Thursday, 29 September 2011

Amanda Knox as Fallen Angel





So this is the latest humdinger picture of Amanda Knox. I don't know if she is guilty or not guilty but this is what Carlo Pacelli, the prosecuting lawyer said below. Sadly for Carlo, his comments do kind of point in the opposite direction from which he wants them to point. Carlo needs a strong dose of the old bromides, he's getting a bit hot under the collar here. I bet he has a messy fridge! And we know where that can lead.

More old posts on trial by photography here, the seven deadly narratives of women criminals here and the Myra Hindley mugshot here.


He then told the court that the woman before them appeared to be charming, intelligent, and ‘angel faced because she has spent four years in jail’. 

He added: ‘She is the daughter everyone wants, so you need to know what she was like four years ago.

‘She was a diabolical, Satanic, demonic she-devil. She was muddy on the outside and dirty on the inside. She has two souls, the clean one – you see her before you – and the other.

‘She is borderline. She likes alcohol, drugs and she likes hot, wild sex.’ Knox’s father Curt and stepfather Chris Mellas shook their heads as Mr Pacelli’s description was translated for them while Knox herself looked intently at the judge and jury.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Scot Sothern and his Fabulous Answers: It's a Grey Area




If you haven't got a copy of Scot Sothern's Lowlife (£25, edition of 200), buy one now before they all sell out. I don't know why I like his pictures so much, maybe because they don't sheen prostitution with art-schtick (although I like those pictures as well), maybe because they don't look like escort-agency adverts or phone-box stickers, maybe because they come from the perspective of somebody who was directly involved in the business from a patronage point of view - a male point of view that you don't see very often. Anyway, the pictures aren't disguised and nor are Scot's answers. The Q&A originally appeared on the Gomma Magazine site.

