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Friday, 29 November 2013

Is it December yet

Is it December yet?

Roundhill - pictures by Colin Pantall

In the Dentist's Chair

I need some distraction so...

I like the way that  Muriel Hasbun ties in the archival x-rays of her dentist father into a wider cultural debate. They latch onto the idea of trauma, identification and evidence and are part of a larger history of how photography (including x-ray photography) connects to a social and medical history beyond simple photography per se.

It also ties into the idea that photography is not a simple subject. It's too big for that. Most discussions of photography touch on a tiny area of photography -  you can read Marvin Heifermann's questions on this here - so it's good to see the dental x-rays being put forward.

I saw Muriel's pictures a week before I had the joy of joys of going to the Eastman Dental Hospital in London - four hours of sitting in a chair while I was exhaustively cut and slit and drilled and chipped and poked with scalpels, needles, chisels and drills in a combination of bone grafting, cutting and implanting.

For Scott, my fantastic, meticulous painless dentist, I am also the subject of a dissertation which has a large visual element in it - including film and photography. And as I continue my fortnightly visits to the dentist's chair, I continue to be filmed. For me it's a good thing, it's evidential and I know that Scott wants to get the highest possible grades. And he will. The photography proves that.

But at the same time, it is also curious that here I am, somebody interested in photography, being photographed in a way that is not really considered photography. But it is.

I'm sure there must be many books on dentistry within the medical field but how about one's that go beyond medical, one's that enter photographic culture that we know and love. Broomberg and Chanarin did something on dentist chairs and more there's the British Book of Smiles from the Simpsons (it gets shown to Ralph to show him what happens if...)

But apart from that, there's not much. And there should be, because teeth are such an integral part of our lives.

More integral than a selfie is. Here's a selfie of me in the dentist's chair.

And here's another... No, one's too many already. And now I have to get back to whatever it was that I was doing. Wasn't easy, I know that. And it wasn't fun, I know that.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I am a Disco Dancer! Yeah

From the sublime to 'Disco Dancer', a film that I saw last week. I am a Disco Dancer - that's the feature song of the movie, and the one that is rattling around my brain for half of my waking hours (the good half. The bad half there's another song rattling round in there).

Sometimes there  is a right time for a film (or a book or a photograph or whatever). Last Friday was the right time for Disco Dancer, possibly the only time in my life that I would have been willing to sit through 2 and a half hours of Hindi Cinema Disco dancing.

In this post, I mentioned a talk Francis Hodgson gave at which he emphasised the importance of allusion in work. 

Well, there's allusion and there's allusion, Hindi film style. Disco Dancer has none of the former but loads of the latter. In the soundtrack alone, I caught fleeting glimpses of songs such as Video Killed the Radio Star, You're the one that I want and One for you, One for me, the latter a song that I felt I had truly put behind me and would never hear again. Yet there it is in Disco Dancer filling my head with a song that sits like a hyperactive limb twitching child at the very forefront of my mind. How do I get rid of it.

The interesting thing about Disco Dancer is it was a huge hit in the Soviet Union, where Indian cinema was incredibly popular (Awara was possibly the most popular film released there). After its release in 1986, there was a huge debate about whether these 'popular' films were worthy of viewing, with a even bigger counter debate telling critics that '...Indian films taught one to love 'without an eye to personal gain' They suggested that those who were hostile to these films 'had perhaps never loved like that'.'

Soviet viewers also like the 'real men' in Hindi cinema, it was 'vivid' and 'bright' and packed the cinemas every time - one Hindi film fan noted that in contrast at a screening of a critically acclaimed Soviet film that was shown at the same time only one of the original 15 members of the audience stayed after the first 20 minutes.

But enough of this - buy Indian films in Soviet Cinemas: The Culture of Movie-Going After Stalin by Sudha Rajagopalan if you are interested.

In the meantime, here are a couple of Soviet animations - good old American Imperialist Mr Twister, you have to love his big fat racist ass, and what happened to poor old Vinni Puuh - he turned into the inspiration for South Park.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What is really good: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Last night I saw the Passion of Joan of Arc at Bath Abbey as part of the Bath Film Festival. The film was accompanied by a live score by Will Gregory and Adrian Utley performed by six guitarists, a vocal section, harps,  woodwind and brass and conducted by Charles Hazlewood.

