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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...

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Yaniv Waissa

Yaniv Waissa works with plastic cameras, polaroids, polaroid transfer and conventional film to record memory, destruction and trauma, all with a pre-apocalyptic overlay. He deals with some familiar subject matter but in landscapes charged with meaning and architectural violence- so his work gets under the skin. I especially like his polaroid transfers, a wonderful and mysterious transformational medium. In Waissa's own words:

"I deal with a collective- cultural memory, which I embrace for my own personal needs. I go on a physical journey with my camera; a visual journey of the eyes, imagination and recollection, An emotional journey back in time, to the districts of the memory, districts that contain no comfort. I deal with the present through the past. I capture views, places and objects filled with echoes from the past. A past that is also a present and that lives and revives the memories, the collective traumas and my personal emotions.
I deal with the holocaust, through the camera; I seek to understand, to immortalize something hidden in the sights. I try to ignore the world of images widely connected to the holocaust. I intend to create a new system of associations that will activate personal charges: mine and the viewers'."

Vanessa Winship's Best Shot

Vanessa Winship talks about her best shot in the Guardian today. I am a great believer in the power of the individual image (above the book, the show and so on) and this is one of those immediately recognizable and memorable great images. There are only a handful of these images produced every year, hardly any at all. In 20 years time, a lot of the photography that causes a contemporary buzz will be forgotten, consigned to the rubbish bin of visual history. But this image won't be - this is a keeper, a work that will stay with us when near everything else has been forgotten.

"These two girls touched me, and I can't say why. The image was made last spring in a school playground in Kars, near the Armenian border in eastern Turkey. I had been based in Istanbul for five years, so knew the country quite well, but I began this piece when I decided to come home. It represents a turning point for me as a photographer.

Because I was using a very formal camera, everyone was very still when I came to take the image; the moments before and after were pandemonium. Boys were leaping around, wondering why they weren't involved. These girls are not from wealthy backgrounds; traditionally, girls in rural Turkey don't go to school. What I wanted was to give them time to have a moment of importance.

I had arranged to visit a number of different rural schools. This was the first. I had requested girls between seven and 11, and asked if they would come with either their friends or sisters. They were incredibly keen and excited, asking me questions about who I was and saying basic things like, "I like the way you look" or "I like your hair" - things one might talk about with a group of young girls.

We shared a very short moment. Maybe they touched me because they are very raw. There is no posturing at all - and that is rare. For me, they are the embodiment of innocence."

Curriculum vitae

Born: Lincolnshire, 1960.

Studied: Postgraduate diploma in photojournalism at what is now Westminster University. I failed.

Inspirations: Robert Frank and Josef Koudelka, but also contemporary artists like Helen van Meene and Paul Graham.

High point: Producing books is my real love.

Low point: Hundreds - but I have to stop complaining.

Pet hate: Being told what to do. Having somebody tell me what they think I should be saying is not why I became a photographer.

Vanessa Winship

Sweet Nothings

Host Gallery



Starts 3 February 2009

Until 5 March 2009

Details: 020 7253 2770

Visit the website

Clare Strand and the Camera Club

Clare Strand is one of those promiscuous photographers who flips from genre to genre, but still manages to preserve her own way of seeing throughout.

In the intro to her new book published by Steidl, it says

"...Strand’s art has developed through a series of increasingly interesting and unique projects that have explored various photographic genres, from Victorian portraiture to crime scene and forensic photography. In these series she has dwelt on the oddity of photography’s strange backwaters, its utilitarian functions and its infiltration of every corner of our lives, to make us question the value and complex meanings of photographic images."

In 1998, Strand took part in an amateur photo-competition at Ilkley CameraClub. Together with
Martin Parr, Jenny Saville, Joachim Schmid, John Kippin and Clive Landen, she put herself to the test of the club's judge in time-honoured Camera Club tradition. Each picture was marked out of 20 and the winner awarded a trophy. As it says on the website,

"The Photographs found in amateur camera clubs and art galleries might seem worlds apart, but how much depends upon the context in which photographs are seen? Could some camera club pictures be viewed as 'art'? How might renowned photographers fare in a camera club competition?"