Scot Sothern's Website is here.
1.    What was the attraction of prostitutes for you – both visually and physically?
Visually the women I photographed mirrored the world they lived in.  I just liked the scenario and the backgrounds, and really to a great degree, the subjects and the surroundings was all about composition and light.  Like photographing ruins which somehow seem more important that pretty landscapes.  Also, they just didn’t look like people and places I’d seen in pictures before.  I was attracted to the rawness.
As for my physical attraction, it wasn’t always there, you know, and there were times when I just didn’t allow myself to go any lower than I’d already gone.  I didn’t want to be an asshole.  There were other times I got excited while taking the pictures, and depending on the subject, I could turn that into a bit of fun.
My father was a wedding photographer, and when he was teaching me, told me to always look at the bride, in the viewfinder, as though through the eyes of the groom, who for that day thinks his bride is the most beautiful woman in the world.  I brought that with me, I can’t think of a better way to look at a woman.
2.    How did you approach the picture taking with your subjects?
I’d pull to the curb and they would climb aboard, then I’d negotiate a price and depending on my finances and frame of mind we would go to a hour-rate motel or someplace else.  Interestingly, I never really pushed, though I never discouraged, the idea of nude photographs but most often they would start to peel as soon as the camera came out, it’s what they expected.  Sadly, so many of them felt they had to give something sexual and would get upset if that wasn’t the direction I went.  Anyway, I shot with a flash on the camera and I placed them wherever it looked best.  I directed them and I tried to bring them up to the surface, you know.  I didn’t want either one of us hiding behind a disguise.
3.    What did you want to photograph?
Honestly, I don’t know if I was just making rationalizations to do some crazy shit, but I always told myself I was making a statement.  I wanted to photograph a very neglected piece of the world, and I think I fooled myself into thinking the world was going shame itself by looking through my wide-angle lens.  I wanted to make polarizing pictures and stir up some shit.  I’m still hopeful.
4.    The pictures seem to be a fusion of many different elements? How deliberate or accidental was that? And what are the elements of the series?
I think I can say there was nothing with these photographs that was accidental.  The physical elements were there to tell the story; these photos would not have worked on a white background, they needed every element of their dark lives to be there for the narrative.
The other elements, a mix of yins and yangs, prurient and sad, funny and gut-wrenching, were all there before I came around with a camera.  The prostitutes were far more complex than the cheap sex that defined them.
5.   The places you photographed in seem very dark and dangerous. Was this the case and if so, do you have an attraction to that kind of danger?
Do nasty, dark, and scary give me a stiffy?  Sure.  When I was a teenager, in Missouri, I used to drive two lane black-top an hour and a half each way to a whore house called Black Nat’s.  The girls were in the bedrooms and the men, who numbered ten or so, were in the bar.  The men, black and bitter, took to calling me names, Peckerwood, Richboy, which struck me more funny than dangerous.  They allowed me to sit at the bar and chase shots with Old Milwaukee.  The girls, for me, were pure visions of wanton sex.  They were in their twenties and cost less than ten bucks.  I used to get a boner before I’d driven half way there.  Would I want to chase that scenario for the rest of my life?  Sure, until I can’t boners anymore.
6.    You mention one woman is “already dead so I photograph her ghost.” In what way was she dead and how much was that deadness a part of the series?
Sometimes the whores were just gone like a whiff of dust.  I’d talk to them, photograph them and give them money and free advice, but it meant nothing.  Anyone could pick them up and anyone could offer them 10 bucks to take a brick in the face and they’d hold out their palm.  That has a lot to do with the series.  I was looking for something beyond desperation right here in proud America, on the sidewalks we spit on.
Also, AIDs was a shadowy specter constantly looming.  I’d just look at some of these still young guys and girls and I knew they had it and they were already gone and they knew it even better than I.  Sometimes it seemed like sticks of dynamite were taped to their torsos and the evil motherfucker that taped it there was laughing his ass off.  I doubt it made any difference but I carried condoms in my backpack with my camera and flash; used to pass them out like business cards.
7.    Were you consciously photographing a particular time related to drugs or was that a part that arose later?
Every time is all about all drugs.  Recently they have taken over Mexico.  My prescription drugs blackmail me once a month.  The popular drug when I was photographing the girls was crack and in the right parts of town you could pretty much watch people’s teeth drop out.  Crack was nasty shit.  I drank a good bit but never when I needed to drive.  I smoked pot every day and I did crack a handful of times.  When I worked there was coke in the work place.  I’ve always assume the drug problem is explicit in my photographs.  How can anyone look at some of the photographs without thinking, “Wow, that person is really fucked up.”
8.   In an interview for another site, your son asked you a great question: Do you consider the photos exploitative? And if so, is there anything wrong with that?
A fine line, you know.  If I’d been asked that twenty years ago, when I made the exposures I would have attempted to build a case, make myself a dark hero.  But now, It’s hard to make a case that yeah I’m exploitive but in a good way.  I took the pictures and I’m proud of them and if they elicit emotions, I’m a happy guy.
9.    What is non-exploitative about the pictures?
It’s a good thing when someone, anyone, looks at a photo and takes pause to consider the ills of the world.  Some of the pictures and girls are quite beautiful.  You know, having good time and maybe not headed for doom.  Nice girls smiling for the camera.  But then again, I don’t really know, I guess exploitation is just one of my talents and I’m obliged to do what I do best.
10.   What is the difference between your photographs and other art/documentary/advertising images of prostitution/addiction?
