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Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

  1.          Sofa Portraits is now available for pre-order from my website (orders will deliver in October/November)   The pric...

Friday, 29 February 2008

Vietnam reinvented

Both Eddie Adams and Nick Ut's Vietnam pictures are reinvented all over the place - the first image above I found stencilled under a bridge on the banks of the Avon in Bath, and the same theme has been used all over the place (in Brian Haw's parliament protest for example, but not in Mark Wallinger's installation ).

Banksy did his Ronald and Mickey take on the Nick Ut, and Manit Sriwanichpoom reshot it for his This Bloodless War series (which he showed in little happenings that took place on the streets of Bangkok) , a commentary on Thai Consumption which followed on from his Pink Man series.

Sriwanichpoom is doing black and white anthropological portraits of his neighbours now which you can find (along with the Pink Man/Bloodless War work on the link above). There's also a short interview here.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

TV personalities

More suggestions for art photography cliches include creepy kids, former Soviet countries and not too dangerous developing nations - development and decay seem to be the themes here. Anyway, enough of that.

Here's Charles having a bad day ( in Oman if I remember right).

Monday, 25 February 2008

Television Personalities

If Richard West likes stuffed animals, I like TV. For me there are few pictures that can't be improved dramatically by a judiciously placed television, preferably one with something exciting happening like Nixon giving his resignation speech or Tony Blair being arrested for corruption.

Pictures of the screen have a certain magic, the mediation of film on a badly tuned analogue signal rendering a Dorian Gray like quality to those being photographed. Photographs of television images reveal the subject warts and all, the finer qualities of their celebrity/power-based lives somehow stripped bare.

Harry Gruyaert's TV Shots remains a great record of an epoch through television, but the addition of a light sprinkling of rough old images of the telly adds weight to many a great photobook. And so much work has been done directly from the television that it is a definite candidate for a top 10 place in the art photography cliche list.

Many of my happiest hours have been spent in front of the telly trying to capture that small screen decisive moment. To follow are some of my finest efforts, starting with Kim Jong Il in full Dr Evil mode.

Remain in Light reminder


New print publication seeks submissions of recent photography work for first Volume. The final selection of sixteen photographs will each be printed on separate cards and presented unbound in a specially created slipcase.

Please submit 5-10 images (JPG, 72dpi) or an online portfolio along with your name, age and current city of residence to remaininlightphoto@gmail.com by March 1, 2008 to be considered for the first issue scheduled for release in late spring. The final images will be selected by co-editors Karly Wildenhaus (Chicago, IL) and Shane Lavalette (Boston, MA).

For more information, visit www.remaininlight.org.

Friday, 22 February 2008

More Art Photography Categories

The Art Photography category of Consumer Waste was pointed out by Mark Page of the Manchester Photography blog - he also pointed out most of his own work fits into the Source categories. If it's any consolation, most of everybody's work fits into the categories - they're huge and all encompassing. I think the point is how one uses them and if that use goes beyond the superficial to the deeper philosophical insights Richard West suggests.

A couple more huge categories could be photographing one's children (Sally Mann, Hendrik Kerstens, Tierney Gearnon, Nicholas Nixon etc etc), anything screen-based (Sugimoto/Matthew Pilsbury style or people looking at screens), there are dressing up pictures, makeover pictures and lookalike pictures all playing with themes of identity and selfhood, layered multiple images (which is a bit of a blast from the past), long exposures...

Oh dear, I think I'd better post a TV picture, a long exposurefrom Matthew Pillsbury. Check out the Adam Fuss and Loretta Lux pictures on the wall.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

More Art Photography Categories

There were some interesting suggestions for the art photography categories:

Gas stations and shrubbery in an urban space were suggested - both of which could fit into the liminal category as well as their own. Depends on how you look at it.

Uninteresting subjects in front of interesting wallpaper got a mention (bit of a value judgement in there though) - but that is a bit specific. The wallpaper is nice though and could perhaps fit into a new domestic details and detritus section.

And someone mentioned friends/lovers/daughters on beige sofas.

Again, a tad too specific, and not sure exactly what he is getting at. But I think this might be the kind of image he had in mind - Sofa Portrait #23.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Greatest Art Photograph Ever

In the Autumn 2007 edition of Source, Richard West runs through the cliches of art photography He notes that, "...for the first time in its history, there is oversupply of 'art photography'. As demand has risen, so has production, and the greater part of that production is concentrated on the most prized of current subjects which, for the time being, seem to be teenagers."

Identifying cliches can be fun, he says and lists his top ten (I'm putting the numbers in here for him - he was too lazy to do it in the mag, or I've got the order wrong):

1. Teenagers
2. The city at night
3. Models (airfix or architectural rather than fashion)
4. Stuffed animals
5. In-between/liminal places
6. Institutional places
7. My friends/lovers/neighbours/parents and their dependency issues
8. Staging, re-enacting, or simulating events
9. Photographs that copy paintings
10. Anything to do with archives

Any more additions?

