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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Burhan Ozbilic's Iconic Photograph of the Ankara Assassination

picture by BURHAN OZBILIC for Associated Press

Yesterday was a terrible day for news. There was the Berlin attack, the electoral college elected Donald Trump as US president (despite,er Russian, interference in the election) and the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov was assassinated at a photography exhibition in Ankara by Mevlut Mert Altintas (who is now being painted as an off-duty anti-Erdoganist riot policeman)

I saw the picture of the assassination come up on the AP Twitter feed and was stopped in my tracks (which is why the blog has come back to life briefly). It was amazing, an instant icon that brought up so many contradictory feelings and linked to so much of visual culture and history.

It is such an astonishing picture that it almost blurs over the fact that two real people died in this attack, both the gunman and the ambassador himself.

What makes it astonishing is the timing. It was an assassination. I don't know exactly what happened in Aleppo in the previous days and weeks and months, except that there was death, violence and a brutality in attacks that targeted civilians, hospitals, medical staff, everybody. And that the bombing of Aleppo was led by the Russians and Assad forces. And that thousands of innocent people died.

picture by BURHAN OZBILIC for Associated Press

If you kill innocent people, you are culpable of something, if you defend the killing of innocent people you are culpable of something. That doesn't justify murder, but it goes some way to explaining it, and categorical imperatives notwithstanding, we do have that idea of what goes around comes around hard wired into us. For most of us that idea is never too far below the surface.

This assassination was an accusation then. Again, it doesn't justify it. It's murder. Andrei Karlov was a real man with people who loved him. But it's still an accusation. And that's the first thing, rightly or wrongly, that came out of the picture. It's a picture that accuses, it's an assassination that strives to see itself as just. In this case the victim is a Russian ambassador. In another case, it could be a British, an American, a Saudi, an Israeli, an Indian, a Chinese, an Indonesian, an Egyptian, a Burmese, a Thai, a Filipino, an almost-anywhere ambassador, or minister, or leader.

So there's this terrible idea embedded in the picture that the ambassador was a justified target.

But the picture also memorialises Aleppo. This is an astonishing picture and the reason this murder was committed (because it was murder let's not forget. The same as dropping a bomb on a hospital is murder) was as revenge, a terrible thing.  A by-product of that revenge is a memorial. This will make Aleppo stay in the memory because embedded in this act of violence are all the acts of violence that preceded it, that made it happen.

That's one side of it. There are all the other visual elements that make the picture stand out; the dress, the shoes, the sticking out tie, the long finger, the mid-speech and especially, especially the revolutionary stance.

It's John Travolta in Saturday Night fever meets Reservoir Dogs all in the setting of a white cube gallery - that adds a level of performance to it. And places it in a moral vacuum so we're further distanced from the horror of the act.

But the pose is also meant to be heroic. It's Berlin 1945, it's Marianne (shown above in Delacroix's painting), it's Les Miserables, it's Iwo Jima, it's every propaganda poster going. And because it's a photograph we don't hear him shouting Allahu Akbar as you do on the TV footage so there's a thing.

After Altintas shot the Karlov, he gave a speech about the injustices in Syria and this being revenge. You can bet that he practised that countless times, that he rehearsed it in his head. In the same way that he rehearsed how he would stand, how he would pose. So the whole thing is a performance as well. It's a propaganda piece. In a gallery. It's Chris Burden gone wrong.

The fact that it happened in Turkey and involved Russia also gave the picture a historical context (Franz Ferdinand, 1914 etc - and see the clipping that Guy Martin put up on Facebook for some deeper historical context) and also the feeling that the image symbolises a very dreadful future. Let's hope that's wrong, and anyway, the dreadful future is a dreadful present for so many people near where this event happened. The most dreadful future might be that for the people of Turkey.

It's a picture that will feature in some places more than others, that will be censored completely in some places, that will be reproduced in all kinds of forms. Interestingly, it was not on the covers of any of the UK newspapers this morning apart from the Sun. The Sun led with the right story and the right picture. All the other papers led with Berlin. Which doesn't make you optimistic about picture editing in the UK

What does it all mean. I don't know. It's the suit, the setting, the banality of it all. David Fathi did a reverse image search in the minutes after the picture's release - this is what came up which is interesting in itself.

The image search now is still not that different. After the initial slew of Altintas images, we're into presentation land, grey suits, finger pointing and George Clooney. It's bizarre. No other images look like this one, but at the same time so many do.

