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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, 29 March 2012

Proud Flesh and Adult Muscular Dystrophy

So here are some images from Proud Flesh,  Sally Mann's pictures of her husband Larry (thanks for the suggestion, Suzanne Revy). They are notable because they are taken of a man by a woman, but also because they go against the norm of the male nude - they're not heroic, muscular or virile.

The pictures focus on Larry's adult muscular dystrophy, on the failure of his body, on its fall into physical darkness. These are photographs of human frailty, where the fragility of the medium mirrors the bodily decay.

I'm not sure if these pictures reflect badly on Larry Mann, if, as Sally says, they "come at the expense of the sitter".But they do reveal his weakness and his impotence; he has no response to what has struck him down. If they didn't do that, if they showed some phoney nobility of spirit, some humanity in the face of illness, they wouldn't be nearly so strong.

This is what John B.Ravenal has to say about the pictures in The Flesh and the Spirit.

"The long, sometimes awkward poses endured in the underheated barn that serves as Mann's studio, with minimal props and Spartan surroundings, have produced a sustained reflection on aging and mortality forged in a collaboration based on trust and mutual respect.The works reveal a subject willing to make himself vulnerable and to be measured against the idealized images thatstill pervade our conception of masculinity, and taken by a photographer aware of the unusual opportunity presented to her. Reflecting on the situation, Mann stated,  "Larry and I both understand how ethically complex and potent the act of making photographs is , how freighted with issues of honesty, responsibility, power and complicity, and how so many good images come at the expense of the sitter, in one way or another. These new images, we both knew, would come at his."

Monday, 26 March 2012

Eleanor Callahan, Christine and Teresa

It was sad to hear that Eleanor Callahan, wife, patron and photographic muse of  Harry Callahan died last month.

Harry photographed her over a large part of their 63 year marriage. The result is a portfolio of pictures that range from low contrast facial close-ups to dark and moody studies. I don't quite know why they are so striking. I think it is something to do with Eleanor's face, a face that mixes strength and beauty that is both plain and classical, and a body that is large and feminine, full of Rubenesque curves and contours set against Pre-Raphaelite hair  The art historical elements mix with Callahan's directness. There is no artifice in his portraits.

In a wonderful conversation with Julian Cox, Eleanor says this about her husband in the book, Eleanor.

"He got the bug for photography and never stopped. That's what he wanted to do. He had the bug even before I met him, but he was full-force once we got together. I was working, you see, and I had money, and photography wasn't cheap. I put a lot of money into photography for Harry. He didn't break even or even make enough money to pay for materials until the '70s, when he was almost 60. I never said no to anything. So, for example, if there was a kind of camera that he wanted, I figured it out and he got it. This wasall he wanted to do. Sad as it seems, even just a few days before he died, he stood at the window and tried to photographe, but he was too weak, and the camera fell out of his hands. Harry was very seldom without a camera."

See more portraits here.

The pictures of Eleanor ( who was blessed with life of love free of conflict and hardship) remind me in a strange way of the pictures Seiichi Furuya made of his wife Christine. These were portraits haunted by obsession, mental illness and suicide. Read a thoughtful and touching commentary about them here.

Filipe Casaca has also photographed his partner, Teresa, for his self-published book, A Minha Casa e onde estas - My Home Is Where You Are.

The images can also be seen to better effect here.

He sent me a copy. It's beautifully printed and takes a dark, balletic view of love with tiny prints detailing the everyday gestures of Teresa as she moves around the house. This is what Casaca says of the work.

"It is very difficult to photograph someone you know... There is a tendency to bring our own opinions of somebody to bear on the photographs we take of them, projecting on them that image we've created, which doesn't always correspond with their own self-image. That's what's most interesting: showing her an image that she hasn't seen before. And that's what these images are about, about the way her body is,the movements she might not even be aware of."

Buy the book here.

