Featured post

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...

Friday, 29 September 2017

'In anticipation of an inevitable parting'

The last edit of All Quiet on the Home Front has been done and it's looking really good! Next stop is the printers at the end of October so I'm an excited nervous wreck at the moment. Who says you need eight hours sleep a week!

We've also been making a mockup of our Linocut for the Subscriber's Edition box. Which is going to look something like this.

The discounted Subscriber's Editions will come to an end around the 20th October so if you want one now at £100 (a 28%0% discount on the regular price of £140) get your order in.

And you can read Lucy Davies' interview with me on the BJP website here. 

All Quiet on the Home Front, to be published in November by ICVL Studio, collates dozens of images taken between 2005 and 2017. It is a beautiful, still essay in pictures and words, sequenced so that our impressions of Isabel shift from one page to another, splintering before our eyes. One minute we think we have her – energetic, intense – and then she is gone, half hidden or running away.

It’s erratic and intriguing – not that different from the frustrations that come with trying to understand another human being, whether child or adult. There’s a sense, too, that Pantall is hoarding every moment in anticipation of an inevitable parting.

“Nothing that can prepare you for the shock of becoming a parent; you kind of lose yourself,” he says. “It drives you insane. But then you gain a new identity, only for that  to die too, when you realise they have their own lives to lead. Then you have to have another rebirth. I don’t think it’s always that comfortable. Sometimes you wish things were different. You wish your children away at times. You always wish them back.”

 Pre-order the Subscriber's Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here for £100 (price after 20th October is £140).

Buy the Regular Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here for £33 (regular price after 9th November is £40).

Americans, Football and Fathers

Last week I was very touched by two deaths on social media this following week, by people I don't really know so well, but in some ways I think I do.

The first was the death of Annakarin Quinto's father. She described it on her Le Boudoir page on Facebook and linked her ideas of the fears of parenthood and being a daughter to my book All Quiet on the Home Front - which is also about being a parent and being a daughter and the freedom that is needed in that relationship. That was very moving for me and is part of a sense of responsibility I am feeling to the work that I haven't had before.

A few weeks before dying, my father revealed to me in a tensed whisper that all his life he had been fearful for me, for my natural naïvity (that of course for me was only an endless curiosity and lush for life). He thought I wasn't armed to defend myself. But neither was he. That stroke me straight in my heart like a rocket and blew my mind. So, that prison, that heavy prison I was carrying on my shoulders trying constantly to overcome it and forget its weight was this : my father's fear

I don't really know how to follow that up; it made me quite emotional. But work becomes different when it's put out into the world and people understand it. Very different.

Then there was Mishka Henner's father. I have interviewed and written about Mishka Henner's work before for Foam and the BJP where I looked at his early work Less Américans. It's not as spectacular as his bigger later work, but it really touched a chord in me and led me down a path of other works where erasing is the thing - and what is left behind comes into the fore, highlighting elements that we might have taken for granted before.

Less Americains is a book where the key figures from Robert Frank's Les Américans are erased. A lot of people see it as a despoiling of something sacrosanct, but I think of it as quite the opposite. Robert Delpire, the publisher of Les Américans, died earlier this week (and I have no idea what his opinion of Less Americains was. Perhaps he hated it or was indifferent. I don't know). For me the original is a brilliant book and a testimony to the vision of Robert Delpire (and of course Robert Frank), but his real legacy is what developed from what the work he published - and Henner's book is a small part of that. It's a homage if you like.

Less Americains ties in with Rauschenberg and a whole bunch of other photographers and artists who have erased things. And some very surprising things happen to pictures when you erase what you imagine are key elements. You still recognise the picture but in a different way. This is what I said in a post from 2012.

'I think Henner builds on this work ( all of which is fascinating) in Less Americains. And in that sense, it is more about visual salience and what we recognise in an image - and how we recognise it. That is not something new, but it is something thoughtful and considered that helps us to understand how we read photographs.'

The other thing that Henner did that stuck with me was his video of his father Bill at the end of Man City v QPR in 2012. It's football so it's stupid, but the ending of the game was the most dramatic in Premier League History with City coming from behind to win the League in the final seconds of the game - for the first time in blah blah blah. It's a day my wife and daughter described as the happiest of my life.

