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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...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Best Russian Self-Published Photobook Stable of the Year (and Best Photobook Video)

image of Lookbook

I never quite know what to make of the books that come out of the Russian Independent Self-Published Photobooks Stable but they always have a  bit of a different feel, I always enjoy them, I always end up smiling, and I always look at them again to see what the hell is going on and wondering how I can elevate myself to the higher plane of existence that the inhabitants of RISP inhabit.

image of Alla Mirokskaya's book

That's true of three of the titles that I saw this year. Anastasia Bogomolova's Lookbook Alla Mirovskaya's Old Family Photographs and Deep Space Objects and Julia Borissova's Dimitry, and Olga Bushkova's Google Wife.

And sorry if I've missed a few out because there are more I know.

Fabulous Stuff.

image from Dimitry

Buy their books by following the links above or here. And Olga Bushkova's Google Wife also came with my favourite photobook video of the year in How I tried to Convince my Husband to have Children. The title's misleading because she didn't (not in the video) or did she?

And did she really pin pictures of babies up around the wall to convince him? Is she really as obsessive as that. And is her husband as much of a jerk as he's made out to be?

Is it true or is it all just a fictional lie? And if it is who cares.

You'll have to watch the video to find out.

Here it is:

Olga Bushkova "How I tried to convince my husband to have children..." ver. 1 from Misha Bushkov on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Best Book that's an Exhibition that's a book that's an exhibition....

Next up in the best book, pre-list categories is the best book that's an exhibition, or is it a book.

The first one is Eamonn Doyle's mad book, End. It's the last in his trilogy of Dublin street books and it's a kind of sketchbook for the show that wowed Arles this year and was made in collaboration with graphic designer Niall Sweeney and composer/sound artist David Donohoe.

It's something else, and like all of his work (except the backs - I love the backs) I can't decide how much substance it really has, but it's certainly an eye-catcher with it's mass of pull-outs, use of different materials and integration of graphics and cellophane into the mix.

But at Arles, Doyle went beyond eye-catching and proved he knows how to show the work, he knows how to use sound and music and walls and scale to bring the work up to a different level, how to affect people with his mixing of sound and space and image. And by doing that he gives it a whole bunch of substance. And because END was made in conjunction with the show, indeed was a kind of sketchbook of the show, that adds substance to the book. The one feeds forward and the other feedback and you're in a kind of feedback loop. Which is exactly what happens at the show (not that I was there mind).

A lot of Doyle's creativity comes directly from his career in music, a world where Doyle used to organise club nights where creative mixing were "what you do on a club night so we thought we'd give it a go in Arles" (I'm quoting from memory there). So in a very direct way, the show that made such an impression on Arles came from an intermingling of the bodily fluids of the worlds of music and photography. Above all else, it showed what a great curator Eamonn Doyle is.I'd love to see what he'd do with Robert Frank or Gary Winogrand - or both actually. So long may that intermingling continue, and long may there be more such interminglings. It makes us all culturally richer and stronger!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Best Books 2016: Best Cheap Book

The Best Photobook Lists for 2016 are coming in thick and fast (this is my favourite one to date). With the surge in self-publishing, small editions and expensive artist's books, they are more fragmented than ever - which is a good thing, why not.

I'll be posting mine up on the blog before Christmas, but before then, I've got some extra categories.

First up is the Best Cheap Book/Best Book for Christmas. It's Useful Advice for Photographers, it costs 12 of your euros, it's by Ivars Gravlejs and it's a great gift of anyone looking to learn photography.

(and the original title, Useful Advices for Photographers is much better. It's more fitting).

This is from the intro to the book.

A lot of people think that for a good picture it is enough to buy an expensive camera and then success will be guaranteed.
But ­without careful studying and many years of practice a good picture is ­possible to make only by accident.
Once you decide to photograph, think carefully about what you want to ­picture, do not forget about the composition and lighting, do not get upset, relax and concentrate on the subject.