Anyway, you get the idea. It's entertaining stuff, but at the same time very much on the mark. The problem is just because a picture shows a theme, that doesn't mean the picture is about that theme. Just because something has been done, doesn't mean it has been done. The surface has barely been scratched on so many subjects which "have been done".

My pictures to look at (see various previous posts) all feature children (older ones in Dijkstra's case) and have commonalities of dress, posture, landscape and pose - but are not of a particular type and are about things that go beyond childhood and costume, but they are all of a certain plot.

In fiction, there are the seven basic plots. Perhaps there is an equivalent in photography. But that sounds a bit difficult to think about right now - so I won't.

Instead, I'll mention Richard West's favourite theme - stuffed animals. He can't get enough of them. "There are few photographs," he says, "that would not benefit from the addition of a stuffed animal or two to give an added philosophical dimension."

An example of the use of stuffed animals by Julia Fullerton Batten can be seen above. Featuring a teenage girl pretending to be dead, with a stuffed animal, and models, in a liminal space, at the edge of the city, at night, it is, according to West, The Ultimate Art Photograph!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Loretta Lux

Last up for now in my pictures worth looking at is The Rose Garden by Loretta Lux. I love Loretta's work so much I wrote an MA thesis on it - it's time-consuming and is incredibly thought out both in the digital manipulation and in the actual shooting. It combines the personal with the art historical and the pictures are also very true to the children she shoots.

My favourite Loretta Lux is the Rose Garden which uses the exterior of a walled garden against which Emily with her pale skin and bruised legs can stand against. Emily (who is English) is flawed and kitted out in the gear with a DDR feel that makes Lux's work so distinctive and adds to the dark undercurrents it contains. Loretta's vision of childhood is not quite so saccharine as some, indeed many, people think.

I used to think of her work as a series, but now I don't. It is more a line of individual pictures (some of which are more equal than others) that correspond to the children she photographs and I think looking at them in those terms undermines some of the criticisms she has had - many of which are also to do with other things.

Such as - she makes stacks of money, lives in the godforsaken principality of Monaco (in the same apartment block where Helmut Newton once lived), and is big on animal rights - and is not afraid to let furry fashion people know it. For all her sudden rise to fame and fortune, she is not your celebrity art photographer in any way whatsoever. She is also incredibly protective of her work and is not afraid to let people know it. Which makes her even more lovely in my book. Absolutely fabulous!

Monday, 18 February 2008

"What is the point of Vanity Fair?"

"What is the point of Vanity Fair?" he asks. "If it exists merely to provide a posh gateway into a cesspit, how can that possibly be enough?" he says, while laying into the whole phenomenon of "sleb" portraiture. He has a bit of time for Steichen's Swanson and the Peter Lorre portrait, but that's about it. Nice one, Waldo!

Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra's work is always worth looking at as I mentioned on Conscientious here
(scroll down for my thoughts on her Hilton Head beach portrait) and as I will mention here again for the sake of my chronological pictures worth looking at theme.

The other heavily reproduced image in the Beach Portraits is this Venus picture from Poland. This reprises the physicality of the Hilton Head image, but with a more relaxed pose. The Hilton Head image is heartbreaking because the girl is trying so hard to be beautiful, her mother is goading her about being fat (and of course she's not fat) and everything about the girl conforms to American ideals of what beauty is (it's a sanitized, controlled beauty that's ugly, inside and out) - the girl is beautiful, but she would be more beautiful if she cared less about her appearance, read fewer women's magazines and spent less on cosmetics.

The Polish Venus doesn't have that problem - and so the ease of her beauty jumps out at you. The transitional stage of her life (and of Dijkstra's work as a whole) also jumps out with the creases and folds of the swimsuit.

People have taken to labelling Dijkstra's (and Sander's) work deadpan, though I don't really understand why. It is direct, understated and subtle, but it is filled with emotion and meaning in a way that is anything but deadpan. And the same goes for her other series, though some pictures are obviously more equal than others - with the Hilton Head and Polish Venus being the most equal of all.

Friday, 15 February 2008

August Sander

Next up is August Sander's Widower and sons. Like the best Sander images, the widower has an organic, fleshy quality (there must be a complex German word for this - fleischsichheit - something like that) that points to one's inevitable mortality. One is only here for a moment, and then one returns to the place all flesh returns.