With the live score, this was a heart stopping event that moved me in a way that cinema had never moved me before. I sat there watching Joan go through the tribulations of her trial, threat of torture and her ultimate burning at the stake.

The music accompanying the film amplified the venality, the fervour, the cruelty, the dignity and the tenderness of the characters - the pious Joan in her man's clothing, the priests, the peasants, the judges.

It's the Passion of Joan of Arc so faces dominated the screen; they were brought even further to life by guitars, harps and trumpets that echoed the anxiety, the madness and the injustice happening on screen.

The Joan of Arc narrative is driven through a study of faces that is at a revolutionary mix of expressionism and off-kilter editing. So it's a conceptual film as well, made up of close-ups that reveal the inner workings of a tortured soul.

So the cinematography, the staging, the editing is all ground-breaking. It's incredible. But at the same time it's only a secondary layer. The story comes first and that is what gives the Passion of Joan of Arc its heart and soul, its power to move. And that is what the score addressed so beautifully. I spent the film with my head upturned watching the amazing face of Maria Falconetti slide into the ultimate depths of despair. By the end of the film, in a very small way, I had become her - head tilted, lips parted and teary eyed.

I arrived home yesterday despondent and world-weary. In photography, I see a great deal of wonderful work that has spirit and heart and pierces me to the core. But on the flip side I hear so much about amazing work that issinsightful and inspirational - work that is supposed to be amazing but simply isn't; the kind of work that is conceptual and looks at the inner workings of photography, that strips it to its means of representation and its mode of distribution, that uses dense texts to convey its power, texts of theory that alienate and intimidate, that become of a self-justifying world where the statement rules and intellectual jiggery-pokery is a major part of the game. But sometimes I feel I should like it, that I should be part of that club. But I am not very good at clubs and in any case it's not any good. Or is it?

The Passion of Joan of Arc killed that despondency. It showed me in the most direct way possible what amazing work is, that it does not strip away the emotional power of a story, but has it at its heart. Things can be minimal and laid bare, but when all that is left is the act of stripping, then what exactly is the point; we are left with a barren, presbyterian world view of art, where what tastes harsh and bitter in our mouths is what is good for us, where the obscurantist becomes an end in itself.

For me, The Passion of Joan of Arc calls bullshit on that. It lifted my despondency at the world of branding, pretension and hype and stopped me (for a while at least) from second-guessing my instincts. Somthing brilliant had touched me and made me remembered what really matters in film, in photography, in life. And conversely, what really doesn't matter, what is just so much empty vanity and branding and hot air.

I live in Bath which is a beautiful place. Every morning I walk out of my door and see Solsbury Hill, Brown's Folly and Claverton Down. Without exception I count my blessings and wonder at the beauty of this world.

This morning I did exactly the same, but with a little something added. Thank you Joan of Arc.

Monday, 25 November 2013

How to Stop your Pictures Being Boring

Francis Hodgson gave a talk at Newport (the University of South Wales) last week in which he outlined his views on how to elevate the photograph from the digital soup into which it is in danger of being immersed.

(Read Francis Hodgson in conversation with Joerg Colberg here)

I like the idea of digital soup - it corresponds to Erik Kessels piles of photographs - a squillion photographs uploaded to flickr in one day (although is it really a squillion, and were a squillion really printed out?)- and raises the same questions. How do we differentiate our images from this amorphous mass of visual detritus?

Francis suggested 3 major ways of doing this (and noted that there are a whole bunch more).


Work with processes and you may escape the surface problem of photography - that it only has surface. You also touch on craft and connect your work to historical uses of photography.

Work in series and what is banal in the individual image is ampliflied so that similarity and difference are accentuated, so a narrative is formed.

Work with allusion and you connect your work with a broader world, one where the art-historical, the psychological, the political, the market - take your pick - is referenced. It makes people take your work seriously.

Trouble is when it doesn't work, allusion becomes collusion, delusion or illusion. And there's a lot of that kind of work around.

