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Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

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

Monday, 30 September 2013

A modern interpretation of The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

Thanks to Marc Feustel of eyecurious for pointing me to a more modern interpretation of Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife. These pictures are by Hajime Satawari and come via We Find Wildness.

There is something unhealthy happening here. And that's about it really. Time to head across the, er East Sea/Japan Sea to watch Old Boy again.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Andy Adams, Making Pictures of People and Touching Strangers

picture by Richard Renaldi

Stacy Kranitz from the previous post also features on Flak Photo's Making Pictures of People, an online exhibition curated/exhibited by Andy Adams and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

Andy Adams is a social networking beast, the go-to guy for finding how to use the internet for a consistently uplifting experience that is also increasingly sophisticated in its outlook. Lovely and smart don't always go together but they do with Andy.

Listen to Andy speak on Wisconsin Public Radio here, discussing key images from the series and the different readings that can be given to them.

The layout of the website is simple but fantastic: pictures followed by short interviews which are direct and revealing. The line-up is fantastic too. From the UK there is Deborah Parkin (whose wonderful prints I saw in person at Film's not Dead last month - just gorgeous), Jim Mortram, Simon Roberts and Laura Pannack.

But then there's Doug DuBois, Yolanda del Amo, Molly Landreth, Cara Phillips, Shen Wei and many more. It's a bit Anglo-heavy as is the nature of the beast, but there is a lot of diversity in who is represented and how they are represented.

I think my favourite interview is from Richard Renaldi's Touching Strangers, an incredibly simple project where Renaldi gets strangers to touch each other. Simple can be beautiful as Renaldi shows in a really quite lovely twist on the Old Street Straight-Up.

These portraits are extremely difficult to make, involving complex negotiations with the participants that push them past comfort levels, into a physical intimacy normally reserved for loved ones or friends. Their reluctance and predisposition towards conventional poses has pushed me into the role of director and my initial attempts at creating these complicated images resulted in extremely tentative and uncomfortable photographs. The most obvious and frequent gesture people make when not given instruction is to hold hands or extend their arm around the other’s shoulder. I knew I wanted more. I was inexperienced and apprehensive about directing my subjects, but as time progressed and I did more shooting I started to imagine more complex and emotional relationships between them. 

And this is from Deborah Parkin who makes wet plates of her children.

The process felt such an intimate collaboration – I loved seeing how the children would momentarily drift off – it was a stillness that I rarely saw in their waking moments and there they were on a plate, beautifully still. I have developed a good relationship with the children, listened to their ideas, watched them play, and from there, we worked on how we could make this work for wet plates. 
The series has developed over several years. Sometimes there was a house full of around 10 children who organized themselves and decided how they would liked to be photographed – for example, some wanted flowers, some wanted to lie down, some dressed up, some just sat against a wall.  Most of the time however, it is just a one on one experience in a very quiet atmosphere.

picture by Deborah Parkin

And this from Dave Jordano who photographed in Detroit.

I started this project in 2010 after reading about so many photographers who were going to Detroit to photograph all of the abandoned factories and the emptiness that was so pervasive there.  Detroit is my hometown and I felt that this one-sided photographic approach to the city, although accurate and noteworthy, didn't give full credit to the people who live there and who have been struggling for decades with Detroit's economic decline.  My first encounter with the city wasn't much different from my predecessors in that I too was drawn to the sprawling, empty, wasted landscape, but I quickly realized that I was contributing nothing to a subject that most everyone already knew much about, especially those who had been living there for years. 

picture by Dave Jordano

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Stacy Kranitz: Sex and Drugs and The Frankfurt School




It's conference season in the UK and the lookalike leaders of the lookalike parties are all standing up and presenting their best faces to the world; they're faces that have been focus-grouped to the point where all personality, individuality and vestiges of what it means to be an eating, spitting, shitting human being have been blurred out. Everything they do or say is because someone, somewhere has told them that this is what someone, somewhere wants to hear.

Focus-grouping for politicians is a bit like photo-shopping for slebs, retouching people until they all look the same, so the freckles and spots and wrinkles (the bits that make people look interesting and beautiful) all go away.

