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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A Guide to Contemporary Indian Photography

Mother and Elsa: from Life is Elsewhere by Sohrab Hura

I've always wondered about what new photography is happening in India but never really knew quite how dynamic Indian photography is until I asked Sohrab Hura (Magnum member and author of the truly fantastic Life is Elsewhere) about it. Sohrab is helping to run the Delhi Photo-Festival - which takes place at the beginning of November and doubles up with Photo Kathmandu if you're thinking of an India/Nepal Photo-Festival double-header. 

I asked Sohrab a few questions about the festivals and Indian photography and this is what he said. It's long but it's worth it - especially for the links and the searches that take you into new and undiscovered places (by me at least).

How did the festival start?
The Delhi Photo Festival was started in 2011 by two photographers, Prashant Panjiar and Dinesh Khanna at a time when nothing of that sort existed in India. At the time it was started, there were only a handful of galleries showing photography. Most photographers would go across either to Chobimela in Bangladesh or to Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia. 
I think there was a sense of longing for a community amongst photographers here which was till then nourished by these two festivals. That was one of the main reasons Prashant and Dinesh started the festival and for that they started the non profit Nazar Foundation.
The festival is run primarily by photographers who come together to put in time and work voluntarily and hopefully the roster of people working for the festival will change each year so that as many people can be a part of it as possible. The idea is to make bridges in the region so it's great that we get to have photographers and students not just from all over India but also from some of the neighbouring countries. 
 from Life is e Elsewhere by Sohrab Hura
Immediately after the first week of the festival people will go to Nepal to support the new festival in Kathmandu which is being started by Photocircle who've been doing some really great work there. This sort of a flow has been quite fantastic for me personally because I've ended up finding some of my closest friends in the photo world in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal and even in Indian cities other than Delhi and perhaps if those opportunities to meet them hadn't existed then life would not have been as rich for me as it is thanks to them. 
Now I see more and more dialogues forming across the border/s amongst the new generation of photographers and it's beautiful. It is sometimes not as easy for us to negotiate geographical, political and socio economic boundaries as it may be for example, for people within Europe or at least within a certain part of Europe and such little events just make it just a little easier for us experience something more human that goes beyond photography. For me, this is the most take away from all of the festivals in this region.

What are the Main Events this year?
The programming for the talks is looking good.  Naoya Hatakeyama, Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram, Olivia Arthur, Philipp Ebeling, Rob Hornstra, Altaf Qadri, Aradhana Seth, Chien-Chi Chang, Sarker Protick, Olivier Culmann, Anne Golaz, Nandan Ghiya and Roger Ballen are few of the confirmed speakers for now. 
Fishbar - Olivia Arthur and Philipp Ebeling - will do a masterclass where besides working with the two of them, the participants will also interact with some of the above mentioned people giving artist talks. Priority will be given to photographers from South Asia though all are invited to apply.

This year the festival has invited David Campany to be the keynote speaker to open the festival.
An idea for the future is to have retrospective exhibitions by Indian photographers of an older generation and this year being the first time it's being done, we're showing both Raghu Rai and Kishor Parekh. There will be unseen work by Raghu Rai, photos he's taken over the years of his friends and family, and for Kishor Parekh, his son Swapan Parekh is helping put together work from his book on the 1971 war. They both were good friends and which is having both their exhibitions together is special for the festival.
Regina Anzenberger will be doing a special book exhibition and in addition there will also be an exhibition by BIND a collective formed by young Indian photographers who already produced a fantastic exhibition on photo books earlier this year at FOCUS, a festival in Mumbai. Goa Photo, a festival in Goa will help bring Angela Ferreira from Encontros De Imagem to do a projection of work by portugese photographers
The festival is also keen on experimenting with the collaboration of photography with live performances and for that Sahil Vasudeva, a young pianist is working with Igor Posner and is composing a piece especially for his photos. 

page spread from Ballet by Alexey Brodovitch

In addition he will also play a piece in response to the book on ballet by Alexey Brodovitch.  Jeet Thayil, the writer and poet known for his booker prize nominated book Narcopolis is also a musician and he and his band will play a set accompanying projections of works that were chosen along with him keeping the energy of of music and words in mind. There are a few other similar performances lined up for the end of each evening.
And of course there will be lots of exhibitions and projections including many young Indian photographers.

And there are will be partner exhibitions happening all over the city timed with the festival, the first them being Prabuddha Dasgupta's retrospective at the National gallery of Modern Art starting on the 19th of September 2015 where his retrospective book will also be launched. The exhibitions will carry on till after the festival and walks are being arranged as a part of the festival.

What are the main photographic drives in India (South Asia)?
To save time and space maybe I'll have to generalise a bit and that means that I'm just scratching the surface here. For many years there was a big influence of both Raghu Rai and Raghubir Singh, which is not to negate the importance of the works of people before them, but the two of them had a powerful influence on photographers in India in the last many decades. 

