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Buy All Quiet on the Home Front here.

Buy All Quiet on the Home Front from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderful  Tipi Bookshop in Belgium, at Photobookst...

Friday, 29 June 2018

Lua Ribeira and Sebastian Bruno: Come on Feel the Noise!



Congratulations to a couple of former students from Newport. First of all, Seba Bruno for his brilliant new book Duelos y Quebrantos, a dark  retreading of Don Quixote (and Rosinante's) footsteps in deep Spain. It's a book with personality and substance. Which is what photography is all about really. Or art. Or anything.



You can see that personality and substance in his recent work for the Financial Times as well, especially in this commission on Barcelona for the Financial Times here. Just brilliant.





And huge congratulations to Lua Ribeira for becoming a Magnum nominee just two years after graduating from Newport. Again it's personality and substance at play, a dedication to a particular way of seeing, thinking and being that is committed to despite all the difficulties and the doubts.




I wrote about Lua (shown above with Amak Mahmoodian) earlier this year for her recent Grain exhibition of Noises in the Blood - which formed part of her portfolio for Magnum. The work she has produced since then is, if anything, even stronger and more challenging.

You don't get good by being easy. And nothing Lua does is easy. That's part of why she's so, so good. That and the fact that the ideas she addresses in her pictures are backed up by a depth of visual and academic research that feeds back into the pictures, and then back into the research. This gives her work the layers that make her work so strong.



Lose the Noise and you Lose the Meaning 

Noises in the Blood by Lua Ribeira is a supremely ambitious work. Rather than seeking to place Dancehall in a subcultural tradition, or as something exotic and other, it has expanded outwards to see the dress, dance and ritual of Dancehall as an active cultural tradition that has its roots in ancient representations of female  power and sexuality. Ribeira shows Dancehall to be an example of  what Dr Carolyn Cooper (author of the book that gave the project its name) calls ‘…a cultural space that asserts the authority of the native as a speaking subject.’

It’s a place of empowerment then, a place where ‘active cultural production’ takes place. It is also intensely theatrical, filled with drama that Ribeira has drawn from her numerous visits to the Birmingham homes and venues where most of the series was photographed. Here, Ribeira’s photography is informed by a depth of research that connects to painting, mythology, and how women express themselves and derive power from communal spaces. 
This research process not only helped Ribeira understand Dancehall and the women who took part in it, but also helped her understand herself, transforming the way she worked and saw the world as the project progressed. 



“I started listening to dancehall artists I love, like Spice or Vybz Kartel,” says Ribeira. “After looking at the very sexually explicit lyrics, I was a bit scandalized, and that feeling bothered me, I did not fully understand it. Where was that puritanism coming from? I did not consciously identify with that feeling. But, of course, it was coming from a Judeo-Christian background, that is not particular to me, but to the European context. Women in the dancehall, very often, seem to be in control of their sexuality and make gestures and moves that will make many people blush. Their behaviour within the dancehall time does not match the western understanding of femininity.”

We see that control of sexuality evident in images where the women of Dancehall dominate the frame. When they pose in blonde wigs, or arch their backs across the frame, there is a power that is anything but supine and benign. 

There is also an underlying empathy in Ribeira’s approach which originates from her upbringing in Galicia in Spain. ‘I am from a place in which, not long ago, during Franco’s dictatorship, my language, culture and traditions were forbidden and punished often with death. I think this makes me identify with the importance of the expression of a culture that has been oppressed.”

The dilemma for Ribeira was how to overcome this stigmatisation of Dancehall Culture but also avoid the photographic temptation to focus on the exotic nature of Dancehall dress and rituals. The way she did this was by approaching it head on and engaging with her own outsider status and the impossibility of understanding the complexity of the lives she was visually documenting. 

Ribeira in this sense is going beneath the surface signs of Dancehall and seeing it as part of a history and a life of which she is not part. The approach is a humbling one where the power of the image is handed over symbolically through Ribeira’s confessional approach to her outsider status. This is not the photographer as All-Knowing Conqueror Seer, but the photographer as Bewildered Supplicant.
This bewilderment was there from the outset when Ribeira began photographing. At first she had no idea what she was getting into, initially making images that she felt didn’t have any substance. 
“It started with me going to parties and taking photos, using the amazing light, from the camera man that makes the videos. I thought those images were pretty, and were representing the night, subculture, hip hop, gangsta culture... But they were failing to condense what I was looking for, so I started to make different pictures.”



