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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...

Monday, 30 November 2009

Warleigh Weir Summer

Only about 6 more months and we might be able to swim here again.... Isabel at Warleigh Weir, August 2009.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Progressive Women's Association of Pakistan

From Okinawa Soba's ( who is responsible for the fabulous T.Enami photostream) comes this picture from a series on Chinese footbinding, which makes for fascinating but horrendous viewing and reading.

Equally horrendous but a whole lot more contemporary  is this series on acid burn victims in Pakistan, pointed out by Stan at Reciprocity Failure. It's not a new photographic subject but it doesn't need to be, why should it be, it still happens, it still continues and it will do for a long time (though the article mentions that Bangladesh has curbed sales of acid which has helped). But then footbinding ended when it was banned by Mao, so there's no reason why this can't end, especially when there are people fighting it on the ground like The Progressive Women's Association of Pakistan. From the article

Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: They are poor and female. The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.” Since 1994, a Pakistani activist who founded the Progressive Women’s Association (www.pwaisbd.org) to help such women “has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.”

Link to The Progressive Women's Association of Pakistan


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Assumptions I make about photography

I make a few assumptions about photography, some of them are good, some of them are bad, most are a bit in the middle, they're pretty much all wrong, many are opposing pairs and shouldn't be - this post fits somewhere in this picture, but I'm not sure where. Somewhere at the back perhaps?

Anyways, here are some assumptions.

Photography is an art
Photography is not an art

There is such a thing as documentary photography

There is a visual truth
There is not a visual truth

The bigger the better

The more the better

Repetition is good
Repetition is bad

Sequences of pictures tell stories

Individual pictures have a narrative

There is a right way sequence pictures to tell stories

Good photographers know things

Good photographers have to know things

You can learn from pictures

Photographs can change things
Photographs can't change things

Photographs  make things better

There is such a thing as a concerned photographer
There is no such thing as a concerned photographer

Photographers care

It's all been done
It hasn't all been done

Obvious is good/not obvious is bad
Not obvious is good/obvious is bad

New is good

People understand pictures

We see pictures the same
We see pictures differently

There is a right way to see pictures

Photographs are like paintings
Photographs are not like paintings

Having your picture in a gallery is good
Having your picture in a magazine is good
Selling your pictures is good
Having people see your picture is good

Pictures don't need text
Pictures do need text

Commercial/social/product photography is not real photography

The only real photograph is a print

Looking at photographs on computers, in books and in a gallery are different things

There is such a things as photographic criticism

Intention matters
Intention doesn't matter

Photographic education is a waste of time
Photographic education is not a waste of time

You need money to be a successful photographer
You don't need money to be a successful photographer

Things used to be more real in the old days

And on and on and on.... Any more?

Vintage Japanese Prints

These are all by T Enami.

Follow the link and find all kinds of beautiful pictures of a very Japanese looking Japan - Enami is to turn of the century Japan, what John Hinde is to 1960s Britain. Wonderful! (via Mrs Deane and Flickr)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Seven Deadly Narratives of Women Criminals

In Media and Crime, Yvonne Jewkes identifies seven standard narratives to describe women who commit serious crimes

These are:

• Sexuality and sexual deviance
• (Absence of) physical attractiveness
• Bad wives
• Bad mothers
• Mythical monsters
• Mad cows
• Evil manipulators

 Which just about covers everything (with the exception of Bad Mother) Amanda Knox has been accused of in Italy - more on the Amanda Knox trial in Will Knox find Justice in Perugia? .

The above taken from Ashley Tya Austin's dissertation, The Denial of Agency.

Picturing Myra Hindley

From pictures of Amanda Knox and Hatice Can, we continue to a Beatrix Campbell blast from the past on the most iconic photograph of evil ever made - that of Myra Hindley. 

The other picture above is one taken by Ian Brady on the Moors where they murdered their child victims.

Lots of people have done versions of the picture above, but none come close to the original on any level. Whether the picture reflects 'fright', as Campbell suggests, or 'evil' as popular folklore would have it, I'm not so sure.  But here goes anyway.  