The dilemma of photographing somebody close to is that they are so close, that we project on them our own wishes and desire. The other difficulty is because they are close they are subjected to a bombardment of photography - and there is an overlap of genres. So we have to unravel our wish-fulfilment from our attempts at authenticity, our spontaeneous snapshots from our staged attempts at profundity and our family snapshots from our yearning for something raw and real. Mix a variety of films and formats and texts and other add-ons and we're left with a near impossible task. But sometimes that doesn't matter - the collection as a whole is what matters. I think that's the case with Eleanor. There's no real narrative, no great link, just a rather random series of wonderful pictures that reach out and touch all sorts of places.

And a question: what are your favourite husband/wife/partner/love photography projects?

Friday, 23 March 2012

"I wouldn't walk around the goddamn corner for the American flag."

I am enjoying Homeland, the US TV series that is currently showing on Channel 4 in the UK (it's only halfway through so I don't know the ending). There are great performances, a dynamic narrative drive and compelling relationships between the main characters; Brody, the ginger Steve McQueen lookalike, his milf wife Jessica and Claire Danes' psychotic CIA agent Carrie.

The series tells the story of Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a US marine who has just been freed  after 8 years being held hostage (without trial) in Iraq. He was tortured, beaten and urinated upon by his sadistic and fanatical captors and manipulated into all kinds of abuses and treachery.

Great stuff but it is hugely fanciful stuff. Fancy dressed as realism and intended to be consumed as such. But excuse me, it seems to me that Homeland is kind of upside down, that what happened to the American marine Brody by Islamic fanatics is more of a reflection of US foreign policy in the region. Imprisonment without trial, torture, urination, humiliation of prisoners, it all sounds so familiar. But in Homeland things are twisted round. Everything is twisted  round. In Homeland the Arab royalty that features (and we're only halfway through in the UK so things might change) isn't culpable, rather it's their lackeys who are the evil-doers. The royal family escapes unblemished. Propaganda points are even scored on the names of the fictional Jihadist organisations; The Islamic People's Liberation Front. Really? What group in recent years has used "People's" in such a suggestive (and socialist ) manner? Who could they be alluding to? And the suggestion that G8 protesting leads to Jihadi activism. Mmm, I would say that being in the US military (or any military) is more likely to lead to violent protest and murder on a grand scale. There's certainly a lot more direct evidence for that.

I suppose Homeland is a product of its culture, a culture that at certain levels is based on an irrational, wish-fulfilling upside-down way of thinking that is based on limited perspectives and paranoia - a western version of the tunnel vision of those who categorise life and the unfamiliar through the narrow divisions of halal/haram oppositions. Both ways of thinking have the same result - the age of madness mentality where right is wrong and wrong is right and you blame the victim and bless the villain.

Other nations have their equivalents. Upside-down thinking is essential to preserving inequality, justifying murder, torture and theft and making greed and corruption desirable ends in themselves. I especially enjoy the way India squares the circle, how it can reconcile two opposing views within a particular framework. Hindi cinema is especially good at this , with the film Chak De! India being one of the finest examples.

Chak De!India was made in 2007 and stars Shah Rukh Khan as Kabir Khan, a disgraced hockey player seeking redemption through coaching the failing women's hockey team. So it's all about how they overcome prejudice, bigotry and small-mindedness to become champions of the world. It is a formula film with absolutely no surprises, where obstacles are overcome, barriers swept aside, ambitions realised and redemption is found.

The film is tremendous, the hockey team outstanding. They look great and have a raw and random edge. But this is Bollywood so every achievement they make is channeled through a man - their coach. It's the coach whose tactical nous conquers the tight-marking South Koreans, the coach who tells the goalkeeper which way to dive to save a crucial penalty. The coach even controls their sexuality and their aggression, channeling it to fight back against the dirty shin-whacking Argentinian women.

So the women overcome patronising boyfriends, controlling fathers, dismissive government officials and most of all themselves. But let's not get carried away here. It's always a man who makes this happen. The film ticks the women's box, but also the traditional, patriarchal man's box. Leading to box office delight all round!

