There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not bei...
Thursday, 11 June 2009
It's very nearly time to shut up shop for the summer, so with a nod towards Elijah Gowin amongst others, here are some jumping pictures from the summer so far. Much more of jumping fun to come for everybody.
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
It's a little Japanese but very LA, with a whole lot of Ruscha, maybe some Sunset Boulevard and, oh yes, maybe some Walter Mosley thrown in for good measure (that falls into the what else can I think of that has to do with Los Angeles category).
RJ was kind enough to answer a few questions - his reply for how he got into photography is a step up from the usual "I got dropped on my head when I was a baby" the rest of us give as our excuse.
His work tells the story of his relationship with Cho-Cho, a Burmese refugee living in Thailand. Chris's work combines pictures of himself with Cho-Cho; on the streets, in the shower, in bed, at school - with landscape of the surrounding area, pictures that I think capture the often unspoken bleakness and violence (extrajudicial executions, army massacres, separatist repression, lovely!) of the country and its fascist elements. It's Sabine but without the beauty and romanticism. And because it comes from Thailand Chris is treading on ground where our orientalist preconceptions and half-baked knowledge is free to run wild.
I see Cho Cho as the first part of an ongoing story; Cho Cho and Chris will get married, she will move to Wales, and new challenges and difficulties will emerge, the kind of challenges that very few photographers have successfully documented. Hopefully, Chris's work will continue to combine the personal with the political and with that in mind, here are some questions I put to him about the work.
How did you meet Cho Cho?
"I travelled to the Thai/Burma border in June 2007 to document the KNLA, an armed ethnic group fighting against the Burmese military junta in Karen state in eastern Burma. I based myself in the town of Mae Sot on the Thai side of the border while I waited for my contact and fixer to return to Thailand. One of my friends introduced me to a teacher (Sayama) in a primary school and Sayama suggested that I came along the next day to see the school and take some pictures of the children.
The next day I went along and I was introduced to the other teachers and one of them was Cho Cho. After spending the morning at the school Sayama offered to take me around and introduce me to some of the local community, her students and Cho Cho came along and I started to talk to her, but she was very shy at first.
I came back to the school everyday to try and take some pictures and also to try and talk to Cho Cho with persistence if not success. Later Cho Cho told me that she asked her mother (also a teacher at the school) why this photographer kept on coming back everyday, to which her mother replied “because he likes you!”
I was invited round to Cho Cho’s house to meet the rest of her family and then through chatting and text messages she told me that she didn’t have a boyfriend, and I didn’t have a girlfriend so I asked her out.
In Burmese culture dating is frowned upon, and the Burmese community can misinterpret Burmese women with foreign men in the same way as in the west. So it was quite an old fashioned romance, dates were chaperoned by members of Cho Cho’s family and lots of time spent with her family in her home."
What was the inspiration for the project?
"Well I really enjoy Jacob Aue Sobol’s project Sabine but there are also aspects of Nobuyoshi Araki’s work that I really like. But I think the project has really developed and moved beyond external influences and taken on a life of its own. All these different aspects of the relationship and my thoughts and emotions were documented over the course of the project and my job was really just to edit the images to reveal whatever aspects I want to show. This work is very organic and so doesn’t have a specific edit, the edit is constantly changing and adapting depending on what aspects I want to talk about in different environments. And its still an ongoing project which will continue to evolve and grow."
How did the project get started?
"I wanted to work on a project that was more personal, more important to me, and my relationship with Cho Cho just kept of calling out to me to be photographed. I started to photograph in the summer of 2008 but I was very uncertain about what I wanted to actually say with the images and it took me a while to find my feet. I discussed with Cho Cho about making a project based upon our relationship and she was very supportive. The project as it is today is a result of images taken as part of my final year studying Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. The project developed over the year as my confidence and vision for the project grew, once I really threw myself into it and started to take more risks it started to see the kind of results I was looking for."
Why is Thailand shown as so bleak?
