Featured post

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...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Three Wolf Moon and the BBC Wildlife Competition

Via A Photo Editor comes this Three Wolf Moon version of the Jose Luis Rodriguez BBC non-Wildlife Award, non-prize winning picture of a tame wolf jumping over a fence. I know Rodriguez got found out good and proper but it is BBC Wildlife and Spectacular Cheese (think Rocquefort but in Baby Bel form) is the name of the game so I feel a bit bad for him.

And the Three Wolf Moon version is a spoof of the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt avaliable from all good retailers as worn by Susan Boyle and countless others.

This is all pretty old stuff isn't it - never mind, it's all new to me. I must spend more time on my computer.

Integral Polaroid Photography

A couple of Polaroid initiatives. Do I have to Paint you a Picture is on in Cardiff from 19th February. And from Australia, Sean Cousins is looking for submissions to Polarama. He writes:

I am starting a PDF magazine on integral Polaroid photography, provisionally entitled Polarama: a visual journal of integral photography.

Each issue will be themed with the following to start me (and hopefully others!) off: landscape, Images of the TV / computer screen and Polaroids in Polaroids. Suggestions for others are more than  welcome!

More information can be foun at: http://pentimento.squarespace.com/ - or by emailing seancousin@gmail.com.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Who took the Myra Hindley Photograph

 I always wondered who took the iconic police photograph of Myra Hindley. I got two messages - I think the Harding one is the right one....

'I'm Bryan Harding's son and my dad worked as a police photographer for Cheshire Police (Officer 575). We were living in Stalybridge at the time and the photograph was taken in a corridor of Mottram Police Station. I saw a post suggesting a different photographer , who was interestingly based in Stalybridge so wonder if they had actually processed the photograph as opposed to taken it. I'm sure Cheshire Police can clarify. Myra did say some words at the time but it was quite mundane and will be kept as an interesting family story. I don't think there are many (if any) photographs of Myra Hindley with blonde hair and this has gone on to become very well known probably because of that and her 'evil' expression even though it was natural and just a routine 'mugshot'. We often said if we had a penny for every time that was published, we'd have a few by now.'

But before that  I got this comment on a previous post.

"I am the daughter of Clifford Scott, a photographer from Manchester. My Dad was called on by the police to take a photo of a suspect back in 1965. This suspect was Myra Hindley. He had no idea she had been arrested for murder (he thought she was a prostitute). His version of events is that Myra wouldn't co-operate so he swore at her. The result is that iconic photograph ... when I see it, I see someone who has been insulted by my Dad!

Sadly, Dad died a couple of years ago, otherwise I would put you in touch with him. He only told me about the photo a few years ago, and I was gobsmacked. I knew he'd had a photographic studio in Stalybridge but thought it was all weddings and babies. Apparently, Greater Manchester Police had a pool of local photographers to call on, if their photographer wasn't available. My dad was a Yorkshireman so didn't express too much emotion about the whole thing when I asked him. I suppose it was a few months after that he would have found out what she had actually been arrested for. At the time, he had three children (I was born in 1967) so I am sure it hit home that Hindley's crimes were abbhorent. We regularly used to go to Ashton market and I know they picked up one of their victims there. I grew up with the Moors Murders being a shadow over Manchester, but it took years for me to understand that we had a family connection to this terrible event.  It's a gruesome claim to fame really.

Which all says something about how photographs come about, who takes them, what they become and how different people see them. Thanks Sara.'

so there you go, none the wiser....

usual disclaimers apply

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Andy Kershaw on Haiti

Andy Kershaw calls bullshit on TV reporting from Haiti in today's Independent and comes pretty darn close to calling BBC reporter Matt "Mine's a Beef Wellington" Frei the kind of names that this blog does not see fit to publish. He particularly takes issue with the notion of a massive "security threat" and the implicit  need for military intervention that comes with it - intervention Matt Frei called for earlier this week.