There is a formalness in the Lowlife pictures, and for that matter, all my photographs. I learned photography back when it was still upside-down and turned-around.  I’m rather snobbish about it.  I see so many photos in galleries and online that I would have shit-canned.  I’d burn the negatives so they couldn’t be traced back to me.  I’m a stickler and, for me, it’s all about formal composition.
When I was making the Lowlife photos, Pretty Woman was a hit movie and I don’t think the general public realized to what degree it was a fairytale.  I know there is nothing new about photographing prostitutes and there have been many great photographers and photographs that capably show us what needs to be seen.  I don’t think mine are better, just a bit more below the belt, you know.  Also, more personal, in a self-portrait kind of way. 
11.   You have had a lot of rejection of your photographs. Why do you think you’re getting more recognition now?
First off, I don’t think anything in attitudes have changed in the last twenty years that make Lowlife more acceptable now, it’s still the same dumb-ass puritan America.  I just couldn’t get anyone in the art world to look at it.  Some people know only the wrong people and the all the right people are somewhere else, you know.  I made copies and mailed out slide pages for twenty some years.  I can measure my rejection slips in pounds.  Someday I’ll burn them.
About a year and a half ago I showed the photos to John Matkowski at the DRKRM Gallery here in Los Angeles.  John gave me a show and a better attitude.  At the time I had paid scant attention to the opportunities for photographers that had popped up over the internet.  John showed Lowlife to Doug Rickard at American Suburb X and Doug put them, along with one of the stories from my Lowlife memoir, on the feature page.  John also put together a Blurb book with the photos and quick literary vignettes.
I started taking pictures again and I put Lowlife and a handful of new photography projects online and I joined Facebook.  I began a self-promotion campaign which is ongoing.  It’s not paying my overdue mortgage yet but the outlook is good and I’m enjoying the attention.  The internet has been a good friend to me.
12.  How did the book with Stanley Barker Books come about?
I always wanted Lowlife to be a book, a couple of books actually, a picture book with the vignette stories, as well as a memoir of my years 1995 to 2001, when I was making the Lowlife pictures.  I started writing in the 1990s, and by the early 2000s I got good at it.  I’ve got a couple of novels with a terrific literary agent, Amy Tipton, at Signature Agency, NYC.  The exposure I’ve had with the Lowlife photos has also put my writing out there.  So I’m in the process of finishing the last chapter of the memoir which I’ve worked on, off and on, mostly off, for twenty years.
Anyway, Amy was talking to a popular photobook publisher who was being difficult, when we got an email from Rachael Stanley and Gregory Barker, introducing themselves as young and ambitious UK photobook publishers who had seen Lowlife, the self-published blurb book, and wanted to publish a high-end limited edition to launch their new imprint, Stanley Barker Books.  We said yes and hammered out a deal and the book came out in early September, everybody is thrilled.  I think the Stanley Barker imprint will be around for a while doing important books.
13. How important is the writing in your work?
In most of what I do my writing and my photography are separate entities, though I think they inform each other with a certain knowledge, you know, going back to composition again.
For Lowlife I don’t think anybody would say the pictures don’t work without the words but I think the writing twists the knife in the gut.  I think the words add to the sincerity of the photographs; something photo essays don’t always do, which goes back to the self-portrait aspect.  Lowlife has become a single amalgamation of photos and words, it doesn’t come any other way.
14.  What can text do for photographs? How does it change the way we see them?
Lot of variables.  You go to a museum for a show that doesn’t make any sense until you read the fifty-page explanation about understanding the aesthetics of emotions in third-world ideologies, it doesn’t work, at least not for me.
Text, or titles even, are pointless unless the pictures says something on its own. 
I think text with pictures is kind of the same thing as looking at the photos from a different angle, different lighting, or a on a day when you are pissed off at the world or another day when you want to smile and skip through the fucking daisies. 
That said, photos and words, moving and fluid, like a good film can take you as close to a subject or idea as you get without taking an actual blow to the head.
15.   What is success?
I feel kind of hokey saying this, but for me, having created a lifetime of words and pictures that will last longer than I do, something my offspring will be proud of, that’s success.
16.   How do you make a living?
When I worked I worked as a photographer going all the way back to the sixties.  I can remember working in my father’s darkroom when I had to stand on a chair to reach the chemical trays.  Out on my own I usually specialized in people pictures.  In the eighties, I was an optical camera operator off and on.  For the last decade or so I’ve been on the dole.  I had some physical problems and collected Social Security disability.  My wife Linda has supported us.  I’m ever hopeful I can make living and retirement with the writing and photographs I have done in the past, in the now, and in the future.  If I don’t we’re fucked.
17.  What projects are you working on now?
I’ve got another Lowlife show coming up at DRKRM Gallery in LA, November 5 to December 3.  We’ll have the new books and maybe do a reading.  A lot of the prints are new and they look good, and I’m excited.
When I was younger I was never all that prolific but nowadays I’m a picture machine and I have a handful of new projects. The one with the most steam is called Drive-By Shooting.  I sit in the passenger seat of a comfy car and take pictures while the driver does my bidding.  Started out shooting Hollywood Boulevard and that expanded to all of Los Angels, my home, and absolute heaven for a guy knows how to sling a camera.  It’s street photography and it has attitude and it’s in color.
More recently, I’ve been doing drive-by flash photos, gonzo and up close, with a good and fearless driver, in the dark ante meridiem of LA;  places a guy my age shouldn’t go.  It doesn’t quite give me the lowlife stiffy of yore, but still a nice buzz, a social agenda, and pictures you don’t want to turn your back on.  That’s what matters most.

