There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not bei...
Monday, 29 April 2013
Following on from Owen Harvey's Dancing Mods, here are Carlotta Cardana's rather splenid Mod Couples, showing at Photofusion in Brixton.
They seem a bit far from the amphetamine fuelled fishtail parka, Phil Daniels knee trembling beloved of old, with a touch of the Old Fogey/Brideshead look about them.
Where did it all go wrong?
I blame Sir Bradley Wiggins. Here are some people who refused to become Sir - including David Bowie, Danny Boyle, Aldous Huxley, Mohammed Ali Jinnah ("I prefer to be plain Mr Jinnah"), Stephen Hawking, Graham Greene, L.S. Lowry (holds the record most honours declined) and Rudyard Kipling.
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
I'm reading Photography and Death by Audrey Linkman at the moment - a fun read on Victorian Death Pictures. I like how in old memento mori pictures, dead children were so often surrounded by flowers - symbols of life, purity and godliness. If they were photographed on their deathbed, the flowers were a symbol of the love of the surviving relatives and would also help mask the smell of death.
A couple of weeks ago I did a book swap with Deborah Parkin and received a beautiful Ethiopian-bound
( wood-covered) handmade books, Stillness in Time. It's absolutely beautiful and fits perfectly in the palm of my hand. Flip it open and there are small prints of her collodion prints of her children paired with quotes from books that range from the poetic to the tragic. Deborah studied holocaust studies, so there are suitably dark quotes in there. And then there are the flowers; they surround her children, who pose with eyes closed. They look like memento mori. And when they don't look like memento mori, they look like pictures from a second world war archive, like refugee children.
So the pictures are beautiful and sentimental with a nod to both nostalgia and the archive. And the text is sombre and bleak. It is a difficult combination to pull off, but Deborah does it admirably. It's Dark Sentimentality.
Thursday, 18 April 2013
In this week of Thatcher's funeral I thought I had better put something light on the blog, so here are some gravestones from the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. We never did find Man Ray, but we did find Susan Sontag, Serge Gainsbourg and Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (the anniversary of his death was on 15th April and even in death he still haunts poor Simone).
Best of all we found a grave which had a sculpture of a fish with breasts - with the inscription "Il fait son choix d'anchois et dîne d'
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
To commemorate Thatcher's funeral, here are some of David Moore's Pictures from the Real World, out now as a book published by Here/Dewi Lewis - and a suitable reminder of what Thatcher really believed in.
Monday, 15 April 2013
Continuing work from the UK that addresses the current economic crisis and the policy changes that are being inflicted on the country as we speak, here is Molly Lansman's Faces of Unemployment.
The project has the elegance of the giant prints of Wendy Ewald with the sense of the dramatic of Shimon Attie. The blurb says there's a mugshot connection but I don't see that. I still like them very much.
So then - who else is working on this kind of thing in the UK. Send me a link.
Friday, 12 April 2013
The death of Margaret Thatcher crystalised not just her legacy, but more importantly the way in which that legacy has been enacted; with a small-minded vindictiveness shorn of empathy and understanding.
I don't really see the point of demonising somebody like Margaret Thatcher, especially in a month where some of the most destructive changes to British society are taking place.
What is surprising is how little photographic work looks at these changes and the people affected by them. There are exceptions to this (and do send me more ideas of people working in the UK on the changes to benefits, housing, the voluntary sector etc etc) and that is what I want to focus on.
Perhaps the most noted of these photographers is Jim Mortram, whose Small Town Inertia examines the lives of people living in his small hometown, Dereham.
Mortram's work has, in the words of this BJP article...
