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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...

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The People's Republic of Stoke's Croft Housing Crisis Democracy Wall

It was quite something to see the fantastic result of Julian Baron's (that's him above) and IC Visual Labs' workshop on the Housing Crisis getting put up at the People's Republic of Stoke's Croft. The final result was conceived, planned, printed and fabricated from the workshop using a variety of archives  as well as the ideas of workshop participants.

The results are a kind of Housing Crisis Democracy Wall now up in all their glory on Jamaica Street in Bristol. Go see it if you're in the area.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Stories from the Home Front: James Arthur Allen and 'the ghost of two years' previous'

The series of responses to All Quiet on the Home Front with this lovely contribution from my fellow Bath resident, Jame Arthur Allen, the besotted new father overtaken and overcome by fatherhood. I recognise the sentiments so much.

I’m many things: a Husband, Brother, Friend and most recently a Father. I wouldn’t say I’m a selfish person, single minded maybe, stubborn, a definitive yes. I’m eager to share and I care for those close to me. I’m useless with money, talk too much and obsess over things that to the majority hold no importance or consequence. I have fears that revolve around other people’s and my own perception of success; like everyone else I also have dreams.

Minnie Mae came screaming into the world in early September 2016; it felt like a dream. With her arrival came many things, questions, truths and struggles. 

It’s no longer my hopes and dreams I have to contend with, in truth they have become secondary. I chase my aspirations, projects, commitments and work covertly. I steal windows of opportunity for myself, I feel guilt when I go to work leaving my wife to care for Minnie in the full knowledge of how relentlessly hard it is. 

I sneak off to make pictures, like an addict the more I withdraw from the previous incarnation of myself the more strongly I feel the need to chase the ghost of two years previous. I have become secondary to the mundane cycle of routine, a facilitator of needs, a constant assuring presence at the centre of Minnie’s Universe.  To my daughter I am everything, a sun around which she revolves. 

I realise that this seems negative but it’s not. I realise that like all suns my brightness and wonder will slowly diminish in my daughter’s eyes, my importance will fade into the background of her own life. But that’s ok, I know that many before me have trodden the same path and understand what it is like to love something with every fibre of your being. To have something that you would die and kill for with out a moment’s consideration, it’s a shared experience that for many is the very essence of life. My own mortality walks beside me now, my biggest fear is not seeing Minnie be independent and happy; my own preservation and goals are shaped by this. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is life’s most ironic joke.

As a disclaimer I live around the corner from Colin, we share the same landscape and the same lifestyle. We are both photographers and teachers and have spent time discussing fatherhood both before the arrival of Minnie and after. We have a shared experience. All Quiet on the Home Front talks to me in many ways, it’s a road map to fatherhood, and enabled me to articulate my feelings and the changes I have and will tackle in my life. I have shared it with others and all have gleaned sage advice from the pages and images. I see Minnie in Isabel, I see myself in Colin, my phone is full of pictures of Minnie, tokens and totems of fleeting moments that I have now lost, memories that have been replaced by shopping lists and deadlines. 

Most importantly the pages let me know that it will be ok. That I am destined to continue striving to realise my dreams whilst managing Minnies’. Perhaps most reassuringly the pages communicate that the present will pass and I will change, that I will one day face my own mortality but it’s not yet. 

We have far to many adventures to have before then.

Other Stories from the Home Front:

 #1 Emilie Lauwers

 #2 Benedetta Casagrandre

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Where's the Bechdel Test for Photography?

illustration of women playing street football, Harper's Bazaar, 1869

Continuing on a literary theme from yesterday's post (and to procrastinate me away from the looming presence of marking hell) it was interesting to read that there was a decline in woman authors in English literature from the 19th century through to the 1950. The authors of the report

'...found “a fairly stunning decline” in the number of books written by women in the first half of the 20th century, writing that “the proportion of fiction actually written by women … drops by half (from roughly 50% of titles to roughly 25%) as we move from 1850 to 1950.”

With this decline comes a decrease in the representation of women characters, with women characters constituting around 25% of women characters compared to 75% of men. Kate Mosse connects all this to Victorian domestic mythologies and the  hierarchy of literary criticism

The decline in women writing is part of the reason for the drop in women characters. According to the academics’ analysis, in books by men, women occupy on average just a quarter to a third of the character-space. In books by women, “the division is much closer to equal”. The analysis finds: “This gap between the genders is depressingly stable across 200 years.”

Kate Mosse, the bestselling historical novelist and founder of the Women’s prize for fiction, said that she was not surprised by the results. “When we were setting up the prize, we discovered that when a book by a woman won a prize, it was more likely to have a male protagonist,” she said. “This huge piece of research backs that up.”

Mosse pointed to “a sea change from the Enlightenment through to Victorian values, so women are freer in the time of Jane Austen or Mary Shelley or Ann Radcliffe, but then Victorian values – the idea of the angel in the home – take over. And then criticism becomes a discipline. It’s a male discipline, and it’s therefore not surprising to me that women as writers lose their positions, because it’s men writing about male writers, and it starts to inch out women. You see this in history, and in music – it’s equal, and then when criticism starts to become important, women’s contributions are undervalued.”