Elements of Dancehall began to resonate with her Spanish and Galician heritage, she began to feel the passion and the physicality of Dancehall and the way it touched on universal expressions of womanhood, desire and sexuality. This in turn connected both to the layers of struggle, oppression and release that are apparent in Afro-Caribbean history, and women’s history in particular but especially to the archetypes and mythology that ultimately formed the conceptual framework for the images shown in this exhibition.

“I am interested in mythology, not in fiction. I am interested in rituals, not in performance,” says Ribeira. Her research for the project was directed heavily towards the interplay between political history and cultural expressions of protest, with elements such as Norman Stolzoff’s tracing of Dancehall back to the music that emerged during slavery revolts, Jamaican Mento music,  through to jazz, ska and reggae forming part of this process. 

Ribeira also identifies Dancehall as part of an oral tradition that connects to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Obeah, Myal, Ettu, and Kumina, as well as performances of everyday life which have a richness of vocal expression that is unique to Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean culture. This is the ‘Noise’ that is apparent in the title of Ribeira’s project, ‘Noises in the Blood’, the Noise that is central to the rituals of Dancehall. It’s brash, it’s in your face, it’s noisy. Lose the Noise, says the poet Kamau Braithwaite, and you lose the meaning; ‘The Noise that it makes, is part of the meaning, and if you ignore that noise, then you will lose part of the meaning.” 



Dancehall is the arena where the Noise takes place, a space where people transcend the rigours of everyday oppression and deprivation to be reborn in rituals that are, in Ribeira’s images,  both a celebration and a statement of intent. So Dancehall is a performance with historic roots and that is part of the reason why it is an assertion of a way of being against the hypocrisy of dominating cultures. It’s something that challenges restrictive definitions of sexual morality. It’s an escape from the difficulties of everyday life then, and also a place where women (and men) can create a sexually liberated identity.

And that ultimately is what Ribeira is doing with her Noises in the Blood. It is a celebration of the power of women, a ritual power that has its roots in a world beyond our rational control. With this project, Ribeira connects into that world, linking the past, the present, the actual and the mythological in images that are  both beautiful and above all completely physical and real. 

See more of Lua Ribeira's work here

Buy Seba Bruno's book here



Wednesday, 27 June 2018

David Goldblatt: Wise, Gentle and Gifted




RIP David Goldblatt.

If you ever thought photography was anything other than a long game, take the example of the wise, gifted and gentle David Goldblatt. This is from an interview I did with him a few years ago. For a fuller obituary, visit the BJP here. His legacy lies not just in his own brilliant work, but what the visual power of contemporary South African photography.


 “I became interested in photography in the late 1940s and I began to look at magazines like Life, Look and Picture Post,” says David Goldblatt, a photographer renowned for getting under the skin of South African society. “In the early fifties  I tried to become a magazine photographer. I sent my pictures to the Picture Post  and got rejected. Then when the ANC became active in their struggle against an unjust system (apartheid), Tom Hopkinson (the editor of Picture Post) contacted me and asked if I could make something. So I went to an ANC meeting and photographed everything that I could see. This was 1952. I shot and I shot and I shot and then I realised that I was using an incredibly long roll of film – film which had failed to engage on the sprocket of the Leica I was using. It was an incredibly basic mistake. But the other thing I realised was that I wasn’t really interested in what was happening around me.”

With Goldblatt’s initial attempt to break into photography a failure, he went to work in his father’s tailor’s shop for 12 years while he learned the skills that have made him a defining visual voice of South Africa. These skills were not just technical but also rested on how Goldblatt understood the world he was trying to portray.

“After the ANC meeting, I also discovered what I had to understand was what I was competent in and what I was interested in. That took some years to probe, until I could get to the underbelly of the society and value system that underlay South Africa. And to understand it visually I also had to get a grasp on the history of the country. So while working in the shop I did a degree that included courses on English, Economics and Economic History. This was so important because it taught me how to think and understand what was happening around me.”



“My father died in 1963. I was 32 then with three children and a family, but I sold the shop and, with a couple of Leicas and the capital to keep on going for a year, I became a full-time photographer.”
Goldblatt embarked on a career that documented the tumultuous events that were taking place in South Africa. Working in black and white, he examined the way transport, work and housing intersected to brutalise a workforce, he looked at how the mining industry could divide and conquer a nation, while In Boksburg is his classic look at how middle-class white South Africa accommodated a thuggish and racist regime. Since the 1980s he has used colour film in his nuanced look at South African cities and landscapes as well as helped develop radical new talent by setting up Johannesburg’s Market Photo Workshop.