'...resulted in a collection of compelling portraits from Dereham, each telling individual stories of “isolation, poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, self-harm, mental illness, juvenile crime and epilepsy”. Mortram says that overall these are stories of human endurance in the face of cuts to housing benefits, welfare and healthcare. Initially he found it difficult to approach people he wanted to photograph, but soon found that his passion for shooting took over from his lack of confidence. “I learned instinctively that as long as one is open, honest and passionate, people rarely say no if you ask to make a portrait,” he says. “Dereham is a small town, so I’d bump into the same people I had made street portraits with again and again… Now I have a network of people I can call upon if I have a project in mind, a theme, a story.'
Mortram's work is Old School in a big way, but doesn't Old School have a place in a country that is being returned to Victorian times in terms of values at least (Thatcher's real legacy - the spite and hypocrisy of Victorian Values).
And if it is a bit shouty at times, then thank goodness for that, because otherwise the silence would be deafening.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Paul Graham: Beyond Caring
Rachel Whiteread made an interesting comment in last week's Guardian on the frustration of teaching people who..
..."wanted to know how to become a wealthy artist. It wasn't really about making work any more, it was about having a big career. I just kept saying 'keep your head down and get on with it'. If the work is good enough the career will come."
I think that might be a bit romantic, but the spirit of it sticks. It fits this death-of-Margaret-Thatcher week. Thatcher believed that everything is a market - and not in a good way. She believed it in an ultimate kind of way, that was unconnected to the creative and vital energy of growing, making and creating things, the vitality of small trade but as something predatory, where the Big Fish eats the small fish and the small fish eats the prawn. The older she got, the more she moved up the food chain, the bigger the fish, the better, the more disconnected it was from community (there is no such thing as community, she almost said), the better.
I find her death tremendously sad, not because I liked her, but just because of the way that she transformed the UK. It's not just what she did, but the way that she did it, the way that she demeaned vast swathes of British society in such a manner that things that as a nation, we have become brutal, we have lost compassion, we have become greedy little money-grubbing, gizmo-desiring number punchers. Like Rachel Whiteread's Careerist Art Students, we have lost sight of the point of our existence. There's nothing to celebrate about that.
Robert Wyatt put it best in his version of Shipbuilding. Is it Worth It?
Monday, 8 April 2013
Leo Maguire's ( ex-Newport student, made the fabulous Gypsy Blood - see an interview here) latest film,
Dogging Tales, showed on Channel 4 in the UK last week.
For those of you unfamiliar with what dogging is, it is basically having sex (or watching people have sex ) in the woods at night.
I was expecting something really sensationalist and lurid, but that's not what Maguire showed. Instead we saw a series of vaguely unattractive men saying how dogging was like real-life porn, and a series of women with confidence issues and a variety of histories saying how dogging has improved their confidence.
So there was a degree of subtlety to it, and the animal masks that were used to disguise people's identities were funny/strange and connected to the nightime wildlife footage that was liberally banded through the documentary - I did get the feeling at times that Maguire might not have got all the footage he wanted, but hey, it was the most tweeted Channel 4 programme of the year and got all the old dogging jokes flowing - who are the dogger neighbours, the dogger colleagues, the dogger photographers? But most of all, you got the feeling that dogging is something you really don't want to do unless you are the woman who liked getting fucked by as many men as quickly as possible. But I guess there aren't too many of those around. This was apparent from the attempts of 'Dogging Terry' (pictured above) and his girlfriend, Sarah's attempt to get into dogging. it was all fine until the reality of Terry watching somebody else touching Sarah got too much and he said "I'm really not comfortable with this" and ended the affair.The bathos of both the dogging footgage and the people interviewed was overwhelming.
Maguire's film got me thinking of a couple of photography dogger projects. The first one is The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki, which is a series of dogging pictures. But because it is in Japan, it comes with a whole different series of connotations and we somehow take it more seriously than dogging (which has a Carry On/Donald McGill seaside postcard association). The more exotic, the more we believe in our fictions.
