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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...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Rough Trade

Rough Trade turns 30 this week, and a trundle through my old records reveals of their releases by The Raincoats, Spizzoil and Monochrome Set.

Also in there are some other (non-Rough Trade) blasts from the past, including the great Family Fodder ("Why you getting that when you could get the Pistols?").

What's not to like when you have lyrics along the lines of, "I'm so happy with my life, there's times I feel fungus growing on me" and "My baby takes valium, it's a bad habit she learned from her mum".

England in 1979, I'm feeling all nostalgic, it's coming round again.

Monday, 24 November 2008

More Photograms

I got an email from Elaine Duigenan last week and she reminded me of the classic photogram advice: "You have to move on from flowers".

So I did some leaves, but flowers, leaves, it's not really moving on is it. So I ate some cupcakes and photogrammed the wrappers. Behold, the cupcake wrappers.

And from an earlier interview with Elaine on Portfolio reviews and her Hairnets and Nylons, Elaine's gives her advice for older photographers:

“It’s a benefit being a little bit older and having a confidence and belief in your work. You have a lot more experience of life under your belt and so different elements come out. That’s important because... you get conflicting opinions and advice. You need to have your own voice and have confidence and self belief.”

read whole article here

Thursday, 20 November 2008

12 Grosvenor Place sequencing

As the nights draw in, I've been looking back at old work, specifically 12 Grosvenor Place, my series on claustrophobia, childhood, family and home. An edit is in this Flickr set, 12 Grosvenor Place. Any thoughts on the incoherence of it all would be welcome.

Robbie Cooper and the Pollards

The story of David and Amy Pollard (Amy pictured first with David, then the virtual Amy (as Laura Skye)) reminds me of Robbie Cooper's Alter Ego - Avatars and their Creators and the different motivations he found in the gamers he photographed and interviewed.

I interviewed Robbie last year for the BJP. This is how his interest in gamers began.

“I used to play Pong, then Space Invaders and Asteroids,” says Cooper, “so I have always been interested in video games. A few years ago, I was doing a corporate shoot and the head of the company was getting divorced and didn’t have good access to his kids. A lot of his contact with them came through a virtual reality game. The talked online about the game, but also about everyday things like school and homework. I was fascinated by that interaction between the real and fantasy life.”

Full text here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Unseen Slideshow Night

Some of my work will be in the Unseen Slideshow Night this Friday in Nottingham ( is it true Ridley Scott's remaking Robin Hood, with Robin Hood as the bad guy? Oh no, it's been postponed indefinitely because the script's a stinker!).

Thanks to Luke White (see his great portraits in Fraction Magazine ) and all the efforts of the Unseen team.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Life images on google

More Capa, this time from Life (which has put all its images on google, thanks Joerg) and Alfred Eisenstadt.

The lower image is from Indonesia and it's by Larry Burrows. It's Pak Harto, Ibu Tien and lovable little Tommy. They both missed, can you believe it! Where's Dick Cheney when you need him, or Willie Whitelaw for that matter!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Magnum Advice for Photographers

Some great advice from the Magnum Blog. In some respects, you can take what you like from it (don't study/do study, don't look at other work/do look at other work), but the general gist is look outside yourself, be honest and take photographs. Oh, and don't expect any reward.

Alex Webb:
Photograph because you love doing it, because you absolutely have to do it, because the chief reward is going to be the process of doing it. Other rewards -- recognition, financial remuneration -- come to so few and are so fleeting.

Christopher Anderson: Forget about the profession of being a photographer.

Chris Steele-Perkins: Photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do.

Donovan Wylie: Try and not "look" for pictures but keep yourself always open and allow yourself to be stimulated by whatever hits you. Always try and be honest with yourself.

Lise Sarfati: Read a lot and create your own universe.

Harry Gruyaert: Be yourself, Don't copy anybody.

John Vink: Don't stop questioning yourself (it'll make you less arrogant).

Paolo Pellegrin: I would recommend working to become a more developed and informed individual, a more knowledgeable and engaged citizen.