Friday, 23 September 2011





Maciej Dakowicz makes the best pictures of people drinking. The ones above are from Cardiff. He made them a couple of years ago but now they are on the Mail Online. Cue outrage!

Now everyone laugh at Britain - Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Well done, Maciej - that makes them even better than they were to begin with.

See all the pictures here - and the great thing is they are funny, laugh-out loud funny.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Arlene Gottfried's Midnight





So I'm writing about all these fantastic collaborative projects for the BJP and Simon Bainbridge, the editor suggests I add Arlene Gottfried and her work on Midnight - a dancer who was afflicted with schizophrenia. Here are some of the pictures from the book. You can view and buy the book here. This is the website of the wonderful Arlene Gottfried - and this is her new book, Bacalaitos and Fireworks. Amazing work that should be much better known.  
 










Tuesday, 20 September 2011

lauren simonutti interview




Lauren Simonutti is a photographer who makes handmade books. They are beautiful and chaotic with bells and feathers on, with strange textures and covering. The pictures are beautiful too, haunting images of mad interiors. Her latest book is Silence is the Secret to Sanity - you can buy it here. There are a few left.
I bought a copy and was so knocked out that I thought I would send Lauren a few questions. Here are her answers.

See the pictures in sequence here.
 
Read Lauren's Blog, The Madness is the Method - here.

The 28th March 2006 is when Lauren Simonutti began to hear voices.”Three of them, quitedistinct. Two are taunting and the third voice is mine, as I have heard it externally, on a tape recordingor answering machine. That voice has some reserve, it seldom makes itself heard. The others are a constant. They all live in my right ear which rather makes sense as I spontaneously went deaf in that ear a decade ago and it has been vacant ever since. As time and treatment progressed they have stopped screaming and contribute only a dull murmur. Except at bedtime, at bedtime they like to sing.It presents itself as a sing-song - Rapid cycling, mixed state bipolar with schizoaffective disorder.

The problem with madness is that you can feel it coming but when you tell people you think you are going crazy they do not believe you. It is too distant a concept. Too melodramatic. You don’t believe it yourself until you have fallen so quickly and so far that your fingernails are the only thing holding you up, balanced with your feet dangling on either side of a narrow fence with your heart and mind directly over center, so that when you do fall it will split you in two. And split equally. So there’s not even a stronger side left to win”




You don’t leave the house? What does this do to the way you see the world – both the world that you still inhabit and the world that you don’t inhabit?

For several years as I was trying desperately to find someone to help me get the bipol under control, (a pursuit I refer to as the uninsured hospital monkey dance) I lost all the people in my life.  When you are ill in that manner, mental illness, people do not rally around you - it is not a reflection of their character - they simply do not know what to do.  They do not understand, they get embarrassed, they get frustrated, and they leave.  So I decided if I was going to be alone with this illness then it would just be the two of us and I sequestered myself in my house.  I created imaginary friends and conjured world's to keep from feeling all alone.  And I photographed it all.



Do you see things differently because of this? Do you find yourself looking at things differently?

I always have.  Not because of this, just because.  I believe I was born that way.

What are the effects of your domestic perspectives (ie being in your house) on your photography?

 I would not have survived without the house.  I work here because I made it to be model, backdrop and haven.

It is what I have.


You mention that you used to hallucinate? How does this affect the way you see your world, the way you interact with it and the work that you make?

An added bonus (shizoaffective disorder) worked itself into the mix.  This results in visual as well as auditory hallucinations.  I don't much use the visual hallucinations in my work - my mind's eye is much keener when I am well.

You work with large format and chance is a large part of your working practice? Why do you work with chance – is it an active choice or pragmatic due to technological limitations?  

You work with large format and chance is a large part of your working practice? Why do you work with chance – is it an active choice or pragmatic due to technological limitations?  I find very few technological limitations to large format.  The glass, the movements, the range, the size, the cameras themselves offer a world of possibilities.  They are cumbersome and require patience, but being forced to slow down and genuinely contemplate the image before you I believe adds much to the image.  They not only record a subject but stopped down to a long exposure they can record time.  Hours, minutes, seconds, the passage of light over an object and the darkening of a shadow as the sun shifts.  That is their gift.
Chance comes into more as since I am the subject of all my photographs (I do not consider the majority of them self portraits, it is simply a matter of convenience for me to act that the character in the image where a character needs to be).  I can set the stage but where I place myself, where and if I choose to move, and the fact that I have a great deal of difficulty holding still means a large part of the image is reliant on instinct - and chance.



You have said on your blog that “The discipline of bookbinding is an ideal counterpoint to the restrained chaos of my shooting and printing” – How do the two combine? Why do you make books – are they the ideal form for your work?

I make books for the discipline, as a counterpoint and because a book can be closed.  One can be haunted by images for years, extending and adding ad infinitum to a series that was thought to be complete some time ago.

Once the selection is made, the images are placed and the pages are laid in the binding the project is complete.

It is nice, from time to time, to know that you are done.

You sometimes sketch outlines for your prints? But you say you can’t draw. There seems to be something liberating in doing things you can’t do – is this theme apparent in other areas of your work? And I mean that in a good way.

I would say no.  I do random sketches because my memory is fractured and I have lost too many images along the way.

You shoot in black and white but colour has importance for you as mentioned below. 

“One book has pages infused with blue cornflower-blue is for memory.
The second: infused with Mughal Rose petals-red is for passion.
The third: infused with yellow star flowers-yellow for hope + promise.”

Why did you choose memory, passion and hope and promise –how are these replicated in the book?

