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Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

  1.          Sofa Portraits is now available for pre-order from my website (orders will deliver in October/November)   The pric...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Turkish Bus

This Turkish bus served ice cream upon departure, tea and cake every couple of hours and had Bugs Bunny playing on a loop on the back of the seat TV screens. Our best bus ride ever.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Lodz Ghetto: Walter Genewein

From top to bottom, pictures by Walter Genewein, Mendel Grossman x 2 and Henryk Ross

 The Litzmannstadt Ghetto in Lodz, Poland is the subject of Dariusz Jablonski's 1998 film Fotoamator/Photographer.

The film looks at the photographs of Genewein, a German accountant, honing in on the faces of those imprisoned there. The pictures are accompanied by commentary from Arnold Mostowicz, a Jewish Doctor, together with extracts from Genewein's work and correspondence. It is a chilling film, one in which there is a constant backdrop of fear and suffering as Genewein goes about his business of capturing the banality of everyday camp life. The director's technique of zooming into the faces in the photographs amounts to a radical filmic cropping and is stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness. Genewein's pictures are often referred to as "benign", but Jablonski succeeds in making them profoundly tragic and revealing of the true nature of the ghetto - or perhaps it is just the feelings of the subjects for the photographer that we see. Unfortunately, there are few decent images up on the internet but you can see some here, at the Lodz  Ghetto website.

You can see a snippet of Fotoamator/Photographer here.

Because of its nature, the Litzmannstadt was more photographed than other ghettoes. Henryk Ross, an official Jewish photographer had his pictures gathered together in the Henryk Ross Lodz Ghetto album, while Mendel Grossman secretly photographed the Ghetto in all its brutality . You can see Mendel Grossman's Lodz Ghetto pictures here. 

Biography of Mendel Grossman here. An extract is below.

Mendel obtained a job in the photographic laboratory of the department of statistics in the ghetto, the office in which all the true information concerning the ghetto was collected. Covered by its official status, the staff of the department accumulated written material.

They did not only record dry facts, as statisticians usually do, but wrote down every rumour passing through the ghetto, every change in the distribution of food rations, every event no matter how unimportant. They also collected photographs, ostensibly to demonstrate models of products of the ghetto workshops, and identification photographs for work permits. The laboratory had a good supply of film and printing paper, and also served as an ideal camouflage for Mendel’s real job.

He spent most of his time in the streets, in the narrow alleys, in homes, in soup kitchens, in bread lines, in workshops, at the cemetery. The chief subject was people. He did not seek beauty, for there was no beauty in the ghetto, there were children bloated with hunger, eyes searching for a crust of bread, living “death notices” as those near death, but still on their feet were called in ghetto slang.

He photographed conveys of men and women condemned to death in the gas-vans of Chelmno, public executions, in one incident, a whole family passed through the street dragging a wagon filled with excrement, a father, mother, son and daughter, the parents in front pulling, and the children pushing from the sides.

Mendel stopped but did not take out his camera, he hesitated to photograph the degradation of those people. But the head of the family halted and asked Mendel to photograph, “Let it remain for the future, let others know humiliated we were.” Mendel no longer hesitated, he gave into the urge which motivated so many Jews to leave a record, to write down the events, to collect documents, to scratch a name on the wall of the prison cell, to write next to the name of the condemned the word “vengeance.”

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Amar, Akbar, Anthony

The picture I posted on Monday by JR of a rabbi, imam and priest reminds me of Amar, Akbar, Anthony; a classic 1970s Hindi film where 3 brothers get separated and are brought up by a Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

If you like this kind of thing, you can see the whole film on youtube (if you really like this kind of thing, you can buy the DVD). And if you like this kind of thing a little bit, but not 3 hours worth, just check the two songs out.   There's Rishi Kapoor in a green elf suit singing Parda Hai Parda, a song about taking off the veil ( check out the camp stoner Qawwali band and random two girls sitting behind the bad Muslim dad) and Amitabh Bachchan jumping out of an Easter egg to channel Rishi Kapoor's dad in the glorious My Name is Anthony Gonsalves. And if you don't like this kind of thing at all, ah well...

Monday, 20 September 2010

James Chip Thomas, JR and Banksy

The public art above (the bottom two photos are by Gary O’Brien) are by James Chip Thomas.
Thomas pastes up the giant  pictures on  a Navajo reservation where he works as a doctor. The pictures are nostalgic but also tragic and the few that he has made so far seem to integrate perfectly with the dilapidated aridity of their surroundings. It would be interesting to know exactly why he photographs what he does, and his rationale for siting the works.

I think Thomas was inspired by the giant portraits of JR, but though I admire the energy and ambition of JR, I am never quite convinced by either the pictures he makes, the sites he chooses and the combination of the two. Still, his work makes an impact. 

For more information on Chip Thomas, see Erika Schulz.

To see more of Chip Thomas’ photos, visit his flickr page.

Oh, and here's a little bit of Banksy while we're at it.

Banksy on the Israeli Wall

More graffiti/street art here. 

And this comes via Prison Photography again.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Vampire Weekend and Intern Aware

This article in Pitchfork looks at the use of vernacular photography in music advertising, leading in with this picture which seems to have been absolutely everywhere for the last few years - and a great picture it is too..

And this site, Intern Aware, is campaigning for rights for interns - in the political world of London for now, but the question is will this spread to photography and the worlds of art, journalism and fashion. I'm guessing not.