How do you photograph a sausage for example? Do you know? Well, Gravlejs will tell you through a series of pairs of images - one right and one wrong.

And once you've mastered the basics, you can flip the rights and wrongs about and move onto your mastery of more conceptual photography. Or, if you've been making some of these mistakes already (in the archive, with your infra-red film, with your layering, with your vernacular) and don't quite realise it, then Gravlejs is letting you know where you've been going wrong.

Or you can play a game and match all those artists who are definitely getting it wrong to one or more of the 80 categories that Gravlejs has come up with.

The book comes in a handy plastic pouch with a lanyard so you can hang it round your neck. A great gift for everybody who likes photography, or doesn't like it even.

Buy the book here. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

75 Psychics and they're all Wrong!

Out of the Blue by Virginie Rebetez is the latest book that focusses on a crime scene (the massively influential Red Headed Peckerwood, Watabe Yutichi's visually brilliant A Criminal Investigation and Jack Latham's excellent Sugar Paper Theories are three more. There are some really bad ones as well).

The book tells the story of Suzanne Lyall, who disappeared (Out of the Blue) in New York in 1998. It consists of a series of images from police and personal archives, mixed in with contemporary portraits of the area. There are personal recollections, psychic reports and police sketches to add to the mix (and you can read an interview from the artist's perspective here).

Out of the Blue opens with helicopter surveillance images of the highway where the initial police search began. It sets the scene of a narrative that never quites settles, in keeping perhaps with the lack of ease which we feel with the still-disappeared nature of Suzanne Lyall.

That lack of ease is compounded by the writing we see on the back of a photograph of Suzanne. 'Well, this is me! What do you think ugly or what?' it begins. We don't get to see the front of the photograph. We never get to see the front of the photograph, or any other image of Suzanne, not in full. She is partial, she's been partial ever since she went missing on March 2nd 1998.

The present kicks in after that through pictures of Upstate New York and then snippets from the Lyall family album. Here we see the empty frames of a set of passport pictures, the face of Suzanne snipped out, we see a page from a family album, the face of what we think to be Suzanne half covered by a scrap of paper (provided by the photographer I'm sure. So it's an interventionist obscuring).

There's her bedroom, her belongings (shrink-wrapped), a corsage made for her sister's Sandy's wedding (post-missing I am guessing) and more images where Suzanne appears, not quite fully there in some way.

A photocopy of her hand adds to the spectral half-presence, which is really a full presence but one reflected through the hard anchorage of the present day portraits of her mother, her house, the handmade t-shirts that have been framed in a memory that is as much in the present as it is in the past.

There's a clue about one of the hearts of the story, the psychic element as a fragment of a report in full capitalled Courier tells of an elderly female's dream about the 'missing'.

More landscapes appear, more sketches of psychic dreaming, more pictures of Suzanne's parents, Mary and Doug. But now the landscapes are less benign. The waters have a malign potential behind them, the pick up trucks and the diners exude a certain menace. And all the while there's a tension between these pieces of the past and the calm exteriors of Mary and Doug and their attempts to preserve their daughter's life through the collected ephemera of what was her everyday life.

And then we're into the 'Correspondence, since 1998' section. This consists of

'Reprints from the Lyall's family archive. Over the years the family was contacted by over 75 psychics. The 48 pink pages are a selection of documents from the correspondence between psychics, the Lyall family and Police investigators. These documents include fax, letters, emails, maps, drawings and reports.'

It's heartbreaking to read these psychic, spiritual and astrological meditations on Suzanne's fate, the brutal descriptiveness of them adding the idea that they are rooted in a very physical reality, a reality that involves violence, rape, strangling, murder. They read like they are real, they are written in such a way as to be believed. And yet they are all completely and utterly fabricated. It's a cruel trick to play on parents clinging to hope - a cruel trick that was played by over 75 people, all of whom (if they gave their report) had completely different endings. And each of those endings would have been played and replayed in the minds of Mary and Doug Lyall, with every variation

That might not be what was intended I don't know. But that's what happens with the reader far above and beyond the mysteries of siting and place and abstract ideas of multiple narratives. The reality of reading the book is the grounding of those multiple realities in the fate of Suzanne and her family.