The circumstances of the widower and his two children adds a sadness to this organic quality (this fleischsichheit - if that's a real word, someone tell me - and let me know what it means too) - the sense that they are getting by, doing as well as can be expected, that the boys are being recreated under their father's image, and this is not the way things should be. The two boys are different, the older on the left weighed down by what he is expected to be, the younger on the right by what he can no longer be. Their shaved heads, drooping lips, childlike clothes and socks and sandals all add to this impression to make one of Sander's sadder pictures a true tragedy.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Beggar Maid

Another great portrait that is worth looking at is The Beggar Maid, by Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). It shows Alice Liddell, the Alice of Alice in Wonderland books, leaning against a worn stone wall. She wears a dress of pale rags. Her left hand is on her hip, her right palm cupped open in front of her as though holding something. One shoulder is bare, and the sleeves of her dress hang loose over her arms while below her legs stand apart, one stretched forward the other supporting her against the wall as she looks just to one side of the viewer, her head tilted.

How innocent is The Beggar Maid, and indeed the work of Dodgson in general. Innocent say Anne Higonnet and Morton Cohen. Not so innocent says Carol Mavor, who points out that for all the Victorian cult of the Innocent Child, The Beggar Maid was made in a society that had “the Victorian fear of the animal in women,” where government legislated on child prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases and age of consent formed “some of the greatest debates over the female body”.

So although the idea of the sexually innocent child was prevalent at the time, this idea was accompanied by Christian ideas of the child necessarily corrupted by Original Sin - all children are evil, little rotters, a view still held by a surprising number of branches of the Christian Church, bless their loving souls!

Mavor points out Dodgson's use of dress changed the class and so the moral status of his children. Alice Liddell was a young middle-class girl, and because of her class a non-sexual being. “Immoral sexuality...” was “...always concerned with the lower classes” says Mavor.

SoDodgson made her lower-class through changing her dress, and this changed her status. He did this kind of thing again and again - so he dressed Xie Kitchin in Chinese dress, Agnes Weld as Little Red Riding Hood and transformed Evelyn Hatch into what Mavor calls the orientalized ‘pig-girl’ .

Deep and disturbing stuff dealt with in more detail in Mavor's Pleasures Taken,, but at the same time Dodgson's portrayal of the young girl does not involve an artificial adult imposition of innocence on the child, nor inflicts an adult preconception of what it is to be a child. Rather Alice emanates an idea of what it is to be a child - an idea that may be in conflict with many of the Victorian assumptions of what middle-class childhood should be - so Alice is portrayed as intelligent, perceptive and physically and socially self-aware, something reflected in the look she gives to Dodgson and the viewer.

Dodgson's unorthodox vision of childhood can also be seen in the second portrait shown here. In Dodgson's portraits of Reverend Thomas Childe Barker and his daughter, May, the traditional Victorian father sits on a bench and is dominated by his young daughter who looks down on him from above. The girl is the master in this image and her father the helpless servant. The patriarchal order of Victorian Britain has been overturned by Dodgson in a manner that is direct and timeless.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Pictures we should never see

colin pantall 2008

The subtleties and layers of meaning of this collaborative effort simply cannot be appreciated unless you observe the original artwork in an appropriate setting for an appropriate length of time - a couple of hours say!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Pictures we have never seen

Romy - Colin Pantall 2007

It seems most of the images we see are on the computer screen - on blogs or websites even, if we bother to follow through the link.

We might look at an image for a few seconds - 20 seconds counts as long time if we are clicking through portfolios, a minute or more an eternity.

This leads to the view that digital images have devalued photography, made it a commodity to be viewed and discarded by the incidental viewer.

Partly that's true. The pixellated image loses so much through its digital representation - the colours and details of the image are arbitrary, dependent on the viewer's screen settings, while the super-abundance of images almost invites you to discard one picture and move on to the next one. The very nature of the computer screen is temporary and transitory. What you see is not what you get.

But it is an approximation to what you get, a rough draft, a sketch in comparison to the image on the printed page, in a magazine or a book, or the image installed in a gallery or on a wall somewhere.

And so we can talk about pictures we haven't seen, just as Pierre Bayard helps us talk about books we haven't read.

We can talk about pictures we have seen on the internet - on a secondary site, or a primary site, those we have clicked through, and those we have pondered over.

We can talk about pictures in magazines, as individual images or part of a series. Then there are pictures in books (and it depends on what kind of book it is - catalogue, monograph, art book) and those on a gallery wall. How we see the picture depends on how long we look at it and what context it appears in - as part of a solo show or a group show where the picture is at least partly defined by what surrounds it.

And ultimately it depends on how we look at a picture and how long we look at it - which also determines how well we can talk about it.

Sergei Shchukin, the Russian collector whose works form the heart of the current Russian Paintings exhibition at the Royal Academy, enjoyed looking at works for a couple of hours, opened his house to the public so they could enjoy his paintings (ultimately seized by the Soviet State).

Similarly Larry Sultan believes in the virtues on dwelling on pictures for an hour at a time - taking in the layers of meanings in the image.

Looking at an image for any length of time presupposes a level of comfort in the means of viewing - and looking at pictures on the computer screen is not a comfortable way of viewing.