I sometimes get the feeling that a similar thing happens in photography, that people make work that they only pretend to engage with, work that they really don't have a passion for and that doesn't connect with the world outside the photo bubble. It might hit the spot in parts of that little bubble world, but essentially its work that is a bit dull and boring, work that's no fun; no fun to make, no fun to view, no fun to talk about.

Which can't be said about Stacy Kranitz. She has a new book out published by Straylight Press called From The Study on Post-Pubescent Manhood. It's a modest book published in modest numbers, and should be seen as a stepping stone to future publications. But buy it all the same because the work is so full-on

What is great about the work though, is how it was made and how Kranitz talks about it. One of the pleasures I have in writing for the BJP is that I get to interview consistently fascinating and committed photographers who are stretching photography in so many ways, people who are happy to give their time to talk about work that I would so love to be able to make.

Kranitz is one of those people. I interviewed her last week for the BJP's November youth culture edition and was bowled over by the combination of energy and erudition that she has when she talks about her work;  with some heavy drinking, a bunch of disaffected boys without shirts and a whole bunch of drugs thrown in for good measure it's Sex and Drugs and the Frankfurt School.

Kranitz describes herself as an experiential, performative photographer; seeking  a new methodology in photo-making - one that at the moment involves all the sex and drugs and the Frankfurt School. But she ties this in with some the anthropological/photographic writings of people like Katherine Stewart, Michael Taussig and James Agee, all of whom share the idea that to make serious work you have to be part of what you are photographing, and (in Stewart's case) that a closely analytical way of working may be counter-productive in understanding the chaos and ephemera of another culture.

So Kranitz goes into a scenario in full method style (and it might not always be that healthy mentally or physically. Do not try this at home and if you do, don't tell your parents unless they're as understanding as Kranitz's). The pictures at the top are from her Nazi re-enactor series, a series where she takes the role of her hero/anti-hero Leni Riefenstahl. It's Nikki S.Lee with Nazi nobs on, but strangely the pictures with Kranitz/Riefenstahl are mixed with straight portraits and action shots, very good portraits and action shots but not on the same level as the Riefenstahl role pictures.

For the Post-Pubescent pictures, she basically became part of the Skatopia community (a libertarian skateboarding farm)  with its ritualised violence and bedlam of skating, music and drugs. Anyway, I still have to try and write all this up into a more coherent form so that's about all I will say for now.

Because at the end of the day, as Kranitz says, "I struggle to know what the fuck I'm doing."




Monday, 23 September 2013

Brian David Stevens, Blake Andrews and Standing on Soapboxes (and ladders)

 picture by Brian David Stevens

Blake Andrews writes  here about why he's not going the route of making a fancy, professional, branded blog with a unified serious voice.

Blogging is about 'standing on a soap box' says Blake before going on to explain how he has revamped his blog by removing things....

I've given B a complete makeover but --Grace Slick be damned-- it's less like a starship than an airplane. My promotional budget is zero. No tweets, links, likes, or publicity. Rather than adding features I've removed them, and rather than hiring a graphic designer, the layout is proudly by just some schmo on Blogger, i.e. me. The content will be the same, but of course more mature. Less fucking potty talk. And probably less regular postings. More like a...a magazine?

Fabulous - that goes for me to, but with a few more buttons. 

What could be a more natural link to that story than Brian David Stevens'  Tyburn Hemp. Published by Cafe Royal books, it features pictures of people standing on soapboxes (and ladders) at London's Hyde Park Corner. It's a lovely look at a time when the religious nutters read their tracts to a more varied audience than they do now.

And because it's published by Cafe Royal Books (they publish books by Homer Sykes, John Darwell and Jim Mortram among many others) it has that 1970s pamphleteer feel to it - which is perfectly in keeping with Stevens' theme. 

The books are also incredible value at a fiver a go. Buy your copy here. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Kassel Fotobookfestival Dummy Award: Kids, Melons, Islands and Yams

Paul Gaffney's book, We Make the Path by Walking is in for the Kassel FotobookFestival Photobook Award along with many others.