The suggestion is that the marginalisation of women in novels and the elevation of the male is an institutionalised affair. It's something you can see across the board. In film you have the simple measurement of the Bechdel test that shows how marginal women are in Hollywood film, while even in things that are supposed to be definitively male such as football, the marginalisation of women's role was institutionalised by the Football Association in the UK. Before the FA banned women from playing football in 1921 (FIFA lifted the ban in 1971), Before this, women played in front of crowds of tens of thousand in the UK and there was a flourishing visual and news culture - which is why a museum of women's football is being opened. The illustration up top is part of this museum and is a startling reminder how something can be so easily wiped from our collective history, and how easily we take part in this erasure.

     Robert Frank

Oh yes, photography. It's difficult to quantify the representation of women in photography because photography is far more functional and diverse than literary fiction or cinema. But many many women are looking at the photography of specific artists, questioning it and are marking photographers off as excessively male in the collectively toxic sense Mosse hints at and Churchwell wrote about in this great piece on Mailer, Updike and Roth. There is that perception of the macho man-photographer-beast recreating a manworld in his image in all kinds of sub-sects of photography - and then replicating that world view in the lists they create, the artists they promote, the attitudes they present. I don't know if it's always fair or not, but it's there in a big way. People might not write about it, but they talk about it all the time. Writing about it is still difficult.

I think the most interesting and useful analysis of representation of gender is the high street test where you walk down the High Street and see what is on offer. Because that is the photography that everybody sees, all the time. Photobooks, exhibitions and special interest photography such as is dealt with on this blog and in all the usual places is far more marginal. It doesn't really matter in terms of mass visual effect.

But I'm still waiting for somebody to do the Bechdel test for photography - you know, the one where it doesn't count if they're naked, tied up or have a chocolate box invitation face. You could apply it to photobook histories (Volume 1 of Parr and Badger), genres such as photojournalism World Press Photo ( specific sub-genres (Provoke) or even specific artists. Hold on - I'll do Robert Frank.

I just did The Americans and in my unscientific and unreliable methodology around 32 pictures are specifically male centred and 22 are more female centred, with none of those pictures falling into some kind of Bechdel disallowing category. Despite the imbalance, the seeking out and inclusion of women and the worlds in which they live shows that Frank was thinking of these things back in the 1950s. How far have we progressed now?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Julian Baron for a Workshop about Something that Matters

If you're lucky enough to be in Bristol this weekend (Friday 23rd, 24th, 25th February) a couple of spaces have become available on Julian Baron's The Cage: Visualising The Housing Crisis workshop.

This is a super hands-on workshop where you'll be researching images, making images, and fabricating images all within the context of housing and its discontents. It's about overpriced rents, multi-occupancy housing, buy-to-let, sofa surfing, trust funds, hedge funds, second homes, holiday homes, empty homes, crowded homes, the homeless, the speculator, the carpet-bagger, the property developer, the estate agent, the housing pimp, the London downsizer and the overseas hedge-better. It's about the end of social housing and the boom in the bedsit economy. It's about family albums, real estate photography, planning images, facadism, housing advocacy, Grand Designs , Shelter, and a Place in the Sun. It's Costa del Sol Ghost Towns and English gentrification, it's about the pricing out of Cornwall and foreign ownership, and whatever else you want it to be. It's about quite a lot then. And it matters to everybody.

It's a workshop that is about the archive, about community, about exhibiting and publishing work that has meaning, content and is about something that is of concern to everybody. And it's experimental and has a certain energy. There will be stuff going on.

So if you're interested in the archive, in community and in collaborative site-specific installation about something that really matters, this is the one for you.

Who can say no to that!

Also see Julian talking at the 'Arnolfini in Bristol this Thursday. Buy your tickets here.

Same Old World Press Photo Blog Post as Last Year

 Image from Gas Light - Photograph: Allstar/MGM/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

I feel a bit bad for World Press Photo because they do try hard and they actually listen to criticism and put policies in place that try to address various issues from representation by women, to global workshops to address regional disparities to putting into place policies against sexual harassment at a stage when other organisations were still ignoring the problem even when they knew it existed. That is really unusual.

it's not a good final six this year though which is down to the judges. But I think I might be repeating myself if i write about it again this year, so I'll just cut and paste my post from last year. Change a few names in your head, add something about the six pictures selected as finalists and the limited generic spectacle (as opposed to the non-generic spectacle - there's a big difference) and there you have it.... if you have anything you disagree with or want to add, change that in your head as well. And there's your WPP post for this year. It's the same as last year's

Just one thing though. World Press Photo is a competition so it should be judged on that. If you want to criticise the photojournalism, you really have to go to the original source to do that and look at the context of the publication in which the images appear. Then you have to be reading the magazines and the newspapers in which these stories appear which makes things so much more complex and interesting because then text comes into it, design comes into it, editorial policy and the political stance of the publication comes into it, advertising comes into it, everything comes into it. That is also the case for multimedia pieces, film, anything.That's what makes it interesting. .