"What if it lied? That photograph of Myra Hindley, a bottle-blonde with stark, staring eyes, commandeering our gaze, became one of the ubiquitous images of our time.
The picture was put to work for almost four decades. Although there were contemporary photographs of Hindley, that image acquired iconic authority.
With Hindley safely behind bars and largely silent, that image serviced a collective fantasy invested in the icon itself ­ here was a moment of transgression caught in the artifice of tarty hair, the slack, sullen cheeks, the audacious, arresting eyes.
This "icon of evil" sponsored Hindley's reputation, together with the tape recording of little Lesley Ann Downey dying. Nothing Hindley herself would ever say could surpass the synergy of the words and the picture ­ it was as if the image was snapped in the moment of that atrocity, of Hindley hovering, pitiless, over a dying child.
The world brought bored indifference to her mentor, the sadistic, fascistic Ian Brady. He was just another bad bloke.
The icon delivered mystery and menace in the context of an assiduous campaign to make Hindley the commissar, the evil genius in that relationship. Indeed the Sun claimed yesterday that it had been responsible for the revelation that she and not he was the designer of their horror story.
There is an ambiguity in that image, however, that offers us an alternative narrative. It satisfies neither that tabloid discourse of enigmatic evil, nor the sloppy sentimentality of some of her champions, nor others' quest for evidence of heroic malevolence.
This picture was not taken as Hindley fussed around the little girl's desperate survival strategies. It is a police photograph taken in maximum light in a dungeon. That stark, sinister expression could also be one of fright, ­ the antithesis of the transgressive transcendence conceived by Brady."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hatice Can, Rosi Boxall and the Power of Forgiveness


Also in the news last week was the trial of Hatice Can and Kemi Ajose, both of whom were found guilty of murdering Rosi Boxall. The picture of Hatice Can (at top), smirking on her mobile phone was on the front page of most newspapers and sent a collective shudder of horror across the UK, the subtext being that if ever there was any doubt about her guilt, this picture of her smirking face put it firmly to sleep. And contrast that with the angelic-but-sad picture of Rosi, the girl she bullied to jumping from a third floor window - except of course it was Kemi Ajose who did the physical bullying, Can did the egging on, but there's no suitable picture of Ajose, so we're left to heap our abuse on Hatice Can. Who probably deserves it.

And the end of the story - a message of forgiveness from Rosi's adoptive parents - and I'll end with that.. 

From The Sun 

Can screamed abuse as she egged on Ajose, known as Kemi, to punch and slap Rosi and spray air freshener in her eyes.
On one clip Can was heard shouting, "Shut the f*** up" at Rosi, adopted daughter of the Rev Simon Boxall and his teacher wife Rachel.
Brazilian-born Rosi - full name Rosimeiri - struggled to the window in a bid to escape the onslaught.
Can taunted her: "Do you want to die? Jump out of the window."
When terrified Rosi asked: "Do you want me to jump?" the 13-year-old said "Yes" and Rosi fell to the ground.
As a resident went to the fatally-injured girl's aid, Can screamed at Rosi: "F****** hell, you f****** bitch."
She then yelled: "Whore. Serves you right, bitch."
Rosi died from multiple injuries.

Simon and Rachel Boxall spoke of how they missed their adopted daughter Rosimeiri, 19, and said she was now safe in God's arms.

They said in a statement that they would continue to pray for her killers and added: "We want them to know that we forgive them."
The couple added: "Our prayer has always been that justice for Rosi would be seen to be done.
"We still miss her greatly, but we do not for an instant regret the decision we took, when she was almost three, to adopt her.
"She has given us so many moments of pure joy, and we are thankful for those times. We are sure that she is now safe in God the Father's arms. No-one can ever hurt her again. It will be wonderful to see her again one day.
"We continue to pray for those who are responsible for Rosi's death. We want them to know that we forgive them.
"That does not mean that what they did 'doesn't matter'. Of course it does. A life is of such worth that only God can show us its value. Nor does it mean that we think this trial need not have taken place.
"For justice to be seen to be done, it had to happen and those responsible have to face up to the consequences of their choices.
"Forgiveness means that we refuse to be shackled by bitterness and our prayer is that forgiveness will allow the girls to be released from the burden of what they have done, so that they can even now grow into the sort of people that God intended them to be."
Mr and Mrs Boxall thanked police, lawyers, the judge and the jury in the case and all those who had supported them.
"We would ask that you continue to pray for us, and for Rosimeiri's four brothers," the statement added. 