There's also the Dummy Award. The great thing here is nearly all the books are visible online, most through Issu - which it makes it incredibly easy to flick through them.

It's not the best way to look at the books but pragmatically it works even if it means you miss out so many of the finer details.

So here are a few picks based on a very brief online viewing and missing out anything that requires a more sophisticated examination.

Lorenzo Vitturi: One Pound Have a Look Yam Yam. Viviviane Sassen meets Stephen Gill via Sigmund Freud's cabinet of primitive delights. The colour smacks you in the mouth but it's all in keeping with the place it was made; it's local history come to life.




Artur Krutsch: Thule This is a quiet, mysterious and rather dark contemplation on the mythical island of  Thule, the place where the world ends.

Sarah Diekman: Ordnung der dinge. Repeated pictures of kids sleeping, on their backs, on their side, with the bum in the air goes into endless arrangements of the detritus of childhood life before we're back to the sleep again. This is a rather accurate portrayal of the exhausting nature of motherhood (I'm guessing she's the mother here), and the artlessness and chaos fits right into the theme.

Kirill Golovchenko: Bitter Honeydew  This is a book of pictures of a melon stall at night, and what a melon stand it is.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Paul Gaffney Walks the Line

Paul Gaffney sent me his lovely book, We Make the Path by Walking in the post ( buy it here

It's a gorgeous book that creates a narrative path by following the paths created by people walking. The book is both beautiful and complete and follows on from work that looked at the views from foot (and cow) bridges over the M4 motorway (that's the one that connects Bath to Wales - or Wales to London if you're not that hick). It's a simple idea and one I have often thought about, but Gaffney went out and did it. Similarly with We Make the Path by Walking. 

However, the Path is a bit more ambitious. It examines the meditative qualities of walking and how this translates to both the land and our interaction with the land through an instinctual non-analytic way of walking. 

Gaffney also walked 3,500 kilometres to make the book, the original idea emerging out of the 800km stroll on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. So there's a  mixing of meditation with pilgrimage  that adds a certain weight to the book. 

At the same time, the book shows walking to be a mapping of territory, both a physical mapping and a mental mapping. And this correlates to actual mapping (which is both physical - walls and borders - and mental.).

In that respect, the book serves as an analogy to photography, which does the same kind of mapping, both visually and mentally. Perhaps the book is an argument for the idea that there's no such thing as photography, only the different power relationships created by photography all of which are played out in their diverse arenas making their own pathways.

Or maybe not. Who knows. Whatever it is, it is beautifully conceived and executed, an indicator of the increasingly rich layers of thought that are going into photography in all its forms.

We Make the Path by Walking has been nominated for the International Photobook Award at the 6th International Photobook Festival in Kassel, Germany. Gaffney's in outrageously illustrious company (and I hope the garish and ridiculously tactile based on a True Story wins it - but it won't) there with Mike Brodie, Max Pinckers, Lieko Shiga, Ed Clark and many more. Gaffney won't win it either, but with the level of thinking that has gone into making the book, you get the feeling he'll be there or thereabouts for years to come. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Age of Performance v Age of Discovery

I have been photographing my daughter for a while now and she goes through different ages and so do I - always thinking of creating a parallel to things like the hierarchy of needs or the stages of psycho-social development. I think we are in the Age of Performance now. This is her new haircut.

And below was her new haircut 4 years ago which is Age of Discovery.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Revolutionary Swimmers of the World Unite on Rhossili Beach

The last post was on Wales and A Fine Beginning and how it's not all about the lyrical landscapes and the mines and the rugby and the songs. And then last week, Mao got a mention. This post combines the two with Isabel going all propaganda on the Gower Peninsula.

So for me, as a visitor to the country, Wales still is about the lyrical landscapes; especially the wildness and raw beauty of Rhossili Beach (pictured above), my favourite beach anywhere ever (when the water is warm enough to swim in without a wetsuit as it was this summer).

Monday, 16 September 2013

The houses, the mountains, the rugby, the pits: 'All that bollocks!'