This article by Sarah Churchwell on literature and toxic masculinity was published last weekend. She nails Mailer, Updike and others quite savagely and with an enjoyably angry pleasure I think, labelling their writing as literary gaslighting. It's obvious and sometimes the best articles are obvious. And she backs up the obviousness with a series of extracts which scream self-obsessed misogynist right back at you. Here's a few selected extracts

“I slapped her glazed butternut ass, with its infantile puckered aperture, so decisively that she tumbled onto her back” in Toward the End of Time (1997) 

Updike was particularly fond of the long-standing pornographic trope in which women are awestruck when they see “naked, stiff and erect, that wonderful machine”

in Updike’s 2008 The Widows of Eastwick, a woman looks at two naked men and finds them “so beautiful and monstrous, these glossy erect pricks”, that she just “had to take them into her mouth”

At other times the widows sit around thinking about “their nether parts, hairy and odorous and for many Christian centuries unspeakable”, as you do.

When Kate Millett called Mailer a “prisoner of the cult of virility”, he responded with The Prisoner of Sex (1970), in which he revealed that he once called his penis “The Avenger”, but had renamed it “Retaliator” – just another penis with a thesaurus.

The other thing these extracts also scream is that if people are coming up with this dreck, if this is their way of thinking, then the stories might be a little bit lacking. If they are leaving out over 50% of the population because of a penis-fixation, without recognising that, then, well, the stories are a bit deluded and living in a kind of fantasy land.

Churchwell is also questioning the idea of the author as literary seer, the masculine model of the heroic (male) writer whose brutal honesty will bring you to some truth. It's a model that has its equivalent in post-war American art in particular, but I wonder if there isn't the equivalent in photography, or at least one equivalent in photography with the myth of the postwar heroic Concerned Photographer with its destructive emphasis on the power of the individual rather than the communal. The idea that the photographer can change things, or is some kind of activist who provides a window on the world that is a catalyst for change is an enduring one that doesn't just limit the subject matter to a male-centred world but also creates a dysfunctional and dishonest image of what a photographer is or can be.

You can see this all the time right now (Concerned and committed photography is coming back in fashion) and I rather do think that yes there is great work, but at the same time humble yourself photographer, you're not that wise, and your pictures aren't that world-changing however much you screw up your eyes, and what one hand giveth with the changing the world for the better, the other hand taketh away. I wonder if the whole Photographer-as-Saviour myth isn't Photography's Toxic Masculinity. Or one of its toxic masculinities. Because there's more than one. Obviously. Duh.

Anyway, this is what I wrote from last year. Adjust in your head where necessary to fit your own world view. No correspondence will be entered into and the judge's decision (that's me. Start your own blog if you want to be a judge) is final!

World Press Photo and the Taste of Photography

I buy newspapers every day. When I look at the pictures in a newspaper I want to be informed, moved, entertained, shocked and thrilled. I want to see pictures that sell newspapers which might sound crass but it's the case that pictures are emotional things, pretend as we might that they are not. On the whole, I don't want to see banal photographs (because they are banal. Which is a step away from boring), or photographs about in-between-places or data or algorthims. I don't want to see pages of conceptual landscape photography or typologies or trawls through the archive. They are not, as I sit on the 7.36 train to Bristol what I want from images. I want pictures that are direct, obvious, illustrative and part of a bigger wider world.

They are one of the things I want from photography. And it's not the same as what I want if I buy a photobook or go to an exhibition or visit a website. If I buy a photobook I don't want to see the same kind of pictures that I see in a newspaper. The same as when I go to an exhibition.

It's the same with books. I might be perfectly happy to read Primo Levi or Doestyevsky or whoever in the peace of my home when my brain is strong and muscular, but it's not what I want at the crack of dawn when my brain is weak and limp-neuroned. In the same way that I don't want to read English news on a Greek beach, I'd much rather have Patricia Highsmith or Raymond Chandler.

There are different kinds of writing for different situations and for different moods, locations and mental states. And there are different kinds of photography that fit for different occasions in other words. They serve different functions, different needs, different people...

Press photography is one of those kinds. But you can tick them off; fashion, advertising, documentary, wildlife, wedding, commercial, pornography, forensic, crime, medical, dental, passport, identification and on it goes.

There are many forms of writing, or film, or music. And we categorise these forms and we judge them. But sometimes we should be aware of our judging. We get a bit partisan about it and we can get snobby, especially when you enter the joyless discourse of sobriety that marks off much of the critical photography world. You have to talk with a certain tone. It's a tone you'd like to slap if it were a face.

It's like when people were only allowed to like one type of music to the exclusion of everything else. Photography can be a bit like that - you're only allowed to like whatever the photographic equivalent of Kraftwerk is. Maybe you can have some Steve Reich in there. Philip Glass would be too flamboyant. Whoop-de-doo!