Dayanita Singh opened a new window for subsequent generations with her dogged support of photobooks at a time when it was being talked about the way it is today. To say that her stand to support photo books all these years has been vindicated is a bit of an understatement.
Umrao Shergill: After a Bath (Self-Portrait) 1904
There are people like Pushpamala N, Tejal Shah, Annu Mathew, Nandini Valli who've looked at self portraiture and performance. While this was not something new in photography here - there was also Umrao Shergill who did it about a 100 years ago - in the last couple of decades or so this approach has gained more importance.
Pablo Bartholomew was known mainly for his photo journalistic work during the years he was active as a reportage photographer, but he actually did very beautiful work autobiographical in nature while he was in his 20's. Also his father Richard Bartholomew who was one of the most known art critics was a very good photographer himself
Today the archive has a big presence in photography in this part of the world. TheAlkazi Foundation is famous for its archive that is supposedly larger than that held by the government of India and i think they are also the current caretakers of Homai Vyarwalla's archive. 
Anusha Yadav started the Indian Memory Project some years ago, which was a collaboration with people who sent in old photos and stories from their family albums. 
The Nepal Picture Library next door in Kathmandu is also doing something similar and they also preserve digitized records of large bodies of work by individual Nepalese photographers of an older generation. 
There is also the very beautiful archive with photos from Kashmir, The Country Without a Post Office, named after the poem by Aga Shahid Ali and not too long ago P. Sainath a journalist with some of the most important writings on rural India started the People's Archive of Rural India. In 1997 Satish Sharma, with the help of Anna Fox and Val Williams, published his collection of  studio photography in India and made a book out of it much before looking at archives and collection and studio photography was in vogue. There are also younger photographers like Kapil Das who besides being a good photographer himself with a very unique way of looking at things, also finds and gives shape to really funny and surprising collections of photos.
Documentary and photojournalism have had a strong roots here and since the mid 2000's Bharat Sikka, apart from being a very important figure in the fashion/commercial world has also made some really good work that has pushed the limits of what documentary photography used to be in this region. Besides him there are people like Gauri Gill, Ketaki Sheth, Poulomi Basu, Dileep Prakash, Sumit Dayal, Vidura Jang Bahadur, Ryan Lobo who’ve been around for a bit.

Street Photography is still extremely popular and is perhaps what people take to when they start taking photographs. People like Swapan Parekh and Dhruv Malhotra are two people who've made work that has been quite different from the traditional ways of looking at the street. Two young photographers who have been photographing the street traditionally but very beautifully in my opinion are Saurabh Prasad and Monica Tiwari.

Of late of course the photo book has also gained interest. Raghubir Singh was always known for his books, A Way Into India, being the last one to be published posthumously. Dayanita Singh has been a very strong and vocal of the photo book much before all the hype around this medium came into existence. I had mentioned BIND earlier. 
Mahesh Shantaram and his wife Vidya Rao regularly open their collection to the public every month and they're quite active in getting people to look at photobooks, what's nice is that their events proactively also encourage people who are not photographers to come and look at photo books. Besides that a photo book exhibition is now becoming a regular part of many of the festivals in this region.

picture by Mahesh Shantaram
What are the difficulties Indian photography faces?
I think in the last few years the internet has given many of the photographers a certain independence that had not really existed before, But despite the proliferation of this new found freedom, the photo scene in India remains quite scattered unlike say for example in Bangladesh where a lot of the current photography is specific to the students and alumni of two institutions i.e. Pathshala and Counterfoto. Personally speaking, this is not a problem for me but it does make a difference if someone from outside was to look for work in a specific country/region/space. 

There is also a certain degree of expectation, from outside, of what Indian Photography should be or should not be and I’m sure the same exists across other mediums and other similar non-occidental regions as well.
As in every field and every place, it is a little more difficult for women here too.  There is a huge part of photography that may require one to be out and about quite a lot and given the lack of safety for women it is at times not easy for photographers who happen to be women.  

Add to it competing with male egos, trying to do what you want to do while dealing with other social pressures, dealing with unwanted and unsolicited advances by men, sometimes from within photography itself and finally there existing this underlying current that far from acknowledges any of these obstacles. It’s not the easiest world out there and kudos to the photographers who happen to be women and who’ve pulled through.

Is there an Indian photographic voice? 
Thankfully no. 
Sometimes there may be a particular sensibility that may dominate over others, but there is a coexistence of different voices and opinions in general.

 Who are some of the Indian photographers we should look at?

 picture by Avani Tanya

I often feel that Swapan Parekh and Ketaki Sheth are very overlooked and underrated. There is also Kushal Ray whose work is very nice.

There are nice young scenes bubbling in Calcutta and Chennai. Karthik Subramanian, Ronny Sen, Arko Datto, Soham Gupta are making great work quite passionately. 

In Bangalore there is Avani Tanya who is a very intelligent photographer who started photography with the photo book itself and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in the future.  

picture by Akshay Mahajan (from New Delhi Modern)

In addition I've had a glimpse of the works being done by Vivek Manek, Akshay Bhoan, Gayatri Ganju, Priyanka ChhariaSoumya Sankar Bose, Krishna Tummalapalli, Senthil Kumaran, Jai Singh Nageswaram, Andrea Fernandes and Sushant Chhabria and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do in the coming years. 