"This assumption that there is a security threat has gone completely unchallenged by an army of foreign press, equally unfamiliar with Haiti and the character of the Haitians. Indeed, TV reporters particularly, having exhausted the televisual possibilities of rubble, have been talking up "security", "unrest" and "violence" when all available evidence would indicate anything but. 

Astonishingly, among these TV dramatists, I am sorry to say, is the BBC's Matt Frei. An incongruously ample figure around Port-au-Prince, Frei has been working himself up all week into what is now a state of near hysteria about "security" and the almost non-existent "violence". 

Over the weekend we saw him anticipating an outbreak of unrest, standing before a crowd of thousands of hungry, humiliated Haitians as they waited, patiently and quietly, to be given rations by UN soldiers. Their dignity and stoicism seemed to escape Frei who was, in any case, looking away from them while ranting about the inevitability of looming bloodshed – conspicuously unlikely, judging from the evidence of his own report. (When he is not almost tumescent about violence, Frei speculates and pontificates pompously to camera, or booms at earthquake victims in French. Most Haitians don't speak French. They speak Creole). 

Frei's reluctance to recognise the amazing self-control of these desperate people, and instead to amplify the hysteria about violence for which he has scant evidence, has brought him at times worryingly close to calling the Haitians savages.
Disgracefully, on Monday's Newsnight, Frei had the audacity – and again, anything but the evidence – to declare: "The dignity of Haiti's past is long forgotten." 

No, it certainly is not. And it took Bill Clinton, being interviewed by Frei on Monday, to correct him on that one, and to point out that Haiti still has dignity, immense quantities of it, especially in the present catastrophe. Their chat was turned by Frei, inevitably, to his appetite for imminent violence. "But what about this history of violence," he asked, "and civil unrest in this country?" 

"When you consider," explained Clinton, "that these people haven't slept for four days, haven't eaten and have spent their nights wandering the streets tripping over dead bodies, I think they've behaved pretty well." 

Clinton might have added that Haiti's history of violence has been state violence against its own people. And the Haitian enthusiasm for civil unrest has always been directed bravely at brutal and corrupt rulers. 

Most journalists were also reporting breathlessly that Port-au-Prince's main prison had collapsed. Good story. But not for the reasons we were told. The inexperience – and indeed arrogance – of every single reporter who drew our attention to the jail, missed the real significance of its destruction. 

It was not that "violent criminals", "murderers", "gang bosses" "notorious killers" or "drug dealers" had "simply walked out the front gates". (And just how did these escapees miraculously avoid being crushed to death in their cells?) Even if true, that was a minor detail to the people of Port-au-Prince, who had more urgent concerns. 

The true significance of the prison's implosion was that it represented for ordinary Haitians, like the wreckage of the presidential palace and the city's former central army barracks, exquisite revenge upon the prime symbols of decades of state cruelty and oppression. 

And many of the prison's inmates were surely not the dangerous stereotypes of these lurid reports. Haiti's jails were, notoriously, full of petty thieves and other unfortunates who shouldn't have been in there anyway. I once had to go into that Penitentiaire Nationale, where I saw hundreds of men kept in cages, without room to lie down, shuffling around literally ankle deep in their own shit, to get out of there the son of a Haitian friend who'd been arrested so that the local police could extort money from his father for the release of his boy"

Foto 8's good and bad

Foto 8 has its best and worst of 2009 Right at the bottom, in the worst, they have this: Edward Burtynsky for suggesting we pay him  $25,000 for a HOST gallery talk on Oil. 

 Still on 2009, Photo-eye has its best books section up here.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Junot Diaz, Trujillo and The Dominican Republic

The disaster in Haiti is tragic - but tragedy is nothing new to the island of which it is part, neither from the Haitian side nor the Dominican side, which is the setting for the novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

This book details the brutality of the Dominican Republic's Great Dictator, Rafael Trujillo, a leader who hated his black Haitian neighbours. In 1937, he made this speech:

"For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, ‘I will fix this.’ And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue."