That taking something seriously due to cultural presumptions reminds me of an overnight train trip I once took in India from Varanasi to Chennai. There was a Japanese woman on the train singing songs all the way down (to keep her mind off the freezing cold I think) and we were wondering at the high, spiritual nature of them - and then she started on Give me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam... and the illusion was blown. It's kind of the same with Kohei Yoshiyuki - the scales have fallen off my eyes. He's a dogger with a camera. You Dirty Old Man!
The other projects it reminds me of are Scott Sothern's Lowlife and Nocturnal Submissions, the latter a series of anecdotes about Scott visiting low-rent prostitutes in the 80s. It's fascinating but, like the dogging, leaves one more than a little bit grubby with a very organic description of the sexual process that has a little bit of exploitation thrown in for good measure. The representation of women's bodies is also interesting, in that they are not titillating or idealised. Everything is as it is, so to speak.
That reminds me of a piece on Rachel Whiteread in the weekend's paper in which she describes how her mother "...was involved in a famous feminist exhibition at the ICA called Women's Images of Men."
And that got me to thinking about what women photographers represent men. And I came up with Sally Mann's amazing pictures of her husband. And that was about it. So who else?
Friday, 5 April 2013
It was interesting to see This picture series in the Atlantic on the protests in support of Amina Tyler, the Tunisian women who posted a topless picture of herself on Facebook in protest against claims on how she can represent her body.
I looked at the picture series and even though there is a little introduction to the story, it kind of got lost amidst all the breasts. They took over what one saw and almost flooded out the original story. We know that breasts are being used as a promotional tool, but do they really work? They get attention obviously, but what else?
In response to the protests (and it seems as though the protests went through a full gamut of oppositional subtleties and attracted the support of fascists, racists and sectarians), the Facebook page Muslim Women Against Femen was created ( Here is a report from Al Jazeera).
The basic message on the Facebook page is, "We as Muslim women and those who stand with us, need to show FEMEN and their supporters, that their actions are counterproductive and we as Muslim women oppose it."
Which is quite mild really. Read through the comments on the Facebook page and you get some incredibly lucid and clearly argued points about Femen and the protests, just as if you read through the Femen protester pages, you get the same.
At the same time however, sectarians, racists and misogynists also attach themselves to this camp and this is also reflected in the comments. There is a polarising effect and the people who are working to solve the problems that Femen is protesting against are marinalised. In the end, the argument gets hijacked, and questions of how women dress or represent their bodies are determined even more by men, with a lack of balance, subtlety or respect. It's predictable but depressing.
Anyway, here's Bim Adewunmi's critique of Femen in the New Statesmen.
Watching the antics of Femen has reinforced this Walker view starkly for me. Founder Inna Shevchenko’s words: “Muslim men shroud their women in black sacks of submissiveness and fear, and dread as they do the devil the moment women break free...” and “topless protests are the battle flags of women's resistance, a symbol of a woman's acquisition of rights over her own body!” are filled with a rhetoric very much formed by her Western life. Like much of the feminisms that have been exported from the West, it does not seem to take into account the obstacles to carrying out this form of protest. It rides roughshod over grassroots organisations and the work they may have been quietly and steadfastly engaged in over years, and stipulates that this feminism, the one where you bare your breasts and sloganise your skin, is the feminism. It does not take into account community mores, and, in this case, incorporates more than a little Islamophobia. (Last year, Femen France organised a "better naked than in a burqa" event in front of the Eiffel Tower.)
Thursday, 4 April 2013
There has been a bit of controversy over this Daily Mail story on Michael Philpott, the abusive man who burned to death six of children and had stabbed and abused his partners. He was also on benefits (and abused the system).
The Daily Mail (which runs on a diet of how immigrants and welfare recipients are destroying Middle England and likes to think of itself as a family newspaper) chose to highlight Philpott's bullying abusive nature and blame his actions on the welfare state.
It seems to me that this is rather selective and that it would be fairer to regard Philpott's actions as examples of an abusive man having his manipulative ways ignored and disregarded by wider society. He acted with impunity because of his gender, not because he was on benefits. He picked on those who were vulnerable and got away with it.