The video shows Bill walking across the pitch in slow motion to the Cowboy Junkies version of Blue Moon. I remember watching that video and then showing it the day after to my class. And I showed it some more people and I have watched it again and again and again. It still brings tears to my eyes. Henner's not supposed to be a very emotional artist, but this is intensely emotional and deliberately so, bringing together the football heartache of 44 years of Man City Uselessness with a relationship that wasn't always easy.

But from that simple video, I remember Bill's face, his smile, his, hat, his little jaunt that is not quite a dance, and Henner's affection as they head back to their seats. I watch it for the good-naturedness of it all, for the jubilation, for the smiling steward, the man on his knees in the centre circle, the disbelief, for the feeling of summer peace, all accompanied by the slowest Blue Moon every by the Cowboy Junkies.

It's not part of the Henner ouvre, it's something else, and it's quite beautiful. And enjoyable. I don't know if there are too many things in photography I've enjoyed quite so much as Bill walking across that pitch in 2012. It's a window into a soul that I can identify with, that I can share a moment with from a distance. So I feel like I know him a little bit. And for that I am grateful. Thank you Mishka Henner and thank you Bill!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

All Quiet: 74.8% better than Diane Arbus

So I'm trying to sell a book. But how do you know it's any good. That's what you must be asking. What if the pictures are out of focus or badly composed!

With Everyday Pixel Image Evaluator you will find the answer.

Using a combination of science and creative intelligence, this Image Evaluator will evaluate your images for you and tell you whether they are likely to be awesome or bad.

Images from All Quiet from the Home Front such as the one above score a whopping 99.7%. That means it's an incredible 99.7% better than Martin Parr's picture from Weymouth featured below.

To be fair to Martin, that picture is quite blurred and out-of-focus so obviously not very good. Perhaps he'd have done better if he'd stepped back a bit. To be even fairer to Martin, others of his fare much better, though not quite up to snuff with mine, as we can see from this image of his from the Last Resort.

Close, but no cigar!

That's not to take anything away from me. I'm a very respectable 74.8% better than this famous  Diane Arbus image! Not every likely to be awesome. Who'd have thunk it!

Even Ivars Gravlejs' classic masterpiece, Early Works, is no match for me. All Quiet nudges ahead by a clear 0.5% but it might as well be a country mile.

I'm not getting too much above myself because there's Rineke Dijkstra! It's something to aspire to.

And I'm pretty close to Kohei Yoshiyuki and his amazing Park! Watch out Kohei. I'm right behind you!

It's scientifically proven and is something we should all learn from. I used to think this picture by Max Pinckers was a real belter and Max was one of the great young photographers of our time - both with the images and the ideas! But no, the science tells me otherwise; it's a stinker and that's no lie. I would have given this and Max 100% every day of the week. But I would have been wrong. Thank goodness there are people in the world's leading photographic organisations who have their finger on the pulse and are way ahead of me on Max. Now I understand why. Who could possibly have thought it!

Now you've seen the science, you'll be wanting to buy my book and help fund the printing - and my trip to Paris Photo for the book launch. So...

Buy the Subscriber's Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here. It comes with the beautiful print you see below.

Buy the Regular Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

No, don't think so. Fuck off Everypixel Aesthetics! It's a lie, a lie, a lie I tell you!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Tipi, Polycopies Boat, Paris Photo: All Quiet on the Home Front Book Launch

All Quiet on the Home Front Update.

Thank you so much to everybody who has pre-ordered a copy of All Quiet on the Home Front. We're so grateful for helping us publish the book and bringing the work to a far wider audience.

What is really wonderful for me is how the work is touching people above and beyond the images. The work resonates with people on personal, environmental and physical levels. I've had people tell me about their childhoods, about their fathers, about their daughters, about the places they used to play in and inhabit. There is a beauty, a vitality, a tenderness and a roughness that communicates to people and, though it was what we wanted, it is strangely surprising but most of all really beautiful.The words in the book have stimulated memories and stories and made people both revisit the past and look to the future.