I remember when I first got interested in photography. My taste followed a fairly familiar kind of trajectory.

It started with travel photography (because that's what I did), moved up to National Geographic, went on to World Press Photo, extended to Magnum and classic concerned photography, then that got me interested in Photobooks, then I learned something about Japanese photography, everything became a bit more autobiographical, a touch of the vernacular came in, so did the archive then things moved on to more multi-media visual representations with the trend being the move away from the actual image to everything that surrounded it. What's interesting is that as you move along this developmental trajectory, the numbers get smaller - how many people are actually interested in this kind of photography, how many people look at it, how many people buy it.

It's a trail followed by many people (but not everybody - what's your visual trail). People won't always admit it because they're is a hierarchy of taste in there and it roughly corresponds to the scale above. What's important in that scale is that there is a move away from photography, the purity (??) of the image, which can be regarded as the essential stupidity of the image - it's point and shoot.

As you go up the scale there's a distance from photography then and people sometimes imagine this distance is a mark of sophistication. It becomes less about the image and more about everything that surrounds the image. That's why so many people involved in photography really don't like photography. They don't even like looking for heaven's sake. I'm not sure I should pay any attention to somebody who doesn't like looking. It would be like buying a cookbook from somebody who doesn't like food. It doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, back to whatever it was I was talking about. So on these terms National Geographic is kind of low brow, Martin Parr is low middle-brow (and proud of it), Magnum is Middle Brow and Wolfgang Tilmans is high-brow but the low end of it (the hierarchies also tie in to economic, social and cultural hierarchies).

Photography is a taste culture then. And sometimes we are so narcissistic that we mistake our taste for some kind of absolute, or we mistake the dearth of people who share our taste for some kind of mark of sophistication. Or we mistake the evolution of our taste as symptomatic of a hierarchy, maybe because the idea of hierarchies are embedded in the evolutionary.  I think that is because the photography world we  talkative ones inhabit (academic, photobooks, documentary) is very small - we would rather be big fishes in small ponds then allow the vastness of the photographic universe to pollute the quasi-Brahminic rituals of our sphere of influence. And so we shut it out by creating artificial barriers.

Of course, we get work that crosses those barriers, that can make the leap from one taste-strata to another. We do have half an eye on the economic and social realities of the photographic world so work with elements of crime, or sex, or drugs, or youth culture can leap across boundaries; Weegee, Metinides, Brodie, spring to mind. And as mentioned above, we all like a bit of cash and glamour on the sly, so some genre-slipping is as much to do with the veneer of the work as with the content.

I think this is what happens with World Press Photo every year. It's a competition for press photos. These are pictures that fit into a particular genre and serve specific needs, including being beautiful, spectacular and impactful.

The winner this year, Burhan Ozbilici's picture of Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş murder of Andrey Karlov fits into all those categories. It's a difficult picture because, like many of the other World Press Photo Winners, it shows somebody who has died. Unlike most of these pictures, it also shows the killer. And he is a killer.

He's a killer who wants to be photographed. Let him be photographed. He wants to be written about. Let him be written about. Ultimately he will be judged for what he is; a murderer. For all the style and glamour and posing of the image, that is what will stick.

Because if we don't allow this death to be shown, then what death do we show. Disasters of war, memento mori, sharpshooters, lynchings, holocausts, murders, assassinations, executions, car crashes, falls, remains, corpses, cremations, post-mortems... pictures that witness, provide evidence, glorify, honour, memorialise, remember, warn, prosecute, celebrate... I'm not sure what can be shown and what can't be shown. And then if it can't be shown, it can't be written about or talked about or spoken of and we end up with a world that is fundamentally dishonest and in denial of what it is to be human.

Maybe also we overestimate the influence of photography, especially our kind of photography. Photography didn't end the Vietnam War, it didn't begin it. Photography didn't end any war. There are far more vivid and dramatic and heroifying images and clips of murders circulating online (Lina Hashim's work deals with this for instance) that do influence people and opinion, that do glorify murder and death - and they don't come from photojournalists or documentary photographers. And if you think about the images that have had a major effect on the lives of people, what kind of pictures are they? Who took the Marlboro Man pictures? How many deaths did they lead to? If they did lead to any? And who took all the countless anti-smoking photographs around the world. Which qualitatively have been determined to have led millions of people to stop smoking. And so, it could be argued, have saved thousands of lives.

In the UK, death is always hidden. We don't show the bodies and we don't show the killers - who is building those drones, who is pressing those buttons. This is a case where the killer is shown. Does it glamourise him, does it promote his cause? I don't think so. It's a great picture and fully deserves its award. It's photojournalism at its best.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Stories from the Home Front: Benedetta Casagrande - At six I told my father what to do

image from Benedetta Casagrande

After Emilie de Lauwers, we continue the series of responses to All Quiet on the Home Front with this insightful contribution from Benedetta Casagrande (see more of her work at Ardesia Projects)

I always used to tell my father off. When I was a child, I had a loud mouth and a strong sense of justice. I was inquisitive. I would ask him whether he ever went with a prostitute, and after I would ask him why didn’t he marry her. We would drive together to school, and I would reprove him for how he spoke back to mom. I was sweet and forgiving but I would not let anything go unnoticed. The most amazing thing about these memories is my father’s effort to listen to me. At six years old. Telling him what is best to do. More often than not he would thank me, and apply my wise advice.