Goldblatt’s work has critically evolved with the developments of South African politics and culture, and he remains an active critic of the post-apartheid era, but he is dismissive of the idea that his work has developed over the years.

“I don’t use the words creative or art,” says Goldblatt “I’m a plodder; if you look back at my work, it’s a straight line graph win a few bumps. I’ve been doing the same thing for 60 years. Today I’m doing exactly the same as I was doing in the years of apartheid. I’m looking critically at the processes taking place in my country.”

Goldblatt’s work is driven by political and economic change and because of this the huge changes that have occurred in South African society have prevented his photography from becoming boring or predictable.

“You can grow stale but I think I’ve got better at what I do. The engagement is with this country and my compatriots. We live in a complex society – everybody lives in a complex society but this (South Africa) is a peculiarly complex society. Photographers here work in very concrete ways  that are related to the places that they are living in a way that is not always the case in European countries. There is an energy here that is quite remarkable.”

Economically however, there have been changes. “There have been ups and downs but these are the ups and downs of a freelancer’s economy. Now I don’t depend on commissions. I am embarrassed to say that I make my money from print sales. There is an artificiality to the art market; the price of one’s work is dependent on its scarcity.

“The positive thing is it has freed me up. I spend my time entirely on making my own personal work. I don’t have to worry about commissions. But I spend too much time on the computer preparing for exhibitions and publishing books. It is time that takes me out from the field. I recognise, at the age of 82, I only have 20 -30 years left, so I really want to be making as many pictures as possible. “

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Saudi Women Drivers




Hamsa al-Sonosi poses with her new Range Rover. ‘I didn’t think I’d see this day in my lifetime,’ she says. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I love this picture by David Levene that accompanied this article in the Guardian on it being made legal for women in Saudi Arabia to drive.



It contrasts with this image from an advert titled 'He is Empowering Saudi Women' that showed all over the place in the UK when the Crown Prince came to visit London a few months back.

And these are some of the images that have been posted in the last 24 hours. Around 30 women in Jeddah now have licences...



As the article suggests, what matters is who is seen to be granting this right, who is empowering the women. And according to various commentators quoted in the article, it can't be the women themselves. Empowerment has multiple meanings.


Monday, 25 June 2018

Tom Wood has been unwell...


all pictures Tom Wood

I've been writing the text for the New Brighton Revisited Show (opening July 14th at the Sailing Club Gallery, New Brighton). It's one of the most enjoyable commissions I've had because I get to speak to Tom Wood, Ken Grant and Martin Parr, all of whom lived, worked and socialised there. This is the Tom Wood interview...



Tom Wood has been unwell when I call him. He’s got 18 photobooks in various stages of publication, three exhibitions and he’s been looking at contact prints of his football pictures in preparation for an exhibition with Ken Grant and Tabitha Jussa at Liverpool’s docks. He’s distracted to say the least.
But once he gets going, there’s no stopping him. It’s the first time I’ve talked to Tom and it’s a whirligig of memories, references and enthusiasms packed into two hours. It’s the longest interview I’ve ever done, although halfway through I turn the voice recorder off so by the end of it feels like more of a conversation. This is the half I recorded…

“I moved to New brighton in 1978. I had a job at the art school and there was the glamour of the football team and the Beatles and we had a flat looking over the river. It was pretty amazing. I made work on the river, on crossing the river, going on the ferry, and the Pier Head, and that’s going to be a book.

Everything was cyclical for me. I didn’t drive, so I’d cross the river, get on the buses and then come back and I’d photograph in the Chelsea Reach (night club) and in the parks. I’d photograph in the streets in my local area. In those days I’d get pestered to take people’s photograph. And people would call me David because David Bailey was the only photographer they knew.

I’m a photographic artist and  I’m exploring the medium by photographing what interests me. I photographed where I lived. I stepped out of the door and I would ask questions. Lisette Model said, "I have often been asked what I wanted to prove by my photographs. The answer is, I don't want to prove anything. They prove something to me, and I am the one who gets the lesson."