There's a poster of  a retouched photograph of Suzanne enclosed in the book so we get to see who she is, sort of (it's one of 3 images that Rebetez commissioned a forensic artist to make that shows how old Suzanne would look at different ages). Everything is sort of. The whole tone of the book is wrapped in this miasma of a half-person who is neither here nor there, neither dead nor alive, who is kept alive through her parents' anguish and the slim chance that she is alive (which would probably lead to even more anguish), all topped off with this parasitic community of cruel psychics who feed off people's grief. And they are cruel.

The mix of materials, the partial picture, the unresolved grief, the parental view are all reminiscent of Laia Abril's brilliant The Epilogue. And like The Epilogue, Out of the Blue is not the easiest book to get into. Its text heavy, the images are fragmented, the story is not clean and simple, and in some ways the design reflects that. At the same time, it is entirely accessible and the fragmentation serves a purpose; it's not clinical, it's not cold. It's moving, a truly sad book that lays its tragedy down on the page, there for the reader to pick up. It's a really good book I think. Really good.

Buy Out of the Blue here. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Empathy in Photography

I'm looking forward to giving a talk on my work together with Olivia Arthur of Magnum Photos and Jess Crombie of Save the Children in London on December 8th.

The talk will focus on the idea of empathy (it's running in connection with a retrospective of David Chim Seymour's most beautiful, sad and joyful work on children in post-war Europe at the Magnum Print Room in London. It really is tragic work and fitting that Chim was the first photographer for the nascent Unicer). I'll be talking about my work and then be in conversation with Olivia Arthur (who made the wonderful Stranger ) and Jess Crombie of Save the Children.

There is a lot of talk at present of what photography is for, who it's for and how can it expand it's community.

Empathy is at the heart of that dialogue but I can't help but feeling that in photography it needs to extend beyond the idea of empathy that we have; the empathy we have with the subject.

We also need an empathetic audience, and to reach that audience and make them empathetic, we need empathetic forms of communication. Instead of expecting audiences to lap up our documentary ideas,  or our lame concepts using the detached language of theory, we need to engage them and reach out.

Story-telling is a kind of empathy, simultaneously the purest and least pure form. How can you change the world if they stories that you tell are uninteresting and indeed painful to listen to, if the voice they are told in is painful to listen to. Or, as is often the case in photography or anything really, boring to listen to as well as to look at. That's the killer mix.

So I wonder if empathy in photography can't learn something from film, from fiction, from illustration, from advertising even. Advertising has no ethics, no morals, no values beneath what momentarily fits. But it does a job and it does it really well. It sells us stuff. It sells us ideas, most of which are really bad.

But then there is fiction and film and theatre and dance. There's music, the plastic arts, there's light and sound and there's pleasure. Pleasure's important. And emotion. Pleasure and emotion should be at the heart of most photography and using all those other elements mentioned above to hook us into that combine of pleasure, emotion (even the most tragic of emotions) and photography is something I really appreciate.

Maybe we need to be a bit more selective in what we say and how we say it, what we show and how we show it, and if we need to recognise that pleasure and entertainment has a part to play in our communication of images and the ideas behind them then so be it. Otherwise we're left with a world where everybody talks like they're in a meeting and that doesn't really do it for me on any level. Or for too many other people - except for those who like meetings.

If we can do that, then maybe we can communicate some ideas that are better than the ones that people are buying into right now and see how empathy can attach to advocacy and action. Because that's what we need right now; empathy, advocacy and action.Anyway, there's not too much advocacy or action in the pictures I make so what do I know?