The UK welcomes the Pope

It seems appropriate to welcome the Pope to the UK with a link to this book: The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuses.

The best call to arms about the Pope's visit is this one by angry Johann Hari  - and he has something to be angry about. Here is a snippet and (though it doesn't apply to this I think), let us not forget that Hari does get things hopelessly wrong occasionally, as in 2003 with the Iraq War.

In Germany in the early 1980s, Father Peter Hullermann was moved to a diocese run by Ratzinger. He had already been accused of raping three boys. Ratzinger didn't go to the police, instead Hullermann was referred for "counselling". The psychiatrist who saw him, Werner Huth, told the Church unequivocally that he was "untreatable [and] must never be allowed to work with children again". Yet he kept being moved from parish to parish, even after a sex crime conviction in 1986. He was last accused of sexual abuse in 1998.
In the US in 1985, a group of American bishops wrote to Ratzinger begging him to defrock a priest called Father Stephen Kiesle, who had tied up and molested two young boys in a rectory. Ratzinger refused for years, explaining that he was thinking of the "good of the universal Church" and of the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke among the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age" of the priest involved. He was 38. He went on to rape many more children. Think about what Ratzinger's statement reveals. Ratzinger thinks the "good of the universal Church" – your church – lies not in protecting your children from being raped, but in protecting the rapists from punishment. 

And just to be even-handed, here is a similar article on child abuse in Muslim Madrassas. Tip of the iceberg comes to mind on this one. I'm sure one could easily find the equivalents in other religions, anywhere where the taint of the sacred and infallible leads to secrecy, unaccountability and hypocrisy.

So on the flip side, here is an interview with Joumana Haddad, whose latest book is called I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman.

Joumana Haddad's website is here.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Prisoner of War Camp no.334: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Aaron Huey photographs many things. Most importantly he  photographs the Pine Ridge (Lakota) Reservation, aka Prisoner of War Camp no.334,, to create  a telling documentary of a place where "the life expectancy for men is between 46 and 48 years old, roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia." (and 8 years younger than the East End of Glasgow).

In a talk he gave at TED, Huey says that, "The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, My God, what are these people doing to themselves, they're killing each other, they're killing themselves while we watch them die. This is how we came to own these United States, this is the legacy of Manifest Destiny."

The talk is emotional and to the point. See Huey's short history of Native American history here.

See more pictures of Pine Ridge here. 

All of which reminds me of Prison Valley (via Prison Photography) a web documentary by David Dufresne and Philippe Brault about a "town in the middle of nowhere with 36,000 souls and 13 prisons", where the sentencing, the housing and parenting are all affected by basing your whole town on a prison economy - the effect it has on families, homes and even shopping.

Towards the end of the film, there is a shot of the walls of a woman's prison, where an inmate had scrawled this; "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

It's a George Orwell quote and seems pertinent to both Aaron Huey's work and Prison Valley.

 UK life expectancy regional differences 

Internional life expectancies

Monday, 13 September 2010

"99 per cent of my work was advertising and crap"

"99 per cent of my work was advertising and crap."

So said Brian Duffy who died this summer. He gave up photographer because he was sick of licking the arses of... well, arseholes I guess. How refreshing that is. I think we need more photographers who tell it how it is and show it how it is - and that showing might be supremely negative and offensive. So hats off again to Jill Greenberg who was right on the button with her John McCain pictures.

Who else explicity uses photography against people who it should be used against? Is it a good thing to do, or is Duffy's response the only possible one?

And if Duffy is right on the button, what does this say about photographers who continue to do work that is "99 per cent crap" at best - you know, stuff like this (thank you Stan for pointing this out).

Or work that reduces photographers to a clap-happy claque to the powers-that-be, our cameras tools of obsequiousness and sycophancy that elevates the deceptive and profane to heights of humanity undeserved of their subject - any corporate portrait in other words.

Brian Duffy: Innovative and irreverent photographer who caught the Swinging Sixties on camera

By Pierre Perrone

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The inventive and innovative photographer Brian Duffy shot some of the best known pictures of the Swinging Sixties for magazines such as Vogue, Queen, Town and Nova in Britain, and Elle in France, and became as infamous as his friends and contemporaries David Bailey and Terence Donovan. His dynamic style of fashion photography and his playful portraits of Michael Caine, John Lennon and Harold Wilson leapt off the pages and embodied the free spirit of the era. In the 1970s, this irreverent, occasionally cantankerous character, moved into advertising and devised intriguing, effective and memorable posters and full-page ads for Benson & Hedges cigarettes and Smirnoff vodka, as well as the striking cover for David Bowie's first chart-topping album, Aladdin Sane.

Yet, at the end of 1979, something seemed to snap in Duffy when he walked into his studio and was told by an assistant that they had run out of toilet paper. "I realised I was chairman, CEO and senior stockholder of my business and I was now responsible for toilet paper," he later reflected. "Ninety-nine per cent of my work was advertising and crap. The people who were hiring me I didn't like. Keeping a civil tongue up the rectum of a society that keeps you paid is an art which I was devoid of. I had nothing more to say in photographs. I'd taken all the snaps I needed to take. Maybe I didn't think I was good enough."

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The World Cup: A summary

England, circa 1938, giving the Nazi salute is from a game in Berlin when the Foreign Office ordered the England team to give the Nazi salute before the game

I don't know why but I get the feeling things haven't changed that much since then.