When I was nine years old my oldest brother died in a motorcycle accident. Me and my father always were close, but the loss of my brother brought us closer - unlike my older brother and sister, I still required a great deal of looking after. My presence in my father’s life became a fundamental asset for his recovery from the loss of his firstborn. That special core of intimacy strengthened over the years - me and my father were (and still are, though differently) partners in crime. I know I can see through him - he knows it too.

Teenage years were tough. My boyfriend died in a car crash and I became increasingly anxious and afraid of death. Back then I used to live with my father, and he was growing old (he is from the class of 1944). He was an aging man dealing with a teenager in crisis - it must have been really hard for him. A few months later he had a brain hemorrhage, and I was sent to live with my aunt. He survived it, but my teenage self was persecuted by the images of him in the hospital room with two tubes coming out of his shaved head. He always had long, black hair, I had never seen him bald before.

How do you deal with the overtaking fear of loss? Death is so definitive… I have no answer to this question. All I know is that, becoming an adult, I began standing more steadily on my own legs. I know I will not be lost anymore. Me and my father have the most loving relationship and I am proud of how he is aging; he has a new family, picks up the nephews from school once a week, plays tennis three times a week and never spends one weekend at home. Him and his girlfriend are always travelling. Our bond has survived my growing up; I am an adult, but the characteristics of our relationship are still rooted in my childhood, in the times in which we were inseparable partners in crime.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

After the Firebird by Ekaterina Vasilyeva

My latest short youtube review is of After the Firebird by Ekaterina Vasilyeva. This is a beautiful handmade book (with thread colours that match the innards of the signatures) which is still available.

It tells the story of Ekaterina's grandparents, and the land they live on, and the magic of that land. There are images and there is text (and I think the text could just be about the grandparents but then that's me and that's the place I'm in. We all have our prejudices and that's one of mine). The images are quite recognisable in some ways but altogether there's a strong sense of place and individuality in there which I really like.

The rather lovely thing about the Russian books I see is they still have a slightly different sensibility, they come from a different place and have a sense of identity about them. Sometimes it's to do with the land which is what After the Firebird is about (and that ties in with yesterday's post) but sometimes they are just to do with what seems to be a bit of oddness. There seems to be an urgency not to conform (at least in the small independently produced world) whereas in other places, everybody wants to be the same, while pretending not to want to be the same. There's always that question of what have other people done so I can copy it?

And when everybody is trying to make pictures or books or stories that fit within an easy genre, it is astonishingly refreshing to see something different, that sits in the hand and has some eccentricity to it. It also means a different language is being used, but I have a post on that, the myth of visual language, coming up soon. Here's a clue, photography is not a language. Obviously. Duh!

Ha, ha. I'll leave it there before I change my mind about that statement. And the Duh!


Buy After the Firebird here. It's lovely and there are 20 left.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Soft Fascination, Place Identity and All Quiet on the Home Front

I was reading about Soft Fascination, the idea that comes from The Experience of Nature by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan.

It's a very simple idea that leads on from the division of attention into directed and involuntary categories. Anything with a screen, with text, with images is directed. Anything where your brain is tuned into something organised and functional, that fits in some kind of grid, is directed. most 'relaxing' activities are directed. Relaxing activities drain us.

We live in a directed society and it's exhausting. We need relief from it. We live in a directed society and it's exhausting. We need relief from it. And that's where soft fascination comes in. It even sounds lovely. And that's because it is.

Soft Fascination provides relief from our exhausting lifestyles in the form of involuntary attention, the kind that you have when you walk in the woods wondering at the light flickering through the trees, when you lie down in a meadow and watch the clouds float by, when you doze on the beach listening to the sound of the waves. All of these involve attention but it doesn't fit within a grid, it has an inbuilt irregularity that stops it settling into the kind of regular pattern. The fractal patterns of light through trees, the movement of clouds, the sound of the waves all have an irregularity that is self-disruptive. In essence we can't concentrate on them. That is what makes them relaxing. It's the regularity that is exhausting.

So going out into nature, even the rough nature that you get around cities provides a restoration of energies, a rebuilding and firming up of the soul. That's what soft fascination does for you - it allows you to fall into yourself, to detach yourself from the gridded patterns of life. And the it takes place in environments that are restoring, so there is the idea of the Restorative Environment. 

I've written about forest-bathing before, which is something similar, but it's always rather lovely when you a new idea that corresponds to your own work, but you've never seen before.