Nevertheless in London, I'll be talking about the elements of empathy in my own work. With my Sofa Portraits, I'll talk about generational and spatial empathy, of remembering what it was to be a certain age in a certain space.

With All Quiet on the Home Front, I'll talk about what it means to be a father, when you don't want to be a father. How do you create empathy in a role that you have no empathy for. How do you create your own empathy if you like.

Here are the details of the talk. I'll love to see you there!

Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Centre
8 December 2016

What compels photographers to record historic events? Why do they choose to engage in dangerous, difficult work? How do they stay emotionally involved, and what is their legacy today? 

Join Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur, Director of Creative Content at Save the Children Jess Crombie, and writer and photographer Colin Pantall, as they reflect on the role of photography in relation to empathy. In association with an exhibition of David Seymour's work in the Magnum Print Room, speakers will explore the emotions at the heart of documentary photography.

Magnum co-founder David Seymour (1911-1956) was known for his empathetic relationship to photography, which led him to engage deeply with the consequences of WW2 in Europe. In particular he became well-known for his work with the war orphans he photographed for UNICEF. He said of his work:

“We are only trying to tell a story. Let the 17th-century painters worry about the effects. We've got to tell it now, let the news in, show the hungry face, the broken land, anything so that those who are comfortable may be moved a little.”

This event is part of the Magnum Photos Now talks programme at the Barbican Centre. Tickets can be purchased from the Barbican Centre here.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Stopping the Liberal Elites Giving Our Country Away

 I was showing my Documentary Photography students spreads from old Jackies last week (and what was brilliant was the mum of one of the students used to star in the Jackie photostories - not these ones though)  and wondering why there wasn't more of that kind of stuff around.

Well there is.  Well, this is the best thing in photography right now. It comes via Jason Spacey (@Jason_Spacey)  but I do not know who the photographer is.

Sheer brilliance though.

See also the Arsehole Premier League. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

the house of the seven women by Tito Mouraz

 all pictures copyright Tito Mouraz

The House of the Seven Women by Tito Mouraz is a lovely book. It's a visual story of the region around Mouraz's place of birth in Portugal told through The House of the Seven Women; seven unmarried sisters with strange mystical powers.

'On full moon nights, the women would fly in their white garments from balcony to the leafy branches of the chestnut tree across the street. From there they would seduce men who would pass by.'

The story starts with a wood shown in the daytime. It's a tranquil wood, with pine trees rising above a fern-covered floor.

Then we see a house; ramshackle, windowless, deserted. A picture of a tree comes next; isolated, sinuous and bare. There's grass; dessicated, flattened and white. We already have a picture of the world the seven women live in, the world they have created.

Interspersed throughout the book are portraits of locals, especially men. The region has been left behind, deserted both by the population and by time. There is a feeling these portraits are showing lost souls; to the seven women of the house, seven women who find a parallel in the savage economics of a rapacious world.

Destruction comes in the form of fire and from the fire comes smoke. This world is burning, there is destruction in the air. Then the nightime comes. There are ladders that reach into the sky, trees that take the form of rearing goats and stone circled firepits that speak of worlds beyond our ken.

This is an empty land with burnt out cars and unpicked fruit. The fertility that exists shrivels on the vine, the life that there is struggles to survive because there is simply nowhere else to go. It struggles and then it dies.

You can fight against the never-ending maelstrom of this 'progress'; a badly stuffed dog on a pedestal in front of your house might ward off the malevolence for a while, but in actuality only death awaits and your house will end up as empty as the rest, and the land left only for those beautiful but fleeting spirits of the night.

So there you have it, it's the House of the Seven Women, but really the seduction comes from the cheapness with which we value the world, the land, the lifestyle that came before. We don't and so it dies quite easily.

The House of the Seven Women reminds me of another favourite, The Spook Light Chronicles (which I wrote about here and here). But while The Spook Light Chronicles tells its story through the people of the Ozarks, Mouraz (through his editing) tells his story in more stark economic terms, creating a very strong and transparent narrative through evocative images.