Friday, 10 September 2010

My Name is Khan and I am not a terrorist

So, it's 9 years since 911 and the war in Iraq has been won, terrorism defeated (except in Northern Ireland), Tony Blair have won this year's election if he had been labour leader and I am a sandwich.

To commemorate 911 you can do something stupid or you can do something not stupid.

Watching My name is Khan is not stupid. It is a wonderful film, an internationalist 911 masterclass in tolerance, a movie where Shah Rukh Khan channels Mr Bean, Dustin Hoffman and Forest Gump and surpasses them all in his role of Rizvul Khan, a man with Aspergers who sets out to tell the president that "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist" after his stepson is killed in a racist attack. My name is Khan carries a  message of humanity, hope and unity, but with a hard dose of reality thrown in. It even gets in a little dig at Jack Bauer, there is a flash of weird street photography and the commentary on Hurricane Katrina is perfect. It is a film that carries a message for people all over the world, that is relevant to people in the UK, in Africa, in Asia, all over the world in fact.

Shah Rukh Khan says, "It’s not about a disabled man’s fight against disability. It’s a disabled man’s fight against the disability that exists in the world—terrorism, hatred, fighting ... My Name is Khan is also about Islam and the way the world looks at Islam but we are not taking any sides. We are only trying to say that there are only good people and bad people. There are no good Hindus, bad Hindus, good Christians, bad Christians. Either you are a good person or a bad person. Religion is not the criterion, humanity is."

For more on Shah Rukh Khan, you can attend the Shah Rukh Khan conference here, and look at how SRK has become a global phenomenon here in this documentary on  Austrian Shah Rukh Khanis.

The Full programme of the conference is here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Alixandra Fazzina - A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia

I was blown away by Alixandra Fazzina's pictures of Somali refugees trying to get to Yemen. Here is a slideshow that show the pictures from her book , A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia. Great music, great pictures but the two absolutely do not go together; a case of the music working against the images.

The words below are from an interview in the August issue of the BJP.

“It’s important to get over that this isn’t a choice, it’s something forced on people,” says Alixandra Fazzina. “Becoming a refugee is one of the most horrible things that can happen to you, especially if it’s the result of conflict. Too often stories on refugees end up being a statistic.”
Allixandra Fazzina has faced death shooting her story – both her own and that of the Somali refugees she’s photographing. Fleeing civil war at home, desperate Somalis are making their way to the Gulf of Aden, where people smugglers wait to take them to Yemen. It’s a journey fraught with danger. Some estimates suggest that only one in 20 of those smuggled make it, the rest falling victim to drowning, exhaustion and the smugglers’ aggression, and Fazzina was not immune to that aggression. “If the militia saw me pointing the camera at them they would fire at my feet; sometimes they would fire at my feet when I arrived just to warn me,” she says.

Fazzina is referring specifically to her project, A Million Shillings, which details the desperate journey Somali refugees take across the Gulf of Aden. But her words could equally apply to the other stories featured here, from Burmese Muslims cut adrift in Bangladesh, to young Afghans reduced to poverty in Greece. Even the comparatively wealthy Westerners forced to leave Dubai deserve sympathy – having staked their fortunes on a dream, many now face ruin. But too often that sympathy is not forthcoming because, as Fazzina also points out, migration has become a dirty word. It’s also a blanket term, covering a broad spectrum of people.
According to the United Nations, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. Such people don’t automatically become refugees – they must apply for this status. Until it is granted they are asylum seekers; if it is denied and they stay in the country they become illegal aliens. Like the unrecognised Burmese Muslims in Bangladesh, they are denied freedom of movement, permission to work and basic human rights.