Postscript - Hatice Can was sentenced to 8 years for manslaughter, Ajose was detained at Her Majesty's psychiatric pleasure - story here. 

Amanda Knox: Trial by Photography

Does anyone have a clue what really happened in the murder of Meredith Kercher. The case seems to turn on lurid descriptions of Amanda Knox's sexual history, together with a visual investigation into  Amanda Knox's facial expressions and dress sense. Photographs (showing Knox's failure to behave like a proper innocent suspect) have played a huge role in the case. I don't have a clue if she's guilty or not, but it has been a trial by photography and, whatever the final verdict is, Knox is guilty of something or other simply because of the photographs that have been taken of her. Last week, a virtual reconstruction of the murder of Meredith Kercher was shown in court, with the screen fading to red at the end. Which puts everything about the trial into question.

Is it safe? I don't think so.

From the Guardian.

"Despite protests from defence lawyers, the prosecution was allowed to show an animated film reconstruction in court depicting the prosecution's version of the murder. Jury members and judge Giancarlo Massei watched as animated likenesses of Knox, Sollecito, 25, and Guede, 22, entered the isolated house Knox shared with Kercher on the outskirts on Perugia.
Resembling Second Life avatars, the cartoon trio attacked Kercher in her bedroom as photos flashed up on screen showing the wounds and bruises found on Kercher's body. In the courtroom Knox turned away from the screen while Sollecito, who is now studying for a virtual reality degree in jail, watched as the screen turned red when Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, received the fatal stab wound to the neck."

Thursday, 19 November 2009

7.7 magazine

There is some terrific work over at 7.7 magazine, an online gallery of documentary photography ( produced by Ruido Photo in Barcelona) with highlights from Sebastian Friedman, Andy Rochelli, Claire Martin and Alessandro Vincenzi. The pictures above are from Claire Martin's Vancouver project - a little bit Donigan Cummings I think - and Alessandro Vincenzi's Forgotten Italians (descendants of Italian migrants living in Crimea).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Man and Baby and Tennis Girl

In The Art on Your Wall, Sue Perkins looks at the history of populist/kitsch poster art. She intervies Jack Vetriano (who does a great 'I am not worthy' take on seeing the Francis Bacon retrospective), Sam Toft, as well as photographers Spencer Rowell ( responsible for Man and Baby above and as bad at spelling as RJ Shaughnessy), Martin Elliot (creator of Tennis Girl above) and Mel Allen (who made the Ullswater picture above).

It's a fascinating programme on art, taste and snobbery in the age of mass production.

Watch the programme on BBC iplayer here

the Blogger Considers His Next Response

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

"You must begin by being or pretending to be an authority on some subject or other."

Some interesting and familiar notes on writing, editing and reviewing in this Guardian Review article on TS Eliot 
(picture above by EO Hoppe).

"You must begin by being or pretending to be an authority on some subject or other."

'I have written nothing whatsoever for three years and I do not see any immediate likelihood of my writing. The writing of poetry takes time and I never have any time."


Apologising to one contributor for the fact that, a year after being accepted, his article had still not been published, Eliot tried to enlist his sympathies: "I can only say that there are others – in fact nearly all of my contributors at one time or another – whom I do not dare to meet in the street. Conducting a review after 8pm in the back room of a flat, I live qua editor, very much from hand to mouth, get myself into all sorts of hot water and predicaments, and offend everybody. At the end, the review is squeezed together somehow, and is never the number that I planned three months before." In this case, he promised the article would be published "early next year"; in the event, it never appeared.

Interview with Gerhard Steidl

A quote from Gerhard Steidl in an interview for Photography Now, translated by Joerg at Conscientious. Read it all here.