I'm looking forward to the next issue of A Fine Beginning, a collective that includes Gawain Barnard (just about the loveliest photography man around anywhere), Abbie Trayler-Smith, James O.Jenkins (also of Portrait Salon) and Jack Latham (also of Miniclick) all of whom have got their fingers in so many photography pies and are so busy working at great ideas that it makes me feel quite pitiful by comparison.


  Above spread by Gawain Barnard

A Fine Beginning shows work that is made in Wales so it's following in the footsteps of people like Robert Frank, John Davies, Geoff Charles and many more, but it goes beyond that more lyrical kind of photography which can have a sentiment-stoked distancing effect. A Fine Beginning wants to be something more real. As Abbie Trayler-Smith says in this interivew with Panos.

'I usually get a bit frustrated by the representation of Wales through photography, even with the wonderful explosion of contemporary photography, its popularity and a photographer’s ability to produce creative and beautiful projects, the representation of Wales in photography usually (but not always) goes back towards the well trodden and awfully boring ‘traditional’ view of Wales. The terraced houses, mountains, rugby, pits… all that bollocks! We can’t seem to get past this ‘Valleys Project’ 70s & 80s ethos of what it was like to be Welsh and it’s a terrible thing to pass onto the rest of the world, this idea of a down-trodden poor nation, still recovering from the mines. I’m hoping that AFB will encourage a rethink of Wales through photography, I don’t want it to be all happy look how wonderful we’re doing Wales, because it’s not, but it is interesting, good and bad!'


Above by Abbie Trayler-Smith 

So the idea of A Fine Beginning is it will develop a new national photography and ultimately start commissioning and producing new work that will make the debate about how people, place, landscape, history, colonialism and migration all interact.

It's potentially a fascinating development but how you do that exactly is really difficult, especially as the landscape of Wales is so tied up with its identity; as its community and its history, as is the sentimentalised view of that. As an Englishman who works in Wales and visits there for family holidays, I also find it interesting to define the place as what it is not - why is the Gower Peninsula not like Cornwall  (beside the obvious observation that it is avoided by certain London types - but why is that?), why does every Welsh person I know living in England miss their homeland so (and do Welsh people living in Scotland or Ireland have the same homesickness). What isn't it, why exactly is it a conceptual impossibility for somone like David Cameron or George Osborne to come from Wales (and he goes to Cornwall for his holidays).

So it's about getting beneath the surface, and incorporating all the different elements (including all the bollocks!) in a simple, coherent way. To that end, the first issue of A Fine Beginning features stories on the burning of the land, the Eisteddfod, death of valley communities and childhood obesity (Wales has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the UK).

Through its editorial policy, it's trying to do exactly what it says it wants to do which is actually quite unusual. How to do that over a period of time is the challenge. But the second edition will show where that challenge is heading.

A Fine Beginning is available to buy:


Friday, 13 September 2013

Slan Abhaile Bill Kelly

Bill Kelly (on right) in 1965. Bill Kelly, below in 2013 photographed by Tadhg Devlin. This is what he told Tadhg when asked if he could photograph him on New Brighton Beach.

 "I live in Wirral so New Brighton would be fine and appropriate for as a young person I stood on that beach watching the ferries sail to Ireland and bitterly wishing I was on one."

Bill Kelly by Tadhg Devlin. He returns to Ireland today! Bon Voyage, Bill.

I love the way things come round full circle. Several years ago, I posted something on Myra Hindley and the famous mugshot of her. A few weeks later, a message from the daughter of the photographer came into my inbox which resulted in this post.

In July, I posted something about Keith Medley's Doubletake. A few weeks later I got a message from Bill Kelly, one of the people featured in the exhibition. This is what it said...

One of my nephew's visited the exhibition at the Walker and was amazed to recognise myself and my   brother Danny. The picture was taken mid 1965. I was twelve and he was thirteen and a half. He is the one with the watch. We had arrived in England from Ireland some years earlier. We were due to go on a trip to Lourdes in France and my mother applied for and was refused two British passports for us.