Many of the photographers in India don't have websites so you'll need to dig a bit to see their works and I’m sure I’ve missed out on quite a few other names as well.

from Where we Live by Avani Tanya

Delhi Photo Festival - http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/

Angkor photo festival - http://angkor-photo.com/

Ram Rahman - http://www.ramrahman.com/

Karan Vaid
rob hornstra - http://www.borotov.com/

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Jem Southam: Making the World Richer, Grander, and Better

Jem Southam

Jem Southam will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

History is embedded deep within all of Jem Southam's photography, but one of the pictures  that most resonated most with me is the one above, of a dew pond. Indeed, the very idea of what a dew pond is struck me as something rather beautiful.

These are man-made ponds in the middles of fields that fill with water (not the dew that gathers on the grass in the morning, but rainwater) for cows to drink.

Some of them are very old (Oxenmere  in Wiltshire dates back to Saxon times) so there is a sense of something ancient about them. They look old and they feel old.

That's why they featured as the wormhole through which Catweazle travelled from the 12th to the 20th century in the, er, phenomenally popular 1970s TV series of the same name.

Seeing Southam's pictures of dew ponds was for me like hearing a new word. It gave me a realisation of how the banal curves and contours of the land contain a profound history. And because of that suddenly I started becoming a bit more observant, and began looking for those curves and contours and what lies beneath them in the world around me.

And once I started looking for them, the signs of the past became more apparent. The obvious ones are easy to see, but then new ones start creeping in and the land becomes a far less benevolent or pretty place. It seethes with venality and menace.

In his work, Southam focusses on rockfalls, rivers, and ponds, places where the signs of geological, seasonal, and waterborne change are apparent. But this doesn't stand in isolation from human change and as you look at his pictures, this change starts to creep in too. The land begins to live and we become part of it.

It changes the way you see things too. John Davies does the same thing with his more urban pictures. I always love seeing this picture of Mersey Square in Stockport. It always touched me because the warehouse with the chimney coming out behind it used to house a skateboard park. It wasn't a very good one, but it brings back fond memories for me.

I showed this picture to a class one day and instantly one of the students dated it - 1986. He didn't get that from the captions, but from the number plates of the cars going up the A4.  That's how he sees this urban environment, through the cars that drive through it.

And then if I show it my dad, he sees a hat museum. Because Stockport has a long hat-making history and he was involved in that.

Now I live on the edge of Bath, with the Avon Valley stretching before me to the south, Solsbury Hill to the east and Bath to the west.

It's not the most dynamic of places but if I stand outside my house and look out, I can see a landscape that includes the following sites and histories.

Stone Age Settlements
Roman remains
The foundations of medieval farming terraces
The valley Jane Austen used to walk down
Georgian stone mines
Brunel's rubbish heap
The grave of the man who founded New South Wales
The grave of Jack the Ripper, depending on who you believe
An underground train and tunnel network
A second world war explosive dump
a Genesis song
A past road protest site
A murder site
The Australian Rugby Team
The world's second oldest bat
A future road protest site

The simple pastoral landscapes of the Avon Valley are anything but simply pastoral. They live and breathe human intervention, they are man-made, messed with by man, they contain corruption and violence, conquest and spite. These landscapes don't have the  isolation which we sometimes assume to be the case with pastoral landscape photography. They are connected to the past, the future, to faraway lands that we pillaged and conquered, to murder, romanticism, and short-sighted stupidity and greed,

But the problem is how to photograph this history. You don't embed that history into a landscape just by snapping a picture or two. It is more difficult than that. What Jem Southam does looks incredibly easy, but there is something in the process that adds depth and ties the image to the lay of the land, that puts you in the place in a manner where the folds of the land, the geology, the history, the sensation comes through.

I don't know how he does it. I believe Jem Southam's work is beyond something formal, and that there is a sense of mystery in there, that it is to do with his process of walking and being in and part of a place and the way in which that inhabits you in a non-photographic way. I like the idea that his photographic practice somehow mirrors the sensation of being in a place and of a place and connected to a place. And by being connected you connect others and you make the world grander and richer than it otherwise might be.

And that is why Jem Southam's work is important and why he's talking at Beyond the Visual: Music, Word, and Landscape.

Exactly what he'll be talking about is still a mystery however because Southam's talks are always different and always made in response to the when and the where of the occasion which makes things even more exciting. So there's another draw for you .

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

Monday, 28 September 2015

Susan Derges: Water, Life and Photography

 all images by Susan Derges

About a year ago I spoke to Susan Derges for an article for the RPS journal. It was fascinating to hear about experience, opportunity, chance and a singular appetite for experimentation led to a career path in which each project follows on from the other with common themes that are both personal and universal in nature, where water is a driving force both in Derges' life-history and the prints that she makes in very physical ways.

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

This is what she said.

Susan Derges is best-known for her large scale photograms that combine simplicity with a reverence for the element in which they are made. An almost personal involvement with water has been a hallmark of her work, and the lush but minimal way in which she examines its actions on the world around us can be traced back both to her schooldays in rural Hampshire and the time she spent working in Japan in the early 1980s.