I am always unsure about which way to go with my work (which is why until now, nothing has ever been finished) and this was especially true of All Quiet on the Home Front. It has emotion and a depth of feeling (including some sadness) which is always difficult to manage and very easy to avoid. But thanks to the advice of many people (but especially Katherine, my wife, and Alex, director of ICVL Studio, a direction was found that was the difficult option.

We've had sales in Melbourne, Tokyo, Osaka, Minneappolis, Ann Arbor, New York, Toronto, Brussels, Berlin, San Sebastian, Newcastle, Amsterdam, Paris, Penarth, Bristol, Bath, Massachusetts, Murcia, Huesca, Catania, Malmo,  and many more places. It's been a global affair.

As a result we can go ahead with the printing of the book. We will be printing on two stocks of paper, one for image and one for text, with a card cover. The final rough dummy we have made looks absolutely beautiful, with image flowing into text and text flowing into image. It's going to be a beautiful book.

We've also had some great press and All Quiet has featured in the BJP, in the Daily Telegraph, in terviews on Drool, and by Giulia Bianchi and on the Vogue Italia website.

So we are a fair way there, but we still need your support. You can support All Quiet on the Home Front by pre-ordering either the Regular Edition or the Subscriber's Edition.

The Subscriber's edition comes with a limited edition print - and this is the only time this print will be available at this cost - of the same image. It is printed on archival cotton art paper and it is beautiful.

The Subscriber's edition comes in the obligatory box - but we decided to up the ante a bit here and have a box which will feature a linocut by Isabel of the first image in the book. She's still working on this but here's the template for the linocut. So you get two artworks for the price of one.

The book will launch on the Tipi Bookstand on the Polycopies Boat at Paris Photo - and there really is nowhere better to be at Paris Photo than the Tipi Bookstand on the Polycopies boat.

The Pre-Order price for All Quiet on the Home Front is £33, or £100 for the Subscriber's Edition, postage not included. The pre-orders end on November 9th for the regular edition when the price will be £40 and the last week in October for the Subscriber's edition when the price will be(£140 for the Subscribers' edition.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Firecracker: The Book!

In my last post mentioned Max Houghton who I worked with on Sound, Word, Landscape a couple of years ago.

She's also a co-author and editor with Fiona Rogers of Firecracker: Female Photographers Now. This is a book featuring women who have worked in photography in cultural, political and personal fields that often feature the vulnerable and the marginalised (as well as the confident and powerful).

In that sense it's not really a book about women photographers, it's a book about the different ways of working and strategies that are being used to tell stories, to amplify voices that deserve and need to be heard.

And the work they show is amazing! There are the portraits of Zanele Muholi, Laura El-Tantawy's work from Cairo, Lua Ribeira's Noises in the Blood, Sanne de Wilde's Dwarf Empire, Ying Ang's Gold Coast, Bieke Depoorter, Juno Calypso, Mariela Sancari, Chloe Dewe Matthews. It's all really good.

It's all work by women, but it's also a compendium of contemporary photographic practice and storytelling from a range of global perspectives. And it's really good.

Buy Firecracker here somewhere.

Don't buy it from Amazon.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Landscape, Chocolate Boxes and All Quiet

picture by jem southam from the River Winter.

One of the great inspirations for All Quiet on the Home Front is the work of Jem Southam (I write about it here).

His work is layered with history and meaning but somehow the being of the landscape always stays supreme. It always has an integrity and a sense of being that is independent of those layers.

    Jem Southam Dewpond

So though geological, anthropological and cultural meanings are apparent in his pictures of rivers and rockfalls and dewponds, the places he shows us take us beyond those human interpretations. For some reason it's the dewponds that really fascinate me . Dewponds are ponds in pastures that cows drink from. They date back hundreds, sometimes thousands of years which gives them a life and a soul that goes way beyond the photograph.

It's landscape photography but it is photography with soul that reaches into the nether regions of your brain. And I think soul matters. It's the great intangible that makes something really, really good. You can't really teach it, or write about, you just have to feel it. And that, strangely enough is what makes it so concrete. There's no getting away from something that has some soul to it. Just as there's no getting away from something that is utterly and soulless.