Buy The House of the Seven Women here. 

"I still don't understand why it didn't just end here"

I saw a Twitter post with the picture of Trump mocking a reporter with cerebral palsy. "I still don't understand why it didn't just end here" it read.

And neither do I. I wonder why people think Trump will somehow be different. I wonder what all the people who voted for Trump would think if they saw the kind of behaviour featured above if Trump were

a) a priest
b) a teacher
c) a police person
d) a doctor
e) a shop worker
f) a child
g) a friend
h) a social worker
i) a boss
j) etc

Would they accept it?

And yet in the man who is going to be president of the USA, it is acceptable.

Hang your head in shame.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

You have to be a twat to think Donald Trump will be anything other than a complete disaster

Since the events of last week (Donald Trump getting elected) there has been much hand-wringing and anguish and for good reason. The American electorate have somehow chosen the most obnoxious person you can imagine, real or fictional, to be their president. There are no saving graces to his personality, there are no saving graces to the deeds he has done, there are no saving graces to the dangerous hatred he has so gladly spawned over his campaign.

He doesn't look good for anybody, not in the USA, not around the world.

I know there are those who say Clinton was not a model candidate, that she (like every other president before her, like many of the leaders around the world) has her hands dipped in blood, that she used to be this, she used to be that, that she supports Israel, that she is establishment through and through. I know that  Pilger says this.

Which is all true perhaps. But to conflate that with the idea that somehow Donald Trump didn't mean what he said (why not apply the same rule to Clinton), that deep down he sympathises for the working people of America, that he won't be a demagogue war-monger who will put previous leaders to shame and will make the ghosts of those who have been killed by US bombs look wistfully back at the days of George, George W. and LBJ (oh and Obama), that he won't roll back the years to those of state-sanctioned racism, misogyny and homophobia and poor-hating, that he won't take the easiest route at every possible occasion to satisfy the religious lunatic misanthropic claque that brought him to power, that he won't allow corporate interests to destroy the US and the world environment at every possible opportunity, that he's not in fact the most establishment president that ever existed, that he won't rip the few remaining guts of what can be good about an establishment out through the quivering arsehole of what's left of the USA...

You think he'll be in any way not a disaster? For everybody. You must be fucking kidding me. Either you're in complete denial, you're crazed by bad-Jesus visions, you're a misogynist loon, or you've been taking too many drugs.

I might be wrong. And if I am, I'll throw my hands up in shame and say. I was wrong. I'll recognise that The Trump Living Wage and Healthcare Act of 2018 brought equality of opportunity and made a rainbow shine for all people in the USA, that the Middle-East Accord of 2019 (co-signed by Putin as well as regional figures) made the leaders of the region forget their differences through the multi-continent Peace and Reconciliation council and put the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and many other places firmly in their place, leading to a new sense of mutual respect and acceptance of people of all colours, creeds, religions, genders and sexualities, or that the Clean Land Act of 2019 created a new respect for the environment in which jobs and economic benefits went hand in hand with clean air, open spaces and the preservation of all species of flora and fauna in a manner that was a wonder to behold.

But I don't think I will be wrong. And I don't expect anyone to recognise they were wrong whatever Trump does. It's not really the way misogyny works.

Monday, 14 November 2016

'What will most help my community right now?'

picture by Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos

That's Judy Richardson in the Guardian's That's me in the picture series. She's the one looking out from the middle of the frame, This is what she says about the picture.

'We staged regular sit-ins, like this one photographed by the great Danny Lyon, in all-white restaurants like this Toddle House. They followed a similar pattern: the staff got angry and refused to serve you; the police arrived and asked you to leave; we refused, and went limp as we were taken to the county jail. I would be detained for five or six days, but I had it easy: I was never beaten.