In that respect Philpott has more in common with other manipulative men - people like Jimmy Saville, photographer Terry Richardson, Tony Blair, clergy from a variety of religions and the less gentle newspaper editors such as Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail.
If fate had been a little different, perhaps Dacre and Philpott would be sharing a bottle of claret while listening to a little Bach, both men of culture with an appreciation of the finer things in life. Uncle Jimmy would be looking after the younger children, Father Jack preparing for their confessions the next day, mad Terry getting ready to photograph their 16-year-old daughter (hey, nothing wrong with that) who's trying to break into the fashion world - and Tony Blair would be their therapist, there to cure all their psychological ills with his inimitable conflict-resolution techniques.
They're all in it together, blaming others for their misdeeds and regarding themselves as completely separated entities. For some reason, it kind of reminds me of the old Nazi sketch where you have the cultured Nazi, the pervy Nazi and if you watch it to the end you'll find the Daily Mail Nazi.
Pinky Masoe at her home in Sherwood Heights, Smit Street. The building's water and electricity had been cut off for four months
Thulisile, eighth floor, San Jose, Olivia Street, Berea.
Eviction aftermath, Noverna Court, Paul Nel Street, Hillbrow
pictures by Guy Tillim
The most noticeable thing about driving in to Paris are the Banlieus, the outer suburbs that lie beyond the ring road, the area that used to be a defensive empty zone, but is now a kind of poverty-ridden riposte to bourgeois, patrician Paris that we all know and love so well - all kept at arm's length by 8 lanes of the Periphique. This is the space that Eugene Atget photographed his chiffoniers.
It is also part of the subject of Jane Tormey's illuminating book, Cities and Photography. Tormey looks at the development ofHausmann's Paris, how the creation of its boulevards and shopping passages became a psycholigal refuge for the bourgeoisie. Then she connects and extends these planning perspectives to wider theories and urban developments.
So in the chapter on Cities and Urbanism, we get different conceptions of urban spaces. For example, Lefebvre's ideas of Perceived Space, Conceived Space and Lived Space - all of which connects so strongly to contemporary photography of urban spaces.
There are chapters on photography in and of the city and how photographs frame and reflect a particular discourse - (much of the time) photography is an echo chamber that shows us what we want to see in a way that we want to see it, because we are used to seeing it that way and that is the way that you show cities because that is the way that you show cities.
Which is a frighteningly recognisable way of describing a lot of photography. And the good photography is the work that shows us something in a way that we are not used to seeing it (or in a way that we don't want to see it). But that engenders a certain resistance in most of us. Which is why we continually get pictures that we recognise over and over again. And so everything looks the same.
The great thing about the book is that it connects theory in to images but also to a more globalised view of the city. Tormey writes about the voyeur (the observer) and the flaneur (the walker - this is what your classic street photographer fancies himself to be. But we all know street photography's dead so...)* and the power relationships and myth-making that are involved in these particular stances.
Tormey also goes beyond the myth-making to see how political action is used to represent the urban environment in South America, Asia and Africa. So we see how urban environments in Johannesburg reflect the theoretical ideas of earlier chapters, how control of public spaces carried through the post-apartheid era and found a place in developments such as the Hillbrow housing complex, once high-end apartments for white residents, now a completely different category..
The pictures above are from Guy Tillim's Jo'burg series and kind of exemplify the dilemmas of urban representation of the poor. How do you show a victim of forces beyond their control, without showing them to be a victim, and when they might also be a contributing factor to the forces beyond their control. How do you show people adapting to space that is being redefined in the face of political, economic and possibly social decay.
I'm not sure Tormey answers the question above, mainly because it is a question that can't be answered, but she provides the tools to address the question by connecting theory to photography and looking at the urban experience with a global perspective.
*I don't mean that but it's such fun to say, I said it anyway. Street Photography's not dead. It's changing.