Southam's work is also linked to the idea of how we live in the landscape, and beyond the landscape. And that ties in to our very idea of who we are, what we are and where we live, and the hierarchies that are assumed in that living. Very, very often people think of landscape photography being a kind of chocolate box photography, or a glory of HDR (all of which has its place, why not). This is what I got when I googled landscape photography.

Google Beautiful Landscape Photography and this is what you get.

Google Bad Landscape Photography and you get this. There's quite a few paths, and some lightning. There's even a fucking traffic cone in there. Ha ha ha!

So mention landscape photography even to very sophisticated people and they do sometimes think it's people trying to make chocolate box pictures or be Ansel Adams. And there's nothing wrong with being Ansel Adams if you're Ansel Adams. If you're not why would you bother, just as why would you bother being Robert Frank or Irving Penn. What's the point really?

But there's this whole wormhole of landscape and nature photography that overlaps with nature writing, with psychogeography, that ties in to junk art and found art, and goes back to Survey Photography, 18th century painting, right down to the enclosures act, the division of labour, and the marginalisation of women.

It's  can be infuriating at times (because there's such an overlap with complex philosophical ideas that can bog it down in theory) but it can also be incredibly revealing of how we live and why the world is the way it is. A few years ago, I organised a day of talks with Max Houghton (project-managed by Alejandro Acin of ICVL) called Sound, Word and Landscape. and this touched on some of these ideas and it was really so revealing of how sound, word, biography, selfhood, and walking link in to and add to our visual understanding of the landscape. Jem Southam was there and the way he talked about his work added layer upon layer to what was already a very rich surface.

There's also a massive overlap with historical ideas idea of landscape, which is so laden with art-historical meaning that it is almost impossible to escape the ideologies and romances associated with it. So the idea of the land in the UK 100 years ago is not the same as the idea of the land now, but its history is embedded in how we see it. The idea of the land and the way it was represented 2 or 300 years ago is something past, but it still lives on in our idealisations and romanticisation of something that is actually quite brutal and harsh. We can never quite escape the old categorisations of the picturesque, the beautiful and the sublime. And people who don't really get landscape photography absolutely never get over this. It's almost like somebody who doesn't understand Flemish, dismissing it simply because they don't understand. "It doesn't actually mean anything does it. They're just pretending to understand each other." they might say when they heard a conversation held in Flemish (and somebody did say that to me once).

Southam layers these past meanings into his pictures. There's a shabbiness to his landscapes that they stop being landscapes. They're never grand enough to be sublime, they're never pretty enough to be romantic, they have a human element to them, but it's overwhelmed by the unpredictabilities of the actual land.

There's the idea of space being something produced (and Lefebvre wrote about this in the Production of Space. And Mitchell wrote about it in a slightly different way in Landscape and Power). So you have Perceived Space, Conceived Space and Lived Space. Southam's landscapes are neither perceived, conceived or lived space - they're something else altogether. They're landscapes where those perceived, conceived and lived elements are secondary characteristics. His are geological landscapes with a presence more permanent than the ephemeral elements that Lefebvre describe.

It's that presence that Awoiska van der Molen works with in her supremely dark images of forests, volcanoes and landscapes. It's work that is most evident in prints that just suck you into another world, and it's quite a dark world which is beyond our control. She takes us into forests, into the sea, into volcanoes and they do become places that are above and beyond us in every way. They're not part of us, we're not that significant. We might be part of them, but we're probably not even that important. They really are quite monumental.

But though the prints are the thing (and they are, they really are. They're big Black Square constructions), her two books are also wonderful. I talked with Joerg Colberg about Sequester for his book, Understanding Photobooks (which is a really strong and organic introduction to editing, sequencing and publishing photobooks), and I also reviewed Blanco and wrote this:

It starts with a picture of a mountainside covered with what might be birch trees. There’s a diffused delicacy that comes through both the plumes of white that cover the trees as well as a softness in the image. It’s an optimistic opening where new life blooms, but at the same time there is something suffocating about it, as though this is mould enveloping the earth.