We made $9.64 a week, and were fed and housed by local families or in dorms paid for by the office. We’d often have parties to let off steam.

Today, young black men are still arrested for no reason, but thanks to social media people can film arrests and hold the police to account. I understand people’s anger, and that throwing a brick will make you feel better. But my advice to black teenagers is to do something constructive: get involved in local organising; go into schools and give tutorials. Think: “What will most help my community right now?”'

Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembering the Dead on Armistice Day

The only consolation of this week was going to a school open evening and seeing all the history/politics teachers wearing white poppies. This is from the Peace Union website.

'Remember all the victims of war

White Poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today, over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians.

In wearing White Poppies, we remember all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war.'


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Three Books on Planes, Trees and Suicide

Here are three nice books from the Eriskay Connection. Enjoy the English while it lasts because next year the reviews go through the filter of a foreign language. The impetus for this was a couple of years ago I was at Paris Photo with a bunch of people who were from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and then there was me. Everybody else had the workings of at least two languages (English and their own) and more often than not, three or four or five. But not me. Which is often the way with English speakers. It was a bit shameful. It will be even more shameful when I start writing five-line reviews in mangled German, Spanish, French, Italian, Indonesian. But maybe I'll learn something even if nobody else will. Anyway here goes...

Aeronautics in the Backyard by Xiaoxiao Lu is a straightforward documentary of people in China who make model planes. And what planes they are; they are real flying planes, helicopters,auto-gyro hopping, propellered contraptions that fly, crash and fail to take off in various combinations.

The book comes complete with illustrations (very Da Vinci illustrations) of plans, footage from film of the flights - and the crashes, and details of the cost, height reached, and years spent making the planes.

There are pictures from back in the day when Mao caps and blue jackets were the order of dress, reaching forward to designers who have turned their hobby into a corporate kit-making reality. It's a really nice project and a different look into the resilience and energy of the Chinese aeronautical obsessive.

Nonni's Paradiso by Martina Marangoni tells the story of the farm where Nonni (  moved in 1950. To Nonni, it was paradise and she lived there the rest of her life. She photographed the farm on an old Rollei and it these yellowed images that are mixed with Marangoni's pictures of the fields, the trees, the undergrowth and the very earth on which the olive trees grow.

The book tells the story of the olive trees, of the farm on which he was born (in 1950, as part of a family of 'nine sharecroppers who worked from dawn to dusk to grow just about everything they need feed themselves and their animals'), of the struggle for life in a place that was both harsh and beautiful.

But it also tells the story of how the land has changed, what it has become. In that sense it's reminescent of Andy Sewell's Something Like a Nest; this was a book that looked at the reality of the British farming landscape that lies beneath the pastoral chocolate box image. In the same way, Marangoni looks at what the Tuscan landscape has become, what his family's farm, and the way of thinking and living that underpinned it, has become; a world-weary, shabby and neglected landscape with not thought for the environment, history or wellness of being.

(un)expected by Peter Dekens. Dekens made Touch a few years ago. This was a really well-thought out accordion book that showed a partially sighted man navigating his way around his house. It was sequence by space, by colour, by touch and was quite something.

(un)expected is a story of suicide. It consists of black and white pictures fromt the streets of Western Flanders, a Belgian province with an exceptionally high suicide rate. Mixed in with these landscapes are small booklets that tell the story of people who have had a loved one who has committed suicide. So we hear of Ime and Hanna. Ime hung himself from a tree in 2013. Ime was left behind and it is her we see in Dekens' photographs, struggling to come to terms with her loss and the nature of it. We see her in the woods, by trees. For several months after Ime's suicide, she would visit the tree where he hung himself. The reason; to feel close to him.

Then there's mother and father, Dekens' mother and father. His mother killed herself in 2008, after his father told her he was going to commit suicide. She believed him and, unable to face a future without him, she 'hanged herself at home.'