When it does work? A couple of examples of people who to my mind hit the three Hodgson sweet spots (process, series and allusion) every time: Sally Mann and Abelardo Morell (see  below)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Transgender Day of Remembrance - A day late

This is a day late, but better late than never. This is a post on the photography of  Nazik Armenakian but is also about visibility and silence by Aenne Pallasc. Read it in full here.

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This year, at least 238 trans people have been murdered - and this count does not include the numerous cases of suicide after transphobic violence. We need to remember them - "We can't bring back the trans people that have lost their lives but we can stop the body count increasing." (Ava Vidal)

And, Pallasca continues, conflating visibility with acceptance and inivisibility, in particular a deliberate invisibility with complicity.

It is an innocent, curious approach that Armenakian takes there - the equation of visibility with establishment. It is only fair when you read her describing her confusion when she first met these sex workers, and found her notions of 'male' and 'female' were seriously challenged. She overcame her first shock, began talking to the women, learned their stories, shared their stories. It's a beginning, and sets a good example not only for her Armenian compatriots, but to everyone. To end with Ava Vidal: "You don't have to be personally responsible for anyone's death, being complicit by remaining silent is bad enough. Be better. Do better.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Asim Rafiqi and Koudelka's Holy Landscapes

above image from the Visualizing Palestine Project

So I go into one of those twitterific discussions about this post from Josef Koudelka's new work on the Wall in Palestine and this response from Asim Rafiqi.

The title is The Moral And Intellectual Cowardice Of Josef Koudelka, which seems a bit harsh. 

I'm not sure that I'm that brave that I would call either Koudelka or Rafiqi a coward. 

Rafiqi starts by pulling apart Koudelka's opening gambit of 

…I don’t want to get mixed up with Israel because it’s very, very complicated…

On his blog, Rafiqi says about his projects"It is difficult for me to talk in public about my personal projects." He works in Pakistan, and from the very strong work that he is showing, one can imagine why his other projects might be difficult to talk about.

But things are difficult to talk about, and not just because they of the complexities of the politics or religion of a place, but because talking about them can open a whole can of worms. Talking about Israel in a particular way in some places can threaten one's funding, one's livelihood and make one the target of a whole bunch of religious and ideoligical extremists and opportunists. It can lead to an endless trail of tiresome arguments by people who know their UN resolutions inside out and have a counter attack consisting of low level psychological warfare with high end bullying and brainwashing - with a toxic dose of denial thrown in with the full gamut of defence mechanisms that will leave you feeling bruised and dirty. 

You don't want to go there. Not if you're a coward like me anyways. 

A similar thing applies in other areas, including Pakistan or the UK. This might be something major or something quite everyday. There are things that have become accepted taboos - not wearing a poppy in the UK for example, out of the collective militarisation and conformism that has happened in the UK over the last 30 years. Newsreader Charlene White is an example of what happens when you stand out

Anyway, this is what Rafiqi wrote about Koudelka.

I wanted to give this post a gentler title. I wanted to do that because I have been an admirer of Koudelka’s work for years, considering his book Gypsies to be one of the most important influences in pushing me to become a photographer. For me he has always been the photographer famous for his independence of thought, his personal moral and political integrity and his public reputation as a man whose works embody a moral and social conscience. So it was shocking to read his recent interview in the New York Times Lens blog about his work on the Israeli wall that scars the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza (Koudelka only documented as far as I know the wall as it exists in the West Bank). To find that this otherwise intelligent individual, with enough intellectual and emotional independence to come to an honest conclusion about what is taking place in the West Bank, choses to hide behind an apolitical and frankly cowardly language of ‘environment’ and ‘its too complex’ was staggering to confront. It was down right shameful to read.

Rafiqi continues to pick out pieces of the interview where Koudelka focusses on the landscape (and by extension the Israeli Wall) as the victim of both sides of the conflict. He accuses Koudelka of a lack of empathy with the people. This is what Koudelka says, 

We have a divided country and each of two groups of people tries to defend themselves. The one that can’t defend itself is the landscape. I call what is going on in this most holy landscape, which is most holy for a big part of humanity, is the crime against the landscape. As there exists crimes against humanity there should exist the crime against the landscape.
I am principally against destruction — and what’s going on is a crime against the landscape that is enormous in one of the most important landscapes in the world.