We start with life and death then, but it’s not our life. People are of no importance in Blanco. And then things go dark as we are sucked into an image of a charcoal grey sea set against a volcanic field of gravel and jagged rock. This is the kind of landscape Ingmar Bergmann sought to escape in Passolini’s Stromboli, a landscape where life is at a remove, something fragile that clings on despite the landscape rather than because of it.

It’s not land that seeks to accommodate the human presence and so it has something penitential about it. To make the work, Van Der Molen submerged herself in these places (which are not identified for fear of the intellectual resonances of that identification affecting our emotional responses), staying in them for weeks on end to attune herself to the nuances and tempers of the land, the sea, the light and the life.

It’s this that you experience in the photographs, the ineffable nature of becoming one with land where we don’t know whether it’s dawn or dusk, night or day.  So there’s a timelessness to go with that hostility to human ideas of what life is or should be. Van Der Molen’s landscapes suck you into their darkness then. They are an invitation to ponder the insignificance of our place in the world. We are simply not that important.  

 In Understanding Photobooks I talked about the ways in which she brings viewers into her images, something which Adam Bell expanding upon with reference to the book form. It's classic abstract expressionism but with a personal element overlapping with a geological elements and material form. It's really, really beautiful work.

The Photographers' Gallery

I've never met Awoiska and Awoiska's never met me, but we got to know each other through our work. I love her work and when I started putting up All Quiet on the Home Front on Instagram, her l comments showed she understood where my pictures were coming from which really touched me. We always talk about the superficiality of likes and comments and how social media is a big echo chamber, all of which is completely true. But at the same time, you can filter out when somthing really matters to people and this can help you direction and a confidence in your work. You do get people (and I remember you quite specifically) who will let you know when something is really good. Or not. And that matters.

Awoiska was one of many people I asked for feedback on All Quiet as it went in progress and her advice (as was everyone's) was invaluable in shaking the book and making it what it will be. I also asked for an endorsement from Awoiska, and this is what she said. Thank you Awoiska!

'When seeing these images randomly passing by at Instagram a few years ago, I was struck by the captivating intimacy right away.

Witnessing a growing up girl in her real world that could also be her fantasy world. And she lets the photographer, her father, be part of this.

With capturing these passing years of his daughter he captures himself as well.

Rarely does a male photographer share this openly his personal thoughts and fears in a photo book’.

Which was just beautiful.

As well as being a book about being a child, being a father, and the frailties of that position, it's also a landscape book. It's very much a landscape book. The places in All Quiet on the Home Front are scrappy landscapes. They're marginal places that have a history - Solsbury Hill is the site of old Celtic and medieval settlements. You can still see the terracing on the flat hilltop. Brown's Folly is an old stone mine. And Bicycle Mountain is land made when the Avon was diverted to build the Great Western Railway.

But all that is incidental. It's there but it is surpassed. In the way that Isabel and I inhabited these landscapes, there was a kind of physical restructuring of the places we played in. They aren't perceived or conceived or lived in. They became something different - simply places of being, where we fit into the land and not the other way round. Despite all of the social, cultural and economic histories, the landscapes lived us, we didn't live the landscapes.

It's strange looking back at it now, because there's a definite nostalgia to those places which you can see in the films (Film 1 here and Film 2 on Vogue Italia here). They've become incorporated into a memory of a past identity, a past relationship. They've been transformed by time, but in the images themselves, there's still that sense of the independence of the land from the human experience. And I still remember that.

Buy the Subscriber's Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Buy the Regular Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Drawings of Photographs: All Quiet on the Home Front

Fantastic. Isabel's been sketching the template for the linocut she's going to put on the box (you have to have a box!) for the subscriber's edition of All Quiet on the Home Front! Look below for the original print.