The result was The Parsley Massacre,, a massacre of 20-30,000 Haitian civilians over a period of five days. It was called the Parsley Massacre because soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley, ask "What is this?", and assume that those who could not pronounce the Spanish word perejil  were Haitian.

Nominally a novel about a young Dominican (Oscar), the book is really a trawl through recent Dominican history. It is wonderful to have gaps in one's knowledge illuminated in such a moving and human fashion, one where gaps and silences fuse with Diaz's words to create an understanding of their own. It is also a lesson for those reporters doing their Haiti disaster schtick to provide some background on what is happening, what is going to happen, and why, without intentions far better than any that have gone before, absolutely nothing will change until the next disaster comes along to make things even worse.

As Diaz said in an interview with the Boston Globe:

"I wanted to stay with Oscar the whole time, but that's not what the book required of me. It refused," says Diaz, who named the title character after the Spanish pronunciation of Oscar Wilde. "It's impossible to understand Oscar without understanding his whole family."

Although Oscar and his family live in the same house, none of the characters seem to know what goes on in one another's lives. That code of silence propels the novel, and it's something that Diaz himself experienced growing up in two cultures.

"My mother had absolutely no concept of what my world had of [being] a young kid in mostly Puerto Rican and black Central New Jersey. I had no concept of what her life was like growing up in Santo Domingo and living through the revolution," says Diaz, his eyes animated as he chats breathlessly. "For me, it was important to have the book riddled with silences, holes, and gaps. The fundamental byproduct of trauma is silence. Immigration put a gag on so many families."

Read the whole interview here. 

Monday, 18 January 2010

Photography as a Brand

Naomi Klein writes on how corporate branding has taken over America (and Obama) in the Weekend Guardian (Lord Forgive me). She writes about she had to resist becoming "...an anti-corporate dominatrix, making overpaid executives feel good by telling them what bad, bad brands they were."

She also writes about  becoming a brand herself, somebody who finds their message then repeats it as often as possible through as many different platforms as possible. She became a brand but, as she points out to clever interviewers, "I try to be a really crap one."

The main idea of this article is how branding has crept into all areas of life, including government and politics, how it has dehumanised us and turned us into corporate shells spouting repetitive sound-bites that relate to corporate-think, rather than being fully realised human beings with a range of ideas, emotions and means of expression - ideas that could help make the world better rather than just being means to consumption. It's not a new idea. John Cheever's Bullet Park, a fine uplifting book from 1967, basically says the same kind of thing. But good ideas always bear repeating and repeat it Klein does. And I repeat it again for her.

Mmm, as always, I wonder how this relates to photography and if photographers don't brand themselves and turn themselves into corporate little shells, spouting repetive picture bites, visual chains that regurgitate a message that is both dehumanising and mindless. Is style a brand? Is it? Is the medium a brand? How many find their niche, their thing, and just go with it, go with it, go with it. If it ain't broke and all that...

So I wonder how many people do brand themselves and I wonder if you have to brand yourself to be successful? And if you do brand yourself, does this ultimately make your work trite and worse than pointless. Does your photography become part of a dehumanising whole, is this at least part of the reason why near everyone I know has image fatigue, why everything looks the same, why there doesn't seem to be anything interesting or exciting out there anymore? Is it because we are simply seeing too many pictures, or is it because the continuous and relentless trail of promotions and self-branding produces a loathsome quagmire of images that almost drags us down into its clinging tendrils of sub-corporate photo/art-speak cliches. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/papa-doc.htm

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Saatchi and Saatchi were the great British propagandists of recent years, using their marketing skills to sell Margaret Thatcher to the UK public.

In the US, I suppose Shepard Fairey springs to mind, even if it's just for the one picture - and I feel kind of bad about having him up there - so I'll put Jill Greenberg's John McCain up as well - a blast from the not-very-distant-past.

The best propaganda is inspired by despotic, all-powerful regimes - Nazis and Communists in other words (but there could be others). They produced  John Heartfield who made his wonderfully savage anti-Nazi collages, while people like  Leni Riefenstahl and Alexander Rodchenko made work that supported the Nazis and Soviet regimes. Rodchenko was perhaps the greatest artist/photographer/propagandist of them all, and the most compromised , as  Peter Schjeldahl so eloquently states.