Blue, red and yellow are images that work well with black and white photography - complementing the paper base of a cool tone gelatin silver print, the richness of selenium and the warmth of sepia.  These papers infused with flower petals both offered a strong background against which to place the images as well as a symbolic stance - flower petals strewn for a wedding, or laid down for the dead.  It is best to cover all bases.

As for memory, passion, hope and promise?  What else is there?

Why is No Such Thing as Silence a confession? 

People do not much talk about mental illness.  I have never felt there is much point in feeling shame for something to which I was born.  And I do not hesitate to use it in my work.



There is no wrong order to the book? Why not? Is order over-rated by some?

The order of  a series dictates the direction the story will take, once someone acquires a work it no longer belongs to me - it belongs to them and I cannot begrudge anyone the opportunity to make their own direction and dictate their own ending.

Why do you have bells and feathers?

The bells are my small gesture to interfere with the silence to which most people have access.
I began to put black feathers in all my packages years ago.  E.A. Poe has been a strong influence of mine for decades and now that I live in the city that saw his demise I felt it appropriate to give him his due.


Silence is the Secret to Sanity
See the pictures in sequence here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ingrid Berthon-Moine

 

 

I think the end point of Ingrid Berthon-Moine's Red is the Colour is to be found in the accompanying video in which the women she photographs respond to being asked to wear their menstrual blood as lipstick (which they'll then be photographed wearing). The photographs are a secondary product that is value-laden contrary to the first statement she makes below. The politics of accent and intonation kick in with the video.

"Ingrid Berthon-Moine describes some of the varying cultural associations with menstrual blood, which she considered when making these twelve portraits of women wearing their blood as lipstick."


"In the following video, Ingrid Berthon-Moine has just asked each woman if she may photograph them wearing their menstrual blood as lipstick. These few seconds of response show each woman absorbing and answering this question."

See the videos here

 I think some of the ideas Berthon-Moine uses as a basis for her project, especially the more anthropological ones, might be selective and partisan in their application, but the interaction between voice, video and pictures is fascinating  and Berthon-Moine is a case study in asking the key questions in the most direct manner possible.

Read more on Menarchy in Jezebel here, Salon here and The Guardian here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mao's Great Famine


From Falun Gong to Frank Dikotter's wonderful book, Mao's Great Famine - where Dikotter delves into the archives to dissect the overwhelming effect The Great Leap Forward had on China. He records how a series of crazed development policies combined with sycophancy, ideological one-upmanship and downright brutality to kill over 40 million Chinese people. There were deaths through starvation (especially when food was withheld from the less ideologically sound peasant) from food poisoning (as people starved so they sought out nourishment from weeds, tree bark, wood pulp and mud - which would often set and have to be gouged out of the anus with a stick).

Add to that the fact that between 30 and 40 per cent of houses were destroyed in the Great Leap Forward (the straw could be used as fertiliser, the wood for the backyard furnaces that were supposed to, but didn't propel China to overnight industrial powerhouse). Dikotter calls this"the greatest demolition of property in human history."

This helped contribute to the vast number of deaths from disease and the cold (on one commune villagers were forced to work without tops in Winter - the idea being that the cold would make them work harder to keep warm. Except for the 400 who died).

In this atmosphere state-sanctioned crime mixed with that committed merely to survive. There were 500 train robberies in one month in Gansu Province - by peasants searching for grain, rape was rampant amongst Communist Party officials, sex was used for barter and children were brutalised beyond belief.

The prime reason for this horror show was the inability of people from the top down to confront Mao and tell him what was really happening. If you did this, you would be punished (as Peng Dehuai and countless others discovered). If you lied and said everything was great, then you would be rewarded.

I wonder if there aren't similarities between the failures to confront the truth during Mao's rule, and the failures we have in confronting the truth today. The Great Leap Forward lasted only 3 years though and was limited to China, albeit in an astonishingly acute form. The sycophancy for which people are rewarded today takes place over a much longer period of time with effects that are not limited to one geographical area but which resonate around the world in their destructive power. You get rewarded for your lies and if you tell the truth you are pilloried - and the cost is the planet.

Mao wanted to develop China and in the process he destroyed just about every sector of Chinese society and industry. Today when people say they want growth and development, doestn't the baggage that comes with it do the same thing - but on a global scale. The only difference is it is on a much longer timeline and on a global scale - so, with our short attention spans, we look at a baseline that is only a few years past and look only in our own backyards. So things don't look quite so bad. How about extending our baseline from a few years to decades. And looking beyond our own backyards. Then what is the diagnosis?




Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Falun Gong

If you were in Bath this summer,  you could have checked out the Falun Gong art show at the Octagon on Milsom St (where the RPS used to be). This was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen; a mix of religious imagery and torture paintings, mostly made using a range of Communist,  Buddhist and Christian iconography  - but entirely believable for all that.

