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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, 23 October 2009

Happy Halloween

When is summer coming round again? Time for a short holiday. Happy Halloween.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nick Griffin's Cabinet

Catherine Tate has shown us the liberal tendencies of working class Belfast. Now a hurling star comes out in Ireland.

Cusack's revelation came during the week that Ireland passed another milestone: the first national conference of gay, lesbian and bisexual primary school teachers was held in Dublin. Opening the event, the novelist Colm Toibin said: "Any historian writing about the slow and often gnarled progress of liberty in Ireland will see today as a central moment in the assertion of personal freedom in our country."

But as Fintan O'Toole commented in the Irish Times: "There are still tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians who are in hiding from violence, contempt and ignorance. That is not their shame – it is ours."

What's the last taboo - a Premier League footballer who doesn't kill himself or perhaps a gay Hollywood actor so Sean Penn doesn't have to play Harvey Milk.

Also in the Indie today, how the Palestinians get stiffed three ways, by the Israelis, by the Arabs and by their own leaders, truly a chosen people. And last but not least, Ten things you should know about the BNP. You know the BNP, that's the leader Nick Griffin up there, next to his Education Minister, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He's on the BBC for some reason tonight, but probably won't be saying how Hitler was basically a good guy, it was his advisers who let him down. You know the kind of thing.

Which leads naturally to the funniest thing on British television, Armstrong and Miller's Airmen,
which ties back to Donal Cusack and we come full circle.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Race, Diversity and Lots More

Pete Brook at Prison Photography has come up with the excellent and ambitious idea of an online symposium on race and diversity in photography. It's a very broad brief but a vital one - I think there are so many questions that could be included here - does photography ever does break down barriers (or does it just reaffirm existing stereotypes of one kind or another), what is the purpose of passing control of images over to those who have traditionally been the subject, who is the consumer all these pictures we talk about, who should be the audience.

The focus is on race, an incredibly broad area - but taking the UK as an area of special interest, how is race portrayed here, how are the marginalised portrayed here - who are the marginalised, who are the new, invisible minorities (the identification of whom is a key part of third sector policy at present), how can they be photographed, how should they be photographed, and does it have any purpose.

Is idealization a form of discrimination - how are people with disabilities portrayed, and with mental health problems, and learning difficulties and from Britain's various underclasses. A broad area without mentioning age, gender or religion, both of which have to get a look in - anyone with any specific visual/photographic interests in these areas or pointers to people working in these areas, do comment below or write to me at colin@colinpantall.com or Pete at prisonphotography@gmail.com

From Prison Photography:

Early plans

This will be an Online Symposium. I would like see a concerted effort among photobloggers: I offer an open invitation to all those who wish to get involved.

The online symposium will look something like this:

- Occurring mid/late spring 2010
- A one week long, coordinated series of photo-features, interviews, op-eds, inquiries and articles.


- To communicate the wide experiences, attitudes, facts and myths in photography as they relate to race and diversity.
- To achieve respect and understanding among photographers, contributors and readers.

What Should You D0?

- Please think seriously about your experience and knowledge and if you’d like to share that as part of this community project.
- Spread the word. If you don’t wish to get involved, perhaps you know someone who would have a valuable contribution?
- Share your ideas, initially through comments below, or directly with me [prisonphotography@ gmail.com] and later on a devoted website.

Thanks! Please don’t hesitate to be in touch/throw ideas about. The projects’ outcomes depend on the quality and commitment of your input.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Nostalgia and Decay

Joerg posted an article on the number of photographers that are concerned with 'abstraction, materiality and process.' The author wondered why this might be so.

I think it might be because a lot of this work is concerned with decay - decay of the image in the literal sense (some of Stephen Gill's work), decay of the digital image ( Elijah Gowin), decay through nostalgia (visual history nostalgia as with Markus Amm, Sara GreenbergerRafferty as well as anyone working with alternative processes) and decay through the means of representation and reproduction (televisual and appropriated images).

At the same time this decay refers to an organic, physical presence, something with a history that lies beyond the instant gratification of the internet - something that is material but not permanent. There is a striving for something kinaesthetic in these images of process and materiality, something that takes them beyond the digital - and I think that is part of what is being photographed, the death of the photographic image, but also its preservation, albeit in decaying and decontextualised state, beyond the degrading influence of the computer screen. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Dad as a hindu, Mum when drunk

It's all a lie but who am I supposed to be?