See the results and comments here.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Solsbury Hill by Adrian Arbib

I wandered into Toppings Bookshop in Bath and was delighted to find the excellent Solsbury Hill by Adrian Arbib in the window.

The book documents the protests that met the building of the A46 Bathampton bypass, aka The Road to Nowhere, the treehouses that were made in the, er, trees, the Solsbury Hill benders and the protest camps on Bathampton Water Meadows.

I didn't live in Bath at the time, but I do now and see Solsbury Hill and the meadows every day, and drive along the pointless bypass to get to Brown's Folly, home to the world's second oldest bat and where I make many of my pictures.

Sadly, Arbib's pictures are still relevant as another pointless project is being proposed which will further destroy the Bathampton Water Meadows - a Park and Ride scheme. You can see some of the arguments on why it's such a bad idea by clicking on the links on the Solsbury Hill blog. I think subsidised, nay free public transport that is taken out of the hands of First Great Western, a company that makes public transport a luxury that is more expensive than taxis, is part of the answer.

You can buy the book here, view ephemera from the protest and link up to Arbib's blog, which hopefully will develop with time.

Monday, 23 February 2009

"We got on our bikes."

Continuing on the cut and paste, handmade theme, but with old mixtapes rather than books, there was a joyful cackhandedness about making homemade covers for mixtapes. This one's from 1990, but very appropriate for the times.

On your bikes everyone!

(the man is Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher's attack dog in the 1980s. He's famous for suggesting the unemployed get on their bikes and look for work.)

Artists' Books

More information on artists' books comes via Sarah Bodman
at UWE who runs a variety of courses and has information and links to book-binding/artists' book sites, including this overview on marketing and producing books, Creating Artists' Books Marketing and Production.

There are links to artists' book sites here. The images above all come from Artists' books online, where pop-up, concertina, keyhole and positively sculptural books can be found.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Deep Sleep Magazine

From London, UK, here is the first issue of Deep Sleep Magazine featuring old favourites like George Georgiou, Vanessa Winship as well as work by Wang Wei, James Harris, Ben Smith, Sam Baguley and Martin Scott-Jupp.

They're taking submissions for the next 2 issues, with themes of Alien (submission deadline 1st May 2009)
and Dance (submission deadline 1st August 2009).

How to Make Books

Here's a illuminating short video of how to make books from Shepherds Bookbinders in London.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Tiananmen Square and Beijing Coma: Photographic influences

Ma Jian's novel, Beijing Coma (his story of the Tiananmen Square Massacre - the 20th anniversary is on June 4th this year) has many photographic influences, including some of the photography of the demonstrations, the hunger strikes and the massacre. The visual representation of Tiananmen tails off towards the end - photographers were beaten, films were confiscated and having a camera was generally considered a bad thing. There are some images on the internet, but not as many as you might expect.

A lot of commentary has been made on how photography should be more subtle and show the build up to events - but with Tiananmen, I think the actual images of what happened, of the shootings, the beatings the crushing under tank tracks carry much more power than anything more tangential, especially because there is relatively little of it.

More images are available here.

Stuart Franklin and Tiananmen Square

Continuing on the Beijing Coma theme, the most famous picture of the events in Tiananmen Square was Tank Man, mentioned in Ma's novel and photographed and filmed by several journalists. One of the most prominent was Stuart Franklin. This is what he said about his image on Virtual Philospher.

Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin discusses his photograph, Tiananmen Square June 4th, 1989

Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin took one of the iconic photographs of the Twentieth Century: the young protestor confronting a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the student uprising in 1989. In a special interview for Virtual Philosopher Franklin explains how he came to take this photograph.

Nigel: Why were you in China?