It was interesting to see the number of people dressed like Chinese Jehovah's Witnesses wandering about - they made me wonder who they were. Also interesting were the number of Chinese tourists wandering in and taking a look at something they won't see in their homeland. They seemed to particularly enjoy the picture of a Jiang Zemin lookalike being tortured in the pits of hell.

You can see more of the show work here. Here are a couple of pictures with notes from the website.


Tragedy in China




"A young woman is stricken with grief as her husband lies dead by her side, broken by torture in a brainwashing center. In his hands are documents authorities demanded he sign, disavowing Falun Dafa; they are torn in half. For many, refusal leads to torture and even death. Human rights groups have documented the deaths of over 3,000 Falun Dafa prisoners of conscience in China."



  
Uncompromised Courage





"Bathed in a warm, golden light that represents resilient faith is Chengjun Liu, shortly before his death by torture in a Chinese prison. Ghastly images animate the floor, suggesting the horrors he endured in captivity as a prisoner of conscience. Liu was arrested in March of 2002 for his part in a defiant television broadcast that exposed human rights violations against Falun Dafa and the culpability of government officials."

Tuesday, 13 September 2011



I don't have a clear understanding of Kickstarter and what it's for. Its weird mix of concerned, sectarian, hobbyist, sporting, travel and other photography doesn't excite me and it seems that most of the better projects are just seeking alternative funding to that once provided by various branches of the publishing.

One project that I can get enthusiastic about is Pete Brook's Kickstarter project. This is something that extends beyond the visual to the political and collaborative. It's a campaigning project and has the feel that it will be the start of something rather than an end in itself. And Pete cares about what he's doing and wants us to care about it - and if we do, it will make the world a better and kinder place. It's a project for everyone in other words.

It's also an example of something simple being done (that hasn't been done before? I don't know - has anyone tried to tie in prison photography in all its various forms so coherently. If they have, do let me know - and who else is doing a similar thing in terms of migration, employment, the depression etc? ).

So if you have some money spare, do think about funding it.

Sign up to fund Pete Brook here and see Prison Photography here.




Monday, 12 September 2011

Urbanautica interview





During the summer I had the delight to be interviewed by Steve Bisson of Urbanautica (you can read Steve Bisson being interviewed on Landscape Stories here).

The great thing about this interview was that I got the questions and the first thing that sprang to mind was, What do these mean? The second thing that sprang to mind was Wikipedia and the third thing that sprang to mind was what great questions Steve asked and how  helpful a little bit of Guy Debord and Henri Lefebvre can be to understanding and explaining the obsessions of contemporary photography, especially anything that references visual theory, "space" and our consumption of images. You read so many statements saying "I am interested in space and the manner in which the individual relates to blah blah blah." Well Steve really is interested in space, how we inhabit it and the politics of the built and non-built environments..

In the end I understood and appreciated Steve's questions - and they extended my understanding both of other people's work and my own.

Read the full Urbanautica interview with me.

PHOTOTALKS: ‘COLIN PANTALL’

1. Artists who take photographs in this age are fighting someway against the sense of already seen. This might be a chance for a critic attitude to one’s own work?

«Work should have a non-tangible, subjective element that goes beyond being seen towards being felt; something that is not passive, two-dimensional and semiotically limited. To do this is to get into some fuzzy areas where a vague subjectivity reigns. This is not ideal and presents a looseness and lack of clarity of language, but language and rational thought are strictly limited and can not fully explain how photography works.
This is tremendously important as there is the idea (analagous to the end-of-history concept) that it has all been done and there is nothing new. Just as history didn’t end in 1989, so photography hasn’t ended because of the mass of images that we constantly look at. This idea that everything has been done is a sign of the limitations of our own imaginations. If we are changing the number of images we look at and the media through which we view them, perhaps we should also note how this has affected the way in which we look at them and the manner in which our we absorb what we see.
I don’t know how I can critically apply this to my own work, but I think that, despite the mass of domestic and screen-watching images, some of my work is different enough that it hasn’t already been seen, that the combination of looking, physicality, being and ambiguity of space apparent in  my work adds up to a whole that is something more than the parts. Yet what that whole is I’m not sure.»

2. ‘Illusion only is sacred’ wrote Feuerbach in 1841: is his anticipation on the ‘spectacularization of modern age’ still true?