And this is Rafiqi's response to another Koudelka quote. 

What is interesting for me is that I showed these books in Israel and everyone told me this book is not a political book — that this is about man and the place. This book is not about conflict — of course you can take it as you want.
I wonder if Mr. Koudelka thought about showing this book in Palestine and to Palestinians? I suspect not because there he would have had to deal with the inconvenient truth about the real meaning of the wall. And thatit is in fact very much about a conflict! But no matter how much Koudeka tries to dodge the meaning and brutal realities he refuses to speak about in the interview, or in the book (the book lacks text – see my post Offering Silence To The Oppressed Or How Photography Can Become A Weapon Of Repression on this issue!), he can’t help but reveal something tremendously insidious

So something is going on, but it seems to be a partisanship (the holy landscape? Really.). But is this lack of empathy really cowardice. I don't know. The interview is quite striking in its lack of real engagement with what I imagine to be the realities of the place. Perhaps it is just lack of empathy or lack of identification or lack of... insight maybe. 

So perhaps it should be Ignorance in the title rather than Cowardice. Or maybe not. Who knows, but the interview doesn't sit pretty. Pictures are great though but only if they are political. If they are not political, it makes them part of a tumblr stream that ends up on an Erik Kessels Installation. And that's where nobody wants to be. 

We are alike you and I: Don McCullin and Lorenzo Vitturi

Don McCullin has spoken about how few people are photographing conflict and destruction overseas and missing out on the ongoing conflict social destruction and in Britain.

It made me think of a few things that I have mentioned before on this blo, especially regarding Jim Mortram. Firstly, that there are people documenting the social changes happening in Britain, but most of the time those social changes are so wrapped up in the generic formulas of art/documentary photography that the message gets lost and the photographs only become for those au fait and fully converted to the machinations of photographic representation. And complex as these machinations can be, most of the time they are as generic as a family album.

Sometimes it's the directness that matters. McCullin is direct in his photography (see the above image by McCullin), so perhaps that's where he's coming from. And perhaps Old School might be better than New School in this respect, taking Old School in the broadest story-telling sense.

And if you take it that way, then perhaps Old School isn't really that Old School after all. My favourite book of the moment is  Lorenzo Vitturi's Dalston Anatomy, a book that seems fresh and vivid and new. But embedded within it are elements that reflect on the ethnic and economic cleansing of one particular area of London. It might be eliptical and lack the directness I mentioned above, but it's there, just a fingernail scratch beneath the bright colours and powdered paint.

I'm probably way off on this and I've got a feeling I doubled back on myself somewhere along the line there, but a post that connects Don McCullin, Jim Mortram and Lorenzo Vitturi?; it has to be!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Swap with Jesse Alexander

by Colin Pantall

Stuart Pilkington is organising this thing called The Swap where photographers swap portraits of each other.

I'm in this with Jesse Alexander. Now I haven't picked up a camera for a while so I needed a few tips on what to do. I also like to work without a light-meter (because light-meters cost money and well, you know...).

I like to think I do pretty well at this, but Jesse told me that pictures such as the one below are actually over-exposed.

I dunno. Paul Graham did something like this and everyone liked those, but that's another story.

So Jesse put me right. He used to shoot in tunnels a lot and became sensitive to light down there. That's why he never uses a light meter and never gets it wrong!

Here are Jesse's metering rules for top of the ground - 100ASA Provia film only (adjust accordingly) at 1/125th second.

Close and cover your eyes for 10 seconds. Look at the main light source.

f22 - white after image on retina, purple patches linger for 1 minute plus.
f16 - yellow after image on retina, spotty after images on retina (colours across the spectrum)
f8 - red after image on retina, fading quickly to black
f5.6 - little or no after image on retina

f4 - Scene is initially dark then comes into view
f2.8 Everything is a bit murky.