"On the other hand, I find it terrible when someone sends me a PDF or an bound dummy made from crummy digital prints. I'm not interested in that. Those are all the same: The same paper, the same printing, the same binding. I'm not old-fashioned, but it is going into the wrong direction if the bookmaking technique orients itself towards the contents on the screen. Because making books really means to take the information out of the contents on the screen, and to rework it in a physical way."

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Execution of Gary Glitter

There's a bizarre programme on Channel 4 tonight called The Execution of Gary Glitter - the basic idea is capital punishment has returned to the UK and Gary Glitter is first up for the noose. (It's not the only bizarre what-if programme put out by Channel 4 - Death of a President dramatised George W. Bush getting shot. What next? The Waterboarding of Tony Blair? Why not - and in real life too as reality torture, right up Channel 4's alley.). Gary Glitter is an easy target, and there are lots of reasons to hate paedophiles - but there are also other views and Clive Stafford Smith (who has fought for criminally imprisoned Guantanamo detainees as well as consistently battling the death penalty) gives his view on the programme below.

The Execution of Gary Glitter: why do we love to hate paedophiles?

By Clive Stafford Smith on Nov. 9, 2009

Ricky Langley 

Which group of people is most consistently hated by virtually the entire British population? Would they be murderers? Muslim extremists? No, there is one group that comes top every time I ask the question: paedophiles. 

The degree of hatred for is consistent and venomous. The vilification runs so rampant that when one tabloid newspaper ran a campaign against ‘paedos’, some poor paediatrician had her house vandalized. 

Now Channel Four has entered the fray, reintroducing the possibility of the death penalty into British society, and staging the televisual hanging of Gary Glitter, convicted as the paedophile we love to hate. While the jurors in the drama are actors, if Simon Cowell ran the programme as the X-ecute Factor, the texts pouring in would no doubt have turned a technological thumbs down. 

I wonder how many of these voters would ever have paused to consider what causes people to be sexually attracted to small children? How many people, in other words, have ever wondered whether they, or anyone else, would ever choose to be a paedophile?

It would seem self-evident that paedophilia is a mental illness. To be sure, a very dangerous illness for all its victims and one that must be addressed through measures that make our children as safe as they can be. But I have represented a number of paedophiles over the years and, while I only have to look at my own small child to fully evoke the horror of each offence, I have learned as much about the world from these terrible cases as from any.

Indeed, one of my heroines is Lorelei Guillory. Her six year old child Jeremy was killed by my client, Ricky Langley (pictured), in Southwest Louisiana. There is no doubt that he did it. No doubt at all. But does that mean we should execute him, as well as despise his crime? 

A year before Ricky was born, his father, drunk, drove the family car into a bridge. Two children were instantly killed. One was the six year old, tousle-haired Oscar Lee. The mother, Bessie, was catastrophically injured. She spent most of the next two years in hospital, much of the time in a full-length bodycast, from her neck to her ankles. 

It is perhaps a tribute to the father’s utter heartlessness that this was when Ricky was conceived. Nobody believed Bessie was pregnant for more than five months. She continued to be prescribed a pharmacy full of drugs, and the unborn Ricky suffered his own private Hiroshima from all the x-rays. When they finally cut the cast open, there was a whooosh! The doctors strongly urged an abortion; the husband, rigorously Catholic, refused. 

By the age of eleven, Ricky was already sleeping on tombstones, and pinning notes on the school board telling people that he was really his dead brother Oscar Lee. His early records lay to rest the possibility that his mental illness in later life could be feigned. It took a long time, but he eventually trusted me enough to say that I could meet with Oscar Lee if his dead brother wanted to talk to me. Ricky is perhaps the most seriously mentally ill person I have ever met. 

Ricky is a paedophile. People may despise him for it, but nobody could hate Ricky more than he does himself. At this point he hates Oscar Lee as well. In the roiling storm clouds of his mind, Ricky hears Oscar Lee prompting him to molest children. Whether you can understand it or not, when Ricky strangled Jeremy Guillory, he thought he was killing Oscar Lee. 