«I am not at all familiar with Feuerbach but I should be. Wikipedia helps and has taught me that Feuerbach believed that iIlusion is sacred but the sacred is also illusion, the product of our fancy projected onto the world to help us control what we cannot understand. We could also say that language and theory are means of controlling what we don’t understand or can’t explain very well. This helps explain the credence we give to sermons pronouncing on art and photography - pronouncements that conceptually spectacularize in themselves. So the spectacularization of the modern age is still relevant, but the question should be who is the spectacularization of the modern age relevant to? And who isn’t it relevant to and why? Why do some people bite the bait of the spectacle and others don’t? To what extent is it a social construct, a game that we all play, including me by answering these questions in this way.

“It has all been done” or “we have seen it all” are examples of this - an intellectual spectacularization of our exhaustion if you like, an elevation of our fatigue into something absolute, concrete and sacred. And that fatigue  seeks to eliminate other (more spectacular) spectacularizations. Perhaps we need to step back from our exhaustion - of words, of images, of soundbites and snippets - and reinvent the spectacle as something that lies beyond our knowledge, experience and field of vision. Because what’s the point of spectacularizing if we don’t do that? We all like to spectacularize. It’s not a bad thing to do, we should enjoy it and embrace it for what it is - a spectacle! So yes, there is a spectacularization of the modern age, but the form it takes is irregular and in documentary photography it has become banal. That makes looking and seeing dull and tedious. And that’s a bad thing.»

3. Through the reading of your interesting writing on Lux Effect, we reflected on the increasing combination of real and imaginary in photography. While hyper-realist painting tends to look like photography and some photographers search for pictorial effects, what remain essential?

«Hyper-realist paintings still look like paintings and pictorial photographs (especially those designed to look like hyper-realist paintings) still look like photographs. They look like what they are. And if you want to make them look more like what they aren’t, well that’s fine too. It’s a handy trick to play. But the attractions of doing that are strictly limited. The value of Loretta Lux’s work was in the real side of the children she photographed and the vulnerability of that reality. It lay beyond the fictions.»

4. ‘Write what you know’ has been claimed by author William Burroughs as a criterion for good writing. Does this apply to photography too? How important is knowledge?

«I can go both ways on this. Knowledge is not that important, but research is, research that includes some kind of sentiment that brings the outside world to the image, that takes us outside the three dimensions of the print or computer screen or book. People often say they want their pictures to do their talking for them, but so often their pictures are mute, they have no voice, no passion, no touch to connect beyond their title. So research can help add depth and knowledge.
At the same time, photography is not research. A project can be deeply researched, have great images and interesting back stories, but still have an emptiness about it. This kind of project might hit all the theoretical and critical buttons but if the project has been undertaken purely to hit all those buttons, one has to question its value.

More important than knowledge and research is passion and conviction. You need to invest something in what you photograph - the Bechers had a passion for water towers and smelting plants. And it shows, in a good way. Too many people photograph what they think they ought to. That shows too, but in a bad way.»

5) In your Sofa Portraits the observer is projected in domestic interior spaces, which stages well the inevitable loss of intimacy produced by Henry Lefebvre’s ‘predominance of visualization’. In your photography the relationship with childhood is a recurring theme, why?

«’The predominance of visualisation serves to conceal repetitiveness. People look and take sight, take seeing, for life itself’. I think that is a quote from Lefebvre but I’m not quite sure how the repetition works in the realm of the domestic. I like to think there are different elements of repetition and different elements of intimacy in Sofa Portraits, which resonate in unpredictable ways depending on who is viewing the images.
I am trying to show how the spaces created by Isabel are similar to Lefebvre’s ‘differential spaces’ - a product of her resistance to parental and domestic definitions of where she should be and how she act in those places. My interest in the domestic is purely pragmatic. I spend some time away from home and I love my family so I want to photograph the people and places that are near me. That also creates  different visual and spatial relationships with both people and sites in my photographs that draws me into different aspects of body and space. The work I am currently editing looks at the different physical environments my daughter inhabits and how she makes those spaces her own and how those spaces have changed over two periods of time - the short term, personal interactions and the long term engineering and social interactions. At the same time, the work emerges from spending time with my daughter in flawed but beautiful environments where differences can also emerge from Isabel’s (and my) evolving relationship with the world around her. I also find it costly to travel to other places for my work. So I photograph what is around me in the most immediate sense. The photography is always secondary until after the event when it becomes primary.» 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Bombard the Mumbai Headquarters






































More heroism  from Canada (Isabel likes it because "I look heroic").  There is a strong relationship between the heroic, the beautiful, the emotional, the ugly, the vacant, the banal and the deadpan and the generic conceits apparent in each and the generic attachments they make.



This kind of picture is ideal for making birthday posters, especially those with a revolutionary Bollywood theme - reconciling Capitalist Roader and Maoist lines and calling for a new order in Hinid song and dance.