“It was incredibly scary. It just takes one militia who’s high and thinks it’s funny, and they were shooting so close of course they could have killed me. Mostly they’re just drunk or they’re chewing khat or they’re on hash and they’re really psyched up. They love firing their guns, it’s a macho thing, and they’ll just shoot randomly at the refugees. I witnessed summary executions on the beaches – refugees who were too scared to get on the boats were told to kneel down and shot there and then. I was told, ‘This is the bad time, you need to go away now’.”
In fact, Somalia is so unsafe that few NGOs venture there, and when Fazzina started the project at the end of 2006 she had little backup. She flew to Bossaso, a coastal town well known for smuggling, with little more than the address of a guesthouse, going straight from the hotel to the UNHCR in order not to compromise its security. From there she was pretty much on her own but, she says, connections were key – other journalists have been killed trying to cover the story. She found a translator who’d worked for the US forces in Mogadishu, whose English was rusty but whose knowledge of the area and its people was invaluable. She also photographed in Yemen, where exiled Somali journalists were able to help her – Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work, and many have fled for their lives.
But Fazzina also worked with the smugglers themselves, both in Bossaso and Djibouti, another popular crossing point, and says she couldn’t have done the story without them. That made her happy she wasn’t directly working with an NGO, as she would have been putting them and their work at risk as well as herself. In Bossaso there are eight main smugglers, known as the “big fish”, and she got to know one called Omar. “I made sure I met him at the end of my first trip, then I got out of town,” she says. “I met him in the town and interviewed him, then he allowed me to go to one of his safe houses, where people wait before making the journey. I told him my story was about the refugees and why people were living this terrible life, and he was very happy to be photographed.
“The next time I went back to Bossaso, I went out to one of the departure points along the coast [with her translator]. We got fired at and then on the way back, on a road controlled by the smugglers, a car started coming towards us. I was very nervous and when it stopped, and armed men got out, I was debating whether to get out of the car or stay in it and hide. Somehow I decided I’d get out, then Omar suddenly appeared out of the truck with his militia, running towards me with his arms open.”
It’s a terrifying story but Fazzina almost laughs as she tells it, out of sheer relief and disbelief. Gaining the bad guys’ trust was essential, she says, and to do so she had to work out how their world was structured. “The smugglers are from different ethnic groups and the refugees generally stick to the smugglers from their clan,” she says. “I worked with the elders of the community and explained what I was doing to them and, although the smugglers are really the warlords, the elders would say to them ‘OK she’s going to do this, if anything happens to her something will happen to you’. I went through the tribal system, working out which vehicle I should be in, which clan my driver should be from.”
Fazzina also got to know people attempting to cross to Yemen, and their heartbreaking stories are told in her book, A Million Shillings. Originally she had hoped to follow one group of refugees from Somalia to Yemen, but she quickly realised this was impossible because so few make it. Of one group of 135 she got to know, just 11 survived. She took pictures of the women waiting to board the smugglers’ boat just a few hours before they died, smiling and laughing into the camera. Those pictures haven’t made it into the book because they were too personal – “I didn’t want the book to be about me,” she explains.
Other images she had to leave out because she couldn’t take them in the first place – because they were too dangerous or because she laid down the camera to help the people she was shooting. She and her translator were the only people on hand on a beach in Yemen when a boat laden with dead and dying refugees landed, for example, and she immediately stopped shooting to pull the dead off the boat and give water and emergency first aid to the weak survivors. “As a human being you have to intervene, although it probably would have been one of the most dramatic images I could have shot,” she says.
Fazzina also shows the bleak reality the refugees face when they arrive in Yemen – housed in impoverished camps, many move on to try their luck elsewhere, in Saudi Arabia or even the UK. She discusses their options in the book but doesn’t pursue them, “or the book would go on forever”. Even so, she ended up with thousands of images and it took her months to edit them into a coherent narrative, plus write the very thorough texts that go with it. She then had to raise the funds to publish the book, persuading the International Office of Immigration to pay for the printing.
The result is both interesting and serious – the format of a novel rather than a usual photobook, it’s the antithesis of the glossy coffee table read. Given the subject matter, it feels appropriate, and Fazzina hopes the format will encourage people to go into both story and her subjects’ lives. “It’s more about the story than the photography, I almost had to put the photography second,” she says. “As a photographer that prioritising doesn’t feel right but the storytelling is really crucially important. The point of the book is to raise awareness – hopefully some good will come of it.”

BJP interview here

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Robert Fisk on Honour Killings

Surjit Athwal: Murdered in 1998 by her in-laws on a trip to the Indian Punjab for daring to seek a divorce from an unhappy marriage 

Du'a Khalil Aswad: Aged 17, she was stoned to death in Nineveh, Iraq, by a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a man outside her tribe

Fakhra Khar: In 2001 in Karachi, her husband poured acid on her face, after she left him and returned to her mother's home in the red-light district of the city 

Heshu Yones: The 16-year-old was stabbed to death by her Muslim father Abdullah, in west London in 2002, because he disapproved of her Christian boyfriend

Robert Fisk writes on the unreported and unpunished murders of honour killings.


Robert Fisk: The crimewave that shames the world

It's one of the last great taboos: the murder of at least 20,000 women a year in the name of 'honour'. Nor is the problem confined to the Middle East: the contagion is spreading rapidly

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the "honour" of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women's groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations' latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.

A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for "honour" and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the "honour" (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women's groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for "dishonouring" their families is increasing by the year. 

Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds "honour" killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions. 

One of the great ironies of this is that some of these violations of human rights are happening in the UK - so if we want to fight a war in the name of human rights, why not fight it at home,  on our own doorstep. Yet little is done to stop this kind of abuse and the voluntary organisations that try to inform, educate and help people in forced marriages and suffering abuse are underfunded and understaffed.

Karma Nirvana is a registered Charity that supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour based abuse. The words Karma Nirvana simply mean 'Peace and Enlightenment' as we hope our victims will achieve this through our work

A biography of Ivor Cutler


More pictures of Ivor Cutler's flat here.
More on Ivor Cutler.
Biography of Ivor Cutler by John Gibbin Print E-mail
Ivor was born in GLASGOW on 15th January 1923 100 yards from the Glasgow Rangers football ground, Ibrox, to a Jewish middle-class family, the descendant of Eastern European Jews who arrived in Scotland three generations before him. His grandfather was a pedlar of working men's caps and his father branched out into furniture and cutlery. "My parents were orthodox Jews. My father moved from the orthodox to the progressive synagogue. He had been able to read Hebrew but wasn't understanding the traditional service. For me the language was then exposed as boring. I liked the incomprehensible noise of foreign words. Victimised by anti-Semitic teachers at school for not being a "real Scot" he got the strap 200 times for not being able to write.

When his kid brother was born he was three years old and lost his place in the universe as it's centre. "Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am, and therefore not as creative. Without a kid brother I would have been quite dull. I did try and kill him, but my Auntie Eva came into the room and thought that it wasn't a good idea." Aged six he won a school prize for singing Robert Burns' "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose".