So two different ways of on-screen seeing; the Anglo-American  twists things round, the Indian has it both ways. But then you get the occasional oddball who throws things right into the mix to see what will happen.

This is what Peter Watkins did with his Punishment Park.  Made in 1971, it's shot in shakey documentary style (using a handheld 16mm camera in desert heat) with a mix of actors and real people. The film is set in a dystopian US future where governments opponents are sentenced at hastily convened tribunals in the desert. Lengthy prison sentences are the norm and the only way to escape them are to go to Punishment Park and undergo a 3 day chase (with police and National Guard on your tail) across the desert.

The main action takes place in the tribunal tent where improvised speeches by both the radical defendants and the conservative tribunal members make the polarised nature of US politics to the fore. There is no bringing together of views, no upside-downess in the straightforward sledgehammer sentiments that Watkins sympathises with.

The film got killed by the critics (and an industry who didn't really like such anti-American/pro-justice sentiments being aired in their cinemas). So I watched it and wondered if the film isn't a bit too much, a bit too over the top, and if Watkins doesn't protest too much in the 25-minute speech he gives defending his film in the DVD extras.

And then I thought about the last 10 years and the rhetoric of right and wrong that have been so twisted in the US and the UK too. And I decided that no the film isn't too much, that Watkins doesn't protest too much.

And then I read about Trayvon Martin and I wondered what could you possibly show that would match that, that could capture the cruelty and venality of a place that justifies the murder of a 17-year-old skittle-eating boy and does not even bother to arrest the murderer. In exactly what way is that killing any different than a lynching? I know the police and the judiciary and legislature and electorate that voted for these dumbass laws aren't all crowded round a tree and it was a bullet that killed him and not a rope. But apart from that?

Some quotes from Punishment Park.

Jay Kaufman, Tribunal Defendant: You want me to tell you what's immoral? War is immoral! Poverty is immoral! Racism is immoral! Police brutality is immoral! Opression is immoral! Genocide is immoral! Imperialism is immoral! This country represents all those things!

Defendant Lee Robert Brown: You don't wanna hear my message. You spent fifty years evolving a propaganda system that'll take the truth and change it into what you wanna hear. You don't wanna hear shit that's gonna mean you might have to give up something. You don't want it. All you wanna do is sit on your fat, dividend-drawing ass and draw dividends.
Charles Robbins: Would you like for me to define what a politician is? A politician is nothing but a debater. All that you do is debate issues, you fat pig, you meathead. That's all that you are, because you are lying, sucker, you're lying to the camera, you're lying to your mama, you're lying to everybody, but every time I hear you open up your mouth, all I hear is oink, you pig. That's all I hear, oink. 'Cause you ain't got no humanity in you, 'cause you're a pig, you lying punk.

Defendant Lee Robert Brown: America is as psycotic as it is powerful and violence is the only goddamn thing that will command your attention.
James Daly, Defense Attorney: Ladies and Gentlemen of the tribunal, I would like to read you something: "The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might and the republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order or our nation cannot survive". We might all be forgiven for supposing those to be the words of our President. But they are not. Those words were uttered in 1932 by Adolf Hitler.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Bruce Haley's Panoramic Landscapes

Bruce Haley's  book, Sunder, (published by Daylight) is a fascinating and quite poetic take on the demise of the Soviet Union and communism. I see it and am instantly drawn to the landscapes,  the combination of complete environmental and industrial devastation mixed with romantic, rural landscapes and economic decay. I've been corresponding with Bruce Haley (see interviews here, and here) for a while and he has a fascinating take on photography that includes thoughts on landscape, politics, narrative and process.

He's currently shooting panoramic landscapes on the history of mining in the US. These are shot on 10 inch negative in an extreme ratio - click on the pictures for more detail as the layers that are revealed are quite amazing.

CP:  Is SUNDER a testimony to different kinds of apparently empty landscapes?