My own tips, which verge on the incomprehensible, are as much for myself as anybody else:

It has to be perfect, but it will never be perfect.
Stay open and leave some things outside your control.
Photography doesn't help people. Don't pretend it does. But then again, why not?
It hasn't all been done before. Nothing's been done before.
If you want to make money, be an insider. If you want to make great work, be an outsider .
Don't pay for people to look at your work.
Don't waste time on the internet. There's a real world out there.

Ways of Thinking

In "Come on Shore and we will Kill and Eat You All", Christina Thompson mentions the Maori author Patricia Grace describing a way of story-telling/thinking "...where the beginning is not the beginning, the end is not the end. It starts from the centre and moves away from there in such widening circles that you don't know how you will finally arrive a point of understanding which becomes itself another core, a new centre."

An Italian told me Italians think in zigzags, an Iranian friend said Iranians start from the outside and work to the centre, but never get there, while a Chinese woman once drew the diagram above to represent Chinese ways of thinking. We English theoretically think in straight lines, though we sometimes get the As and Bs confused - our linear approach is more of a conceit than anything.

Continuing on an anthropological note, how do the Piraha people think? And how do these thoughts apply to photography?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Congratulations Andy Stanton!

Imagine my surprise to hear Andy Stanton, my favourite children's author being interviewed by John Humphrys on The Today programme (listen here). The occasion? To celebrate the award of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for Andy's fabulous Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear.

As Andy says, "Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear is about Mr Gum and a Dancing Bear."

How does he write a funny book for children. First he tries not to think about children too much, "...then I picture my contractual obligations, then I look out the window, then I phone my mum and say I can't write, I can't think of anything, then I drink too much coffee, then I write something."

Well done Andy Stanton, a man so funny he made a child throw up from laughter

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Omai and The Age of Innocence

The other picture (see previous post) Christina Thompson refers to in her book Come Ashore and We Will Kill and Eat You All is Omai (a Polynesian from the Society Islands) by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

"...what Reynolds aspired to paint was some quality or idea thesitter was supposed to embody - wit, for example, or innocence, or understanding. In the case of Omai, the idea was nobility, specifically the nobility of man in his natural state."

Omai was taken by Captain Cook to England in 1774. There he delighted London society. He was good at dancing, bowing and chess. He had a penchant for "immediate corporeal gratifications" and delighted in toys and "trifling amusements". Most of all, he had excellent manners. ""Indeed," wrote Fanny Burley, "his manners are so extremely graceful, & he is so polite, attentive and easy, that you would have thought he came from some foreign court.""

"What is really marvellous," writes Thompson, "is the staying power of these conceits. The idea of the Noble Savage may sound condescending to modern ears, but by eighteenth-century standards it was the highest kind of praise. Nobility was a quality that every European aspired to; natural nobility was something even they could not achieve."

Thompson takes her Maori husband Seven home to Boston and finds similar sentiments greeting his arrival. "Women, especially, gravitated to him, though he was also popular with men. And while they sometimes semed to be at cross-purposes in their conversation.... they appeared delighted with one another."

The other Reynolds picture featured above is The Age of Innocence which captures another form of idealisation - that of the Innocent Child. And just as the Noble Savage has stuck, so has the Innocent Child. As Anne Higonnet notes in her Pictures of Innocence, "The Romantic child makes a good show of having no class, no gender, and no thoughts..." In terms of class, "...they belong to a middle class that identifies itself discreetly with affluent cleanliness and absence of want."