Ivor had a austere childhood but strangely says he liked it. He says "As a boy my two grannies used to make the same kind of cake, one making it with milk and one with water. I always preferred the one with water. Then when I got to 17 I went through a stage of drinking hot water at people's houses instead of tea or coffee, and I'd try to savour the difference between one cup of hot water and another". The books Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2 and Glasgow Dreamer tells stories about many of Ivors memories from his childhood.

When he was 15 he heard a speaker for the Rationalist Society giving a talk on a soapbox in the street. "They said religion was stuff out of the jungle. I went to our minister and said, 'Can you prove the existence of God? He must have been in a bad mood as he just said 'no'. I never went to synagogue again."

In his twenties he looked into other religions, visiting various churches on Sundays. "I wanted to see if I fancied any. I found one Unitarian church that I liked best. But when the Unitarian minister saw me - a strange face - he ran up and wanted to engage me in conversation. I had to act as quickly as possible and left immediately. He converted to atheism and then, in his early twenties, having explored astronomy, he decided to become an agnostic.

When he was fifteen he thought, "I'm going to be a composer. I'm going to make simple but strong melodies like Drove or Schubert." I've got a thing which I call my first Piano Concerto and it's only in three lines, because I didn't know what a concerto was. I took it to school and showed it to the music teacher and she was knocked out. It was a load of rubbish. Then I did a serious one called "Funeral Bells", because being a humorist I'm naturally a lugubrious kind of bloke, and suicide always has a big attraction to guys like me.
At 16, he thought he'd become a doctor, like his father. But when his father told him I would have to smash a live frog's heads against a brick walls and dunk them in acid to see it's spinal cord at work, Ivor realised he didn't want him to be a doctor ( Ivor was a humanitarian vegetarian at the time).

At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was evacuated to Annan. In 1940 he became an apprentice fitter with Rolls Royce where they made spitfires for the Second World War, and although he liked what he was doing he knew he just wasn't any good at it. In 1941-2 he trained as a navigator with the RAF. "Just after I wrote home that I was now Sergeant Cutler, I was called into the CO's office and told I was a menace and that my plots were dreadful and was too dreamy and absent-minded". He said "Oh, the clouds were beautiful that day, so I spent some time looking at them. It didn't escape their attention. I'd already written home saying I was going to be Sergeant Cutler too. Dismissed for dreaminess." For the remainder of the war, Ivor Cutler was First Aider and Storeman for Winsor Engineering Company.

In 1950-51 he taught at A S Neill's Summerhill, he said "I had the time of my life. However, my headmaster said I was no good". He then moved to the Inner London Education Authority in 1954 for whom he worked until 1980. From 1961 to 1970 he taught music, African drumming, movement, drama and poetry to 7-11 year-olds. Although 31 years of teaching may have seemed too long for him, it is clear from his anecdotes that the most important factor in his innocence and experience is the classroom. His pupils are in some way responsible for unlocking his creativity and desire to communicate. From his early days at AS Neil's hippy academy Summerhill - a school with no rules - and then in London, where he made up songs and drama scenarios for his classes, he found he had a strong empathy with children. In one improvisation he told the kids to pretend to kill their siblings - as mentioned earlier something he had tried to do himself aged three.
Cutler was amazed and filled with love by the children's fresh look at things. "I used them," he confesses, "but they used me. It was a mutual thing." He likens the classroom to his audience. "In a way I am still carrying on with the kids. And those who come to my gigs probably see life as a child would. It's those who are busy making themselves into grown-ups, avoiding being a child - they're the ones who don't enjoy it." When he worked with the Beatles, he was invited to teach their children - an offer he declined on socialist principles: "What made their kids more special than other kids?"

He decided to become an artist while training to be a teacher, He wanted to be a painter but found he couldn't paint although his portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery. "I desperately wanted to be a painter and started classes at Glasgow School of Art. I'd come across Henry Moore's work and used to play with the clay to make what seemed to me pretty visceral shapes. But the teacher wanted proper sculpture and tried to get me out", During this time his music and humour developed along with it. Until his radio debut, and indeed for some time afterwards, he earned a living as a schoolteacher. Mr Cutler's classes were popular with pupils, even though today his unusual approach would be thoroughly disapproved of in a system dominated by a national curriculum, and in his time he drew criticism from both disapproving parents and head teachers. It was through his art and his humour in particular that Cutler found a way of coping with his neurosis. "It seemed a very sensible way to go about things, because not only did I have the pleasure of doing myself a good turn, but I gave pleasure to quite a lot of other people. I was being sociable and at the same time was curing myself."

Fame first came in the late Fifties. He was lying on his bed with a primitive tape recorder for company and, as he puts it, a story came out of his brain. Surprised at the ease at which he could bypass his intellect he tried again, and a second story emerged and was also recorded. Then a third. Writing poetry then began to manifest itself. "My way of writing poetry was to go to a jazz concert and just let the music come through me and just write nonsense poems, so that one was listening to the noise of the words rather than the meaning. I wouldn't allow my intellect to get in the way. After six years I found certain sounds more to my taste than others and I gradually began to use actual words".
"I didn't settle down to really composing until I was 34. I was a schoolteacher, I had a wife and a couple of kids. I wanted to be a painter and I thought I wouldn't be able to leave teaching because I needed the money. So I thought, "I'll compose a song and somebody else can sing it and I'll just cash in on it. and then I'll be able leave teaching". Pathetic, isn't it? For about three years I wrote songs and went around to Tin Pan Alley and gave about three songs to each person with a stamped addressed envelope. They'd send them back in a couple of weeks so they wouldn't hurt my feelings". "Eventually, in 1957, I said the seven words that changed my life: Perhaps I ought to sing them myself".