BH:  It’s very interesting to me in that SUNDER seems to be different things to different people...  mostly I stay out of it, and just let it be a mirror to the reader/viewer...  there are 55 images in the book  -  29 of them have one person or multiple people in the frame, and 26 of them have no people whatsoever...  so in terms of plain numbers, the book is slanted towards the human presence  -  and yet you have come away from the book with the notion of landscape and “emptiness”...  for my part, SUNDER is the end result of eight years of wandering, photographing a very wide range of subject matter, using both 35mm and panoramic formats, using both fast grainy film and slow film, and then trying to somehow bring all of that together and distill it down into a sequence that makes some sort of sense, that has a certain flow and fits between two covers...  the only thing I would say is that it is not meant to be didactic in any way  -  it is basically impressionistic, a visual diary of what I found to be fascinating...  you can’t take 55 images and put them into a book and then claim that it represents the whole of the former USSR and Iron Curtain countries  -  other people or publications may make such claims, but I don’t have that sort of hubris... 

CP:  What different kinds of emptiness did you photograph and what are the differences between them?

BH:  I suspect that my notion of “emptiness” may be different from that of many others...  for instance, I have friends who were born and raised in Manhattan and have lived there all of their lives  -  if those people leave the city and go to a town of 50,000 inhabitants, that qualifies as “emptiness” to them...  I grew up on a ranch, and at age 55 I have almost always lived in a rural setting; right now I live in a canyon, a quarter-mile behind a locked gate...  I avoid towns and cities like the plague  -  and my work reflects that...  we were discussing the images in SUNDER  -  and that book is definitely an example of what I have just stated...  between those covers one can see that, for the most part, I only skirt the edges of the urban, and prefer the margins, or the wastelands, or the rural...  and that’s a reflection of me and me only...  had I wanted to make a more “accurate” book, one that truly showed the post-communist experience in those countries circa 1994 - 2002, I would have had to include the big cities, the new developments, the high-rises, the Burger Kings and Kentucky Fried Chickens and such...  but I had no interest in that whatsoever... 

Anyway, back to the notion of “emptiness”  -  I can go to those areas in the US that have been dubbed the “Flyover States” by those on either coast, who use the term in a derogatory fashion, as a verbal shorthand for “a flat nothingness populated by hicks and rednecks”...  but when I stand in the middle of those vast plains and prairies I do not see or feel “emptiness”...  to me, the volumes of space, the wind rippling the grass, a breeze on my face, the birdsong, the flight of crows  -  this is the exact opposite of emptiness:  it is a fullness, a richness that I just want to drink in, that I want to have envelop me...  on the other hand, if you drop me into the middle of Manhattan, I just want to shut down  -  the hordes of people, the noise...  it’s just maddening to me, and something I’ve chosen to avoid as much as possible in my life...

So all of these feelings also inform my idea of what constitutes “emptiness” in any sort of visual medium, and most specifically in my own work  -  which is a very long way around actually answering your original question...  and perhaps I’ve only just devolved the conversation into one of individual perception and semantics, or hair-splitting over the experiential connotations of a term...  or perhaps it’s my way of saying that where others may look at an image and see “emptiness” due to the sparseness of the visual content, or the lack of an actual human being within the confines of the frame, I see something else entirely  -  I see the “fullness” of a blissful solitude...    

I photographed a great many places where there were no people, from abandoned industrial sites to interstitial spaces to rural farmland to gloomy mountain forests  -  I suppose that these are the literal “different kinds of emptiness” that you asked about...  but I’m so steeped in Romanticism, Byron and Keats and Shelley, the whole “Spirit of Solitude” thing, William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Caspar David Friedrich and the “sublimity” of ruins, Millet and Breton and the Barbizon, the Pre-Raphaelites, 19th century landscape painting, the Luminists, the Tonalists, George Inness, even up to the strange metaphysics injected by Charles Burchfield into his work...  I just can’t look at what you refer to as “empty” landscapes without bringing all of this along with me...!      

CP:  How did people react to or live in these landscapes?