"How does one assess Rodchenko? By what measure? According to whom? He was among the most zealous of the Russian avant-gardists who identified totally with the policies of triumphant Communism. The policies were horrible from the start. The artists were perhaps understandably blinded to the truth by naïveté and initial privilege.

But Rodchenko, as the nightmare unfolded, proved himself sincere. He capitulated abjectly to each mad turn of Party ideology and willingly abetted epic criminality. He took thousands of propaganda photographs at the White Sea Canal project, gazing through his camera at a slow-motion massacre of 200,000 persons and praising Stalin with every frame. By the mid 1930s, his photographic work was hardly distinguishable from that of his German contemporary Leni Riefenstahl. Both celebrated the totalitarian sublime."

But despite the Rodchenkos and Riefenstahls, relatively few photographers are renowned for propaganda - they remain nameless servants of their political, military and economic patrons -despite every picture of a politician, a businessman or a soldier, every advertisement or fashion picture, every shiny car, environmentally friendly oil company, every luscious burger and thin-hipped model being propaganda in a direct shape or form. 

Nowadays, photographers don't need to celebrate the "totalitarian sublime" because we have the "consumerist sublime" to hold up high - look in any magazine and you will find photographic celebrations of consumption, consumption that photographers fall over themselves to serve at every turn - we celebrate the destruction of the biosphere, the contamination of body image and sexual identity, the commercial and architectural debasement of community and public space and a worship of oil and the automobile that is destructive at personal, local, national, global and universal levels. 

So, just for a little bit of mischief and not saying there is any kind of moral equivalence (though one day there might be, nay perhaps there already is), how do we assess photographers that engage in these "celebrations"? How do we assess people who capitulate abjectly to each mad turn of capitalist society, who identify so thoroughly and cheaply to the bottom line policies of  fin-de-siecle consumerism.

"How does one assess commercial photographers? By what measure? According to whom? They are among the most zealous of photographers who identify totally with the policies of triumphant Capitalism. The policies are horrible from the start. The artists are perhaps understandably blinded to the truth by wilful naïveté, initial privilege and residual greed.

But these photographers, as the nightmare unfolds, prove themselves sincere. They capitulate abjectly to each mad turn of consumerism and willingly abetted epic environmental, social and community destruction. They take thousands of propaganda photographs for Apple, for Mercedes, for Shell, Gucci, British Airways or KFC, gazing through their cameras at a slow-motion degradation of the planet and her inhabitants, praising her destroyers with every frame. By the mid 2000, their photographic work was hardly distinguishable from that of their German and Russian ancestors, Leni Riefenstahl and Alexander Rodchenko. They celebrate the consumerist sublime."

From the Big Freeze UK, over and out.. 

Monday, 11 January 2010

Old Conservative Adverts




 Here are a selection of posters from old election campaigns. The Labour Isn't Working was an iconic one partly credited with putting Thatcher into power - it also tells you something about Charles Saatchi because it was a Saatchi and Saatchi/Tim Bell creation.

The Blair Demon Eyes one  is truthful and  so is the Blair as a puppet but it should be George's knee he's sitting on. Sorry Helmut, you can't take him home.

And some more old posters from the Conservatives (via the Daily Mail, Lord Forgive Me), which are evocative of all kinds of things, past and present, and have me scratching my head a bit - probably those socialist fleas biting.Pots and kettles spring to mind as well.

Election posters from 2001.

Election posters from 2005.

More election posters.

Friday, 8 January 2010

David Cameron Poster

The  election will probably be in May, campaigning is hotting up and David Cameron is almost certainly going to be the next prime minister of the UK.

The Conservatives have always been better at the posters, if only because reactionary posters are more visually striking. Up top is the latest Conservative Party poster -  a bit of a disappointment because it's quite nice really, cuddlifying Cameron with not a hint of nastiness in there.