"One day I went into a place called Box & Cox and the boss man there was a fellow called Boxy. I was dressed up all peculiar, a big bag on my back with paintings in it and a dirty old duffel coat. I put on a deadpan voice and said, "I understand you buy songs here." He said, "Yes", carefully. I said, "Would you like me to sing one of my songs for you?" He said, "Yes", it was five o'clock in the evening, he had a fire going, he was relaxing. So he got one or two of his chums and pointed to a piano that was against the wall and he sat behind me. I said "I've got different songs. It could be a funny one or it could be a serious one." He said, "Oh, play what you like." So I sat down and played this funny one. After a while I was listening, I heard. I carried on to the end, turned around, and Box was lying on the floor, his face purple. I said, "It's OK, you can laugh." He said, "We get some funny people in here and they would be terribly hurt if we laughed, because they see themselves as being very serious." So he took me on and started me in my music career"
Ivor took his works to the BBC who, in Cutler's words, "found them to their taste". Cutler was invited to read his idiosyncratic poems and stories on the forerunner of Radio 4, the old Home Service. Frequently he performed to the accompaniment of a pedal-driven harmonium which could only, as far as listeners could tell, play in a depressive minor key. He broadcast thirty-eight stories on the BBC's Monday Night At Home between 1959 and 1963. Cutler's artistic career started with a gig at the Blue Angel in Islington in 1957, which he reckoned was "an unmitigated failure". In the 60s he became a popular figure on UK radio, and in 1961 released his first record, the "Of Y'Hup" EP. He started writing poetry aged 42 three of his poems appear in Faber's collection of Scottish verse edited by Douglas Dunn. Not bad for a poet who didn't start writing until he was 42.

In 1967 he appeared in The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" film as Buster Bloodvessel, subsequently recording a jazz trio album called "Ludo" for Parlophone. He quickly acquired a huge following of people who hated him and an equally sizeable following who did not. Among the latter were Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who asked the BBC for his phone number, called him, went to see him, and Cutler found himself playing a cameo role in the Beatles= film The Magical Mystery Tour. "McCartney heard a song that I sang, "I'm Going In A Field": "I lie beside the grass." I love that line. People are wondering [whispers], "What's he on about?" He heard it, got in touch with me and invited me along for a meal and asked me about it. He said "You know there's that chord in that song." I said, "Oh yeah, it's a major second." Anyway about six months later I got invited to be in Magical Mystery Tour and I discovered I was known by Lennon".

Ivor Cutler now lives in a small second-floor flat in Parliament Hill Fields, London, where he takes his chances cycling through the traffic. He describes how to reach his home on the LP Prince Ivor, surrounded by his collection of masks, paintings and sculptures. They are the trophies of a lifetime spent in the melancholic contemplation of the human mind and its humorous potential. He clearly loves cycling, and hates noise pollution. I can tell you little more about his personal life than that, for he appears to be a most private man. "I'm one of these people who ... is bored stiff. I spend my time thinking: what the hell am I going to do today? So I might go to a second-hand bookshop, I might bicycle, go to the zoo or to a gallery. Things to pass the time"

Ivor does not perform very much nowadays the last reading was in June 2000 at the Owl Bookshop Kentish Town very near his home which he doesn't like to be far from. He knows that he does not have the energy he had when he was young and he worries that, despite the successes of his varied career as artist, cartoonist, musician, humorist and poet, he has still not entirely cured himself of his neurosis. Perhaps he would miss it; perhaps his life would lose its purpose.

Ivor is a member of the Noise Abatement Society and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. He remarked once when asked if he was a member of the Noise Abatement Society "Yes, for years and years, it makes my life a great misery, noises. I always carry earplugs with me" and "The thing that drives me nuts is a lot of the fans that I have - because of Peel, I think, or because of the taste of the day - are people who go home and play very loud music in their homes, and they go in their motor cars playing very loud music with the windows open. Then they come to my gigs and I play as quiet as I can get away with because that's how I want to communicate it. I think, "I ought not to let these people in if they play loud music." Maybe I should stand at the door and you have to fill in a questionnaire before you can hear me."

After major heart surgery recently, when he had been told he was dying, "not knowing that it was going to be as miserable as that, I thought I might as well live for a bit longer. I really wanted to go when I was ill, but it is not easy to come across the means of dying in a pleasant way".

"When I do die I shall be glad to get away from loud pop music and motor cars, but I shall miss - insofar as when one is dead one can miss anything - the beautiful kindnesses of those people to whom courtesy comes naturally. Unfortunately there are fewer of those people than of the other kind who deal with their problems in a very anti-social way."

                  John Gibbin

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

"Changing your pants is like taking a clean plate"

"Changing your pants is like taking a clean plate"

So said Nehru-lookalike Ivor Cutler, pictured above (and here singing Tomato Brain). Which brings me to Alec Soth, who reminds me a bit of  Ivor Cutler thanks to the dry Minnesota wit of his videos for New York Times Opiniator blog - I especially like the dead parrot one.