The story tells of how his father coped with this; badly at first but soon he fell in love again 'on a bus trip to Paris.'

There's Jose and Steven, her adopted son. Steven had psychotic episodes and was struggling when he threw himself under a train. Grief followed for Jose, but only after initial relief at Steven's death and the release from the pain he was experiencing.

For Kris, the grief is overwhelming. Her child, Ward, killed himself with pills after experiencing a gender-identity crisis that led to his suicide. She's 'desperate and depressed', she's spent time in a psychiatric hospital and she feels as though part of her, the mother part, has been 'amputated'.

The final subject is Anna, the mother of a family who struggle on, and try to talk about her in a 'sensitive, supportive way.' And that is what the whole book is about, about looking at suicide and showing how it affects those who are left behind, how they live in the spaces that were once filled with a loved one's presence but have been emptied of it through the most tragic of circumstances. It's about quiet rooms, quiet moments, about silence that is usually unwelcome and intrusive in its lack.

Buy Aeronautics in the Backyard here

Buy Nonni's Paradiso here

Buy (un)expected here

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Che Schifo! Il Porco Donald Trump è presidente!

Dio Mio! Che è successo? Gli americani a votano per il porco Donald Trump come il presidente. Che Schifo. 

Prima gli inglese a votano per il Brexit. Che stupido,

Primo quest'anno, inglese è la lingua di Shakespeare, di Laura Ingalls Wilder, di Chaucer, di Andy Stanton, di Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, di John Cheever, di Lennon-McCartney, di molti uomi e donni intelligente e bravi. 

Adesso, inglese e la lingua di personi stupidi.

Allora, l'anno prossimo, sul questo blogo, scrivo i posti in lingua strano per il mio; italiano, francese, spagnolo, tedesco e indonesiano. E inglese quante volta. 

C'è una problema. Io non posso parlare o scrivare le lingue. Ma, io posso imparare. 

Si. Prendo due piccioni con una fava.

E per le persone chi non legge le lingue strane, c'è Google Translate. Io faccio per voi per che capisco il miei lettori sono qualche volte pigri.

My God! What happened? Americans to vote for the pig Donald Trump as president. .

Before the English to vote for the Brexit. What a stupid,

First year, English is the language of Shakespeare, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Chaucer, Andy Stanton, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Cheever, Lennon-McCartney, of many men and donni intelligent and talented.

Now, English and the language of pax stupid.

Then, next year, on this blogo, I write the places for my strange language; Italian, French, Spanish, German and Indonesian. And how many English time.

There is a problem. I can not speak or scrivare languages. But, I can learn.

Yes. I take two birds with one stone.

And for people who do not read the strange languages, there is Google Translate. I do for you to understand that my readers are some lazy sometimes.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Only the Sky Remains Untouched

 all pictures copyright Claire Felicie

It was a real pleasure to revisit Carolyn Drake's Wild Pigeon last week. It's such a beautiful book with such a powerful message. The images are fantastic and the way they were made (they were collaged by the people who feature in the book) adds to the whole package. I've had a fair few people tell me the photobook is over and it is. The generic photobook that is, the boring photobook, the bad photobook. But the brilliant photobook isn't. It's alive and kicking. There just aren't that many of them.

Wild Pigeon is designed by Syben Kuiper and, he shows that great design does make a difference, I can think of a few badly designed books that would have been turned into something quite different with a bit of intelligent design. But there you go. He costs money. And not all of us have it.

On Friday I also wrote about the students I used to teach in my old job 16-19 kids learning English for Speakers of Other Languages. About half of the kids came from difficult backgrounds, or had had/were having difficult experiences, horrific experiences even.

There used to be some support for them, not much but more than there is now. For those who were refugees or asylum seekers it was pitifully little. Even when you saw organisations saying they support people with psychological, housing, financial, gender-based problems it didn't mean that they did. And if they did, then the funding they had was insufficient and barely scratched the surface.