Stuart: I’d heard about the student protests in Tiananmen Square and my understanding of Chinese history was that any uprising against the government was an extremely serious matter. It is as close as you can get to sacrilege in Chinese culture. We expected something to happen. At Magnum in New York we had a charismatic editorial director Bob Dannin who wanted to send one of our photographers there. I told him I wanted to go, so he used Magnum’s editorial fund to send me to cover the story.

Nigel: And when you got there…

Stuart: The protest was in full flight. What had begun as student protests at the memorial service for the reforming General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, had already metamorphosed into a pro-democracy rally and the numbers present were growing. Students had occupied the whole square; some were on hunger strike. The Marseillaise was being broadcast from the Monument to the People’s Revolution.

Nigel: And were the soldiers there at that point?

Stuart: There were soldiers around the edges of the square. Truckloads of them. Martial law had been declared on 20th May. At the beginning the atmosphere wasn’t tense: it was more like a rock festival with the tents pitched on the square, music playing, young people milling around. I talked a lot with the students, went to the university to look at their printing presses. I tried to get involved with every aspect of the story. After I was there a few days Time Magazine put me on assignment and I had my own bicycle that I kept in the Time Magazine office. It’s probably still there.

Nigel: How long were you in Bejing before the troops moved in?

Stuart: I was there for about six days before the night of June 3rd when the army moved in and the shooting started. We knew something was coming. There was a build up of troops, an increasing atmosphere of tension. Loudspeakers were blaring out messages ordering everyone to disperse. Some did leave then, particularly after there was a bad storm. Many didn’t return after that.

Nigel: Then what happened?

Stuart: It didn’t get dark until about 9 p.m. I remember I was taking pictures in the square at around 10 pm, after dark. Some intermittent shooting began at the edge of the square – apparently at random. I saw someone go down. Then there was complete chaos. Everyone tried to run. It was difficult to tell where the shots were coming from or where to go in the pitch black darkness. The Chinese Army had been ordered to re-take the square at any cost. I managed to photograph students burning an armoured personel carrier…

Nigel: How did you get away?

Stuart: I found my way back to the Hotel Bejing were I was staying close to the square. We didn’t know at the time, but most of the killing was going on in the Western suburbs before the troops got to the square. As many as 2,600 people were killed in those few days.

Nigel: Were you scared?

Stuart: Yes, of course. This wasn’t the first time I’d been shot at in Beijing. A couple of days before I was just leaving a hotel restaurant with some journalists when bullets started ricocheting off the tarmac. We managed to duck down behind the cars and get back into the hotel. On the night of the 3rd June, the photojournalist, Charlie Cole, came to the hotel and shared my room because he couldn’t get back to his hotel. We snatched a few hours of sleep. In the morning the security services raided the hotel and tried to take away our equipment and film. We’d been tipped off about this, and I’d managed to hide most of my film in my luggage and around the room before they arrived. I gave them a few rolls and they left.

Nigel: Then what happened?

Stuart: The Beijing Hotel obliquely overlooks Tiananmen Square. There were several photojournalists there. We were fortunate that we’d stayed so close to the action: some of the other journalists had moved to a hotel two miles from the square a few days earlier because they could get better food there. That morning we got onto the balcony and could see a line of students facing up to the tanks in the distance. We were a long way away. We desperately wanted to go to the hospitals to find out about the killed and injured to get some sense of the scale of what was happening. But we were confined to the hotel. My memory is that the troops started firing at the line of students to break through, but we were so far away that it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. You can see the photographs I took of this in the book Magnum Stories. Eventually the troops broke the line and the students moved aside.

A line of tanks continued up Chang An Avenue nearer to us. I saw this student emerge and stand in front of a tank. The tank stopped. He climbed up on the tank and talked to the driver in the turret. Then he stood in front of the tank again until three civilians dragged him away, and the tanks carried on.

Nigel: Did you realise you'd taken such an important photograph?

Stuart: No, it seemed quite a weak picture compared to images of confrontations with tanks during the Prague Spring. It was television coverage of the event that gave significance to that particular photograph.