“I grew up in Fleet by the Basingstoke Canal and was very interested in what was going on in the waterway in all seasons,” she says. “It was a regular place of reference and it started in early childhood. I was mesmerised by it. You’d get barges go by and you’d get these wave patterns with interference or a duck would land and the droplets would ripple across each other. And in the seasons everything would change; shiny and still in summer, frozen in winter and moody and dripping in Autumn.”

The fascination with water was filtered through an organic minimalism that emerged from Derges’ experience of living in Japan in the early 1980s. “I  went to live in Japan for a period of five years,” she says. “And Japan reflected that fascination as well because water is venerated there; in the temples, in the gardens, even in modern office buildings you’ll go in and there will be a quiet place with a small pond of water where you can sit and contemplate. Japan is completely watery,” says Derges with a laugh.

After returning from Japan, Derges continued researching new ways to portray the physical world. “I was reading a lot about physics and the observer and the observed and was really interested in finding ways to visually articulate that. I was exploring the invisible world and appropriating things from early science.”

This curiosity with how to make the sensory and emotional visible has been a hallmark of her career. She has experimented with process, symbolism and the environment to create one of the most distinctive bodies of work in photography today. It’s a curiosity that has continued to this day. From environmentally based photograms to digitally produced constructed environments, Susan Derges’ work bridges the past and the present.

1. Observer and Observed no 6.

“I had a marvellous book from the 1950s called Soap Bubbles and the Forces that Mould them. It was a beautiful gem of a book and it had an experiment called musical fountains. You charged the fountains with a tuning fork and then lit it with a strobe light so it seemed as though the water wasn’t moving. I set this experiment up in my darkroom with a transducer, a jet of water and a frequency generator for the sound and it was amazing. You had these water droplets hanging in space and they looked so still, as though you could reach out and touch them, but of course if you did that your hand got wet because they weren’t still at all.”

Derges says she “…took lots of boring Harold Egerton like images…” and then her camera jammed. She went in front of the lens to unjam it, the film apparently ruined. “When I developed the film I was about to throw it away, but then I looked more closely and I thought, ah, there’s something going on here. Then I saw the information in the water droplets. They were like little fish eye lenses reflecting multiple images of me. So there was that Man Ray teardrop element and it started having connections with surrealism. It was a fortuitous accident but one that I was looking for.”

2. Full Circle

“When I was making the previous work I was in a flat in Notting Hill Gate using the flat as a studio and doing very science based work. But I moved to Devon in 1991 and suddenly found the landscape of Devon enormously rich. I saw this pond on Dartmoor and the sun was hitting this frogspawn and the shadow from the sun looked just like a photogram. I thought I can do that in the studio. So I did.”

3. River Bovey

“After that I got more interested in what I was looking at rather than how to represent it. I got interested in life cycles, the cycles of frogs and bees, and the processes of what was going on in the landscape.”
“I thought I could go outside at night with big sheets of paper and go into the place and be led by the place and the situation. That was what I experienced with the River Taw and Bovey. I wanted to get as close as possible to a process that is also our process. Our bodies, our mental processes work in a way that is very similar to what happens in a river. There are streams and flows and blockages, so I was dabbling in reading complexity and chaos and considering myself a participant rather than an author.”

4. Shorelines

“I was processing my own prints by the time I made Shoreline. These prints were made on the South Devon Coast around Sidmouth and Dawlish. I’d go there and wait for high tide and then let the waters flow over them. They were 3 ½  feet x 8 feet long and I got quite adept at reading the patterns of the water and the moon and the effect it would have on the paper.”

“There was such an investment in taking these big prints and you could lose so many prints in one night and end up with nothing if the waves went the wrong way. But I started to get headaches and eye strain from spending hours and hours in the dark room . It was physically taxing.”

5. Full Moon

“I had got very tired of being dictated to by a process but I got really interested in the moons, the clouds and the star fields so I started to do a lot of night photography of moons and star fields. Then I used an enlarger head on a rail to make a tracking device and put in the transparency of the moon or stars and projected that onto the Cibachrome in the tank with the leaves and branches laid on top of it.”

6. Canal Bridge

“That’s made with constructed silhouettes. It’s a reference back to growing up. It’s an imaginary place with the branches brought in. It’s a digital print made with a digital camera.”

“In a way it’s about death. There’s this symbol of crossing the river and there’s the symbol of the fading moon but I wasn’t thinking about these things when I made it. I made it just after my mother’s death and I had a strong sense of the transience of life. It refers back to my childhood and the canal I used to play at, but I’ll probably never go to that place again because the person associated with it is gone.”

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape 

at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

Friday, 25 September 2015

Titus Simoens' Boys' Schools

Blue, See Mount Song Los Domadores by Titus Simoens is a much more ordered depiction of childhood than Roberto Tondopó's Cassita de Turron.

And it should be. It is essentially a collection of three essays and shows life in three schools (a naval school in Belgium, the Shaolin Temple Wushu school in China and a boxing school in Cuba - the latter two are documentary staples) and the way in which discipline forms the boys and the quiet moments in which they struggle to create a space within that discipline.