By definition, mental illness is not rational, but I showed Ricky’s aunt a picture of poor Oscar Lee in 1963, and a picture of Jeremy in 1991, and she could not tell them apart. This is the closest that you and I will ever come to seeing inside Ricky’s mind. 

In common with so many family members, themselves innocent victims of murder, Lorilei desperately wanted to understand why her child had been torn from her. Like so much of the media, and so many government officials, the prosecuting attorney encouraged her merely to seek revenge and assured her she would find relief when Ricky got the death penalty. 

Perhaps he really did believe this would end her pain; certainly he wanted to get re-elected. Lorilei initially testified for the prosecution, and Ricky was sentenced to death. Years passed, appeals were filed, Ricky got a new trial, and Lorilei still had no peace.

This time around, Lorelei asked me whether she could meet Ricky. Naturally, I agreed. She wanted to be alone with him. I told her there would be no strings attached; if she wanted to testify against him later, quoting what he said, that would be her choice. 

Ricky was grateful. He had the chance to apologize. He did his best to explain what happened and why. He said he was fine with being locked up for the rest of his life. He was convinced that he was incurable and he was afraid of himself, as much as he was of Oscar Lee. 

Lorelei had always referred to him as ‘Langley.’ As she left the cell, convinced that he was indeed profoundly ill, she said, “Ricky, I’m gonna fight for you.” And fight she did. 

First, she insisted that she did not want the death penalty. She, too, was a Catholic, and her faith told her that she would gain no catharsis from his death. The prosecutor said she was “an odd defendant (sic)”, and then tried to have her other child removed from her, calling her an unfit mother. 

Then we picked twelve jurors who understood mental illness, and it became clear that Ricky would not receive the death penalty this time round. At this point, Lorelei confronted her own demons, and came out of long night of prayer decided: Ricky was insane, and since he could not control what he did, he should not be punished for it. He should, rather, be in a mental hospital. 

She insisted that he remain in hospital forever, and he agreed. But she insisted on testifying, and told me to only ask one question. 

“Ms Guillory, do you have an opinion as to whether that man over there”—I pointed to Ricky Langley—“who killed your child Jeremy, was mentally ill at the time he did it?”

She took a deep breath. “I feel like Ricky Langley has cried out for help many, many, many times. And for whatever reasons his family, society, and the system has failed him. I feel like he is sick, and that he has cried out for help.” She turned to the jurors. “And even though I can hear my child’s death cry, I too, can hear Ricky Langley cry for help.” And yes, he was sick. 

The jurors acquitted Ricky Langley of capital murder. Desperate for ‘victory’, the prosecutors violated the rules again, to make sure Ricky would go to prison rather than a hospital. Now Lorelei must endure a third trial, which is on-going even as I write this. 

As for Lorelei, she insists that she has never forgiven Ricky; she has only told the truth, and tried to be merciful. Almost twenty years after her loss, she continues to struggle every day. 

And yet she stands as a beacon to the rest of us. It is a shame that Channel Four failed to observe her golden rule: Hate the sin, but try to understand the sinner, or the world will remain a dangerous place for our children.

A version of this article appeared in The Guardian.

Generic Leakage

I mentioned Beso Uznadze's wonderful Tbilisi portraits in the previous post and it made me wonder how much you have to know a place, or have some emotional attachment to it, to make meaningful pictures of that place. Is it essential to have a detailed knowledge of the place or some emotional attachment (as Uznadze had in his Tbilisi Portraits), or can we just flit in, snap some genius shots and then dash out. It's the same with portraits - do we have to know our subjects in intimate detail or can we just zip off a few pictures and rely on our genius to get us through.

I don't know how important it is to have a detailed knowledge of a place - I think it's probably a barrier sometimes - but I think it's rare to find a photographer willing to say, Nah, I know nothing about this place but I thought it would be cool to photograph the new skyscrapers and the smog, highways, development, destruction and so on.

Which is perhaps what people should sometimes be saying because it is equally rare for a photographer to stray outside his or her usual patch and say something profound or interesting - the pictures can look great though. 