Buy the Subscriber's Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Buy the Regular Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Publishing Anxiety Dreams, Sweatography and Special Editions

In the press release for All Quiet on the Home Front I write about a dream I had when Isabel was a child. It goes like this:

When Isabel was a baby I had a dream. In the dream it was Christmas. We lived above a pub in a single room crammed with old pub furniture. In one corner was a Christmas tree. It had real candles, all of which were balanced precariously on the tree’s branches. It also had electric lights which were plugged into the socket using bare, sparking wires. And instead of sitting in a bowl of water, it sat in a bowl of acid.
That sense of claustrophobia, morbidity, and anxiety is apparent in All Quiet on the Home Front. It is a reflection of the fears that sat deep within me all when I became a parent; the fear of my daughter’s death, my own death, and my built in obsolescence and redundancy as a parent. To escape this claustrophobia, the banging off the walls and the endless ‘playing’, I took Isabel outside into the landscapes around our home in Bath. The woods of Brown’s Folly, growing out of the contours of an old stone mine, the scrappy bmx track built on the banks of the River Avon, and the Celtic hilltop of Solsbury Hill became our playground. These are the landscapes where both Isabel and I found ourselves and this book tells that story.
It’s the story of becoming a child and becoming a father. It’s a self-portrait.

The dream is a typical parent's anxiety dream, a baby anxiety dream. Wait till they're a bit older and they're getting lost in shops and disappearing in Mexico and getting left behind on trains. I think I know a few people all those things really happened to. That's the thing about anxiety dreams, they're a tad too real.

I've written before on this blog about teacher's anxiety dreams. High school teachers started on these a few weeks ago, college lecturers will be starting now. You know the kind of thing - oh no, I'm not wearing any trousers - oh no, there's no room booked - oh no, I absolutely haven't got a clue what I'm doing. Again, a tad too real

I'm guessing students have them too. They turn up at college and dream - oh no, how much am I paying for this - oh no, this is supposed to be a commercial course and nobody knows how to use a camera - oh no, they told me this would be a hands on course but I didn't realise I'd only have one lecture a week!

Then there are photographers' anxiety dreams (read some good ones here) and bookmaking anxiety dreams. Again, the basics are very close to reality - having to pulp the entire print run, getting the colours wrong, getting the images wrong, having a typo in the title, using the cheapest possible printing and paper and not getting away with it, not selling a single copy even to your mum, unintentionally making a book that doesn't open. It's stuff which happens.

I had a book anxiety dream last week. It wasn't very real though. I was unpacking a box of books that had arrived fresh from the printers, getting them ready to be sent to the subscribers. I didn't notice the small baby in a box that was on the floor next to the book crate. He was a nice baby wearing a blue cardigan and white shorts.

And then I dropped a pile of books onto the baby. So I had a dead baby on my hands, only a very small one, about two inches long, but a dead baby all the same.

I was wondering what to do with the baby when I noticed that the baby had disappeared. Instead it's image was now nestling in the back pages of my freshly printed book. All Quiet on the Home Front.

I picked up another copy and looked in that. There was the dead baby again, all squashed and dead, imprinted on the back pages of All Quiet on the Home Front. Every single copy of the book now had an extra image - the one of the dead baby - imprinted as if by magic. 'Mmm, I thought. What if I make this the subscriber's edition? Pay £100 and you get a copy of the book Plus a mysteriously imprinted image of a dead baby in the book. It's amazing value when you think about it.

And then I thought with horror, oh my god no, what am I thinking. What will people think of me if I give them a book with a picture of a dead baby inside. They'll think I'm exploiting a dead baby.

And that's where the dream ended. I woke up in a mild sweat.

You'll be glad to know there are no dead babies in the subscriber's edition of All Quiet on the Home Front. Instead it comes with a print of Isabel that is absolutely beautiful. The colours pop out of the paper and it really is stunning.

(Keep on reading for the incredible Sweatographic images of Reiner Riedler)

Buy the Subscriber's Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Buy the Regular Edition of All Quiet on the Home Front Here.

Mmm, I'm not sure that a dream about dead babies and mysterious imprinting is really going to work too well in terms of selling, but so it goes. There is however a bit of a history to mysterious imprintings of images.

Many of them are to do with Jesus, the original iconic image (google Mandylion for this). We all know the Turin Shroud but what about Saint Veronica (Vera Icon=True Icon) who wiped the face of Jesus with his veil as he walked up the Via Dolorosa on his way to Calvary and Crucifixion. And what appeared on the veil? The face of Jesus (enlarged though).