The Belgian section is the most delicate in some ways; one picture shows a very young boy tucked up on a mattress with cuddly toys under his head and at his feet. But there to remind you of where he is are the scuffed boots (they need polishing) of the boy in the bunk above. Here, there is a feeling of the discipline shaping the boys. They brush their teeth (this is a recurrent theme throughout the book), scrub the decks and fall asleep.

In Cuba, pictures of the boys training together are cut with pictures of them in their downtime; daydreaming in the classroom, blank-eyed in the gym, head tilted in thought in the bathroom. These are rather lovely pictures where the mind is wandering into sad places. They're lonely pictures.

The Shaolin pictures are different. Here, Simoens photographs boys with a certain self-consciousness. They are aware of the camera; sometimes they pose defensively, concealing themselves from the lense, sometimes they look at it with curiosity, peering into the lens as if to see what world it is that Simoens comes from, and sometimes they are just exhausted so their eyes are closed and we see them lying passed out on their dormitory bunk beds.

Simoens gave the boys cameras and the back section includes a series of the images they made (the Shaolin boys have the most fun when they're taking their own snaps) and the book is beautifully produced and brings out the sensitivity of with which Simoens photographs his key themes, themes I hope he continues to explore.

Casita De Turron: It's messy and it's weird

Casita de Turrón by Roberto Tondopó  is messy and weird. Good job!

It's one of those real/fictional interplays that tells the story of Andrea and Angel (the photographer's niece and nephew) and what it is to grow up, to be in a family, to live through the chaos of becoming adolescent (the statement mentions the 'uncanny' and the 'oneiric' but let's leave that behind so it doesn't spoil things).

The best way to sum it up is to describe it as a mix between the work of Alessandra Sanguinetti and Timothy Archibald, but not as tidy and with added oddness thrown in; Andrea and Angel wear thick-lensed glasses and are more than happy to perform in whatever situation. Andrea stands above a fan in her party dress, Angel kisses a mirror and holds a cat. The two of them appear together, Andrea sitting on a bed looking mature, typewriter by her side, but with scraped knees and Angel standing behind her. He's got no shirt on and his head's thrown back, his hand over his groin, a latter Michael Jackson. 

“Casita de turrón” is now available for pre-order.Hi everybody, I share a good news, to start the year! After a long process, my first photobook is now a reality, we are very excited about it. So you can be sure to get a copy pre-ordering now. Just click on the image, or follow the link and don´t miss the chance to get one of the first copies available pre-order now, that will be shipped at the first stage of distribution. Best wishes for the beginning of the year!Tondopó.Follow lahydra http://www.lahydra.com/#!preventa-casita-de-turrn/c8tp————————-Para empezar bien el año les comparto una agradable noticia, “Casita de turrón” ya está disponible para pre-venta.Después de un largo proceso, mi primer fotolibro es una realidad, así que puedes asegurarte de obtener una copia pre-ordenando ahora.No te pierdas la oportunidad de conseguir uno de los primeros ejemplares disponibles que serán enviados en la primera etapa de distribución. 

Sigue lahydrahttp://www.lahydra.com/#!preventa-casita-de-turrn/c8tp

It's rough as you like but it has the energy and madness in there that is so often absent from more filtered depictions of childhood. You know there's a dark side to these children, and it  you know that they know it. You also get the feeling that Tondopó is not entirely in control, that the pictures go beyond sanitised dreaminess and have a bit of madness in them. Which is a good thing. Control is the enemy.

The interiors are interesting too; real grubbiness and rough decor with plenty of wildlife to add to the general messiness. If you have indexed shelves and dust-free floors, this might not be the book for you. If you are more human and live in a bit of a mess, then it might be.  The textiles and drapes add to the atmosphere as does the underlying ambivalence of sibling alliance and sibling conflict.  It could be shorter, or sequenced differently, or designed differently, or lots more.

But it isn't and really it doesn't matter  because it's not that well-mannered a book. Or that simple a book. It's a bit of a mishmash in some ways, but there are mishmashes and there are mishmashes, and this is the latter; a mishmash. A good one. It doesn't look like a junior school science book. That's nice for a change.  I like it.

Buy the Book here. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Read This: Key Principles for New Students.


The new academic year has started so here is some guidance for students courtesy of Miriam Elia, whose Dung Beetle Press has  three key learning principles which are here more or less

- Helping students to understand that there is nothing to understand 

- Ensuring students' own opinions match those of the arts elite. 

- Preparing students for a lifetime of crippling uncertainty.

Elia also has a book out: Book 1a: We Go To The Gallery,  which also acts a commentary on contemporary photography. 

Look, Read and Learn. 


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Photo Kathmandu

A moment of their own - women dancing by Larry Daloz

A Young Tharu Man from Ravi Mohan Shrestha Collection

Builders from Boharagaun by David Carlson

If you're in Delhi in the first week of November, there's the Delhi Photo Festival (more of which later). If you're in Kathmandu, there's Photo Kathmandu (3rd - 9th November), an event that needs support in particular because of the devastating earthquake that happened there earlier this year.