And the photographer. Well, every now and then we say how there are no iconic pictures anymore. Mmm, here's one and it's by Burhan Ozbilic, a professional photographer who describes his experience of taking the pictures from which this image came. And it's amazing for so many reasons, most of which we don't even know yet. It's not just a picture of the year, it's the picture of a decade. And I don't know if that's a good thing.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Ultimate Best of List for 2016 with one Worst Compiled by Experts in Photography, Effigies and Beach Nipples

Best Photography Festival: Location, Location, Location! People, People, People! When you're on a beach with the Mediterranean lapping at your toes surrounded by a bunch of photographers and generally great people from Italy and around the world... Step forward Gazebook Sicily! It's happening again in 2017!

Most Entertaining Conversation: Martin Parr and Krass Clement at Photobook Bristol was fresh, funny, spur of the moment stuff with fantastic photography that hit every spot. Photobook Bristol is not happening in 2017 but will be taking a break to return in 2018.

Most Thought-Provoking Conversation: Lina Hashim in conversation with Amak Mahmoodian at ICVL in Bristol. There were about 18 people here for this, but the depth of work and the commitment to it was a wonder to behold.

Best Interview: When you interview Dragana Jurisic, the world is your lobster. Bosnian spaghetti Westerns, Irish Modesty, Getting Burnt out of your Home, and the Myth of the Yugoslave Super Human all played their part.

Best Dancer: It's a tie between Krass Clement, Peter Mitchell, Ingrid, Mimi Mollica and Federica Chiochetti pictured below setting Punta Secca alight.

Best Beach Nipple; The best Beach Nipple is from Rhossili (which wins the best Beach award) and it looks like the Worms' Head, the promontory in the background.

Best Animal Picture of the Year: It's a Beach Fox, also at Rhossili. I might enter this in a competition. Maybe I'll become a wildlife photogapher. There's money in that!

Best Dead Duck; See, more wildlife. The wildlife photography dream is alive and kicking. Which is more than be said for this duck. It's dead and it's in Southgate, Bath, the shopping centre designed by people without souls or imagination. Which is what works in retail architecture, so fair play there.

You don't see many dead ducks on the street. It's normally pigeons, or seagulls. So it's positives all round!

Best Brutalist Hilltop Communist Conference Centre: Competition was tight for this one. There was a big challenge from the Solsbury Hill Hall for the Federation of Democratic Youth, but ultimately it was pipped by the fabulous Buzludzha Monument rising above the Shipka Pass in Bulgaria.

Most To-The-Point Graffiti for Everybody Everywhere in 2016: Ah, this is from Sofia in Bulgaria.

Best Effigy: With all due respect fuck off Lewes. It's this one, from Larkhall in Bath. 

Best Burning Effigy: More due respect to Lewes here, because it's this one. Monumental, Epic, and Mind Blowing!

Worst Shave: This one!

Which is an appropriate way to end 2016. 

See you next year, in all kinds of languages!

Random Best of :List #3: Best Allotment Pictures

The last not-that-random list before the completely random list comes up. This ones of my favourite pictures from the allotment this year. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Best Refugee Property Digest

Yes, this just arrived yesterday. It's Immo Refugee, and it's a documentation of the Jungle Shacks in Calais (which have now been flattened). It's by Maria Ghetti and Marco Tiberio who are part of DEFROST studio.

It's another way of looking at the places where people lived in a manner that is familiar to many of us. It tags into a way of thinking many of already have or are familiar with or hostile to.

They got a bit of hate for this I understand (including somebody who wondered if it was a far right publication). It's clearly not a far right publication but with a few nudges it could be. And maybe that says something about how successful it is - it uses the language of selling, of advertising, of property avarice in a way that tries to go beyond cliche and stereotype to humanise not just the people who live in these shacks, but also to place the shacks into a familiar context so they resonate with us. And when the places resonate, so do the people who are unfortunate to have lived in them. And the fact that the Jungle has been destroyed doesn't mean the publication is irrelevant. It's still completely relevant, as is the fact that the rights to shelter, comfort and safety are the most fundamental rights of all.

It's a great publication. Anyway, I'll add it to the Best Books of 2016 list.

You can buy it here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Random Best of List 2016 #2: Best Path

I've been channelling Richard Long circa 1968 all year and the result is paths. A lot of them. Made by walking and other means. Here are some of them!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Best Picture of a Documentary Photography Student 2016

I've done the best books list, all that's left is the list of completely arbitrary categories, including the best photography of a Documentary Photography student from Newport/Cardiff - that's the fantastic photography course that I teach on. 

It could be Harriet for best wearing of a mask, Rocco for best application of suncream, Daragh for best Living the Vida Loca, Fergus for best deadpan, Jessica for best action man pose, Seba for best photographer pose, or Owen for best London pubman.

