do horses, snakes and fire. There are tree branches and wall markings, pairings that come together then fall apart. There are weird shadow plays on water, the figure of what seems to be Jimenez himself is put through the seven circles of hell, the illusion of our life played out in distorted form, so you're never quite sure what you're looking at.

It doesn't look quite like other books that operate on similar themes, it's a personal meditation that has flashes of Ravens and Cowboy Kate  operating amidst all the symbols. It's individual in other words, and when something doesn't look like something else, that's a reason to stop, look and question. Which is what I did with Aura. What's ultimately going on I'm not sure, but then that's true of everything.

Buy Aura here. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

A tyre-tracked Stream of Consciousness

Next up in this week's quick overview of books is Julia Glassberg's  Bike Kill, aka The book formerly known as Bike Kill, aka The Stinky Book.

Something happened with law and the title so it's not called Bike Kill anymore. It's a wonderful book, covered with rubber with an unashamed tire-tracked stream of consciousness all the way through.

And it does smell. It smells of the rubber it's covered in, rubber which mirrors the tyre-smears, soot-stains, smoke trails, paint spots, ash flecks and overall urban detritus contained within its rubber-lined pages.

It's super tactile and the black and white grain and dirt goes completely with the subject.

Buy the book here.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Kensuke Koike's Triple Publication

                               collage by Kensuke Koike from the No More No Less series

It's Paris Photo week so here are some books to celebrate from a distance.

The first up is Kensuke Koike's No More, No Less which you can also read about here.

The basic story of this is that  Kensuke Koike's No More, No Less collaboration with Beijing Silvermine (where Koike put his knife to prints from the Beijing Silvermine archive) is being published by three publishers, SKINNERBOOX, TheM ├ęditions, Jiazazhi Press/Library.

To make the books, Thomas Sauvin sent files of the original prints, albums and Koike's interventions, and said, go ahead, make a book, edition of 400. We'll see them in Paris. And that's it....

Nobody has seen more than one of the editions Koike and Sauvin have seen none of the books. There was no guidance so it will be a voyage of discovery for everyone.

The book(s) are being launched  during the ‘No More, No Less’ exhibition at A PPR OC HE fair, 9-11 November, 40 rue de Richelieu, Paris, with a book signing session on Saturday November 10th from 3pm to 5pm.

You can also find the books at the publisher’s tables at Polycopies from 7th to 10th of November, Bateau Concorde-Atlantique, Berges de Seine.

If you believe in the 'perfect book' you might see it as a competition. I'd see it as a chance for 3 different publishers to make three different perfect books. It's such a lovely idea and surrender of control.

Koike's collages and videos are a constant source of inspiration and outright pleasure to me so I can't wait to see what comes out.

And I hope that Kensuke can have a bit of a rest from cutting - if you've ever tried doing your own crappy homage to these (I do on a weekly basis) you'll know how much work these take before even allowing for the way of seeing combined with perfection that makes these work on such beautiful but complex levels.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Ma Jian's China Dream: "We have to remain constantly vigilant"

There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not being co-opted, on standing hard in the face of state violence, and not surrendering to it. I don't think many of us can be this brave, but it's always worth recognising and admiring those who can. And letting their stand against corruption, cruelty and violence (at huge costs to their own lives) influence us just a little bit.

Ma Jian, who wrote Beijing Coma, has a new book coming out called China Dream, a phrase first coined by Xi Jinping but now turned on its head by Ma in a novel that is about a leader who is driven mad by memories of his own corruption.

Here are a few snippets.

'Ma has responded “in a rush of rage” with a short, ferocious novel about the way turbo-capitalism and authoritarianism have combined to inform a Chinese dream that excludes all but a chosen few. “I wanted to give myself the challenge of encapsulating everything in as few words as possible,” he says, wryly adding that it will be interesting to see how the Chinese authorities react to the novel, given that they’ve outlawed so many “key words” online – “even the name Winnie-the-Pooh is banned because people joked that Xi Jinping resembled him”.


“Living in the west allows me to see through the fog of lies that shrouds my homeland,” he writes in the foreword to China Dream. During the interview, he invokes Dante’s Divine Comedy: “It’s only through being expelled that the poet gets to see heaven and hell and purgatory.”


Everyone thought we could ignore what happened in 1989 [the Tiananmen Square massacre] and that economic expansion meant it would become increasingly like the west, but that has been a catastrophic miscalculation. China might have draped itself in a coat of prosperity, but inside it’s become more brutal than ever, and it’s this venomous combination of extreme authoritarianism and extreme capitalism which has infected countries around the world.”


“The disregard for truth is infectious. It also explains the rise of Trump. We need to protect concepts of humanity, and freedom can’t be taken for granted. We have to remain constantly vigilant. The more you buckle under these pressures, the huger the monster becomes. One’s responsibility as a writer is to be fearless.”