If you're in both places in the same week, you could do a subcontinental Photo Festival double-header.

I put a few questions to Nayantara Kakshapti about the festival and photography in Nepal as a whole. This is what she said

How and why did Photo Kathmandu begin?

We have been dreaming of this festival for a few years now. After the earthquakes in April and May, we decided to just go for it. Nepal can use all the positive attention it can get this year. A festival will allow us to invite the global photography community to Nepal, creating possibilities for the local photography community to access global networks, and also promote photography to local audiences.   

What are the main events this year?

We will have about 12 curated print shows featuring Nepali as well as international photographers such as Philip Blenkinsop, Kevin Bubriski, Kishor Sharma and Bikas Rauniar. We have 8 workshops designed not only to build photography skills but also skills for writers, editors and others who work with photography. We have an artist residency for photo and jazz artists that strives to promote collaboration and experimentation. And 6 days of programming that will include artist talks, discussions and slideshows.  

What are the difficulties photography faces in Nepal?

Nepali photographers struggle to get paid decent wages, they dont have editors and publishers who understand and value their work enough, they have limited networks to get their work out into the world. Also, it is a challenge to free 'the Nepal story' from either the poor 'third world' country story or the exotic beautiful tourist destination story. We don't have a photography school in Nepal so young photographers who want to learn how to be better at what they do, have to rely on workshops or look at expensive programs beyond Nepal.        

Is photography being used in any way to help overcome the earthquake devastation?

Along with good friends Sumit Dayal and Tara Bedi, we were involved in setting up #nepalphotoproject on Instagram and Facebook since the day after the first earthquake on 25 April. The project aimed to crowd source photographs and information from the ground and inform people about rescue, relief and rebuilding work. 

This is an on-going project that will aim to document Nepal's long term recovery. As mainstream media has moved on, this project looks at keeping the post-earthquake Nepal story alive and accessible. Also, we are selling archival prints from Nepal Picture Library- a digital archive we set up in 2011- to raise money for rebuilding heritage sites in the old city of Patan where the festival will be hosted. This has been a way to sort of lean on our past, to help rebuild for the future. More info at www.support.photoktm.com      

Who are some of the Nepali photographers we should look at?

Kishor Sharma, Prasiit Sthapit, Surendra Lawoti, Shikhar Bhattarai, Sailendra Kharel, Rohan Thapa.

Support the rebuilding of heritage sites in Patan by buying an exquisite limited edition print! support.photoktm.com 


Or are you a stranger without even a name: Postcards from Donetsk

( I wrote this post about Anastasia Taylor-Lind's Postcards from Donetsk last week, but then, as we began promoting Music, Word, and Landscape on November 7th, I realised that actually, very obviously, this is all about landscape, about the pastoral, about war, about where we live and how we want people to see it. It's about our expectations and how we use photography to fulfil those expectations through generic representations of place, both in postcards and beyond.

It's also about music and song, which is what yesterday's post was about.

And that of course is the subject of the Word, Music, Landscape: Beyond the Visual. For which, you can, as always, Buy Your Tickets Here )

In July, Anastasia Taylor-Lind put a call out on Facebook asking if anybody a postcard from Donetsk. I, along with 921 others, said yes.

A few weeks later, the card arrived. It was a simple postcard of a rose-filled Donetsk (it's the City of Roses) at dusk. On the back there's some writing; Mikhail Meshkov was killed in Debaltsevo on Saturday 31st of January 2015.

Very simple. Very sad. Instantly the question came up. Who was this man, where did he die, how did he die? What was his story? I googled it. Debaltsevo was the site of a major battle/siege and Meshkov was possibly a separatist or possibly not, One search led me to a Meshkov who had insulted Putin on the internet, another one led m to a Meshkov with SPQR and a separatist flag on his Instagram feed.

That was kind of striking and I wondered if that was not the way the project was supposed to work. But then at the same time, it is exactly the way the project is supposed to work.

It struck me how simple and effective Postcards from Donetsk was, so I decided to have a short chat with her about it. This is part of what she said.

"I got the idea from a song called No Man's Land by June Tabor. I heard it on the radio as part of a programme to commemorate the music from the first world war. In the song, June Tabor describes coming across a gravestone for a soldier called Willie McBride. She imagines what his life was like and if he left behind people who loved him. Or if he didn't. Was he remembered or was he forgotten?

I bought the album and played it over and over, until I knew all the words.

(This is one of the verses.)

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined
Although you died back there in nineteen-sixteen
In that faithful heart are you ever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Enclosed and forgotten behind the glass frame
In a old photograph, torn and battered and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.

It's a song about war, about loss, but also about photography and naming people. This song named Willie McBride. And I thought that was important.

When I went to Ukraine I thought naming people was important. Photojournalism doesn't often do that, especially in a personal manner.

Instead there's a cast of characters in most photojournalistic depictions of war; the refugee, the grieving mother, the wounded soldier, those fleeing, those left behind in the ruins.