BH:  Well, here is where we must cut the wings from our flight of fancy...  I may look at some of these areas with the weight of the above-mentioned influences behind my eyes, but the people who actually live there sure as hell don’t look around and color their view in terms of 19th-century Romanticism...  what informs me as I frame a photograph in such a location, with my mental steamer trunk full of notions of classical and formal composition, is certainly not how the inhabitants live their lives on a day-to-day and hour-by-hour basis...  they see the aftermath of war  -  rebuilding their lives and their infrastructure...  they see toxic ground that will never be reclaimed...  they see the results of decades of neglect, or poverty, or hostility...  the Roma I photographed see constant persecution, where they live at the edge of a garbage dump and get shaken down by the local cops just for the “privilege” of being allowed to remain camped next to the rubbish... 

I may capture a beautiful split-second in a Roma woman’s life, where she is holding her young child and the light hits her amazing eyes just right  -  and this image may end up in my book and may be shown in galleries and museums, etc. etc...  but the unfortunate reality is that her life up to that point was probably pretty damn difficult, and has no doubt been damn difficult ever since my shutter closed...  she was living in a makeshift shelter of plastic sheeting, in a camp with a high rate of tuberculosis...  so how does one reconcile a moment of grace, caught in the split-second firing of a camera’s shutter, with the broader reality of the subject matter...?  Why do I hear the word “beautiful” used so often in describing my images of some of the most horribly polluted places on the planet...?

CP:  There is also the sense of in-between-ness. When you made the book were you using ideas of terrains vagues or temps vagues, in-between times, to structure the narrative?

BH:  To a certain extent, yes...  but in doing the edit and sequence for the book, in pulling together such disparate subject matter and different camera formats, I kept going back to the idea of symphonic movements  -  where there may be darker, heavier passages followed by lighter sections, and vice versa...  much of SUNDER is pretty heavy going, but I didn’t want to just bludgeon the viewer over the head from start to finish...  I wanted a section of, say, industrial images  -  all sharp twisted metal and toxicity  -  to be followed by farmland, or rural architecture, or something of that nature...  I had this notion in my head of sequencing the images in “waves,” where there is the crashing thunder of the heavier images, followed by that quiet lull of the lighter images...  and then the crashing starts again, and etc. etc...

CP:  Did you consciously use ideas of the surreal in SUNDER?

BH:  As tempting as it is to say “yes,” in order to make myself sound smarter and more artsy, I would say that this probably occurred mostly on the subconscious level...  in painting I love the Symbolists, but am actually not a big fan of the Surrealists  -  although I do love Cartier-Bresson’s early work, and it is certainly considered within the boundaries of surrealism...  in all honesty, I would have to trace most notions of the fantastic in my work back to a childhood love of comic books, science fiction and fantasy...  I’ve said in numerous interviews that my industrial work owes a huge debt to Jack Kirby and his “Kirby Tech”...  all of that art in the old pulps and comics, it’s just fabulous stuff...!

Your question also brings us back to what we have already discussed  -  the photographic layering-on of notions of Romanticism, classical and formal composition, or Surrealism, or whatever, over the often-brutal reality that shapes the lives of those who inhabit such harsh places...  so  -  where to reconcile how the two dimensions of a photograph pluck the surreal from difficult human circumstances and ruined landscapes...?

CP:  You mirror the industrial desolation with a sense of rural desolation, the lonely forest. What inspired this?

BH:  Again  -  REALITY...  you can photograph one of the most toxic landscapes on the planet, and then walk a few miles and be in the depths of a dark mountain forest...  plus, this takes my photographs of people and places them within their context  -  a husband might be in a factory or a coal mine, covered in dirt and grime from head to toe, while his wife and kids are in the woods a few miles away, gathering mushrooms or something...  you make a photograph of a family in their single-room dwelling in some small settlement  -  a half-mile east there’s a mountain full of forest, while a quarter-mile west there’s a massive factory...  why not show all facets of this...?  From the beginning, in gallery and museum shows, I mixed all of these types of images  -  people, industrial, rural  -  and I wanted to do the same with the book, even though some advised me against it...  many editors, etc., thought the varying types of imagery should be compartmentalized into their own separate categories and publications, but I just can’t see it that way...  and life certainly isn’t like that...!