He's been airbrushed to plasticity, a contrast to grizzled Gordon, his gentle eyes undress the undecided middle-aged wobbler in a most decorous, yet lascivious fashion, his lips puckered just a tad selectively. The icy blue backdrop exudes calm and a fresh-breathed confidence, his promises to preserve the NHS a reminder that he's not like those sub-rock dwelling tories we once loved to hate. Who is his target audience, I wonder. Would you?.

Anyway, here is Cameron getting criticised for the airbrushing and "pouting lips Keira Knightley would be proud of."

Some knock-offs of the poster are below (from Political Advertising Blog.) , as well as a predictable but funny Jedward (if you are not from the UK, they were terrible X-Factor (a TV singing competition) singers and famous for their daft hair) spoof mocking Brown and Darling.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Jacob Rees Mogg - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Oh Dear, I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers the other day and then I saw this in the paper- Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative candidate for North-east Somerset - his constituency begins at the end of the road I live on and covers our allotment. If I have a problem with slugs, Jacob's my man of the people.

We have missed the cold, visceral hatred of party politics since Thatcher resigned - all we've had is cold, visceral contempt (for the Tories, for Blair - Brown gets only pity and disdain). We may have had a delusional public schoolboy in Blair as prime-minister but  we haven't had a true hunting-fishing-shooting-is-my-world Old Etonian prime minister for a long, long time (Macmillan was the last and he was the kind of  One Nation good egg who would be far too extreme for the underbelly of Cameron's Conservative Party).

But an election is coming and that's all about to change. An Old Etonian is going to be prime-minister, the nineteenth Old Etonian to be prime-minister of this country. What's more we'll have an Old Etonian Chancellor and an Old Etonian as Mayor of London. So all change there then - loads of hope.

The honeymoon will be short.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Left Brain = Bullshit Producer, Right Brain = Bullshit Detector

"Many series on the environment now come with screeds of essentially feeble obfuscatory prose, claiming relevance where the pictures themselves have little," writes  Francis Hodgson in the end of the decade BJP,
echoing numerous critics who believe that what artists say about their pictures might be a whole lot less than it seems

But if that's the case, how come people don't call bullshit on it more often. There are a few exceptions such as this and this, but most of the time we show our respect by not calling bullshit on each other or ourselves. 

Why do we do this. Possibly it is because we are polite, possibly because there is nothing more gratuitiously offensive than casting aspersions on writers, photographers or artists when they really aren't deserving of our insults and contempt.

Another possibility is we have been so blinded by the repetitious droning of a particular form of meta-language that we can't understand what it means anymore. Everyone's doing it so it must be right and we don't want to be do negative - we Smile or Die.

I think this acceptance of obtuse verbal statements (and the obtuse work that it refers to) is related to what Mary Midgley notes in her review of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist in The Guardian. She writes:

"McGilchrist's suggestion is that the encouragement of precise, categorical thinking at the expense of background vision and experience – an encouragement which, from Plato's time on, has flourished to such impressive effect in European thought – has now reached a point where it is seriously distorting both our lives and our thought. Our whole idea of what counts as scientific or professional has shifted towards literal precision – towards elevating quantity over quality and theory over experience – in a way that would have astonished even the 17th-century founders of modern science, though they were already far advanced on that path."

 Anyway, on that note, my New Year Resolution is to avoid this 'obfuscatory prose'. Not many people can do this, especially where photography is concerned. There was one man who could do it though. He was called Larry Sultan and he created Pictures From Home, a book where words complemented pictures, where the left and the right sides of the brain worked together, where pictures had multiple meanings and text was emotional, geographic, economic and sociological all at the same time. No obfuscatory prose guaranteed.

 RIP Larry.


Monday, 4 January 2010

2010: A Portrait

No, it's not the ghost of Christmas Past but his bastard half-brother, the ghost of the year to come. Mmm, 2010's looking tasty.

Happy New Year everyone.