War happens to people who live in a war zone. It happens in places where war happens. It doesn't happen in Boston where I'm living or Bath where you live. We don't believe it's possible.

But it is possible. It can happen. And the greatest story you can tell is one where at the end, people say, 'that could happen to me.'

Before this I was making pictures of war as I knew how to make them. I photographed bombed-out apartment buildings and wounded soldiers. I was making pictures that looked like war pictures.

But then I saw these postcards of Donetsk which was in the middle of a war zone and I thought this could be where I'm from in Devon in England. If it could happen in Donetsk, it could happen anywhere.

Wherever I go my mum follows the news. She's concerned and needs to know what's happening where I am. With these cards, I wanted to make sure that people would care as much about the news from Ukraine as my mum did. I wanted to make it personal.

So I put a picture of the card up on Instagram, then I year later went back and got more cards.  But the question was who to send them to.

 I put a call out on Facebook and social media asking if people wanted a card. I didn't know if it would be a complete failure or what would happen. But in the end I got 900 names to send cards to.

I spent 10 days with my assistant researching people who had died in the war and writing the postcards to people. I wrote the names of those who had died and the place and date they had died and that's all. It was about giving a name. I still didn't know what would happen when people got the cards.

This was where social media kicked in. I have 70,000 followers on Instagram, but I had  never realised the power of social media. This was the first time I saw how it can be used to reach outside the photographic community. That's so important to me about the project.

So after I sent the cards out, people started posting pictures on Instagram, they started sending me stories of what they did when they got the cards; they lit candles, they prayed, they gave toasts, they made shrines around the card, they went to the top of hills and remembered the name on the card, and commemorated the anniversary of their death. There were people telling the story of the card to friends, to family, to their children over dinner. People were googling the names and researching the places named on the cards.

It was quite incredible. In all my years of photojournalism, nobody has ever written to me saying they had prayed for the person in the picture. Yet here it was happening repeatedly. Something different was happening.

I thought the story-telling would be when I wrote the card to the person I was sending it to. But it wasn't. The story telling happens when the person who receives the card starts telling the story to others; to their family, to their friends, the people they meet.

I don't know how this is going to end. I funded the first part with loans from 3 other photographers but now I'm going to continue. Robin Hammond has got me 2,000 more cards from Donetsk and I'm going to go back in January and send out another thousand. It seems wrong to stop it now when almost 7,000 people have died in the war. Though in reality, the total is probably much higher. There's no official list and because it's an artillery war, lots of people are missing in action; they don't have dog tags or ID, or their remains are never found.

For me it's a new way of working but it's one I'm very excited about. The difference between this and photojournalism is that if I'd photographed death for 10 days, I'd have felt fear, anxiety and terror. I'd feel the emotions of a war zone. With Postcards from Donetsk, after 10 days of writing the effect was one of sadness. I felt very sad. It's a big difference.

To receive a postcard, email your address to: anastasiataylorlind@gmail.com

To contribute to the campaign, donate here

To see more pictures, go here

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Glaciers, Shipping Forecasts and Songs

Music, Word and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 

Buy Tickets here

Back in June I posted on the work of Esther Vonplon's  Gletscherfahrt work. It's a project about the meliting glaciers in Switzerland, and the sheets that are used to cover them, to slow the melting. It's a project for our times. 

I saw the work on her laptop at Vienna Photobook Festival and was touched to the core by the mix of images where soot and ash and carbon fallout mixed with snow, ice and sheets that, by the end of the melting, looked like something from Tracey Emin's bed. 

It didn't look like a glacier, it didn't look like Switzerland. So the pictures were great, something I hadn't seen before, but then came the soundtrack; the sound of cracking ice, of drips turning to dribbles and flows, all mixed in with a quite beautiful score. And that ripped right through me. I don't know how or why the images, the music and the ambient sounds resonated so much, so I asked Esther if she could come to Bristol in November, and she said yes. 

Later in the summer, I was listening to the radio and heard a programme on the Shipping Forecast. The Shipping Forecast is the weather forecast for the shipping zones around Britain and Ireland. You hear it on the radio, telling the ships about the gale force winds and rain in places with magical sounding names like Bailey, German Bight, South Utsire; places I've never been to but which are instantly recognisable to me, with a mystery provided merely by their name. 

Knapp also sang a song, the lyrics of which are basically the names of the shipping areas with a bit of weather thrown in, but she gives them a landborn magic which is added to in the documentary which looks at the Shipping Forecast '...from the perspective of artists, poets, musicians and all the rest of us who aren't sailors but love it nonetheless.'

So I was thinking about Knapp and the Shipping Forecast and of course Mark Power and his great book, The Shipping Forecast came to mind.

For this project, Power went and photographed in each of the shipping areas. He made a book (which sold in the tens of thousands) and then he made an audio-visual, mixing the pictures with the forecast itself. So this is yesterday's forecast for Forth, and this is what is read out on the radio (almost verbatim), in the most lyrical of voices.