One of the biggest problems some of our students had was PTSD. They didn't know they had it, but they did. I remember conversations with students who would talk about their experiences back in the country they had come from. Sometimes it was a weird form of nostalgia which marked an ending of sorts. I remember kids talking about watching the firefights in their hometown, and the excitement when the rockets started going off, or describing the strange rush of being on a bus running along a canyonside roadway with bandits shooting at them. Another student had an RPG explode in the room where he was sitting. It killed his brother. And yet another, who spoke with bitterness, described being deserted by relatives and left to take his four brothers and sisters across a border to a refugee camp. It took him four days and he has never forgiven those who left him in this situation.

We had kids who'd been kept in containers, or locked in back-rooms, or witnessed mass killings, who had woken up in mass graves, or woken up next to bodies on a lorry going overland. That's just the stuff they'd talk about. There were other things they didn't talk about, or would only hint at.

They had nightmares about it. They had anxiety. They got depressed. They got terrified. They woke up in the middle of the night with the night terrors. They had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And they were kids. And there was no help for them. There was said to be help for them, but there wasn't. Indeed, the problem was barely recognised.

It's a little more recognised for adults, especially those with a military background. But still there's precious little help even for them. Even in a wealthy country such as the Netherlands where the number of traumatised soldiers is relatively low.

But they do exist and they are the subject of Claire Felicie's Only the Sky Remains Untouched, a book designed by Syben Kuiper that arrived in the post on Friday. Normally it would sit on a pile for a month, but this blog is organic and impestuous and its content is determined by circumstance and it is a quite beautiful book.

First of all, it's a tall book. It's a black and white book with the title embossed on the front page, To read it against the black and white picture of a brick wall is near impossible. You have to turn the page and read the mirror image.

Open the book and there are full-bleed edgelandy landscapes of ditches, of forests, of a dilapidated factory. It's very dark. We go inside and see the verso torso of a man in combat fatigues, the head divided and coming up on the recto side at the back of the book.

Flick the page and the same thing happens, except now on the left there's a scrawled, scarred wall and on the right the torso of a man. The man is a former soldier and he's got a name, Marnix. From the back of the book we learn he was in Afghanistan in 2009, a place where he witnessed a rocket going off in front of him with devastating consequence. He's had PTSD ever since.

There's Oscar who was recruited by Mossad but left when he refused to shoot a prisoner with a sack over his head, there's Dominique who lived off Pringles for three weeks and lost 40 pounds when  he got trapped in his radio post in Afghanistan, and there's Armand who was one of the first on the scene after a land mine had blown the occupants of an army truck to smithereens.

There are more portraits made in astonishingly trusting circumstances and the walls get more scarred and battle-worn as well they might. All the pictures in the book were shot in a former 'military terrain and weapons factory' in the Netherlands, a fitting place for the portraits to be made. The weapons factory sits in the 'military terrain' of a 'shock forest', a place were explosives were once tested. So the symbolism in the split images is matched by the historicity of the place.

Only the Sky Remains Untouched is a moving book made for moving reasons. Cecilie describes how people with PTSD 'are emotionally wounded and carry those wounds with them for the rest of their lives. Not only the people portrayed in this book suffer from the consequences of PTSD, which includes reliving the horrors of war, nightmares, sudden outbursts of anger and intense shock reactions. Their failies and everyone around them suffer too.

Felicie made it 'with the aim of breaking the taboo that surrounds PTSD.' Here she focuses on PTSD for veterans. There's a huge taboo. PTSD is not a clean flesh wound. It's messy and dirty and talks about the atrocities of war. But I think the idea of there being a taboo applies even more to civilians. Because to recognise the mental wounds of war is to recognise the horrific experiences people have gone through, It's to recognise the depth of the problem, and the need for those wounds to be healed. That is a huge job and it is one that needs to be addressed. And of course it's not.

Buy Only the Sky Remains Untouched here.