In this respect I see Paul Strand’s books as sort of a spiritual model...  I love the way he would go to a country or region and photograph...  the final result would be this glorious amalgamation of portraits and landscapes and architecture and small details  -  a family or a woman in a doorway, a row of houses, an alleyway, a window box, the heavy collar of a plough horse, a row of scythes  -  all pieces of the puzzle of existence, sequenced between two covers...  Paul Strand and Josef Sudek are my photographic idols  -  don’t even get me started on Sudek...!

CP:  Is there any optimism in the places you photographed?

BH:  Oh, of course  -  hope springs eternal, as Pope said...  throughout my career as a photographer I have had the privilege to witness the most incredible examples of optimism, even in the face of the most horrific situations of conflict or famine...  it boggles the mind what the human spirit can endure and still push forward...  so, yes  -  I see optimism and redemption everywhere, both in people and in the landscape...  although there are some physical places on the planet that I believe will never be reclaimed  -  they are too damaged, too deeply toxic, and the money it would take to accomplish a reclamation project of such magnitude will never be forthcoming in those places...  in other areas where there is damage, the will to repair or reclaim won’t be there, but Nature has a way of healing herself through time, and this will occur in many of these ignored or forgotten locations...  just not while you and I are alive...! 

CP:  You have continued your landscape projects with pictures of mining towns in the US  -   are these grounded in your SUNDER work?

BH:  Not really, though I suppose one can follow threads that link all of my work together, if one were so inclined...  personally, I need to make changes that cleanse my creative palette, so to speak, and also I try to remain ever-vigilant against falling into any sort of comfortable creative rut, that would result in my making slight variations of the same image over and over again ad nauseum...  for example, I did a project in the US where I spent a great deal of time in the depths of these huge factories, shooting large format in extremely low-light conditions, often with exposure times of an hour or more...  the images were dark, metallic, with extremely complex geometries, and in black-and-white...  and as much as I enjoyed that project and its resultant images, for my next project I needed (cue the Monty Python) “something completely different”...  I came up out of those deep, dark interiors, back out into the sunlight, and shot a project in color, with a very very Minimalist look  -  which was a 180-degree turn from the Stygian, geometrically-complex project that preceded it...  and the more I go along in my career, the more I feel a need to work in this manner, to sort of “push back” against what I have just finished, to not just comfortably repeat myself...  in fact, a few images in the new project were somewhat reminiscent of the industrial work in SUNDER, so I ejected them, never to be used within the context of this new series...

So  -  the new body of work, relating to the history of mining in the American West, was shot in large format panoramic, at a more extreme 4:1 aspect ratio, on a 10-inch negative...  it was very influenced by 19th-century frontier photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan, in combination with the sensibilities of the New Topographics movement...  and like the old saying where every trip of the shutter takes two photographs  -  one of the subject in front of the lens, and one of the person behind it  -  this latest project also reflects my personal life...  much of the work is more distant, more pulled back, than anything I’ve done before  -  and this mirrors my life, my gradual pulling back, away from all but a small circle of family and friends and obligations, and trying to spend as much time as possible in the most remote places I can find...  then again, for years people who know me have joked about me being a hermit, a recluse...  in fact, a while back someone was doing some research for an article about me, and he said “You can Google the phrase ‘the reclusive Bruce Haley’ and actually get a match!” 

CP:  In the mining pictures, there is a sense of people surviving and staying on in places that are ‘finished’. Why do you think people do this?

BH:  At this moment in time there are grave financial crises on a worldwide scale  -  mining areas are something of a microcosm of this...  they traditionally experience “boom and bust” cycles, an expansion/contraction of a very localized nature, that effects every aspect of that particular town or settlement...  they flourish, then wither...  sometimes this cycle repeats itself numerous times to varying degrees, sometimes not...  and it’s fascinating to me to think of this history, the fact that pure geology, mineral resources, extracting something from the ground, is what brings people to some of the most remote and rugged places imaginable, and what keeps them there, with the notion of making such a place “home”...  that is the basis of this latest project...