That connects to  the weird venn diagram that denotes the relationship and overlapping between travel/documentary/photojournalistic photography - though even recognizing all those genres takes a leap of faith. I think if one is honest they are a lot closer than one might expect - and all have that wow-doesn't-this-look-great text which is more or less subordinated to the main idea depending on where on the generic spectrum the photographer has chosen to lie.

In other words, what are the similarities and differences between Magnum's collective work on Georgia, Georgian Spring, and Beso Uznadze

Or in other other words, what is the difference between the pictures that appear on say  Conscientious (or this blog or any of the blogs highlighted right), Lightstalkers and The Travel Photographer. Just because we say it's different doesn't mean it's different. And I haven't even mentioned Flickr, which looms omnipresent in the background - it's coming to eat us all!

And in plain and simple words, what am I trying to say - I haven't really got too much of a clue but hopefully some kind of sense will ooze through. Not everything is clear cut, might that have something to do with it?


The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall

It was 20 years ago today...

A fine programme that features the heroes, villains and those caught in the middle is The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Sullen, Smiling or just Unconvincing: More on the NPG


No Smiling Please #1  by Colin Pantall

More on the NPG Photographic Portrait Prize  from Diane Smyth (one of the judges) at the BJP - this time on the question of  smiling.

Most of the portraits (the exception is  Circe, by Nathan Small) show people who aren't smiling - but they are showing a range of expressions and very few are actively sullen. The problem comes with the unconvincing, vacant look which one can find here and there in the show. But that's always the way.

Read the article, there are a few differing perspectives in there and some big assumptions being made, most of which I don't agree with most of the time.

Once more, with feeling

No smiling please, it's the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. Diane Smyth, one of this year's judges, talks to the 2009 winners about the recurring fascination with adolescence

Rosie Bancroft © Paul Floyd Blake, winner of the 2009 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

The National Portrait Gallery opens its doors to the Photographic Portrait Prize this week, a contest it has organised over 18 years in one form or other, proving increasingly popular with the public year on year, but drawing an annual chorus of derision among some quarters of the photo community.

The competition ran for a decade in partnership with the John Kobal Foundation before it was relaunched in 2003 with sponsorship from Schweppes, and more latterly from the law firm Taylor Wessing, who began their support last year, when a record 273,000 visitors came to the show of 60 shortlisted entries. But it's come in for its fair share of criticism too, particularly for its apparent obsession with grim-faced, adolescent subjects.

This year is no exception. The winning photograph, Paul Floyd Blake's shot of Rosie Bancroft, shows the 14-year-old British Paralympic hopeful calmly eyeing the camera. And the second, third and fourth places - taken respectively by Vanessa Winship, Mirjana Vrbaski and Michal Chelbin - all feature adolescents, while the Godfrey Argent Award, which this year went to recent photography graduate Ali Lomas, also shows a young woman, balefully ignoring her chips. As one of the judges this year, I can only say it wasn't deliberate.
We looked at more than 6300 images over two days' judging in August, depicting everything from smiling, playful children to tightly composed OAPs. But this is what rose to the top, and although we weren't unanimous about the placings, we did agree these five images deserved special recognition. Perhaps we simply reflected our society's obsession with youth, or perhaps, as Winship comments, there's just something enduringly fascinating about the young.

'The point of transition between adult and child is interesting,' she says. 'I liked this girl because of her poise. She's holding the bottom of her dress, so you can see she's not 100% confident, but she's certainly not afraid. I feel it's an image we can all relate to.'

As for not smiling, Winship wonders why it's even an issue - in painted portraits the subjects rarely smile, she points out, and no one thinks to question it. 'I suppose people often use cameras at celebrations, where everyone smiles for the shot,' she says. 'But I don't see the absence of a smile as a negative thing, and I certainly don't think it implies that all is not well.'

Natural pose

This year's winner agrees. 'It's really quite recent that we want people to smile in pictures,' says Floyd Blake. 'In real life you don't go around grinning.' He prefers to try to capture people 'as they are', encouraging his subjects to relax in front of the camera. Bancroft is a fantastic model because she doesn't act up in the frame, he says, and he shot her in a pose she naturally assumed. 'She relaxed into it as I was changing plates,' he says. 'I just asked her to hold it. It's the second time I've photographed her, and perhaps that helps.'
Chelbin concurs, adding that she believes the key to making a good portrait is building a respectful relationship. Her fourth prize-winning shot was taken in a juvenile prison in Russia, but although she worked there for several days, she never asked the prisoners what they were jailed for. 'It's important to represent the subject with dignity and respect, no matter who he is,' she says. 'I usually spend time with the people I photograph, from hours to days and even more, so there is mutual trust.