Endless wittering about photography

A friend who works at the film department at Bristol University described how students would look at 2 minutes of a film on youtube, reference that and think it was enough. They were unable to bear the pace of any film that was slow and nuanced in any way. So, sure, they knew the basic plot of All about Eve or Lawrence of Arabia but they had never watched them because they were too 'boring'.

Though she recognized how great the internet is, she questioned whether it really deepened our knowledge of anything, or merely trivialized it, transforming communally shared cinematic, televisual, musical and photographic experiences into little tidbits or random experiential-factoids without history, context or commentary.

She commented on fashion designers who withhold their ideas from the internet - mainly because they will be copied and sold by ripoff merchants around the world, but also because the internet degrades the consumer experience - it is not the way we shop.

In the same way, I wonder if photography and art isn't degraded by the internet, if looking at pictures on the internet isn't remarkably similar to watching 2 minutes of All About Eveon youtube and checking out the number of stars on IMDB and imagining it's the same as watching the movie.

We all know the people who don't have websites/blogs because they don't theoretically need websites, but I think there will a lot more people who won't have websites/blogs because they don't like websites or blogs - because they don't do anything for their work except degrade it, trivialise it and turn it to the subject of (Tim Hetherington again) 'endless wittering.'

(And with that, here's some new work from the summer. It used to be the cliche about photography that you couldn't show kids smiling or laughing (that was all the family album/school picture thing) but really, how many pictures do we have of people smiling/laughing that isn't sheer whimsy. I can think of a few but any other ideas - smiling and laughing beyond whimsy?)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Visitors in Wales

Time to put some old pictures from Wales up.

Why are Pixar scared of girls

Mmm, enough of pointless finger-pointing and name calling at a wonderful artist. How about something that really matters, something you can see everytime you pick up a magazine, newspaper or look at the internet.

Or look at a movie. Next movie we see as a family will be Up, story of an old man and a boy. Yep, it's Pixar time again. Great movies but why are Pixar scared of girls? An old theme I know but...

These people put it so much better than myself.

Where Are Pixar's Women (or, Does Whimsy Trump Equality?)

Pixar's Gender Problem

To Pixar: We love it. But next time, could you add a girl?

Friday, 16 October 2009

how to write about africa

I'll have to do a repeat posting. This is Binyavanga Wainana (from Granta 92) writing about how to write about Africa.

How to Write about Africa

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or 'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.


I love Pieter Hugo's work - it's fantastic. It's also multi-layered, it reeks of urbanisation, industrialisation, fake machismo, the film industry (they have a film industry!) and the animals that do feature are mangy, mistreated objects of somebody else's (not our) curiosity. Not a safari or a sotto voce David Attenborough in sight.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Success and failure in love and art: J.M Coetzee

Big Jim Coetzee again, this time on the relationship between success and failure in love and art. From Youth. It's too familiar!

"...he is afraid: afraid of writing, afraid of women. He may pull faces at the poems he reads in Ambit and Agenda, but at least they are there, in print, in the world. How is he to know that the men who wrote them did not spend years squirming as fastidiously as he in front of the blank page? They squirmed, but then finally they pulled themselves together and wrote as best they could what had to be written, and mailed it out, and suffered the humiliation of rejection or the equal humiliation of seeing their effusions in cold print, in all their poverty... What more is required than a kind of stupid, insensitive doggedness, as lover, as writer, together with a readiness to fail and fail again."

On being an obscure and ridiculous artist: J.M. Coetzee

From Youth, J.M. Coetzee writes about being in love and being an artist. 'Obscure and ridiculous' - that strikes a chord. But one day, one day soon...

He is slim and looselimbed, yet at the same time flabby. He would like to be attractive but knows he is not.... Something of the baby still lingers in him. How long before he will cease to be ababy? What will cure him of babyhood, make him into a man?