To answer your question, I think there are a multitude of reasons why people stay after such settlements are, to use your term, “finished”...  there are the “easy” or flippant answers:  such people are “desert rats,” hiding from the world, wanted by the law, cooking meth, etc. etc...  the real answers, however, are much more complex, and extend well beyond such simplistic and pejorative “white trash” and “dirtbag” stereotypes...  sometimes the big mine will only partially close, or will keep a minimum crew going...  sometimes there will be a complete mine closure, but a few people will continue to work the area on an individual or small group basis...  often it is the young people, or those who came to the settlement from a different area just for a specific mine job, who are the first to move on, seeking work elsewhere...  some of the older people, with roots, with home ownership, who can make it without the promise of that steady paycheck, are the ones who remain...  or the ones who are willing to drive 30 miles of dirt and gravel road every day, to work in a bigger town, and then drive back again that night...  some own homes and can’t sell them, and thus can’t afford to move on to those so-called “greener pastures”...  and some people just love where they are, and can’t imagine living in a more crowded place...  in reality, there is no simple or one-size-fits-all answer to your question  -  the reasons people stay in “finished” places are many and complex, and as individual as each person who remains...

CP:  How do your landscapes reflect this hanging on?

BH:  With this latest project I attempted to encapsulate some notion of this entire history we have just discussed  -  from images that are pure geology, the latent notion of those mineral resources waiting beneath the ground, to varying aspects of industrial archaeology, old mining structures, stamp mills, head frames, open pits, etc., then on through the small settlements and larger towns, to street views, individual homes, yards, vehicles, etc. etc., from the broad sweep and vastness of some of these remote areas all the way down to the small details of lives lived...  hopefully somewhere within all of these images the viewer can see  -  and feel  -  what it is like to “hang on” in such places...

CP:  Why do you like working with landscapes?

BH:  In the broader sense, my photographic interests lie with humankind  -  what we do to each other, and what we do to the land we inhabit...  when I started out, my focus was almost entirely upon conflict and its aftermath...  as the years went by, I felt a need to extend my scope and range of image-making, in order to follow my own path through the wider world, to follow my fascination, to try to see and understand and depict  -  from the horrors of war to how we live our daily lives; through happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty; what we build, what we neglect, what we abandon, what we damage and destroy...  this is how and where the notion of “landscape” fits into my work...   

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Kony and the Scramble for Africa

I like a map and the map of the  Scramble for Africa  by European colonial powersafter the 1884 Berlin Conference is one of my favourites; it cuts through the rhetoric in its money grabbing venality.

Below is a map of the current buying of land in Africa by various countries, China at the forefront.

So I watched the Kony film with the two maps in mind -  and I wondered how a film that essentially calls for US military training, advice and involvement (that's a gross simplification, but we're in simplification territory here) in Uganda could be anything other than part of that same struggle for power and influence.

And that's about it - that's all I could really think of to say on the subject. It's a gross over-simplification I know, but I couldn't get beyond it. I really couldn't.

More on US land grabs here and this is the Oakland Institute's report on The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor.

Larry Burrows photographed some US advisors working in South Vietnam in 1962, providing training, advice and involvement.

Monday, 12 March 2012

New Website that's so easy to make

Thanks to Harvey Benge for pointing me in the direction of virb who let you make websites very quickly, easily and cheaply (US $10 a month). Best of all, you can add to, change and adapt the website as you go - no technical knowledge whatsoever required. I'm sure there are a lot of these easy-to-build sites around, but this was new to me.