And that is what that picture is of - Jesse demonstrating how light comes into the eye and changes its shape depending on its brightness.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Love Social Media

I listen to the Today Programme on Radio 4 most mornings. I don't know why because most of the time the presenters are led by their corporate guests around the radio dance floor in an American Smooth of a shuffle in which corporate Britain (political and business wings) soft-steps its destructive profiteering lies into the hearts and minds of a million bleary-eyed morning-malleable numbskulls. I'm one of them.

But George Monbiot put it so much better in this article in yesterday's Guardian, so this is what he said...

For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a  business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.
This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power: those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows that business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%)(14). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.
And where, beyond the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, a few ageing Labour backbenchers, is the political resistance? After the article I wrote last week, about the grave threat the transatlantic trade and investment partnership presents to parliamentary sovereignty and democratic choice(15), several correspondents asked me what response there has been from the Labour party. It’s easy to answer: nothing.

I was moaning to my wife about social media at the weekend; how addictive it is with all those little tweets and likes and stats and the like - a million little serotonin hits that are as addictive as Jetpack Joyride and Spider Solitaire (I'm a simple man with simple tastes, so simple I had to get myself banned from going on those games. Still think about them though - 5 on the 6, J on the Q....).

But then she said, "what are you talking about. You have an amazing community of people out there. That is your community. You see new work that you love and admire, you're always talking about these amazing photographers and their ways of working and you talk about it and write about it and get inspired by it. It gives you hope."

And she was right. It was a counterbalance to things like the Today Programme and the voices that I read and hear are counterbalances to the hypocrisy and greed evident on the Today Programme. So even though Hope is a terrible thing in its way, she was right. So in a bid to up the negativity ratio, thank you to all the people on Blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, on every last shitty 0.7-second-attention span corner of the internet - if you're not a mouthpiece for the corporate world, if you're not spouting hatred and bile, if you're using it Right and sending out a message of goodness and love, God Bless you one and all.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

I took a wrong turning at the weekend coming back to Bath from Bristol and somehow ended up going through Keynsham (where Cadburys used to make a bit of chocolate  before they were taken over by Kraft). There were lots of soldiers in their desert fatigues selling poppies. Then in the evening, we watched a bit of Strictly Come Dancing and there they were again in the front row. 

Soldiers, soldiers everywhere.

After our daughter went to bed, we watched the final episode of The Wire, the one where the useless, corrupt and incompetent take over the reins of power at the expense of just about everybody except those who are incompetent, corrupt and useless. 

Last night I saw the typhoon in the Philippines reported on the news, a disaster striking the most fatalist and hope-free country I have ever visited, a country where the incompetent, corrupt and useless have ruled  for hundreds of years (with a little help from the Spanish, Japanese and Americans along the way) -"There is no hope in the Philippines" the locals used to tell us when we visited.

But last night, there on the TV were the Filipino soldiers who were helping with the aid effort, looking terrifically smart and busy. It reminded me of the Indonesian tsunami where some in the military were more concerned with their own appearance than with helping survivors. That might not be the case with the Philippines, but it sure looked that way.

And the reporters on the news spinning tales of heroism and effort and survival reminded me of Scott, the Baltimore Sun reporter on the Wire who rises to the top despite his dishonesty and cowardice. Again, it probably isn't the case, but it sure felt that way. Give it a few days and we'll have the miracle survivors, the prayers to god and the hallelujahs. 

I've been looking at old family albums this week - from my English side and my German side. My English grandfather fought in the First World War. I still have his medal. So instead of wearing a poppy, to his memory, to how lucky he was to survive, and to the memory of the friends he lost and the suffering he saw and endured, here's Wilfred Owen's Dulce Decorum Est (and the 10,000 Maniacs song version at the bottom of the page)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!---An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime... Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--- My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

And here's Robert Fisk writing about his father and why he doesn't wear a poppy.

...as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. 

In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dalstony Anatomy takes the Banana, the Cassava and the Yam!

Every now and then, a photography book comes along that looks completely different. Dalston Anatomy by Lorenzo Vitturi is one of those books; a sculptural, colour-soaked dance through the community of Dalston’s Ridley Road Market.