All Quiet on the Home Front is all about that soft fascination, about finding some form of equilibrium in trees, water, flora, the elements. In a world where words, images, and the life-sapping parasitism of social media is competing for attention in a destruction manner, soft fascination is an antidote to the exhaustion. It is completely about the restorative environment both in the form Kaplan (and Burkeman) write about, but also in the sense of place attachment and place identity, the idea that a strong sense of place creates grounding points for memory and self that can act as external reset points throughout one's life; it's the idea of people being of this world rather than in control of this world in other words. The former potentially makes you happy, the latter most definitely does not. So

Anyway, this is what Burkeman says about it

Soft fascination has two crucial components. First, it’s effortless: you don’t need to “try to focus” on the wind in the trees, or a moor top blanketed in heather. Second, it’s partial: it absorbs some attention, but leaves some free for reflection, conversation or mind-wandering. The result is what the Kaplans called “cognitive quiet”, in which the muscle of effortful attention – the one you use to concentrate on work – gets to rest, but without the boredom you’d feel if you had nothing to focus on. This helps explain why nature’s benefits aren’t restricted to, say, trips to the Grand Canyon or Great Barrier Reef. Those places seize your whole attention, whereas your local park may seize just enough of it to let the rest of your mind relax.

Think about attention like this, and it becomes clear how irresponsibly we usually treat our own supply of it. “To concentrate on a task, you need to block out distractions,” as the design and technology expert Richard Coyne has written – and “once that blocking function gets worn down by fatigue, you are more likely to act on impulse, to shirk tasks that prove too challenging [or] to become irritable.” But all too often, we respond to concentration fatigue by trying to concentrate on something different: email, social media, TV – “things that are more engaging but less challenging”. No wonder that doesn’t work: it’s like taking a rest after lifting dumbbells by lifting different dumbbells. Nature, by contrast, lets us switch modes. To quote Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, it “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquillises it and yet enlivens it”.

There’s plenty of evidence for the soft fascination thesis. But for me, it’s personal experience that makes it ring so true. To listen to some proponents of mindfulness, you might think the best way to engage with nature is being totally immersed in the scenery. Yet anyone who loves hiking knows part of the pleasure is in pondering other matters as you walk, or in meandering conversations – rambling while rambling. Countless famous thinkers – Darwin, Thoreau, Wordsworth – swore by daily walks in nature. But they were still thinking as they walked.

And here are some formative thoughts from Kaplan on the idea of The Restorative Environment

The thrust of my argument can summarized in terms of three basic themes:

1. Increasing pressures lead to problems of mental fatigue.
2. Restorative experiences are an important means of reducing mental fatigue, and have a special connection to natural environments.
3. Natural environments, in providing these deeply needed restorative experiences,play an essential role in human functioning. 

These themes, in turn, lead to three groups of questions that 1 shall attempt to address:
1. The first set of questions concerns the pressures members of modem society face: Why are these pressures increasing? What impact do they have?

2. The second set concerns what Rachel Kaplan and I have come to call "restorative experiences," that is, experiences that help people recover from mental fatigue: What is the nature of these experiences? How do they achieve their substantial benefits? How does nature play a special role in providing such experiences?

3. Finally, what makes natural environments so important? What kinds of significant impacts can they have on the life of an individual? 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Julian Baron's Bristol Workshop

image above by Julian Baron from Cesura 

Here is a quick heads up for a workshop by Julian Baron on 23rd.24th and 25th February. 

Titled The Cage: Visualising the Housing Crisis, this is a 3-day collaborative workshop and intervention in the public space done in collaboration with People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol. The workshop will be coordinated by IC-Visual Lab in conjunction with internationally acclaimed Spanish artist Julián Barón. This project is a collaboration between Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), Arnolfini and University of West of England.


During this workshop, participants will be asked to respond collectively to the current housing crisis in the UK by producing visual material resulted from applying various techniques of image manipulation, collage… They will also design a public intervention where all the resulting work will be displayed in a Bristol location.

Workshop facilitators will provide an archive of images to work with composed of photographs, archive images, pictograms, documents, film stills, books and magazines. Participants will also be able to contribute to this pool of images by bringing their own ones. We recommend you bring between 20-30 A4 B&W images which should be printed on a photocopier or a domestic printer (printing quality is not important). You can also send these images to the organisers before the workshop for printing.

The final work will be displayed in the public space in a Bristol location. The location chosen will be relevant to the topic of the housing crisis providing the perfect canvas to showcase all participants’ responses. Location details will be given to participants once they have signed for the workshop.

Furthermore, participants will produce an experimental publication (printed and digital) with an extended version of the works produced. Every participant will have a free publication at the end of the workshop. The organizers will also provide full documentation (images & a promotional video) to participants after the workshop.

There is also a talk by Julian Baron  on Thursday February 22nd at the Arnolfini.

I.Julian Barón i one of the most active and committed figures of the new Spanish photographic scene. In this talk, Julian will share the ideas behind his most recent projects, produced in Spain since 2011: C.E.N.S.U.R.A, Tauromaquia, and Los últimos días vistos del rey and Memorial.