Good, clean, well-mannered middle-class children appeal to us. However there's a flip side, and the flip side is something that is alien to us, that we have no interest in or sympathy with - the idea of the bad child, the child tainted by their parents, the child not blessed by the middle class aura of cleanliness and innocence. These ideas were prevalent in the 19th century, but they persist to this day and help we English defend ourselves from ever finding out what is really wrong with our country. What would the English equivalent be of electing Obama president. It's not electing a black prime-minister (or a woman prime-minister - we're ahead of you on that one, America). But it might be something to do with the way we treat our children and it might be something to with education and class. It might be something that can help us learn from, rather than briefly be fascinated in and then forget ( because the people are just so alien and other) events like the bizarre and horrific news that has been in the UK papers all this week. Shannon Matthews or Baby P ? Harringey and Dewsbury. Learning Difficulties and Asbos. Nothing to do with me, mate. I live in Bath.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Come Ashore and We Will Kill and Eat You All

There has been a spate of "tribal" programmes on British television, programmes in which various presenters go native in different ways.
From the excellent Bruce Parry in Tribe (what's it like to be a white man in a tribal community), the pecking order goes down through Tribal Wives (what's it like to be a woman in a tribal community), Medicine Men go Wild (what's it like to be a doctor in a tribal community) and the questionable Paradise or Bust (the attempt to make noble savages out of ne'er do well backpackers).

Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat you All by Christina Thompson continues on the cross-cultural theme, but with a mix of the personal, historical and anthropological. It details Thompson's marriage to Seven, a Maori man from New Zealand's North Island, but also tells the story of Maori encounters with Europeans.

In her book she tells the story of the above picture of General Horatio Gordon Robley, a collector of Maori heads.

"About half an inch to the left of Robley's right eye, which due to some trick of the camera gleamed slightly, was the empty eye socket of a preserved Maori head, a particularly striking Maori head with a toused mass of hair , borad cheekbones, and a square jaw.... Above, below and on either side were more heads ranged in rough, uneven rows: grim, black, disembodied objects with hanks of hair and greenstone ornaments hanging from their ears. Their skin was dark and shiny like leather, on some you could just make out the moko, or tattoo. "

Thompson goes on to tell the story of smoked Maori heads, how, as Robley said, a smoked head used to be ""an acknowledgement of the nobility of its owner" and served to keep his memory alive. When the head of a family member was preserved, the lips were sewn together inthe middle, making an elegant shape of the mouth, like two almonds side by side."

Unless the head owner was an enemy, in which case the mouth was left "unstitched... and the head was treated with a curious mixture of reverence and contempt."

All this changed with the arrival of the Europeans when heads became objects of commerce rather than ritual, leading to a huge expansion in the market for smoked heads. There was a side effect to this, the heads had to come from somewhere, and soon the smoking of heads became something reserved only for slaves and enemies and was no longer an acknowledgement of reverence.

And the title of the book - that's what Charles Darwin said the Maori shouted when European ships approached. He made the last bit up. What they actually shouted was Come on shore and we will kill you all.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Composition for Isabel with Camellia

Composer Huw Belling created a piece entitled Blumenduft (Floral Scent) to accompany my Isabel with Camellia picture at the National Portrait Gallery. Performed by oboeist Helen Fraser, the piece premiered at The National Portrait Gallery last week.

You can listen to the piece at Huw's website. I love it of course and am honoured to have a piece written for the work.

As the programme notes says,

Blumenduft translates from German as ‘floral scent’. As the piece unfolds, the emphatic repetition of phrases in slightly different iterations permeates the consciousness like a sweetly wafting scent. But the piece is not all innocence. There is a subcutaneous strain of uncertainty; broken phrases betray a certain doubt; a distrust of the senses.

Friday, 7 November 2008

What would Obama do?

What would Obama do?

It's Obama Love Week!

Collapsing Art Market Down the Toilet

picture: Colin Pantall (with thanks to Saniplus Macerators)

Over at the Magnum Blog, Alec Soth quotes Richard Lacayo and Jerry Saltz musing on what the
current economic crisis means for the art market and photography.

"Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly," says Salts. "Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability." Like Lacayo, he sees an upside. "The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists -- especially emerging ones -- won't have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand."

Soth continues with his own take on affairs.

"A few years ago a major collector pulled me aside to offer some advice. "If you want success in the art world," he told me, "the key is to find your thing and never change." His advice almost had me vomiting on his Hirst, but he was probably right. The commerce of art isn't much different than the commerce of handbags. It is all about showing off the brand.