What will cure him, if it were to arrive, will be love. He may not believe in God, but he does believe in love and the powers of love. The beloved, the destined one, will see at once through the odd and dull exterior he presents to the fire that burns within him. Meanwhile, being dull and odd looking are part of the purgatory he must pass through in order to emerge, one day, into the light: the light of love, the light of art. For he will be an artist, that has long been settled. if for the time being he must be obscure and ridiculous, that is because it is the lot of the artisit to suffer obscurity and ridicule until the day when he is revealed in his true powers and the the scoffers and mockers fall silent.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Jasper Carlberg's Fight Club

copyright Jasper Carlberg

I do like the lack of glamour in Jasper Carlberg's Fight Club. There is a curious mix of vulnerability, martyrdom, culpability and downright stupidity in these pictures - and they also allude to military images of violence. I keep on thinking of Larry Burrows for some reason.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Osama Esid and Orientalism

Osama Esid is a Syrian-born, Minneapolis based artist who works with ideas of Orientalism - specifically how Western constructs of the exotic are also part of the 'Oriental' (Arab in this case) identity and world-view.

He cranks this up in his beautiful hand-tinted large format pictures that wind a mythologized past into an idealized present. We all like to mythologize the places we live/don't live - people do it in England, idealizing the simple life of Devon and Dorset and Cornwall, fantasizing about downsizing from London and moving to Bristol (aka Clifton) or Bath. In Indonesia, people living in Jakarta idealize Bali (just as we do), or talk about their dreams of living the simple peasant life in the kampung - with a golf course not too far away if possible but they don't mention that. Migrants do the same on their hell-trips across Asia, Africa and Europe, dreaming of a safe and prosperous England to get them through their journey, and millions more around the world hope to live out their very own American Dream - so as well as your down the line Edward Said style Orientalism there are countless variations on the theme and opposing, but really very similar, forms of Occidentalism.

So, although Esid deals quite specifically with Orientalist perspectives, he also deals with the universal virtue/vice of idealisation, something you could extend to far wider areas of representation - including my own current interest, that of childhood.

So it's good to see such universal themes dealt with so directly in his beautiful pictures. There is a sense of he's having his cake and eating it, but so what. Lots of people tint their pictures, lots of people pose workers with their tools in studios and hope something profound or beautiful will emerge - and most times nothing does and you get a cringeworthy mess. Esid's pictures aren't cringeworthy - they are lovely. And he gets to eat his cake.

His website is here, but I couldn't get past the beautiful music. The words below are from the gallery statement, and represent a middle way that could apply to almost anywhere in the world that is idealized or represented as some kind of exotic/paradise/Shangri-La. So not "grandiloquent hokum" (I think that matters, but I'm not entirely sure).

For Esid that image of Orient constructed by the West also penetrated the East, “the oriental fantasy exists on both sides”. Furthermore and here is where Esid’s motivation and inspiration lies, one can inquire into a stereotype to create new interpretations using its own language and mechanisms and feeding on those same inner contradictions, without needing to pigeonhole a culture.

Thus in the “Orientalism and Nostalgia” series, Esid reconstructs a theatrical period scenario but displaces it in full XXI century in one of the most important capitals of the region, Cairo. The aim of each piece is to acquire the atmosphere of those old vintage pictorialist photos, where beauty becomes the main protagonist. He highlights the more sensual side of Orientalism, referring to those essentially feminine spaces which also remind us of French XIX century painting. He retrieves the sensuality and eroticism in the gaze and enticing pose, although endowing his women with a defiant intensity, no longer passive and complacent, but on the contrary women who are in control of their bodies and their destinies.

By acknowledging beauty in this context, Osama Esid brings forth another representative twist, which is to try to modify the current widespread vision of his region, one characterised by images of war, terrorism and fundamentalism.

On the other hand, the “Workers of Cairo” series presents a direct contemporary account of the most common professions and jobs of this immense metropolis. Once again, however Esid portrays it as if it belonged to another time, endowing his models with a timeless quality. The strength of this series, which is so reminiscent of the work of August Sander, lies in forcing both the Western and Eastern audience to observe those armies of average men who create our day to day lives, the mundane heroes, who we refuse to acknowledge and would prefer to ignore.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Big Bad Wolf

The charming and beautiful Mrs Deane posted these film stills on her website and asks where they come from.

Does anyone know. It's a cross between The Wicker Man, the Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Basil Brush.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Caleb Cole wears other people's clothes

This is one of Caleb Cole's pictures from his Other People's Clothes project. The title says it all and this is the star image. Why the long face, you baby-faced young pup, you?