What was I trying to do? There is no answer in words because I’m working with visual poetry. I certainly wasn’t trying to document anything. I spent five years as a painter and when you paint you don’t document something, you try to make an interesting painting. I use black and white, colour, different formats and it’s the same. I’m not documenting anything, I’m trying to make interesting pictures.

You photograph something a hundred times and most pictures are boring. But some pictures have a life of their own. It’s not just the subject. And you don’t know when this will happen, you just get pictures that will surprise you.

There’s no question that I could make the same pictures in another place. There’s something special about the people for me. I’m Irish and I came to live in Liverpool. I’m not as separate as Martin was, I’m not as close as Ken is. But there’s so much material here. I’d photograph from the bus in Kensington, getting on at one end and photographing the people and the shops, then get off the bus and go back and do the same thing again again. It was that rich.



New Brighton is a very small place so you end up knowing everyone really, by name or by sight. I’d go in local pubs and it would take me 10 minutes to get to the bar because of all the people I’d say hello to. In New Brighton itself, that’s the place where I’d photograph people and give them a print. That’s the place where I was Photie Man.

It wasn’t like I came in and photographed and left. I lived there, my kids went to school there, my friends were there. And they’re in the book Photie Man. People were very generous with it. They liked it.  Every hairdresser in Wallasey for sure had a copy. We had a show at the Bluecoat and 1,000 people came and there wasn’t a single bad comment from anybody apart from “we thought you were a pervert” and “remind me not to kiss again in public.”

At the same time there were very personal stories attached to the pictures. A friend just had a meal with someone whose sister is in one of the pictures, it’s pink lipstick, and she tragically died at the age of 26.

There were not so nice comments when it showed in London but in Liverpool it was very generous. Some of the people in London thought I was being more patronising or whatever.
Martin got it more than me because I was seen as more compassionate whereas Martin was seen differently. I’m closer to the people clearly,but there is a lot of humour in Martin’s pictures.



The Last Resort was originally a joint show curated by Neil Burgess at Open Eye. But somewhere along the line the story became that the show opened at the Serpentine in London. But it didn’t. It opened at the Open Eye. I’ve still got the poster on my wall. I’ve still got some of the original rock with The Last Resort written into the rock.

Neil recently said to me, “At the time, we didn’t know what you were doing, Tom.” I was helped by Alex Laing so in the exhibition I  had colour, black and white, large format, 35 mm, portraits, all arranged in different groups, with this cluster here and that one there, whereas Martin’s was a traditional series of pictures in a line. I was exploring the idea of what photography can be, of how to make it interesting. It doesn’t have to be restrained by one format or one idea.

Alex died in a traffic accident on the Dock Road, so now the artist Padraig Timoney has taken on that role of freeing me up and making the pictures work in a different way.   Now I can do that and the pictures go out into the world of books.

People didn’t understand photography in those days. I’d go to art galleries and they wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t because it wasn’t good, it was because they wouldn’t get it. They would look and say it isn’t art or it’s not the kind of work that we show at the ICA or whatever. I met the director of Tate Liverpool who knew about photography but in those days it wasn’t allowed. He said that the Tate buys works  by artists, the Victoria and Albert Museum buys photographers.

But then you got people like Padraig (Timoney) who is an artist in his own right who went to Goldsmiths and has an incredibly successful career. His paintings sell for thousands. He wrote a review for Frieze. He wrote about how they worked visually while all the other reviewers were talking about the subject matter and the legacy of Thatcher so that changed everything and showed that the younger generation of artists understood photography while the older generation, the art history generation of the Courtauld Institute, didn’t know how it worked. I don’t think they were against it. They just didn’t get it.

I used to go to parties at Peter Moore’s house  and all the gallery people and artists would be there and they’d say, what do you do? And the first thing I’d say is what photographers do you know and they’d say Bill Brandt and Faye Godwin. No Josef Sudek, Lee Friedlander or Robert Frank even. We didn’t have any great photographers here, that was the problem. You only had the photojournalists .
We had Bert Hardy, who was a great photojournalist. I could show you ten pictures and you wouldn’t know which was Bert Hardy and which were Robert Frank, but Robert Frank had the label of an artist and Bert Hardy didn’t. Britain had a different sense of what photography could be.

It was different for me because I came from art school. I actually went round to see great people like Ian Berry and Raymond Moore. You could go and see them, they were very welcoming. But there weren’t that many. There was Chris Killip. But there weren’t that many. And nobody with the authority of Lee Friedlander or Robert Frank.