'The shoot with Stas took several hours in different locations,' she adds. 'He was willing but very quiet - in general he is extremely quiet and distant, mostly hanging out alone. When I approached him I immediately noticed the intense gaze in his eyes, as if under that sealed expression there is a volcano about to erupt. There is a contrast between his very intense, almost suffering, gaze and his physique - although he's well built, he seems to be powerless. I only found out later he'd murdered someone. After arriving at the prison he tried to commit suicide but was saved by the guards. He has almost no friends and is considered a low class prisoner by the other inmates, which makes his life even harder.'

Vrbaski takes completely the opposite approach. She was brought up between Canada and Serbia, and is now studying at The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, specialising in photographing complete strangers, and she found the model for her Taylor Wessing portrait simply walking past her studio. 'It seems that the less I know about my sitter the better,' she says. 'I couldn't disagree more with the concept of the portrait as a way of capturing the essence of a person.

'I believe that the essence of a human being is so complex and contradictory it is impossible to capture,' she adds. 'But having said that, I am just as against staging an expression. An authentic, genuine look is an absolute prerequisite for my portraits. As with the girl in this photo, I search for the kind of unselfconscious expression that makes the viewer forget about the physical model sitting in a studio and allows them to look beyond.'

Like Floyd Blake and Winship, she's inspired by painting, adding that her third prize winning image works because the girl's face 'shares the archetypal quality of classical painted portraits'. 'There's something that makes her become more than just the girl she is,' she adds. 'This is what I consider a universal portrait, a portrait that detaches itself from the times in which it was made and from the model posing for it.'
The girl's clothes may help. While the other three winners all photograph their subjects as they find them, Vrbaski shoots them in her studio in clothes she's picked out herself. Ali Lomas, who was selected for the Godrey Argent Award, which is given to the most outstanding black-and-white photograph or the best photographer aged 25 and under (she won for the latter), did something similar, carefully staging her photograph and scenario it was shot in. She doesn't consider her work to be portraiture per se, she's more interested in fashion photography, and shoots characters rather than individuals. Fittingly, she won the extra prize up for grabs this year - a commissioned shoot for Elle magazine.

Her work came from her final show at Loughborough University, a series of staged shots of young women in various scenes and poses. In fact, all of the winners' images come from ongoing projects rather than one-off portrait sittings. Winship's image is taken from her continuing work in Georgia, for example, 'which will be characterised as typologies, although I don't necessarily see it in that way'.

Floyd Blake is photographing young Olympic hopefuls in the build up to the 2012 London games, while Chelbin's shot one is of many taken in the Russian juveniles' prison. Vrbaski's photograph, meanwhile, is from a consistent body of work, in which up to 40 individuals at a time are photographed in exactly the same conditions. All of the photographers recognise that a series of images is different to a single shot but, says Chelbin, one isn't necessarily better than the other.

'I wouldn't include an image in a series if it didn't speak for itself,' she says. 'When images are presented together more layers are added to the experience of viewing. The use of creative tools such sequencing can intensify the experience and make a larger impact on the viewer. But the advantage of showing an image alone is that the focus is on the shot and the person in it. It's taken out of the context, so the narrative becomes that bit less important.'

Serious portraits, in both senses, taken by committed photographers with a clear sense of purpose - perhaps the Taylor Wessing judges know what they're doing after all.


The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is on show at the National Portrait Gallery from 05 November until 14 February. Visit npg.org.uk for details and opening times.
To see further work from this year's winners, visit: www.floydphotography.co.uk; vanessawinship.com; mirjanavrbaski.com; michalchelbin.com; alilomas.co.uk.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Beso Uznadze

It was good to see Beso Uznadze in the NPG Portrait Prize again. His Tbilisi Portraits won the BJP International Award last year. It's a series that is rich, beautiful and soulful and has a depth and sensitivity that is compelling. And they're beautiful, I'll say that again because that's important too.