Sir Fredrick Woolf who was organising the trip met with us in London and took  us to the Irish embassy where the Ambassador issued a joint passport for us both. We traveled to France the next day.

Sir Fredrick kept the passport and we never saw it again.
I am amazed to see these pictures!

I passed on his details to Tadhg Devlin who is photographing Irish migrants to Liverpool for his project 12 Miles Out and lives within a few miles of Bill's (soon-to-be-old) home in the Wirral. Tadgh took his portrait.

I aslo passed it on to Ken Grant who, along with Mark Durden, edited the excellent book that accompanies the exhibition.

The book is available for sale here (only £10)

And here is an interview with Bill Kelly that ran on the Miniclick blog.
 Here's an excerpt below. 

We had been to England twice on holiday before yet I still believed my sister when she told me during the boat trip that the houses in England were all painted white with red window  frames and English people ate children. We arrived at Woodside and watched the cattle being unloaded before the boat crossed to Liverpool to let us off and then we crossed the Mersey again to Wallasey by ferry. We stayed with an aunt and uncle who gave us Weetabix for breakfast. We had never seen this before and thought it was cardboard and that no matter how bad things were in Ireland, post-war England must be worst if they had to feed children on cardboard.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Chairman Mao: 'Chinese democracy must follow the American path'

by Ernest Cole, from House of Bondage. A good class of photographer in every way!

I laughed my socks off when I heard about this on the radio this morning. Then I read it and laughed some more - not because of what was written but because of who was identified as the author.

In national terms and on a personal level, Russia telling America how things are is aggression, hypocrisy and megalomania talking to aggression, hypocrisy and megalomania, the only difference is the Russian side has a bit more of a conscious menace to it and the American side thinks it's some kind of music-hall preacher.

Just because somebody says something doesn't mean it isn't complete caca.

I'm currently reading Frank Dikotter's latest book, The Tragedy of Liberation. It's the story of the history of the Chinese liberation from 1945-1957 (a prequel to Dikotter's amazing book on the disasters of the Great Leap Forward, Mao's Famine).

It's a barrel of laughs as one might imagine, a story of the wanton misery inflicted on a people by a people. The funniest part is before liberation, when Mao's envoys were negotiating at Peace talks with President Truman's envoy, George Marshall. Mao sent Zhou Enlai as his envoy. Zhou, writes Dikotter, '...was a master of deception, cultivating a close relationship to Marshall to present the communists as agrarian reformers keen to learn from democracy. Zhou even persuaded Mao solemnly to declare that 'Chinese democracy must follow the American path'. Mao would agree to almost anything on paper, as long as nobody was checking what he was doing on the ground.'

Fantastic isn't the word for it. True tragedy is there in bucketloads. When Mao begins land reform, areas have quotas of who is to be killed ( 1 in 1,000 was an average) and cadres went into the countryside to encourage killing. Soon people were being killed for what they owned - kill this 'landlord' and you get a horse's leg, kill that one and you get a jar. 

Villagers made lists of people to be killed, but then added to the list as they realised that if they left any members of a family alive, they would seek revenge. So the lists just kept on getting bigger and bigger.

Even the definition of landlord was suspect (the word Mao used was a sinification of a Japanese word introduced in the 19th century). In many places there were no landlords, so the cadres outrage was taken out on the nearest thing available - Sichuan Province, for example, 'it was enough for a farmer actually to make a profit in order to be classified as 'a landlord'.'

Every individual was given a class registration. There were good classes, middle classes and bad classes. 

Good Classes

Revolutionary cadres, soldiers and martyrs.
Industrial workers
Poor and lower-middle peasants

Middle Classes

The Petty Bourgeoisie
Middle Peasants
Intellectuals and Professionals

Bad Classes

Rich Peasants

In this atmosphere, being poor was good and praiseworthy, so productivity dropped dramatically because high productivity meant higher wealth which meant you were more at risk of denunciation, criticism and death. 