Deeply concerned by the political, economic, and social issues of a country in unprecedented crisis, he uses outrageously manipulated and twisted images in a dialectic of the representation of power, institutions, and the political class. He has an ongoing interest in experiemental publications as well as the possibilities between the physical and the digital.

Barón will also give an introduction to the workshop The Cage: Visualising the Housing Crisis that takes place in Bristol over three days with a final intervention in the public space and a experimental publication.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Stories From the Home Front: Emilie Lauwers: I did not know how to live without him

Following this post on All Quiet on the Home Front and emotional narratives, the blog is featuring submitted images and stories on their family life: Stories from the Home Front. This is from Emilie Lauwers who first told me her story when I was showing her the All Quiet dummy at the Gazebook Festival in Punta Secca.

Here's my story.

When I was twenty five, my brother died of health issues. He was twenty one. There is much to write about that moment that isn't relevant here. What matters, is that the days after, as the sun came up and went down and came up again, I was paralyzed. It took me some time to realize that sadness was not what paralyzed me. There was something else.

I did not know how to live without him.

It was not only the missing of a person I loved that scared me. What scared me, was that I didn't know who I was, apart from 'my brothers sister'.

I was 3 when he was born, so I had no memory of a life without him. We grew up together, and I built my identity upon his existence. His health issues were the clockwork of our family. I was a good girl, very responsible, very empathic, because that was the role I naturally took beside him. I was highly sensitive - I used to listen to his breathing all the time, and understood the unspoken sadness of my parents. I was his sidekick. I was funny when he lost courage. I defended him, lied for him, made his homework, carried him out of the sea when he was too tired to swim. Every single decision I took in my life until his death, whether it was the fact that I never traveled, a choice of study or an interest in certain men, was to be brought back to my brother in one or the other way. When I was 25, we said goodbye, and in that instant, everything I had come to be seemed to have lost purpose.

For a brief, very frightening moment, it occurred to me that I completely forgot to build a personality of my own.
An identity, independent of anyone else. 

It was a very brief moment, because one month later, I was pregnant.

Deus ex machina, my new function in life came from the skies.
I was no longer a sister. I was now a mom.
I was the kind of mother that completely ignores herself. Everything for the baby. It was the perfect alibi.

The situation made me connect even deeper with my parents. Becoming a parent always brings your own parents back to the stage. In my case, since my brother left, it was just the three of us anyway.

My parents are not random parents. My mom is the mom of everyone. The best way to describe her is that she owns a stock of postcards and she manages to send them to everyone on the planet, on the exact right moment. There will be a perfect postcard when someone is born or somebody dies, but also when someone graduates, moves house, gets married, gets divorced, gets chemo, swam without safety straps, saw a real squirrel, fears a big decision, loves chocolate, needs to pack for Italy. Anything. She does the same thing with books. I think if you'd take the books out of my parents place it would collapse. My mom offers books to people all the time: books with the perfect title, the perfect theme, or the perfect phrase in them. She's a big example to me, but as for perfectly timed postcards, for the time being I don't even manage to buy stamps in time.

You'll never guess, but my dad is the dad of everyone. I grew up with all his students nearby, the young artists and performers he was teaching. We'd have long dinners, with candle light and music and dozens of young people sitting around the table listening to my dad, eating the food my mom cooked for them. He was their master, and in many ways he still is mine. Many people knew him, and as I followed his footsteps into theatre, I was often introduced as 'the daughter of my dad'.

In my life, apart from 'my brothers sister' and 'the daughter of my dad', I occasionally was someone's employee, someone's colleague, someone's illustrator, someones designer or someone's scenographer. I was often someone's friend, someone's best friend, someone's neighbor. I also was someone's wife. I found the perfect man for a relationship in which elaborating one's own identity was not a topic.

Two years after my brother died and my daughter was born, my father had an accident. In a few hours time, he went from the charismatic director I was working with, to a body full of tubes in a hospital bed, so far gone in a coma he didn't even hear us speak. It took six months for him to recover, and in those six months my mother got breast cancer. All of a sudden, my immortal parents turned out to offer no certainty. Being 'just' their daughter wouldn't work forever. Being 'just' his brother never did the trick either.
Predictably, my husband had seen enough existential misery and our relationship didn't survive the worrisome times. We split up. I was no longer 'his wife'. The universe, just to make its point clear, also made sure that I got fired from my full time job. I was no longer someone's employee, someone's colleague, someone's designer. At that point in my life I was 29, and there were simply no more external factors to hold on to when it came to the simple question: 'who am I'?

There was one person left.

My child, then 3.

I realized I had to do things differently.

In order to be a parent, I had to be a person.

I had to identify myself.

It took me a few years to observe who I was and figure out what parts of my personality were essential to me, independent of others. You could say that I was 30 when I was born (again). I'm 33 now and I'm growing up, slow but steady. By the side of my daughter, who forces me to total integrity simply by calling me 'mom'. It's a beautiful journey, that I am enjoying with all my heart. If the story above seems heavy to you, don't worry, it has a happy ending and sharing it does no longer cause me any harm.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The emotional narratives. of All Quiet on the Home Front

When people talk or write about All Quiet on The Home Front, it is fascinating to see how the book touches different elements of people's experience of being a parent, being a child, of being outside.