Justyn Partyka - The East Anglians

More from Justin Partyka whose excellent project, The East Anglians, will be featured as a major solo exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK, 29 September - 13 December, 2009. The show will then tour to other venues.

Also check out Anthony Blasko who has some interesting projects up here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

NPG Photographic Portrait Prize Winner 2010

It's the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Prize time again.  The winner is above by Paul Floyd Blake so congratulations - congratulations also to Vanessa Winship who came second.See all the pictures here.

Mr Gum on Nickelodeon

Wes Anderson loved Fantastic Mr Fox so much he made a film of the book and changed it a little in the process - why not, it's a film.

Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books (not the Finding Nemo/Toy Story guy - 'Although I have the same name as the 'Finding Nemo' guy you can easily tell us apart by the fact that he has loads of money and I am still eating out of dustbins') and the funniest children's writer, alive or dead, spoke at the Bath Children's Literature Festival and the big news was - Mr Gum is going to be on Nickelodeon. And why not, it's a cartoon.

No, no, no, that won't do. Why meddle with things that shouldn't be meddled with. Mr Gum is English - he's just too mean and nasty and dirty, from somewhere-in-the-southeast-of-England (possibly Kent) to be American. Judging from the picture above ( and I am just guessing here) he is going to be Americanised (stick with David Tazzyman style illustrations/animation - they're brilliant).

Why Americanise him. He is English, surrounded by English people with English habits in an English town with an English class system. It's the same with Fantastic Mr Fox from the previous post, a film which I enjoyed despite everything. But it could have been better. Why Americanise Mr Fox, why add lame internal conflicts to the mix, why add North American creatures and then have the conceit to keep Bogis and Bunce and Bean (who is magnificently played in the film by Michael Gambon) English? It doesn't work - one can't just dip in and out of culture and hope for the result to be a coherent whole. It doesn't work that way.

I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (Little House on the Prairie and all the rest - I'm reading The Long Winter as a bedtime story now) but they are American and the characters are intricately connected to the history, climate, landscape and legend of the country. If I was making a film of them, would I move Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa from Minnesota and South Dakota to Liverpool or London? Would I have Pa playing Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner and Knees Up Mother Brown on his fiddle, would I have Baby Carrie being sent up chimneys for a few extra pence during those long, cold, smoggy London winters? Course I wouldn't because Laura is no more a scouser or a cockney than Mr Gum is American. So shame on Nickelodeon if that's what they are doing. And if they are not, still shame on you because David Tazzyman makes a much better Mr Gum than whichever committee decided to put him in a bow tie with Abraham Lincoln facial hair.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox at The Little Theatre in Bath

I enjoyed seeing Fantastic Mr Fox. Once I got over the fact that it is a Wes Anderson film that is padded out with Wes Anderson ideas and so bears little relationship to the original which had English foxes, no possums, groundhogs or crises of identity and inferiority complexes - it took me a bit of time to get over that mind - I loved it. But get over it I did and - four stars! The kids loved it too.

We watched it at the lovely Little Theatre in Bath. There was a collective intake of breath from the audience during the film when, guess what, there in the middle of the screen was the Little Theatre in Bath. Wonderful! It turned out Wes Anderson took his camera round Bath to photograph 'typical' English houses (how about typical English animals, Wes? A possum?) and he got the cinema in the process. Which is a beautiful touch. So if you want to see Fantastic Mr Fox, or any other film in Bath, don't go to The Odious, go to The Little Theatre. And if you see the film and you're not in Bath, keep you're eyes peeled for the cinema with the red doors.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Anna Fox: Cockroach Diaries

A little bit of Cockroach Diaries humour from Deutsche Borse Shortlistee, Anna Fox.

Richard thinks you shouldn't kill the fuckers because that just makes more of them come. Or maybe Richard just thinks that because Gareth kills them with a knife. A knife? What does he do, stab them to death?