All of this, I discovered yesterday thanks to Reiner Riedler, links directly to contemporary imaging technology. Riedler is working on photographic processes that record images made from sweat (sweatography?). Amazing, but a quick comparison with Saint Veronica's image shows that contemporary sweatography hasn't quite caught up with that from 2,000 years ago.

This is where Riedler's images come from. And they are amazing and completely linked to the whole mystical tradition of image making.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Munich are conducting research on perspiration. For this photographic work, they produced a special sensor colorant, which is able to make sweat permanently visible.

all images by Reiner Riedler

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Book of the Month: Monsanto by Mathieu Asselin

                       All images from Monsanto by Mathieu Asselin

At the weekend Tony Fouhse posted a q&a with me on his brilliantly named blog, Drool. He asked me why I still blogged. And I wondered about it because I blow hot and cold on it. At it's best, it's  a place where you can pour out thoughts and get into a writing groove and link images and ideas together and be irreverent and basically do whatever you want. A blog is not an academic paper, or an essay, or an artistic statement. It's a place where you can have a personality and an opinion, it's a verbal sketchbook. And it doesn't have to work all the time and you don't have to be right all the time. In fact you can spout complete cack and chances are nobody will notice the difference. That's why Drool is the perfect name for a blog. It says it all.

But a blog does need to work some of the time, it does need to be coherent. And it can be difficult to have an opinion and a personality and be coherent. Sometimes you get bogged down in things and it becomes a chore. I used to do a lot of book reviews here. It was really enjoyable because you could go in depth into a book and try to see what the photographer/artist was trying to do and how the ideas and the images merged with the material form of the book, the design, the materials.

So I started doing book reviews on the blog  and then they escalated. And they escalated. And they escalated. More and more people would send me more and more books.

'How lucky you must be to get so many books for free,' people would say. Mmm, well not quite free. The piles grew bigger, and the blogging got harder because I tried to review almost everything. It became a chore, more than a chore, so I stopped it. Actually, I didn't stop it. I started doing book reviews in languages that I can't really speak. That worked wonders for stopping the stream of books. Fewer and fewer people started sending me books. I don't have a pile of books anymore. There's passive-agressive language learning for you.

Which is good but also a pity, because I've seen great books I would otherwise never have seen, and even when the book isn't great, I've gained a massive understanding of what people are trying to do, what they are trying to say, how they are mixing images, ideas, archives, materials and trying to make something really special with all their heart. And even if it isn't always successful, it's the unsuccessful ones that show you where people trip up, and the fact that there is this love and attention really means a lot in itself.

The trouble is I do like reviewing and writing about photobooks. So I thought I'd do a compromise with a book of the month . And the first book of the month is Monsanto by Mathieu Asselin.

I first saw shimmers of Monsanto online here and there. And then I saw it while judging the Photobook Bristol Dummy Award in 2016. We got about 100 books sent in for that. There were two that sprang out at all of us within seconds and really selected themselves. One was Mary Hamill's Semper Augustus, the other was Monsanto. I think that was the way it was with pretty much everybody who saw Monsanto and is interested in the world.

Monsanto was one of those books that you just know is good. Obviously good and powerful and with real meaning. That leapt out of the page, it leapt out of the cover. And it leapt out from every page.

The book is about Monsanto and it is scathing from the start. Forget neutrality, forget a balanced opinion, this is a book that has an opinion and is going to give it using text, using archive images, using photography, using press clippings, using first hand testimony, using any means necessary.

The introduction is by an Organic Farmer, Jim Gerritsen from Maine. Monsanto's activities, he says, '...are affecting hundreds of communities and their environment with terrifying health and ecological consequences. The company'...engages in campaigns of misinformation, the persecution of institutions and individuals, including scientists, farmers and activists that dare to disclose its crimes.'

So there you go. There's a statement and the book sets out to prove all of that in no uncertain means. Monsanto is, in this book not as Monsanto would have it the 'farmer's friend', but a soil-deadening, patent-bullying, earth-destroying beast of a machine.