Via Lenscratch.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Spiritual America

“Terrie, Brooke Shields' mother recognizes what this picture could possibly suggest, (not about Brooke, but about her). In a word: "pimp". When the picture was taken, Brooke was ten years old but Gary Gross made her head up to look like an older woman. Then he went to the trouble of oiling her body to heighten and refract the presence of her "he-she" adolescence. Now we've got a body with two different sexes, maybe more, and a head that looks like it's got a different birthday.”

That's what Richard Prince wrote about the Brooke Shields he 'borrowed' from Gary Gross - but isn't it a bit like picture-trafficking isn't it? Once Prince has made the picture his own, doesn't Richard Prince become the new pimp?

And if Richard Prince is a pimp, is anyone who takes pictures a pimp - or are we just taking it all a bit too seriously and treating pictures as some kind of fetish with a soul of its own. I suppose these are all the questions Prince is posing by taking the picture in the first place.

At the same time, there's the big stereotype (sometimes true, normally not) of primitive people believing in the camera stealing one's soul, but don't nearly all of us who "witter on about photography" (Tim Hetherington's words) do the same. Don't we all have a little bit of the primitive in us. And if we are, perhaps we should drop the bullshit a little and start saying things are what they are - so if a Richard Prince takes a Gross Gary Gross picture, the pimped picture by Gary Gross becomes the pimped picture by Richard Prince. And nothing more.

But where does that leave the rest of us. Via Susana Raab's blog, this review touches on our propensity to bullshit, to frame our "...modest, if persistent, achievement under crushing layers of grandiloquent ­hokum."

Oh dear, he could be talking about me. Or you?

Spiritual America gets taken down at Tate Modern

It's not too surprising that Gary Gross's/Richard Prince's picture of 10-year-old Brooke Shields got taken down from the Pop Life show at Tate Modern. It's not too much of a bad thing, but it is still a bad thing. Or is it? Who knows? But still, it would be good for Tate Modern to stand up for its curators and for there to be less of a knee-jerk reaction by the Met, who took it down after they read about it in the papers.

You can read about it here - Spiritual America gets taken down from Pop Life.

You can also read Michael Glover's view on Pop Life here. Avarice, appropriation and self-obsession are no longer inspiring - the world longs for something with more substance and the smoke and mirrors of self-publicity and self-serving artist's statements are not good enough anymore. You can read Glover's scathing review here - Pop Life: Truly, Madly, Deeply Shallow.

Top celebrity-lookalikes-caught-with-their-knickers-down/with-a-needle-in-their-arm photographer, Alison Jackson, also provides a commentary on the Warhol part of the show in the South Bank Show. The South Bank Show is in its last season, but on this showing it's dead already. Kill it off nicely please.

Domesticated in Bath

If you are in the Bath area this Thursday, do come to The Walcot Chapel, where I have a couple of Sofa Portraits in a group show called Domesticated (sorry Amy Stein). Curated by Callum Bell, it features some wonderful painting, sculpture, insttallation and photography, all on the theme of we should get out more.

It's at the lovely Walcot Chapel, just off Walcot Street, just up the street from the Bell. Preview is on Thursday 8th October, 6-9pm.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Where Photography Dares Not Tread

There is a lot of commentary, from myself and others, on the self-replicating nature of photography, how all pictures look alike, how themes are jigged and rejigged again and again.

At the same time, it is astounding how shallow most photographic examinations of various themes can be - how the most photographed and cliched subject matter remains to be pursued in any kind of detail.

My favourite unphotographed theme is mother and child. It has been been romanticised, glorified and idealised since photography began, but there is nothing that I can think of that captures the emotional and physical depth of motherhood. I think there is a reason for this - motherhood is messy, both emotionally and physically, it involves tears, trauma and leakage from all parties, and sticking your camera into the mess doesn't make the tantrum, the mess or the smell go away. Motherhood doesn't always look nice, childhood doesn't look nice - the two together can be horrendous. The last thing you want is some useless other half with a camera making you look and the offspring look bad.

That's my great unexplored area in photography. But perhaps I've got it hopelessly wrong - if I have, do let me know.

And any other suggestions for unexplored areas would be welcome - and that includes areas that have been explored in an unsatisfactory manner.