One wonders how the collapsing markets might affect the larger universe (or is it a ghetto?) of the photography world. Will gimmickry and branding become less prominent? Will documentation take precedence over decoration? Will people start caring less about the bag than the stuff it is carrying?"

Hopefully gimmickry will fail, new creativity will emerge and an opening up of photography beyond both the branding of the market and documentary will become apparent - and the move away from documentary in its current form can only be a good thing. Photography is incredibly constrained by academic, media and market perspectives. It is lost in its own rhetoric - the sooner it opens up the better. Perhaps we should all stop caring about what everyone else thinks and just show it how we think it is - then perhaps everything wouldn't quite look all the same.

Isn't that what Obama would do.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Jacob Aue Sobol:Tokyo

pictures: Jacob Aue Sobol top and Shomei Tomatsu

Jacob Aue Sobol talks about his new book I, Tokyo, in the latest edition of the BJP. He mentions the difficulty of following on from Sabine, his book documenting his love for Sabine, his Inuit girlfriend.

"When I did start taking photographs again, I felt like every photograph had to be connected to my feelings. All of the pictures I took afterwards didn't have this and it drove me to thinking that I shouldn't be a photographer anymore."

Thankfully he got over that and produced the work that made I, Tokyo. Comparisons have been made to Daido Moriyama's work, but Sobol is not concerned. "Some people will say that I have repeated myself. Some will say my work looks too much like someone else's. It's always like that. The important thing for me is to feel that I am present in the work, that it reflects how I felt when I lived in Tokyo, and that the people I had relationships are there in the book."

Sobol's Tokyo pictures are striking, but they are very reminiscent of Daido Moriyama's or Shomei Tomatsu's work. Does that matter? Sobol thinks not, and he's probably right. He's following his path and the images are striking and hit the spot - whether they say anything new about Tokyo, something Moriyama hasn't said, is another matter. But then should Sobol, or anyone else for that matter, be expected to be groundbreaking and shockingly new all the time. Should they have their style and stick to it - or should people be more random and free in their image making?

And the cameras he uses? Ricoh GRS1, Contax T3, Contax G2 for I, Tokyo and just the Ricoh for Sabine. We all love ricohs till they stop working.

The 7 Stages of an Idealised Childhood

Hanging on the short rope, Brown's Folly - from the rope swing series.

I'm looking to tie these in with The Sofa Portraits, Life on Mars, Flora and other series to form a wider portrayal of interior and exterior life entitled The 7 stages of an Idealised Childhood.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

National Portrait Gallery and Purpose

The Taylor-Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (click on link to see all the images) at the National Portrait Gallery previews tonight - Isabel with Camelias on Easter Sunday is up there, while a selection of Sofa Portraits is in the latest edition of Purpose Magazine.

This edition is dedicated to childhood and has a whole load of wonderful work in there, so thanks to Paul Demare, Gilles Raynaldy and Francesca Alberti for putting it together. A labour of love indeed!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Mandate My Ass!

End of the B Movie? Isn't that what the hope's all about?

B Movie by Gil Scott Heron, still appropriate after all these years.

"Well, the first thing I want to say is…”Mandate my ass!”

Because it seems as though we’ve been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate – or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 3, 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running.

But, oh yeah, I remember. In this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Reagan, I remember what I said about Reagan…meant it. Acted like an actor…Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California, then he acted like a republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for president. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We’re all actors in this I suppose.


The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse - or the man who always came to save America at the last moment – someone always came to save America at the last moment – especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan – and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at – like a “B” movie."


“You go give them liberals hell Ronnie.” That was the mandate. To the new “Captain Bly” on the new ship of fools. It was doubtlessly based on his chameleon performance of the past - as a liberal democrat – as the head of the Studio Actor’s Guild. When other celluloid saviors were cringing in terror from McCarthy – Ron stood tall. It goes all the way back from Hollywood to hillbilly. From liberal to libelous, from “Bonzo” to Birch idol…born again. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights…it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. God damn it…first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom."

Full lyrics here.