I enjoy photography. But I like a lot of things. I used to enjoy the Dadaists and make collage. I was a big fan of Kurt Schwitters, I was a big fan of Jackson Pollock’s early work, I went to Venice for the first time and saw a whole room of Joseph Cornell’s collages which I thought were incredible.

I’d always collected photographs from charity shops, which was something Martin and I had in common. But Martin collected postcards, and I collected family album pictures. They had that snapshot aesthetic of bad colour and all that kind of stuff; that informed the way I worked. Only later did I get to understand about what photography could be. It was during my foundation course when I was developing my first roll of film, and there was a pile of Swiss magazine Camera, and one of them was a whole issue dedicated to Josef Sudek. I knew nothing about his photography, and if you see his pictures it’s nothing to do with my work you’d imagine, and I knew nothing about photography, but I just got him straight away. That sense of understanding is something innate. It’s just there.
I went to see the prints, 10 by 12 contact prints, and I nearly wet myself. Sudek was a really big influence straight off.

The other book I bought early on was by August Sander because his pictures looked like the ones I collected from charity shops only better. I’d look at one thousand pictures in a charity shop and there’d be one great one. With August Sander, they were all great.

Then I met Paddy Summerfield who knew Tony Ray-Jones who was in this British magazine called Album.  And Paddy had been in Creative Camera and gave me all his old copies of Creative Camera.  He’s had a couple of books published now and it’s changed his life. The stuff he had in Creative camera in the 1960s was like Ralph Gibson.

There was no one to see or speak to back then. Pre-Photographers Gallery there was no book shop. In the early days I had to buy them from America. Postage was $2.50 overland and it would take three months to come but the books were the same price in dollars as they were in pounds and the exchange rate back then was 2 to 1, so even if you could find them in the UK they’d be half the price in America.




I got taken on by the Approach Gallery and that helped, and then another big gallery in London took me on (Gallery 52) so I was getting seen by the art world. Thomas Zander took me up in Germany. They published my first book.

It was slow. I never made any money. Most years I’d lose money. The only times I made money was when Thomas Zander had a show and at Paris Photo last year. But most years I didn’t make a thing.
Martin asked me to apply to join Magnum. I went to meet some of them. They had a print sale to raise money to buy computers. Magnum London was just starting and they had an exhibition with all the prints made by the same lab in Paris. You couldn’t tell which was Cartier-Bresson and which was Rene Burri because they were all printed 12 x 16 and they were all decisive moment kind of shots. And I thought, oh this is nothing to do with me. But of course Martin wanted me in there to try and change Magnum. And of course now it has changed. Martin’s always been very supportive of me.



I’m jealous of Padraig who gets to work over a range of media; painting, collage, video. The thing I have always done is video. I have an enormous amount of video material that probably amounts to 25% of my career output. My other side, my academic side with my degree in fine art, is that I studied avant-garde cinema in college. I watched underground film every week in a darkened room. These 16mm films would be sent up from London, we’d watch them, and then they’d go back. It was amazing. But at the same time I was really aware of what was boring, of having to sit through this mass of material with no fast forward button. So when I shot, I would be really specific, as though I was shooting with super 8 which was really expensive.


You ask about what photographers influenced me, I was far more crazy about all these underground film makers and for years you couldn’t find that stuff, but now it’s available on dvd. I remember one film by Peter Kubelka called Our African Trip which is edited in a way that is almost bad, and that’s stayed with me or the one Stan Brakhage made of the autopsy place. It’s beautiful in its colours but it’s unwatchable. We used to watch 2 or 3 flims every week and I’d say that influenced me more than photography in the beginning. All the time I’m trying to get back to that. I didn’t know anything. I was na├»ve and I liked photographing.

When I was in Ireland I was lucky that I’d come home from school and the bus stop was outside this charity shop. Inside would be all these Life magazines and Vogue with all these beautiful colours. I’d see Erwin Blumenfeld who went back to the Dadaists and collage, and that’s what I started making collages with. The whole wall was plastered and the ceiling. I wasn’t conscious of doing anything. I had pictures of bands and girls and then you’d fill in the gaps. I had a picture of Bill Brandt but I didn’t know it was Bill Brandt, it was just a great picture of this viaduct with these kids running up.