Nigel: How did you get the photograph out of China?

Stuart: I hid my films in a box of tea and managed to get a French student to carry them to Paris.

Nigel: Why is it more memorable than the news footage of the same event?

Stuart: Still images always are. There is time to reflect...

© Stuart Franklin, 2006

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Nail Houses

One of the key features of Beijing Coma is the habitation of a nail house/apartment, a house where the occupiers resist demolition and sit it out as their surroundings are flattened.

A couple of years ago, the top nail house (in Chongqing) was widely circulated in the media. Here are a few more.

Tiananmen Square and Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Execution: Yue Minjun

It will be the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4th. There are a fair number of accounts of the events of the day and the months preceding it, but for me Ma Jian's novel, Beijing Coma is the most evocative.

Beijing Coma tells the events leading up to the massacre through the eyes of Dai Wei, a Beijing University student activist. Dai Wei tells of the gathering momentum of a student movement that makes the simple demand of accountability and an end to corruption in the Chinese government. He writes of the splits and factionalism , the bureaucracy, the vanity and power hunger as the protests develop. It's the story of a movement that has energy, dynamism and countless flaws - a human movement in other words.

Spliced into this is his narration of his body's breakdown as he lies in a coma in his mother's flat after getting shot in the head during the June 4th clampdown. As he lies on his mattress, he recounts his physical deterioration, the smells, the sounds, the sores and the faecal, urinary and seminal leakage. The fates of his fellow activists is told through the visits of old friends, girlfriends and family. Some were imprisoned, some exiled and some are now dead.

His mother cares for him and disintegrates as she does so, her whole life a series of "wrong" political choices and associations. Her husband was a rightist, her son a student activist, her life a never-ending litany of criticism and persecution. She seeks solace in meditation and movement, in Falun Gong in other words, and becomes a suspect element in her own right.

For Dai Wei's family, and in China as a whole, there is no room for artistic, political or religious expression. So what is left? Doing business, cutting deals, making money. The aftermath of Tiananmen is a loss of self and a loss of soul, it is modern China in all its facadist money-making glory.

The book builds up to its climax, the shooting of Dai Wei and countless others, but even though we know what will happen, the tension is compelling. Notable is the absence of commentary on the government's reaction to events. Everything is seen from the simulacrumnal (is that a word) perspective of the students. The naivety and idealism shine through, as do the faction fighting and petty politics, a mirror for the CCP and PLA - the invisible hand that guides all things, the unknown entity that is playing out its own power struggle through the student demonstrations.

Ma squeezes everything in, from the venality of the nation's education and medical systems to the corrupt facadism of urban development. And by the end of the book, the question of Dai Wei and his coma is somehow irrelevant. He might come out of it, he might not, but the way things stand, the whole country is in state of suspended animation, a living dead of construction, development and chasing an illusory dragon.

Ma also conveys the sense of inevitability of historical events, and that this inevitability is transferable, that all might seem solid in the Middle Kingdom, but it won't always be that way. That one day the chickens will come home to roost - and that day might be sooner than we all imagine.

Joel Meyerowitz interview

Check out this great Joel Meyerowitz interview over on the wonderfully democratic too much chocolate.

And just to remind us Brits that the snow we had here earlier in the month is not really snow in the real sense of the word, here are Jake Stangel's latest snowboarding pictures from Mount Baker's Legendary Banked Slalom.

Before I return to Tiananmen Square and move out of promotional mood, check out the excellent inaugural edition of Lay Flat, a magazine that is sure to have an influence that will extend beyond both its first issue and the blogosphere from which it was born. Yours for only about £20 including postage (or 32 of your American dollars).