I'm still not sure which I like best. I like them all!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Best Books of 2016:

Ok, my Best Book List for 2016, and of course that doesn't mean they're best but you know, it is a Best Book List.

Shenasnameh by Amak Mahmoodian. I was involved with this one in several ways, but the story and the form come together in this beautifully deep and poetic book which was designed by the mercurial Alejandro Acin and launched at Photobook Bristol. It looks simple but it's a layered and complex book.  Read my interview with Amak here.

Discordia by Moises Saman

I think Discordia is the World of Wartime Interiors and that is part of what makes it so great and so terrible. This is what I said in my review of Discordia. 

'In Discordia, there is no war; instead there are a multitude of wars going on. It gets beneath another kind of rhetoric and because of that you can add it to the list of great war books. Here, war is shown on the ground, in the streets, in back offices, derelict mosques, concrete alleyways, and rubble-strewn streets. There is no distance here. Death, mutilation and torture takes place at close quarters and everybody who takes part or is taken part on is connected to the places where death happens.'

Stray by Paul Gaffney.

It's a small, expensive, handmade edition and it's an absolutely gorgeous book object, a continuation of Gaffney's explorations into the psychology of the land. Again, it's the book form, the material form combining seamlessly with the subject to take us on a journey through the night time woods (and into Gaffney's mind too). Simply wonderful!

The Castle by Federico Clavarino: This is symbolism writ large! Clavarino on Kafka. Fabulous! This is from my review.

'So we see borders, barriers and fences throughout the book. There is a sense of blockage that mirrors the defensive architecture both  of Europe's urban centres and its outlying edges. There are symbols of surveillance, of somebody, something seeing but not being seen, and this is compounded by the constant layering of images throughout the book. They hint of someone looking out but at the same time trapped.'

Semper Augustus by Mary Hamill

This is the simplest book of the list, a very direct manifestation of a fundamental project, the record of 12 of Mary Hamill's periods through beautifully photographed images of blood-soaked tampons. It's a record of being a woman and it's very direct and very simple. And very difficult.

Out of the Blue by Virginie Rebetez

This is from my review of the book here.

'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).'

The House of the Seven Women by Tito Mouraz

A lovely book that tells the story of the Portuguese landscape and life through images and stories that reek of the superstitious, the supernatural and the super-black-and-white. A rich and evocative book. Read my review here.

Golden Days Before They End by Klaus Pichler

A simply fantastic book with fantastic photographs and a story that is of its time about the death of Vienna's local bars. It's a real story of what is happening to our high streets and to the communities that inhabit them. It's local but it's universal. It's the story of the destruction of a way of life.

Come to Selfhood by Joshua Rashaad McFadden

More books that present a three-dimensional view of life, but are still about justice, need to be made. This is from my review.

'This is a book which looks at black masculinity, at fatherhood, at how you can be a black male in America.

The idea for the work began with the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012, and gathered pace with the slew of police murders of black Americans. The question then is what does it mean to be black in a country where people are allowed to kill you. If you can't look to the law, or the nation, or abstract ideas of justice to create a grounding for you, where do you look?'

Got to Go by Rosalind Solomon Fox

A really ambitious and imaginative use of text to contextualise Fox's fabulous photography. I'm still puzzled by it, but in a good way. This is from my review.

'Essentially, the picture is a realisation of Rosalind Fox Solomon herself because the book is an autobiography of sorts, both of her life (Is it though??) and of the history of women (again, is it though??), and the story of a mother's life and a relationship to a daughter (is it though??).

It has words that convey her sentiments as a woman, and the ideological bombardment that accompanies that status, combined with pictures that encompass her career and mirror the stages of her life in various ways. Or is it all about mother, in the more oppressive sense of the word?'

Astres Noirs by Katrin Koening and Sarker Protick

Again, here's a book where the material makes the difference. It is one of the most beautiful books of the year, This is from my review. 

'The printing quality with its silvers shimmering against the black pages also adds something, with the images bouncing off the page into a cinematic space that offsets what could have been a drift into the arts-and-crafty and downright cheesy. 

Ania Nałęcka, the photobook designer, described a good photobook as being like a picture where you don’t draw lines. Instead you draw dots and you leave it up to the viewer to make the connections. That’s true of Astres Noirs, a book where the dots are stars and how you join them is left to the viewer.'

So there you have it, the definitive list of the best books of 2016 (and you can include all the books in the posts that came before this one - they're part of my Best Books too, For sure!)

There are others that could or should be in there but they're somewhere else or I haven't seen them or something or other.

There are still lots of great books about then, it's just that sometimes price, edition size, genre or snobbery mean they don't get about as much as they might.

So long live the book!