That’s when I was still at school in the west of Ireland. Where does that come from? It’s innate that some people really like pictures, really go into them. You edit pictures and you go through thousands and you see ones that just work. You don’t know why that one’s special except it’s alive. You don’t know why it’s alive, but it is. I like that mystery. That’s why I’m interested in good pictures. I know it’s a document as well with the way the people dress and the time and place but it’s what makes them alive that interests me.



There’s stuff in Wittgenstein where he talks about faces. I’ve just finished doing this book on Great Homer Street Market and there would be all these women there, there’d be 3 or four women there with their mothers, and they’d all have the same face. Wittgenstein tried to analyse what that was, what the meaning and significance of those faces was. It is something you can’t put into words, but you can understand.

I was thinking of Richard Feynman the other day. He said that he did experiments to find out what he didn’t know (Later Tom sends me this Feynman quote: "Our imagination is stretched to the utmost not as in fiction, to imagine things that's not really there but just to comprehend things which are there"). Which is the same as what Lisette Model said. He’s looking for something that surprises him, that he doesn’t expect. He’s not trying to prove something. You read about why he’s trying to do what he’s done and he can’t explain it. He’s a physicist but what he said made sense to me, going over the same thing in the minutest detail over and over again – which is what I’ve done. I’ve photographed the same thing over and over again until you end up with something that says something to you.

Another thing I was thinking about was how people look at you or don’t look at you when you’re taking pictures. When I used to take pictures of the market I was youngish. A lot of women were there and they’d look at me. I was a not-bad looking lad and I’d always smile so you’d have this male-female thing going on. I’d still try to photograph people without them seeing me, but often I felt that they could tell I was doing it even though they hadn’t seen me. They could sense it, and I could sense that too. Some women don’t want to be photographed. It can be because they’re not photogenic or it’s subconscious or whatever, but some women did want to be photographed and were aware of the camera but tolerated me, they allowed me to do it, they were giving me something. If you ask somebody for permission, and then take a picture, you get a different picture. It’s something very subtle but it’s really visible and everyone recognises it straight away.



There’s this look where they know they’re being photographed but they’re not showing that they know they’re being photographed. It’s connected to the idea of waiting. In the old days, you had to wait for the boat, you sat there in a state of grace. You’re waiting for the boat, or you’re on the boat and you’re there in yourself. And the photography  is a connection to that state.

I’m doing an exhibition later this month on football (Common Ground) as well. I began photographing the football pictures in 1985, photographing the people going to the game. I‘ve been sick for  the last month, too much stimulation and too much excitement. I’ve got 18 books coming out. I’m turning things down now. There’s too much.



What really interests me is the contact sheets – not the whole sheets, but each frame. That’s what I was looking at when you phoned me. I didn’t know you were going to call. That’s why I was distracted. To photograph all 36 pictures on the contact sheet takes about a minute and a half, and each picture is full of information.

The problem with the contact sheets is I didn’t have any money so I’d use the wrong paper. I’d use lustre paper which has a stipple effect on it. Then I’d do too many contact sheets at once, so some are too light, some are too dark. You can’t really see what you’ve got because you haven’t got the full range of blacks and greys because it’s been pulled out of the dev after a few seconds.

And these are the contact sheets I’ve been trying to judge pictures from over the years. Now from the contact sheets they’re very impressionistic. They’re very abstract. They capture the mass of men, the energy of the football, the walk down to Anfield where you get that knot in the stomach. That sense of abstractness, that feeling is there in those contact sheets.

That’s why Padraig Timoney was so good for me. It was like going back to art school after being so long in photography. I’d love to do it as a book with all these all these people moving across the gutter. It was only when I went to Steidl that I was able to do a book exactly as I gave it to them, no matter what the cost. That was Photie Man and that was designed by Padraig. Photie Man is my best book.”



Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Martin Parr: "You can't dig into a corner of my life that has been hidden away."





I've been writing the text for the New Brighton Revisited Show (opening July 14th at the Sailing Club Gallery, New Brighton). It's one of the most enjoyable commissions I've had because I get to speak to Tom Wood, Ken Grant and Martin Parr, all of whom lived, worked and socialised there. And it was Martin Parr of course who  made his photobook the Last Resort there. I'll post their interviews here. Also images will be going up @northernnarratives Instagram account so follow that. 