Operation Jericho: 44 years ago today

picture: Colin Pantall

When I lived on Grosvenor Place, Cecil Dunlop (pictured here) was my neighbour. He was a navigator on one of the Mosquitos that bombed Amiens Prison on 18th February 1944, in Operation Jericho. The idea was to bomb the prison walls to free French Resistance prisoners who were due to be shot in a mass execution the following day. And it worked,

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Elijah Gowin Interview

I posted on Elijah Gowin's Falling and Floating pictures last month. I liked them so much, and found them so convincing, that I asked Elijah some questions which he very kindly answered. This is what he said. The images above are from the Floating series. The horse image is by Betty Hahn - wonderful.

I guess I wanted some metaphor for how many people are feeling recently. Personally, I sense more anxiety and flux that has led to a loss of balance in our humanity. This loss of balance and the attempt to right ourselves is something I wanted to explore both psychologically and geographically in a new type of landscape image.

Since I wanted to work with images of sky and water, I included these two different concepts of momentum and loss of grounding. Often the floating figures are more contemplative and quiet than the falling images, but often psychologically both types of images feel the same. Some of the treading water images are meant to be as potentially dangerous as the figures falling into trees.

I think our connection to the landscape tells much about the human state of mind. On one hand technology is often the tool that gives us optimism and hope for control. I started to make these images with the events of Katrina and the tsunami in South-east asia fresh in my mind. Such geographic events certainly highlight our ultimate lack of control and throw doubts upon our psychology. In times of trauma, people often renew their connection and place within nature. That is why I decided to set the falling and floating people in natural surroundings.

On a picture level, I show gestures full of elegance and beauty and combine them in potentially dire situations. I don't picture the impact of falling but hopefully let everyone have that endpoint in mind.
I see the handmade element of my process as a metaphor for the individual. After working many years in the chemical darkroom, I needed to develop a new set of creative steps for my digital tools. Rather than taking a direct approach, I wanted to develop a unique digital process that combined some presence of the maker as well as machine. I felt this would produce an image that no one else was making.

I use amateur snapshots (found on the internet) and combine them with images I have taken myself. I then collage them in multiple layers in Photoshop before printing small paper negatives which are cut by hand and then scanned, causing the paper fibers to become a part of the final distressed image. I think the imperfect edges of the photo along with the varnish that the prints are finally coated with serve as important (and imperfect ) human gestures. Paper, made of organic pulp, is an old world item that for me symbolizes things we try to remember and hold on to. As the scanner fights to penetrate the thick paper, vertical strips of color are deposited on the image. I tend to think of these bars as like scars left over from the clash between the opposing forces of machines and paper.

I see myself as influenced by the alternative photographic history where photography bleeds into other disciplines. From photographers in the 1960's like Betty Hahn to the resurgence of non-silver materials in the 1990s, I have been interested to expand what photography can do and what it looks like. Its been a challenge to extend this attitude into the digital realm where the tools are often democratic and leveling to image making.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

New work: Rope Swings

It's time for a little bit of new work. This is another Life on Mars image, from a Brown's Folly rope swing. The rope swings are becoming a category in their own right.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow Chaos

There's been a bit of snow here in the UK for the first time for a while. So everything has stopped working, people can't get to work, roads are closes, buses stop running, schools collapsing, it's madness out there.

Arkansas State Prison Photographs

Via Digressions come these archival portraits of insane? prisoners from the Arkansas State Prison (1915-1937). ~Found and printed by Bruce Jackson, the modernity of the images combined with the incidental aging process makes them very contemporary - effortlessly altered images, Sander/Avedon/Dijkstra with a dash of possible madness thrown in for good luck.

"These images are based on a group of about two hundred 3"x4" identification photographs made between 1914 and 1937 that Jackson found in a drawer in the Arkansas penitentiary in the summer of 1975. The photographs of the men were loose in the drawer; the photographs of the women were in a small brown envelope. Most of the photographs of the men were taken inside, against a wall or a cloth; most of the photographs of the women were taken outside, near a fence, in a wicker chair. Bruce Jackson is a documentary artist presently on the faculty of University at Buffalo, where he is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture."

Bruce Jackson's website is here. You can see some his own work on American prisons from the 1970s.