"I don’t think that Thailand is shown as bleak within the project but the images that talk more about the environment did give me the space to talk about some of the darker issues within the project. Some of the images of Thailand I think have a healthy dose of what Edward Said would call Orientalism and I think that is an important part of the project, the romantic illusion of the Orient, as it is a love story with an asian women as told by a western photographer. But getting back to the darker images, there are some darker issues, such as how the relationship is viewed by outsiders that I try to deal with, in the photograph of the rubbish and broken signs offering ‘thai massage’, I am well aware that some people see the project and the relationship through their preconceptions of Thailand and ideas of commercialised sex. I could never get away with this and so I wanted to confront it head on. Other darker images such as the ghostly image of dog in the road at night are less confrontational but still talk about issues that are important to me. To me the image talks about how I had my life somewhat planned out, like driving down a road at night, and the suddenly something jumps out in front of you and makes you change your course, it’s a bit like me planning to graduate and then get a job and marry Cho Cho and bring her to the UK but then something like the credit crunch comes and suddenly its not so easy to find a job in the UK and plans have to change.
So as the project is still primarily a love story and me and Cho Cho are very happy I wanted to use the images of the environment to talk about the darker parts of the project."
What have been the reactions to the work?
"Well I have been very surprised by some of the reactions to the work, I knew that some of the more intimate images were controversial but I was not quite ready for the level of hostility from many of my fellow students. Some said it was exploitative but one student even went so far as to suggest that I was only pretending to be engaged to Cho Cho so that I could take pictures, that I had somehow tricked her in to it and that I had no intention of marrying her at all. But I am very proud of the work and Cho Cho is 100% supportive about the project and its her opinion that counts the most to me.
Apart from a few students the feedback has been very positive. Now I just need to publicise the work more and try to get it seen by a wider audience to get more feedback."
Monday, 8 June 2009
Sara Ziff was 14 when she first began modelling. Her third casting was in the East Village in New York. "We had to go in one by one. The photographer said he wanted to see me without my shirt on. Then he told me that it was still hard to imagine me for the story so could I take my trousers off. I was standing there in a pair of Mickey Mouse knickers and a sports bra. I didn't even have breasts yet. 'We might need to see you without your bra,' he told me. It was like he was a shark circling me, walking around and around, looking me up and down without saying anything. I did what he told me to. I was just eager to be liked and get the job. I didn't know any better." Teenage girls, she says, are being persuaded to pose in a sexual way when they don't even know what it means yet. She recalls being a "virginal teenager" and posing innocently when she didn't feel remotely sexy. "The images came out and they were practically pornographic. What the photographer saw was not what I felt. It had nothing to do with that 14-year-old and what she was feeling and everything to do with what the person behind the camera projected onto her."
Read the whole story here.
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
This blog will take a minute's silence to remember the events of June 4th, 1989.
"Power often wins, but in the end freedom will conquer all."
From the BBC documentary: Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square
Watch, weep and remember.
The cult of the small print gathers pace with this show in Rome run by the charmsters at CameraOscura and 3x3. Some of my Sofa Portraits will be in there so do drop by if you are lucky enough to be in Rome. Everything is sized at 5 x 4 which is very democratic!
VIA FIVIZZANO 27,
INFO AND PRESS OFFICE:
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Summer is here and the blog is slowly being put to sleep till september.
The hot weather got me nostalgic and looking back at old baby pictures - when Isabel was younger than she is now - and these reminded me of the wildness of young children, the chaos, the anarchy, the raw emotion and the coming into being of a new life and new person (and with that comes the loss of self, for the mother at least).
So here is a piece by my beloved Katherine, Isabel's mother, on new life.
"Few of us remember our early years. If we do, our memories have a ghostly, hallucinogenic quality. They might be primal and visceral or banal and trivial, but they are always emotional. They are memories of envy, pleasure, fear, rage, happiness, pride, malice.
To have a child is to rediscover that part of your childhood, to revisit that forgotten stage of your own journey. It is one of the reasons parenthood is such a profound experience; it allows us to fully map out, for the first time, who we are and where we came from. Through our children, we can trace the invisible roots of our own lives that lie buried in the dank soil of forgotten memories.