Alec Soth said in the BJP that "A blog has to have a voice, otherwise it's just like any other media out there. But at the same time, there are things I protect. For example, I wouldn't post a picture of my kid" - which made me wonder a little. Why wouldn't he post a picture of his kid? It's not an easy question, especially for me who photographs little else apart from my daughter. But why not - what magic does the still image have that to publish it on a blog (as opposed to his daughter's name and personal details of her life and involvement in Alex's projects) is something one needs protecting from.

Anyway, there is a fine interview with Alec Soth here, with lots to get one's teeth into and digest, including this wonderful analogy discussing why photographers should be happy to be called photographers..

 "There was this blog recently complaining about the term “emerging photographers,” particularly the word “emerging,” and New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz posted a response saying that people need to get rid of the word “photographer.”  But I sort of hate that. It’s kind of like being a saxophonist who plays in an orchestra and being embarrassed to say, “I’m a saxophonist.” Because like anything, it’s all about subtleties. Joel Sternfeld was a teacher of mine at Sarah Lawrence so, inevitably, I get compared to him. For a long time I tried to run away from it, but then I accepted his influence and worked through it. You find your own little path that’s just subtly different. And in a way, that is what being a photographer is. We’re all using these machines, and by doing it over and over and over again, you find your own voice, but it’s just modestly different than someone else’s. And how do you describe that? How do you describe the difference between these two saxophone players?"

More on  Ivor Cutler here.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lessons from Hindi Cinema for Tony Fouhse

Dawn and Kevin

 James - dead

Tony Fouhse gets confused in this blog posting, which sums up the confusion caused by the restrictive and conservative side of photography.

Okay, I'm confused, okay.

For me, photography is still about discovery.
And I don’t mean discovering how light strikes an object, or how “cool” some shape might look in a foto.
No, I’m talking about discovering how I can go out in the world,
shoot, bring it back and make it (my passage through that time
and space) make sense.
And, by “make sense” I mean a few things.
First of all, how can I interact with what’s in front of me, how can I shape the people I meet and their environment into interesting photographs? For me photography is a combination of my aesthetic and social predilections. This process is kind of like mining. I have to make sure I extract enough raw material to give me options at a later date.
Then, when I bring all those fotos, this raw material, home, the
refining process begins. I want to sift and shake and shape the
fragments that are fotos into a sequence that will somehow define that thing.
And, by “thing” I’m not referring to an actual thing. I’m referring to my passage through the time and the space that gave rise to the images in the first place.
It’s kind of like a puzzle with no one correct solution, but some
solutions are more correct than others.
Does that make any sense to you?

Add to this creative confusion the fact that I know most of the people I photograph on the corner. Some I know quite well, others I only met once or twice before they drifted away. Got straight, went to jail or took their addiction to some other corner in some other city.
Some of them die.

How’s that supposed to make me feel?
I’m as confused about this, personal, aspect of the project as I am about the creative side of it. Probably more confused. I often wonder just what the hell I’m doing down there, inserting myself into these peoples lives.

That actually sounds very un-confused to me. Instead of striving for objectivity and distance, we must embrace the chaos, confusion, the lack of rightness and wrongness. Most of all (as in Hindi Cinema - that's where the lesson kicks in), we must embrace the emotion. The emotion is everything and without it there is no content, no meaning and no point to anything we do. 

In Hollywood movies, you get people who obsess about things like the continuity errors - so in Apocalypse Now, when the Ride of the Valkyries is playing in the helicopter attack, the tape isn't moving over the tape head. But why should it. It's a made up film, a complete fiction, it's pretend and fake. In Hindi Cinema, content takes precedence over detail (especially if you go back to the 70s - much less so now). It would make no sense to talk about continuity errors - you'd be watching a film and all the time saying things like, Hold on, one minute they were in Mumbai and now all of a sudden they are dancing on a hilltop in Switzerland, and How come he's riding a camel in the desert when a second ago he was sitting on motorbike in a Gujarati village. It would be thoroughly pointless and ignore the medium which one is watching - a make-believe medium.

I think it's a little bit the same in photography, another make believe medium.We obsess about trivial little details and ignore the big picture, a picture that should have feeling, emotion, soul - because that is what life is about.

In Bollywood, a guide to popular Hindi Cinema, Anjum Rajabali explains the difference between Hollywood and Hindi films:

"Hollywood films are considered 'dry' here. That is, not enough emotions. When you Indianise a subject, you add emotions. Lots of them. Feelings like love, hate, sacrifice, of revenge, pangs of separation... Every situation has feelings, dilemmas, other kinds of conflicts, confrontations, sacrifices, moral issues coming up all the time, etc."

Screenwiter Sutanu Gupta, also discusses the difference. 

"I personally feel Indian films are much more difficult to write than Hollywood films. Hollywood films can sustain interest, or can interet their audience with one track. You can have a bomb in a bus, a girl is driving the bus, and a man has to save the busdriver and the bus passengers. That is all. That is the whole film. We can't do a film like that. I wish we could - it's so straightforward. It can be one scene in a Hindi film, like the climax. It cannot be the whole film."

I think Tony's confusion arises from the need to move beyond the one scene, to bring other emotions into the mix - something that Anglo-photography, in whatever guise, is reluctant to allow.