Of all the speaker, Martin said the least. He started the interview by saying “I’ve talked about the Last Resort so much that I’ve nothing left to say,” but that wasn't quite true. He had quite a bit to say, and I got to see the original 10 x 8s and contact sheets of the Last Resort which was a real treat.

Some of these images are in The Last Resort, some aren't, some will be in the show, some won't, some are close cousins, and the contact sheet at the end was made in black and white because Parr was so broke when he came to live in New Brighton from Ireland. Here are some of those images, and here is what Martin said.




“I moved there in the spring of 1982 from Ireland because Susie got a job in Liverpool as a speech therapist. I knew New Brighton because I had shot in black and white there on  in the 1970s and I liked it. I liked the idea of looking over the river and walking along the promenade.

I came back from Ireland where I was quite destitute because I didn’t get any work there. When I got to New Brighton I started doing some part time teaching at Newport and Farnham. They’re two places I taught throughout the 1980s.



I was doing photography of course, but not commissions, not really. Teaching was my main source of income. I did black and white pictures in the 1970s because David Chadwick took me there once and I was very excited about it. I’ve always liked that side of the British seaside; down-at-heel but energised at the same time. New Brighton was shabby, and scruffy and dirty and it had lots of energy – and it still had that in the 1980s. That’s less the case now because a lot of the main attractions are gone like the lido, and it’s been gentrified. But I haven’t seen it for 18 months or two years so I’ll find out what it’s like when I go there in July.

When I moved back to Liverpool I got a Plaubel camera and initially I started photographing urban scenes in Liverpool in the spring and then immediately applied it to New Brighton because I felt an affinity.

Peter Fraser bought a Plaubel but he bought a standard and I bought a wide and you could see the quality was extraordinary. Previously you had Hasselblads and rangefinders, so the Plaubel was comparatively easy to use. The only frustration was you’d have to change film after 10 pictures.
The colour was more of a critique than a celebration. Although the pictures in black and white are hardly a celebration. They have that melancholy look about them. I just showed it as it was. It had those qualities written into it. Because apart from being rundown and part of the fabric of the north, which is pretty shabby, it’s still the go-to place to take the kids out for the day. People go to New Brighton, to the amusements, to the sea, to the sand, albeit a bit dodgy. It’s either there or Southport. New Brighton’s nearer and of course if you’re in Birkenhead it’s just up the road.



Pretty early on I thought, we’re on to something here. It was pretty exciting. The combination of flash and colour worked. I’d seen that with the American colour photographers and people like Andy Earle who did those British social events and the John Hinde postcards. There was Peter Mitchell. I was aware of the potential of colour and just took the plunge.



Tom (Wood) and Lorna were good friends of Susie and mine so we’d socialise together and talk about work together. Tom did more portraits and was more traditionally respectful of the people he photographed. But it’s not for me to say what his work is like. That’s your job.  I like his work and have supported him. We have his pictures in the foundation. We go back a long way and he’s a very fine photographer.



We had Ellen in 1986 so the babies were a foreshadowing. Inevitably the babies would creep in. It wasn’t something conscious, it just happened. You can read into that what you like. You’re a writer and that’s what writers do. And I’m very happy that you do. Perhaps that can quell my critics.
It was first shown at the Open Eye with Tom, curated by Neil Burgess. And nobody blinked an eye because everyone knows what New Brighton was like. I can’t remember any negative comments from the Open Eye. It wasn’t a shock for them to see what New Brighton was like. But as soon as it got down to the Serpentine, I wouldn’t say all hell let loose, because that’s a brag that isn’t true, but there was some negative feedback.



I realised early on that criticism wasn’t as harmful as you might think. It’s better to be observed than ignored. People who go to the Serpentine don’t know what the north is like. It’s middle classes, people like you and I. Here is a middle-class photographer taking the piss out of, you know all the arguments, you know them pretty well.

Basically the percentage of people who see an art show at the Serpentine is miniscule. It was a non-event. It had more feedback when it went to Arles in 1986 because there the response was overwhelmingly positive and I guess it opened up my career to European audiences which can do no harm. It’s great to be known as a European photographer and to this day I do as much work in Europe as I do in the UK.



At one point there was discussion about doing a book with Tom, but I stuck out for doing a book on my own because I knew it would work and I applied for a subsidy to help that along and I received it.
I was doing the teaching so I’d be doing a lot of journeys down to Farnham and Newport. I used to stay with Paul Graham and Paul Trevor. I photographed in New Brighton most weekends and occasionally in the week when it was hot. I’d stroll out around 11 o’clock when people were beginning to arrive and come back at five or six when things started to feel like it was over.