My first taste of this came a few hours after my daughter, Isabel, was born. She did not hesitate, but came quickly and violently, landing in the midwife’s hands, just after midnight, on a warm spring night. I had two feelings the moment she was born. First, that she was amazingly beautiful, a tiny human creature perfect in every detail. Second, that she was a stranger. She had come from my body, but I did not know her, or even recognise her. And I had expected to recognise her. It was as if someone had walked in off the street and placed this unknown infant into my arms. I knew then that she was an individual, someone totally separate from myself. I could not tell, yet, what kind of person she would turn out to be. But she had begun. She had taken the first step on the journey.
After the drama and back slapping and triumph of birth came the abandonment. I returned to the ward and the midwives said goodnight. I was left, in the half light of a maternity ward at night, with my freshly born baby. It was 3:30 am.
We sat up in bed and stared at each other. Her face was a blank, her eyes two dark saucers devoid of anything we might call human. She looked ghostly, scary almost. What was she thinking? What was she experiencing in those first hours of life? She had only just been expelled from the only world she had ever known to find herself here, in this cold, hard place. She stared at me, her eyes boring into me, as though trying to understand who I might be. Did she recognise me? Did she recognise my voice, my smell, the sound of my heartbeat? Or was she studying this strange being who was to be her carer and protector, the person she would come to know in time as her mother?
And I, like any new mother, felt totally inadequate for the job. It was huge, gargantuan, beyond daunting. I was meant to be having a baby. Instead I had given birth to a human being.
I soon discovered that I knew my baby far more intimately than I realised. Her cries pierced my soul, speaking in a language only I could understand. Where others heard the wails of an infant, I heard hunger or terror or the plaintive longing to he held and comforted.
It was easy to chart her physical evolution, the journey from helpless infant to a walking, talking child, capable of controlling its bodily functions. Books even existed where you could record these remarkable milestones: the first step, the first word, the first locket of hair.
But the emotional journey, the journey into personhood, is more illusive. What are the markers for that? Where do we locate the moment our child first experiences jealousy or self pity? How do we record the way she sees the world or her evolving sense of self? We cannot measure these things with a pencil on the kitchen wall.
It was this journey into personhood that fascinated me most. From the moment she emerged from the dark warmth of my body into the harsh light, she had begun her journey towards herself. Every cell in her body was dedicated to the task. My role was to supply a safe, bounded place where she could get on with the job. Her personality was evident almost immediately: She was laid back, playful, hot tempered, funny. Watching her grow was like watching a mystery unravel, an exotic flower come fully and spectacularly into bloom. At times she was a pendulum, screaming and kicking and red faced one minute, laughing and jumping and delirious with pleasure the next. It was at such moments that her struggle with that violent and beautiful thing called the human condition was most evident.
At first, I was always there to rescue her and protect her from danger. Eventually, she discovered that her mother cannot stop another child from being spiteful, cannot stop the scraped knee from hurting. Her mother cannot control the outside world, or the inside one for that matter. In the end she must learn to deal with these things herself.
To watch and help your child through this process, through those first few years of her life, is both glorious and heartbreaking. It is wonderful to see them embrace pleasure and beauty, to be fully engaged with life. It is a torment to watch them wrestle with the dark side, to see them experience cruelty and betrayal and pain.
And to know that this is only the beginning.
Four years after that night spent staring at a baby in a hospital ward, we threw a birthday party for our daughter. The empty-eyed infant had evolved into a bubbly, happy child with a fiery temper and vivid imagination, a sensitive girl who is easily frightened, yet strangely resilient to wounds. For her it was an epic event. She was four, officially a “big girl“, well on her way to achieving her greatest ambition in life: to grow up.
For me, it was the beginning of the end. The first crucial leg of her journey towards selfhood was over. In six months she will be starting school. She will line up with all the other children, in their identical uniforms, and begin her life as a social creature, negotiating with others, functioning within an institution. There she will discover new ideas and other ways of being and begin to make up her own mind about how to live in this world."
© Katherine Tanko