So we can talk about pictures we see on the computer, but perhaps not that well - which helps to explain why words on blogs, like images on websites, have that disposable factor. And why this posting is not as coherent as I would like it to be.

Which takes us back to the book and the print - the best ways to look at pictures, preferably in your own home (because galleries tend to be hostile environments, in a sanitized sort of way). The internet can lead us to a higher form of viewing, but it can't replace it, and for that we should all be grateful.


Friday, 8 February 2008

Books we have never read - Pictures we have never seen

How to talk about books that you haven't Read by French psychoanalyst and literature professor, Pierre Bayard, looks at the different levels of reading that we do, and how it is possible to talk knowledgeably about books we have never read. It's a personal thing for him - he "has no appetite for reading" and moves in circles where one is obliged to read and talk about books. Failure to do so can lead to guilt and feelings of social inadequacy, so what can the professor do, what can we all do beyond wearing the right glasses and having a look of earnest concern on our face at all times?

Bayard divides one's knowledge of books into four categories, books he is unfamiliar with, books he has glanced at, books he has heard discussed, books he has read but forgotten.

Such categorizing should enable us to talk knowledgeably about books we have never read and rid us of "...the oppressive image of a flawless cultural grounding, transmitted and imposed [on us] by the family and by educational institutions, an image which we try all our lives in vain to match up to. For truth in the eyes of others matters less than being true to ourselves, and this truth is only accessible to those who liberate themselves from the constraining need to appear cultured, which both tyrannizes us and prevents us from being ourselves."

Well said. Now what are the equivalent ways of not knowing a photographic work? Works we are unfamiliar with is simple enough, but then what? What are the levels of understanding of visual images and how must one see an image to really understand it?

Nan Goldin

A post over at the thought-provoking blog, Subjectify got me thinking about Nan Goldin, and so did this image from a greeting card. The signs weren't good from the start.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Obama the Builder

British leftist and all round good egg, Mark Steel muses on American primary speeches.

"Barack Obama, apparently, has been the symbol of hope. But that could be quite distressing, because his entire campaign has revolved around the slogan "Yes we can." I'm all for keeping political ideas simple, but he's reduced them to Bob the bloody Builder."

Continue reading here

Ismo Hollto

Thanks to Stan at Reciprocity Failure for pointing me in the direction of his favourite Finnish photographer, Ismo Hollto.

His pictures from the 1960s tie in with Esko Mannikko's themes of rural depopulation and show something of the mythical Finnish state of being mentioned in previous post. As it says on Hollto's website, "His subjects are on the verge of the end of an age of innocence and on the threshold of a new urban era. The villages in countryside were already emptying as people in the north and east were moving to the south of Finland. Many people moved to neighbouring Sweden in search of work.

The faces of Hollto's subjects emit the sadness that comes with the uncertainty of change, Vuorenmaa writes. You can often sense a concern for the future, a new kind of rootlessness in the people portrayed in Hollto's pictures. They've submitted to change, which has brought with it melancholy and longing for what's been lost. At the same time, these are still people living in a time of innocence, utopia, hope and the future."

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

E.O. Hoppe

An upside-down map with Australian at the top and China in the middle (with Britain a little spot on the arse of the world) - now that's just going too far!

Which leads nicely to E.O Hoppe's Australia, a book of images of Australia made by E.O.Hoppe in the 1930s. The book is a rediscovery (click on the previous link of why we don't see more of Hoppe's work) of a fantastic photographer - with images that show the raw edge of Australian life and hint at a nasty Lucky Country underbelly.

You can see more of Hoppe's work here, including some great portraiture from the 1920s and 1930s (including Chief White Horse Eagle, Ezra Pound, Mussolini and a Piccadilly flower seller - all pictured below).

Great Portraiture

Some ideas, including my own, on What makes a great portrait over at Conscientious.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Map of the world

The Gough Map , pictured top, is the oldest surviving road map of Britain - it was made in 1360 - but it is remarkably accurate (unless you're from Scotland or Wales - then it's not).

Phaidon published a book a few years back, called Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond which featured beautiful maps that showed how western (and eastern) understanding of the world's geography revolved around religion and commerce as much as geography. And fish featured heavily on many of the maps which is always a good thing.

The maps reveal how we see the world through what we mark on the map (trade and religion loom large here). Maps haven't changed so much since then. Through what is marked on them and how they are oriented, maps help to control the world so it becomes an abstract place devoid of human life and nature, where cities, roads and particular forms of power are given value, where scale and orientation centre the world around particular ways of thinking, which we take for granted.

There are different projections that challenge some of those ways of thinking in a geometric manner, but perhaps that geometric-logical way of thinking is part of the problem of how we understand the world and what we do to the world.

From top

The Gough Map - 1360

Barentz Map - 1595

Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi - 1150

Pedro Barreto de Resende - 1635