All Quiet on the Home Front is about my experience of fatherhood and that loss of self I experienced when Isabel was born, and that recovery of self that happened as she grew up, as we got out of the house, as she established herself as a real person with real feelings, with a real life. And left me behind in the process. To me it's about the repeated cycle of birth and death as Isabel becomes who she is. My birth and my death. I'm the flip side to the images perhaps. It's about her, but it's about me. And the message is personal but it's also universal.

What is so unpredictable is the different parts the text and the images touch in people, and not just in predictable ways. I have talked about parental and maternal ambivalence before, the way in which you wish your child away, but I have found people approaching All Quiet from a different direction, from the inability to have children a kind of non-parental, non-ambivalence at the feeling of grief and loss this inability instils in a person - something that is not in the book at all, but somehow now is.

Or I have spoken to people who have beautifully talked about how motherhood was a coming into selfhood, not a loss of selfhood, a process compounded by earlier sacrifice and loss. And in terms of landscape, people have been both nostalgic about their childhoods, about the environments they found their life in, but there have also been stories of confinement and loss, of not being able to go outside, of a gradual locking away of the outside world, of watching while others are given free reign.

In Wired Japan, Kazuma Obara talks about the emotional tumult of fatherhood and the tears he shed on reading the book, in Photomonitor Jesse Alexander focusses on the escape from the domestic space, and the need to escape it, to get some relief from domestic claustrophobia.

What is also interesting about these responses and many more sent in by email, is how much they open up my interpretation of the book, how much I learn both about other people's experiences and my own.

In this extended piece in American Suburb X, Brad Feurhelm writes about how one's world view shifts when one has a child, and in particular how it shifts if you work in something creative. All Quiet on the Home Front is a kind of creative place holder then, something that consolidates a creative practice, that brings a parental ways of seeing and being into the work that I used to do. Which is not what I had in mind, but is completely the case. And now that I am working on other family material (my German Family Album - you can see some on Instagram) it seems to be a world in which I will be living for some while.

These are some snippets from Brad's piece, which is quite beautiful.

Nobody can tell you the effect of what having children does for or to you if you are in the creative arts....

When you are involved in making visual work, you have several different perimeters from which you construct images. Some people work in serial, some people work on one piece for a very long time, ruminating over its every detail and some people work completely automatically and simply produce. One thing that happens while becoming a parent in the first years is that within that strange world of fatigue and over-concern, you begin to appreciate the time that you can spend in your own head as it relates to creatively quite differently. Things open up and close down in equal measure... 

You grow to appreciate the time you have to yourself more often with all those strange hormones and anti-desires building up on your walk through the woods during the pram-pushing afternoon nap. At times, you find yourself trying desperately to imagine what life is like outside of the bountiful, but repetitive gestures of stacking those wooden blocks over and over or flipping through the same book 6,000 times to continue the ritual for stability that a child unknowingly forces on his or her parent. 

I think the great fear of becoming a parent when you are in the arts outside of the financial is the fear that you wont have time to create again or that when you return you might not be producing things at the same rate, speed or intensity of which you were before childbirth (the true B.C.)...

The most noticeable shift in becoming a parent in the arts is that the images or ideas that you thought was perhaps something of a grave nature or concern in your work, are found to be of less value than you thought...  The ideas that you had-a certain vigor or an urge or yes, very much a desire has slowed. What took me by surprise was that picking up a camera again had more to say about my newly developed circumstances than I had even considered and most of that lies within the intimate world around...

Colin Pantall’s “All Quiet on the Home Front” is a book I feel like I am living, but with a different protagonist in frame. I recognize his walks with Isabel, though I do not live in his country. I understand looking at his trees, the geological formations underneath their root structures and the places where fairly unthreatening water off the path collides with a child’s natural ability to notice it and demand inclusion within its swirling surface. I notice the last moments of summer and the oncoming spring when the energy that a child has to burn by process of growth is given ample green patch or dirt bike course to do so on as papa follows along with his broken camera never knowing if these images are his next book or simply “got some nice pics of Isabel today” totems... 

Colin’s work is about navigating this territory of new life alongside his daughter. It’s about creating fascination and also keeping the cogs of creativity oiled and running through watching his daughter grow up and himself grow older. Photography is many terrible things, but one thing it is great for is fascination. It harnesses the possibility for playing out in a different way giving the child a look into adult possibility, while also reminding the adult what it was like to look at the world with young and/or un-jaded eyes. 

Go here to read the whole article.

Because of the diverse nature of responses, and the stories that people want to tell, starting later this week I will be posting the stories and images people have been sending in as a response to All Quiet on the Front.

If you have a story and an image to show, do get in touch with me at colinpantall@yahoo.co.uk