I shot it over three summers. Three summers and it was there. There was nothing more to do. I don’t know how many rolls I shot, probably two or three hundred. The book’s only got 40 pictures in. It’s enough to get the message across. We all put too many pictures in books. We’re all guilty of that. We can’t let go of your babies.




Susie didn’t like it because she’s a swimmer and she couldn’t swim. The water’s weren’t particularly attractive. She didn’t much like it. She was not as big a swimmer then as she is now. In July when we’re up the water’s may be better. My sister told me there’s dolphins up the Mersey now. It’s got a lot cleaner.

It’s all been asked. It’s a pretty well-known story. I feel almost embarrassed on your behalf. You can’t dig into a corner of my life that has been hidden away. You’re best talking to Susie and Tom.”









Monday, 18 June 2018

Awating Moderation


These are comments on the blog 'awaiting moderation'. They're either spam, deranged, contentious in some way, too much to deal with at a particular time, anonymous and hypocritical, private, or abusive. One or two might be a repeated comment.

They're reproduced with images from the blog posts that they commented on.





Lol. Boys looking so funny in girl's skirts.



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Great idea. If you cannot be independently wealthy like HCB, you should not be in the arts. With money comes talent. Besides, looking at the lower and middle class in photographs hanging in galleries is a great expression of empathy from the rich. And unhygienic toilets and slums are really authentic, which makes up for the fact poverty stinks. Sarcasm aside, if we leave the cultural discourse of the arts to only those that can afford to subsidize their own art, we are going to end up with a society like the one we have now. Brexit and Trump are a direct result of this inequality--when the disadvantaged have their economic security eroded, the only power that remains is to say no, to break the machine. It is great to say we should just ignore economics and make art from higher motivations. But that is just those with the economic means to pursue art putting up barriers to those that cannot. This is an old story. But then the rich and powerful have always been able to drive the...





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1. So, a new festival season is upon us. What has changed? - Does the Emaho website still exist? Yes. - Has content been removed from photographers who don't want to be associated with the brand? Doesn't look like it. They may have requested, but we don't know. - Have any of the festivals that supported Emaho and Manik made statements or put in place guidelines for this year? Not that I've seen. - Which festival curators who invited Manik to judge and review have spoken out saying they made and error? None, so far as I've seen. - Has an legal action be taken by any of the parties, including Manik? Unclear. None of the new publications have followed up on this. It is easy to think that this year the same is going to happen. Maybe not Manik, maybe not in India, but that the whole hoopla from 2015 about him will have little impact. So what has changed? This situation is not good enough. Photographers at the bottom of the food chain a cannot do much to move forward on this.

2. If man is contacting a woman its normal, its part of evolution because he is expecting sexual future, this is why we are alive now. If man is contacting woman and does not expecting sexual future or friendship... But he put sexual part already in contact and he know there will be no future, its wrong. So why he do this? If man know he will not succes, he will not try. If man never succes he will try anyway and because he already know he will not succes its go wrong way. If woman will help man to not feel lonely and go with him for drink, the same if they feel lonely and they go with man for drink because they feel lonely. Than this will be kind of succes for man, succes of good behavior. And man who want get woman, will try to not distorb woman if he feel she does not want that. How many times you go with man for drink if you was not inerested on him or drink, but to not want him feel lonely, and how many times did you agree just because there was nobody other to go with? 




1. Naming him would be much more useful. 

2. Hi, actually, just realised you may see my last comment before it's visible to the public on your blog - I'd appreciate it if you didn't publish it. Sorry. Still too nervous about repercussions, just wanted to vent and this seemed like an appropriate place. Thanks, 'another anonymous woman photographer'

3. Sex has been governing the world since its creation. Stop dreaming and name harassers so that people can protect themselves. What you are doing is useless and self congratulatory. When there are accusations, there needs to be proof and naming. That is if you have decided to become some kind of moral figure in this scene. Were you just born in the world Colin? WOW photography has sex offenders. You mean that thousands of mediocre artists with personality disorders do abuse themselves psychologically and sometimes sexually? Thank you man, this is really something I could never have imagined provided it happens in all parts of society. Either you say you are talking about Manik and other self made losers, either stick to writing pieces about photography (from Anonymous).


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