Thursday, 8 September 2011

Michelle Sank


Congratulations to Michelle Sank whose new book Submerged is launched at the Hotshoe Gallery in London today. I put a few questions to her (which will also appear in Gomma Magazine) and she very kindly answered me below.


Why is the series called submerged?
In an area called Borth near Aberystwyth there is an ancient submerged forest that appears on the beach at very low tide. These entangled and mysterious roots show.
The idea of something spectacular emerging from the ordinary seemed pertinent to the work and the fact that all these fascinating figures, landscapes and moments were emerging from the normal - and from a grittiness I felt in the darkness of the geological make up of the place, in the stone used for sculptures, in some of the beaches and in the weather.



How did you make the work? What was your working practice?
I had a residency at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and my practice was to go daily to places that attracted me for their atmospheric qualities and then capture what emerged for me at any particular time. I work very intuitively.


You say you are interested in creating ‘sociological landscapes’? Why are you interested in this and how do you create them?
I am interested in the images having some context – the way e.g the background and figure work together to create some kind of narrative. It has been said of my work that it is as if the figures have been stuck onto the background. Also that my images are like a theatre where things happen or people see it as an opportunity to present themselves This is of course also to do with how the natural elements are all working together at that moment.. 



Do you adapt your practice to the environments you are photographing in? 
 I think I work pretty much in the same way unless I am on a commission where I am given specific people or areas to work with. However the way I approach my portraits and landscapes is the same.



Your pictures have a relaxed but formal/neutral quality. Why do you photograph in this way? Should photographs be neutral? Can they be neutral? 
 It is the way I connect with my subject matter – as if on the same level and with a combination of empathy and real excitement. Perhaps they feel they can be themselves? I’m not sure if neutral applies as everyone will react to an image in their own way and according to their own ‘heritage’



In the Guardian you said that you see yourself as a hunter, that you “work intuitively, to sense in that person, at that moment, something special.” What are the special things that you find and how do you work these into a series? 
 It is that sense of magic where you can be in a place at a certain time and something spectacular appears and for me it is a celebration of life. I cannot really explain how this happens for me, except that I do believe I “see” as a result of my life’s experiences, upbringing and my particular exposure.



Can photography be intuitive? Can it be truthful? 
 For me it is intuitive in that I allow the images to come to me. For the most part I don’t go out with an image in my head. Once again the idea of truthful will change according to the individual.


There is the sense inbetweeness in the series you have produced, both in the subjects you photograph and the environments you photograph them in. What do these areas tell you about people and places?  
The areas that I worked in for The Submerged were areas that had both a transient and permanent population and for me it was showing that diversity.

Examples of these inbetween areas are the ideas of the Edgelands, the liminal, the teenager in the gap between childhood and adulthood. Why do so many photographers work in these areas? What do you think the fascination is? 
 For me it  has a lot to do with growing up in South Africa during the apartheid years and being the daughter of Jewish Russian refugees. This feeling of being marginilised and exposed to a wider marginilsation is what has drawn me to photograph people living on the edge of society or subcultures – including adolescence.  After leaving South Africa I felt alienated and in an inbetween area myself.

How do you qualify success as a photographer? 
 Difficult, and I think there are different levels. For me it is people understanding or responding to my work in a similar way to how I responded when taking the photograph and in wanting to work with the images in some way.

How do you make a living? Is it possible to make a living in photography outside commercial/social photography
I had a big gap in my career due to leaving South Africa when I did, so when I picked it up again I decided that I would not put pressure on myself to make a living from it. I did a lot of unrelated jobs to support my practice, and also commissions and I now teach photography at University College Falmouth in Cornwall.

What are your next projects? 
 I am working in South Africa on a community who live in the Cape Flats in Cape Town.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Jesse Alexander's Cyanotypes



I like rephotography and there is something splendidly incongruous about Jesse Alexander's post-911 cyanotypes. Also check out his series on the nuclear bunker at Corsham - this is where the government would have moved if all-out Mutually Assured Destruction had happened.

As Jesse puts it in his statement;

"The cyanotype process, announced by Sir John Hirschel in 1842, is one of the simplest photographic processes. Whilst it was never embraced seriously as a mainstream means of printmaking, its ease and relative inexpense of made it a cost effective and accurate means to reproduce documents, particularly larger technical drawings; hence the term "blueprints". In this small series, I wanted to take images that were heavily used within the print media at the time, or events that were planned for their visuality...  I found the use of the cyanotype as the first, analogous photo-copying device, an intriguing way to scrutinize and re-present these iconic images that were so prevalent within the print and digital media. There is also a discord between the hand-made, and crafted nature of these singular images, made in a process that has now assumed a heritage status, and the pixilated, ephemeral quality of these news images." 

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