And if you want to get a taste of that, the best way is to use the words of Monsanto itself. The first section is a booklet of old Monsanto advertisements and it is sarcasm personified

They show the propaganda untruths perpetuated by Monsanto and how they overlapped with images to create a brand of toxic modernity. It's the kind of thing any child of the fifties, sixties or seventies will understand, a world where the future is a one pill step of nutrient, where powdered potato (Smash), orange juice (Kool Aid), and deserts (Angel's Delight) are just a stop away from a time when food is instant, convenient and nutritious.

'Chemicals help you eat better' reads one ad. There are flavour enhancers, fire retardants, pesticides - all there to persuade the world, or the United States at least, that the debasement of food, land, air and water is somehow good for us.

Throughout the book, Monsanto's message continues.

'Chemicals help you to live longer.'

'Chemicals help you eat better.'

'There really is no much difference between foods made by mother nature and those made by man.'

'All Man-made foods are tested for safety. And they often provide more nutrition, at a lower cost, thant natural foods.'

Then we're into the hard centre of the book, a chaptered description of Monsanto's doings in the world of men. Asselin takes us to Aniston, Alabama, the home of PCB production and a place where chemical dumping and the poisoning of the land is all too apparent. Asselin reprints a 1969 memo that states 'we can't afford to lose one dollar of business.' They had been aware of the dangers posed by the chemical since 1937 but the lives damaged, destroyed and lost through their actions were nothing compared to one dollar of business lost.

There's a screenshot showing the Monsanto sponsored Disney house of the future from 1957. But this comes against the reality of Monsanto houses of the future in Aniston - in recent years 'Monsanto has bought and demolished around 100 PCB-contaminated houses and businesses in the area, turning the neighbourhood into a virtual ghost town.'

Next up is Agent Orange, the malformations of embryos, and the devastating environmental consequences of the use of this toxic defoliant, the responsibilities for which are evaded. Again we see illegal dump sites where chemical waste was disposed of with devastating consequences to both the environment and to inhabitants health and then we're into Vietnam where Agent Orange was part of  80 million litres of herbicide sprayed across the country -  with repercussions both for Vietnamese and US soldiers. In Vietnam, over 500,000 babies have been born with birth defects, and continue to be born, the book states.

Most shocking of all are the details of Monsanto's seed-selling market, under which '...farmers  can no longer save their seeds for later use, ending a 10,000 year old farming tradition' (Center for food safety).

So buy Monsanto seeds and you have to use them on your farm in one year. There is no saving, no sharing, no cooperation. If you don't have a contract with Monsanto and traces of Monsanto's genetic material are found on your land (from accidental contamination from a neighbouring farm for example) then you face being sued. Over 140 patent infringement cases against farmers 'to ensure that its seeds are not stolen or reused.' And once you've been put through the wringer on that, the only solution if you want to keep on farming is... you've guessed it ...buy Monsanto seeds.

It's a book that wears its heart on its sleeve and it punches home a message by any means necessary. As well as photographys, there are archive materials, advertisments, corporate ads, newspaper clippings, emails and links to videos.

The photographs are sober and brutally descriptive.  They are shot frontally in neutral light and are expository in mode; here is a woman whose father died after being exposed to Agent Orange, this is a river contaminated by waste from illegal dump sites, here is a farmer who was wrongly accused by Monsanto of 'saving seeds', costing him $290,000 in legal fees. It's direct and it's relentless and it is effective.

I read the book cover to cover. I read every caption. Part of this is down to having a fascinating subject and having done the research, another part is down to not overloading the reader with text. Monsanto is not a text light book, let's be clear on that. but thought has gone into how long captions and accompanying chapter introductions should be and they are, considering the subject, short and punchy and accessible.

This is not a book where you are left to make up your own mind because what is there to make your mind up about. They poison the land, they blackmail farmers, they kill unborn babies, you don't exactly need a road map. Asselin is angry and he wants us to be angry too. It works for me.

At the Gazebook Sicily Photobook Festival, Asselin gave a talk in which he said "There is no room for ambiguity." Monsanto is that statement in book form.

Buy Monsanto here.