Wind -- Cyclonic 4 or 5, becoming northwesterly 5 to 7.
Sea state -- Slight, becoming moderate, occasionally rough later.
Weather -- Rain.
Visibility -- Moderate or poor, occasionally very poor.

It's different to Knapp's, slower and sadder in some ways. At the start, there's more of the sense of being at sea, but keep going and it becomes a homage to the radio and hearing this strange forecast in the comfort of one's own home. The perspective shifts as you listen. I'm not quite sure what the difference is between Knapp's and Power's Shipping Forecast, but there is a huge one. And it got me wondering what Power and Knapp would look like together, how they would sound together, how the pictures would change if accompanied by Knapp's beautiful, haunting voice.

Then a week ago, I saw him speak at the Gazebook Festival in Sicily. He talked about the work and showed the slideshow against a wall, under a lighthouse in the town of Punta Secca. It was quite magnificent and added another element to how person, place, image and sound can come together so perfectly, how easily one glides into the other and takes us in all kinds of unexpected directions.

At the end of his talk, Power showed his Berlin work (now published in book form as Die Mauer ist Weg - er, sold out). Which was great. He said it wasn't important work, or ground-breaking work, but I don't know. I think it is, especially when he showed the audio-visual, the pictures accompanied by the Lambada - and a more perfect fit I don't really know.

So sound, picture, person, place. How does it all tie together? I haven't got a clue, but in November, I'm hoping to find out a little when Ester Vonplon talks about her Gleischfahrt and other work!

Get your tickets here (this will be a bit of a theme in coming weeks).

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Everyday Landscape: Which we See, Hear, Feel and Taste

From The Cave Mouth and The Giant Voice by Rupert Cox and Angus Carlyle (from a project on WW11 Hiding Places in Okinawa)

Music, Words and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 tbc  
Buy Tickets here

I am sitting in my allotment in Bath. There is a gap in the trees through which I get a perfect view of Solsbury Hill. All around the birds are singing, robins, blackbirds and green finches today. The sweet smell of rotting grass cuttings mixes with that of the dirt on my fingers and the scent of old mint I've just ripped out of the ground.

I pick a raspberry and its tang combines with the taste traces of soil and late summer cosmos pollen that lines my mouth. It's a pleasant cocktail. 

To the east, I see the A46, to the south the TV tower on Claverton Down rising above the River Avon and Brunel's Great Western Railway. 

It's a perfect spot from which to take in the view, but it's more than a view; it's a total sensory experience of a landscape that at first sight seems merely pastoral. But it goes beyond that. Mixed in with the visual beauty, there are sights, sounds, histories, emotions, textures, and tastes. Sit there long enough and still enough and it will envelop me. It's not an outside thing,

Here landscape is melded with body and soul, with collective history. It's not something cold and distant, it's something we are part of; not in a mystical, sublime way, but in a very basic human way where we live and breathe, without being aware of it, the world around us. It's everyday landscape.

This totality of landscape, and the way it is represented in contemporary photography, is the broad focus of a day of talks organised by Max Houghton and I for Saturday November 7th at the Southbank in Bristol. The day is the first in a series of exhibitions and publications that we are planning based around the idea of representation of the living landscape; that it is not just how we see the world around us, but how we sense it on every level. 

Why does it matter? Forty years ago, the New Topographics moved landscape on from the pastoral. Landscapes became something built on and inhabited and very grey. This is the next step forward; landscapes are built on, inhabited and experienced. We see them, we feel them, we hear them, and for the last 50 years at least (think Richard Long here for example) people have been making art that represents this. 

Aren't we above all this sense and emotion nonsense? I wonder about this as I sit looking over Solsbury Hill, taking in the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the touch. How would it be if it were different, if the birds stopped singing, the trees stopped rustling? What if  total silence reigned?

A couple of years back, there was a feature on journalist who went in search of the most silent place in the world. He found in Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota. This is what he said: 

'I became aware of the sound of my breathing, so I held my breath. The dull thump of my heartbeat became apparent – nothing I could do about that. As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn't explain. Was I hallucinating? The feeling of peace was spoiled by a tinge of disappointment – this place wasn't quiet at all. You'd have to be dead for absolute silence.'

He ended up enjoying the silence, but he was the exception. Most lasted barely ten minutes. Silence is unnerving, and unnatural.

Sound and landscape, what happens when there is silence, what happens when sound intrudes, are at the heart of the work of Angus Carlyle. He will talk about sound and landscape, and how the one affects our experience of the other, how sound cuts through time, how sound creates pressure, how sound ties to emotion, memory and landscape. 

To get an idea of what he does, seee a clip from his Air Pressure here, a project which records the sound experiences of  '...the last farming family living within the concrete and steel infrastructure of Japan's largest airport, where noise - of taxiing and of take-offs and landings - exerts a constant pressure from before dawn until well after dusk.'

Music, Words and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 tbc

Buy Tickets here

It's a  day of talks and screenings looking at how landscape, words, music and sound connect us to ourselves and the places we photograph. Speakers include Beth and Thom Atkinson, Angus Carlyle, Susan Derges, Paul Gaffney, Max Houghton, Jem Southam, and Ester Vonplon.