More on emotion in photography in relation to women photographers and their lack of coverage at Prison Photography and Peripheral Vision.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

Shah Rukh Khan on Photography

Last year my cultural life consisted of watching all 7 series of Buffy from beginning to end - and a good cultural life it was too. This year, my wife has become a Hindi Cinema (aka Bollywood) afficionado, so I trail in her wake watching Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan (who I met at Bangalore Racecourse in 1990 - for real!) and Shah Rukh Khan movies. From Devdas to Deewar, from Amar to Akbar and Anthony, it's the Bollywood back-catalogue all the way in my house. And a very good cultural life it is too. It's a great way of learning to watch films in new and different ways, to loosen up the narrative conventions and to see how to square the circle and sythesise every kind of oppostion into non-confrontational harmony. Is it escapist or realist? It's both of course.

Anyway, I have been well and truly sucked into her fascination and so had Shah Rukh Khan's biography (King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the seductive world of Indian Cinema by Anupama Chopra) as holiday reading.

SRK has been quoted as that as an actor he has only five expressions, but he was a success because his rivals had only two. I get the feeling what he said about acting and cinema could just as easily be applied to photography - the only difference is that in photography the limited repertoire is often, wrongly, regarded as a good thing, as style and voice - when of course it is no such thing. It is a limited repertoire and nothing beyond that.

The book ends with SRK saying, "My grandmother used to tell me, 'Zyada photo mat keecho. Har photo ke saath three seconds life ke kam ho jatein hain.' (Don't have too many pictures taken . Each photography robs you of three seconds of your life). I want so many cameras taking pictures of me at the same time that I only live for a moment. The cameras go khachak! And somebody asks, 'What happened?' And they say, 'He got photographed to death. He got shot.' I think that would be the nicest way to go."

That gets around three contradictions into the mix in less than a paragraph, mixes the real and the magic. I love the idea that the picture takes three seconds of your life and I sort of believe it myself. I think most people believe it, but pretend that they don't because it's too irrational and doesn't make sense. But it does make sense and the way people behave around cameras and photographs, the way they write about them and mysticise them demonstrates this rather clearly. The camera steals your life - whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is another question. As is where it steals your life to.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind)

Ooh, it's September already; the right time for some photographic education advice. One of the prime concerns one should have before taking up a photography course is the songs that accompany the host university city or town - go to Dusseldorf and you're condemned to Kraftwerk and the Autobahn. Study in New York and the bombast and self-delusion of a whole rack full of songs will leave one clutching for reality.

But go to the University of Wales in Newport ( I did an MA there) and what a treat awaits, with Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind). This version of the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song hits all the spots and is just fabulous - so fabulous EMI had it yanked off Youtube after a couple of million views. But it's still there in all its glory. For all new students ( especially Photography students) at the University of Wales, Newport, indeed for all visitors to Celtic Manor for the Ryder Cup it is the only introduction to the cultural life of Newport you will ever need. Check these lyrics out. Pure genius. Dusseldorf eat your heart out.

Yeah, I'm up at Ridgeway,
Now I'm down the moorings, right next to the Debenhams
and I'll be Port forever

Yes it is my lifeblood
these streets they are a part of me
the yin to my yang
the Craig to my Bellamy

Catch me in the kitchen
I've got cheese - I'm melting it
Caerphilly, bread and ham
Hey presto it's a rarebit

Head out to Caerleon
Off white transit
Fabreeze on the dash for the stain where my nan sits

Out for a big one, sniffing on the miaow miaow
Djs on the ones and twos, spinnin' Little Bow Wow
On the dancefloor raving, pack of 16 Benson
Someone's fighting bouncers... turns out it's Gavin Henson

Big up to Plaid Cymru, and the Welsh Assembly
Big up to Millennium: we don't need no Wembley
Keep your Big Apple... We'll have a tangerine
Bugger off Alicia, Shirley Bassey is our queen

Round here we stick together, like birds of a feather,
...Except we're not from Chigwell,
We're from the small Welsh town of...

Concrete jungle, nothing in order
Not far from the border
When you're in Newport

Chips, cheese, curry makes you feel brand new
Washed down with a Special Brew
Repeat the word, Newport, Newport, Newport.

Catch me at Gwent Dragons in my fleece watching real sport
Shit, I make the Dragons' fleece more famous than the Argonauts
And now that I've made it here I can make it anywhere
Signed a girl's babbles when I headlined at the local fair

Yeah you know the D to the V to the LA
Dad said 'Get a job with them', but Swansea's too far away
So look me up on Google - I'm seven pages in
Was in the local paper, Mam threw it in the bin.

She didn't see the article calling me a rap star
Ripped it into pieces, and used it for the hamster
Tom Jones, Steve Jones, Zeta Jones, traffic cones
If you come and visit use the Designated Parking Zones

There's a snooker hall, see
But I'm not a member...
And a lovely shopping centre opened in December
So head over the water...
On the transporter...
Fifty for the toll booth
Male Voice Choir singing out...

Twinned with Guangxi Province in China
There's no province finer
Josie D'Arby's from Newport
Yes, it's strange, we didn't know either
Thank you Wikipedia
Let's say some more Newports, Newports, Newports

One hand in the air for a taxi
Fifty quid if you're sick on the back seat
But all those bendy roads make me queasy
Can someone hold my hair?
Everybody say...

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch ...Newport

Access from the A4042
Traffic will enrage you
On your way to Newport

Our shopping centre is quite new
Big leeks will inspire you
Repeat to fade, Newport, Newport, Newport.