The photographic music starts with the cover, which is decorated with an African-themed fabric sourced in the market. Open the pages and the colour gets straight into its rhythm. A statue of pig trotters against a red background segue into a portrait of a local resident wearing a Hello Kitty Hat with that red background picking up the beat. The white goes to green and then we see a collage consisting of a 2-dimensional portrait of a woman, her hair wrapped in white fabric, with another piece of cloth nailed over the portrait.

Right from the start, Vitturi’s organic colour-based approach jumps off the page. This is a book with a rhythm and a sophistication that goes beyond the simple two-dimensional image. Instead pictures and objects are modified to create what Vitturi sees as an anatomical dissection of the market, products and people of Ridley Road.

Vitturi’s role as a photographer is to reimagining these elements into a sequence that revealed the deeper layers of the market; Vitturi sees himself as a photographic surgeon, using the scalpel of his lens to uncover the anatomy of Dalston’s Market.

Strangest of all in this mix are the sculptures that Vitturi made and photographed in his studio. These are precarious affairs, short-lived concoctions that call to mind the primitive art that can be found in Sigmund’s Freud’s house, non-mechanical combines that are half-Danny Treacy and half Robert Rauschenberg.
One sculpture is of half a cassava sitting on a fish head, with acid-coloured hair breads reaching out. At the base of the sculpture there is a scattering of a pink powder. The Freudian reference invites us to analyse the contents of the sculpture, and lead us into the cosmopolitan community that forms the clientele for the market.
Another sculpture shows unknown tubers piled on top of a cracked open coconut. At its base is a sprinkle of yellow powder. Across the page the yellow powder appears again, scattered over the face of a woman dressed in red. She’s wearing beads in the colours of Ghana, part of an continuous reference to the diversity of the people who work, shop and live in Ridley Road.

The ethnic make-up of the market is further explored the text that runs through the middle of the book; pawpaw or papaya, Jesus Saves, Dominican Mangoes, Yiddish women in wigs and people come and gone are all referenced. African, Asian, Hindu, Muslim and Jew rub together. There are Pakistanis and Turks and old-style cockneys from an area of London that has been first port of call for newly arrived migrants to the city for hundreds of years. Where once it was Jews and Jamaicans fleeing pogroms or seeking work, now Turks and Poles who are coming into the area; and using its market as a recognisable place of refuge in a city that is less welcoming to the outsiders than it once was.
Dalston Anatomy is a celebration of a London that once was, a memory of a city that is changing into a place for the rich and nobody else. There are vans going round London telling illegal immigrants to go back home, there is a social cleansing where the poor of London are being shipped out of over-priced housing to cheaper boroughs in the midlands and beyond. Once affordable properties  in once affordable boroughs are being redeveloped into gentrified properties for  a middle class that is being squeezed out of inner suburbs that have become the homes for the international super-rich. As the city gets richer, and the poor get poorer and so do the middle classes. As a result, great swathes of London are now barely affordable for anybody but the abominably wealthy.

And with that wealth comes conformity and a brutal blandness. Dalston Anatomy is the antithesis of bland. It is a book that celebrates the diversity of life; food, of dress, of being who you are. In terms of structure, it is supremely made, with colour, texture and shape feeding into a nuanced view of how the people, places and goods of  Ridley Road Market interact. More importantly than that, however, it is a book that has a heart, a rhythm and a soul. And that is what makes it so very special.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Anne de Gelas: A book that made me cry


all pictures by Anne De Gelas

L'Amoureuse by Anne De Gelas and published by Le Caillou Bleu is a book about loss. It's moving and heartfelt but also has a determination and hardness about it; the determination to confront unexpected and tragic loss, to be angry about it, to hate it, to accept it, to build it into one's life story and be able to move on to a place where the pain and anger is tinged with affection and love.


This is the basic story (rough translation from text above):

There is a never a right way to tell a child about the death of his father.


T., my lover and father of my son, died on April 5, 2010 of a brain stroke. He fell beside us on a beach at the North Sea. The violence of his death put me in front of a big void…a silence that echoed in my head only equal to the brightness of the blue sky which no planes crossed because of the ashes of a volcano in anger, my anger.