This is my website   - with more work to be added as time and scanning goes by! And maybe I'll get out more.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

US Army Propaganda

Continuing on the face and race discussion from the previous post, here's a Second World War US Army Leaflet on how to tell the difference between a Japanese and Chinese. It is, as you might have gathered, a tad racist and not entirely accurate. The Japanese equivalent would be interesting if anyone knows of where they can be found.

This came via Ethan Persoffwho has some fun archival leaflets, cartoons and propaganda on his site.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Facial Recognition and Mishka Henner

So I've been writing about Mishka Henner and his latest book, Less Americains for the BJP. It's the one where Henner takes the 83 images of Robert Frank's classic and then deletes part of them. There is so much going on in what he is deleting that I've gone from Blank Space to White Space to Negative Space and then come back to the hair and the hats that he leaves in and the faces that he takes out.

He takes all the faces out, doesn't leave one - and in a strange way that ties in to Facial Recognition - and all the apps, 3D imaging, tagging, social networking and surveillance that comes with it.

The top picture is from an early Facial Recognition paper by Richard Phillips, the findings of which say that essentially we recognise heads better than faces and the complete head+face set about two times better than either one on its own.

Which leads on to so much photographic work, but especially Ken Ohara's One, a series where only the face is shown - everything else is lost and as a result people start looking the same, especially when you look at the book where 500 portraits come one after the other. It's often said that one shows how much we look the same, but rather it should be how much we see each other as the same when we take away the hair, the body, the clothes. It's about how people see, not what people look like.

James Mollison used a similar strategy for  James and Other Apes, but here the apes start looking different, they become more recognisable when stripped of the rest of their heads, or perhaps just because they are from different species. It's the opposite of the cross-race effect, the idea that one recognises people of the same ethnic group better than those of a different ethnic background.

And then there are the many people who can't recognise faces at all, who have prosopagnosia - Chuck Close is one of them, that's why he paints the way he paints, and so is Oliver Sacks.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dick Blau

There's a fabulous interview with Dick Blau in the Domesticated edition of  Timemachine.

In it Blau talks about his 40 year project of photographing his family, Thicker than Water.
I love this project - the early years capture the time of the late sixties and early 70s and then there is a shift in tone and relationships when he moves in with a new partner, Jane Gallop.

This partnership is described by Jane Gallop  in an analysis of photography and domesticity through different authors.

The most powerful parts are when Gallop deconstructs Blau's images through her direct experience, saying something about the illusory, fragmentary and fantastical nature of photography and the narratives it creates - this applies both to domestic photography and well, all photography really.

People complain about the different narratives of different photographies, but is there such a thing as photography without a narrative. I'm not sure.

Anyway, this is from the beginning of  Living With his Camera by Jane Gallop.

"The photograph on the cover is of me; it was taken by Dick Blau the day we started living together....

The picture implies that Dick was watching while I worked. Although in the instant he took this photo, that was literally true, it is a deceptiv, misrepresentative truth. It leaves out the fact that he was busy cleaning in another room, looked up, "saw a photo in what I was doing, put down his work, came and took the picture, and then returned to work.
I put this picture on the cover because of the way - with its woman, its walls, its implements of household labor - it portrays domestic life. Domestic life is about dailiness, household work, but it's also about the body, intimacy and nakedness. Living with a camera means that both the domestic and the intimate are available to the camera's gaze.
Here I am holding a broom, with mop and pail romantically lit, beckoning in the background. The alluring mop recalls the genre of hokey television commercials that romanticize the housewife's work (she does it because it gratifies her; her desire for a clean house). My nakedness suggests a sexual fantasy underpinning the commercials . The fantasy housewife keeps the house clean and her flesh accessible to the man's every whim... This fantasy housewife here has no face; her head, located at crotch level, is a mass of dark hair; her head has become pubic. 

But this picture is also completely atypical. It's not that I rarely sweep in the nude, but in fact I seldom sweep at all. The photo catches me in an atypical moment, doing an atypical thing, and produces a compelling fantasy of me as a domestic woman. It is in the play between such fantasies and such realities that I'd like to locate this book - in the tension between the way this photograph is and isn't representative."