Any form of pleasure was also frowned upon. So in Shanghai and other cities there was a gradual closure of brothels, gambling dens, bars and other forms of entertainment. It became a dead city.The way people looked also changed with make-up, jewellery and hairstyles all disappearing. 'The fashion was simplicity almost to the point of rags.'

People resisted, rebelled and found ways to blend in with the atmosphere of violence and hatred that was created but it was a terrible, terrible time that was set to get even worse over the following ten years. 

Mao's China was an extreme example of an ideology gone wrong, but I wonder how much it is the ideology as much as the sense of control that matters - the ideology is by the by. I saw this on Benjamin Chesterton's Facebook yesterday, and wondered if this fatwa against photography wasn't pretty much the same thing. 

India's leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom has issued a fatwa, saying "photography is unlawful and a sin"...

Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani, Mohtamim (vice chancellor) of Darul Uloom Deoband, said on phone, "Photography is un-Islamic. Muslims are not allowed to get their photos clicked unless it is for an identity card or for making a passport."

The last bit is kind of inconsistent - if it's haram it's haram, surely. Anyway, he strikes me as a bit of a Maoist in his fanaticism (and the article points out that there are many people who disagree with him - very politely).

It's all part of that fanatical hair-shirt no-fun tendency that ideologues tend to have. There's a tiny possibility you might get it in photography as well, a pursed-lipped, cat's-arse moth of disapproval of all thing non-ideologically sound, the kind of shrill pointing that Donald Sutherland did at the end of the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So I wonder what photography's good classes, middle classes and bad elements would be. I came up with this (just now so it's might need reworking).

Good Classes

Concerned Photographers
War Photographers
Died in the course of action Photographers
Collaborative Photographers
Car Photographers
Technical Staff

Middle Classes 

Food Photographers
Social Photographers
Photography Writers
University Lecturers
Artistic Directors

Bad Classes

Agency Workers
Magazine Editors
Art Buyers
Picture Editors
Gallery Owners

Fashion Photographers
Commercial Photographers

  And given the nature of the post, it seems a good time to Puritan Wife Swap again.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Peter Mitchell's Leeds: Hitler's Northern Capital

From the Grim-Up-North of David Moore to the Grim-Up-North of Peter Mitchell.

Mitchell's new book, Strangely Familiar is another blast from the northern past; this time it's Leeds inthe 1970s and 80s. Life is grim in Mitchell's Leeds; decaying house, delapidated cafe fronts and closed down stores give the book that contemporary ruin porn touch.

 But at the same time, you get the feeling Mitchell liked it that way, that Leeds then was not as grim as Leeds. There is an affection in there that goes hand in hand with a hostility to contemporary architecture and urban planning. 

 Owen Hatherley wrote about Leeds in his excellent book, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. He describes Leeds as ‘….the token ‘successful’ northern city along with Manchester, because it’s boring enough for southerneers to understand.’ 

Mitchell talks about the 'glittering emptiness' of the city, a critique of its current status as a consumer and leisure paradise, a mini-Manchester with the inner life (and architecture) flattened into one amorphous consumerist mass. 

While I was writing a review of the book for Photo-Eye, I looked into the history of the Quarry Hill Flats - pictured above before and after their destruction. Built in the 1930s, the flats were supposedly modelled on Karl Marx Hof flats in Vienna and were hugely advanced for their time.  The balconies, crittall windows and monolithic modernism give it the mittel-Europa aesthetic that (northern rumour/humour has it) inspired Hitler to earmark the flats as the headquarters for the SS had the Nazis invaded Britain. Supposedly that’s why Leeds wasn’t bombed much in the Second World.

( In fact, there’s a whole load of nonsense conspiracy theories about what Hitler planned to do in the north of England. Blackpool was saved from bombing because it wasn’t going to be Hitler’s Capital of Fun on the Irish Sea, the Ballroom at the Blackpool Tower home of the All-England SS Argentine Tango Championship. Think Strictly Ballroom with Hitler as Barry Fife! I don’t think so.)

Anyway, it’s a wonderful, wonderful book and it does raise the question – which was crapper, Leeds then or Leeds now, England then or England now, almost anywhere then and anywhere now.