To face that loss, I plunged myself into the work that I had started more than 10 years ago consisting in writing a personal diary, now focussing on telling about my suffering but also about that surplus energy that burst within me.


Most of it was in French which I'm not terribly good at reading French, but the message still comes across. It's a story about family, childhood and being a woman who is suddenly plunged into a morass of solitude. How does that feel for you, for your family, for your future. What are the little things that will be missed, the little things that make a father and lover irreplaceable in a family's life.

It is also about physical and emotional love, and what it means to have that ripped away from you. What it means as a woman. There's a confrontation with both the immediacy of that loneliness, but also the wider void that threatens.

L'Amoureuse doesn't have a happy ending, because there's no happy ending to be had, but there is a resolution in the sense that life shifts, love changes and new beings are born out of tragedy. It's body focussed and seems almost therapeutic in feel - so has a touch of Jo Spence about it, but mixed with the nostalgia and joyfulness of Bertien van Manen's lovely Easter and Oak Trees; a book that reveals new layers with each viewing.

On the cover is a extended poem of De Gelas's last day at the beach with her son Max and her partner T. This brought tears to my eyes. It made me cry. I cry for films and songs and fiction, but photobooks?

The poem's called An (almost) perfect day - 4th April 2010.

This is how the poem ends...

I take your face between my hands, 
I still feel your lips on mine
That sweet, mutual movemnet of union
you say 'I'm cold'
I answer 'go straight home and get a coat'
I turn round to pick up my spade
out of the corner of my eye I see
your dark shape falling
I turn you over in the soft sand
they said 'diagnosis of the vital signs is very bad'
I spent the night telling you I loved you
kissing you
looking at you and smiling
still happy to be at your side
impossible to comprehend death

Robert Frank in Wales: Sixty Years Later

I posted this picture of Robert Frank in Cymparc in the Rhondda Valleys in 1953 a few weeks back. (above)

I like a little rephotography, so below is  Jon Pountney's  picture of Cymparc in 2013 below.

"The steam here is from the Park Colliery. You wouldn't even know it was there now. I'm told the white house on the far left was the Pit foreman's house."

Friday, 1 November 2013

Follow your Bad Instincts: Dos and Don'ts of Tony Fouhse

all pictures from Live Through This by Tony Fouhse

One for the weekend - the Dos and Don'ts of Tony Fouhse, who approaches the question
from a perspective of authenticity. Yes!

Check out Tony's interview with his subject Stephanie  and you'll see where he's coming from in practice.
It's not that easy an approach and the answers aren't that clear cut.

Tony Fouhse's website
Tony Fouhse's blog, Drool
Buy Tony Fouhse's book, Live Through This at Straylight Press

I read with great interest the previous do's and don'ts posted here. And I have 
to wonder what else can be said, after all, there has been such good advise.

Interesting, too, how certain themes keep arising, all filtered through personal 
perspective and experience. Kind of reminds me of photography . . . an infinite 
number of ways to approach the thing, endless ways solve the "problem", but 
some solutions are more correct than others.

When Mr. P asked me to contribute to this series I sat down at my machine and
tried an approach or three but deleted them all. They were either too obvious, too
sincere or were just a rephrasing of what has already been said. 

So I won't talk here about the ways and means to promote yourself, how to position
your work to get (if you are lucky and talented) a swell client base. Rather I will take 
a contrary approach, reduce the problem of how to be a photographer to its basest level.

Be yourself. Follow both your good and your bad instincts. 

In my experience most people's good instincts are remarkably similar, while their bad 
instincts are often particular. By embracing your good and bad ideas and impulses, by 
figuring out how to incorporate them into your life and your work, you somehow become 
more yourself. Plus, you'll probably end up in unfamiliar territory, a place that will engage 
you in ways you can't imagine, make you feel more alive. 

True, your bad instincts (depending upon what they actually are and how they are
manifested in your working methods and the outcome of those methods) might cost
you in the commercial realm. But on the other hand, they might well do the opposite.

If you embrace your contradictions and work hard at being yourself, you will end up 
in a surprising place, one more authentic than if you just do what you are think you 
are supposed to do. And in these days of ubiquitous photography what we need, more 
than anything, is authenticity. People recognize it.