Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022
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Friday, 23 March 2018
Today's story from the Home Front comes from Kirsty Mackay, who speaks beautifully of her awe of children and the (photographic process) of letting them go.
'I so easily related to Stefan’s experience of photographing his son, that I had to write down my response. He wrote ‘Ask me why I photograph my children and I’ll most likely lose my way in trying to find a sufficient answer’.
I know why I photograph my children. I am in awe of them, especially my eldest as she grows away from me towards independence. I'm always scrambling to keep up, with the changes that happen before my eyes. I photograph my daughters in the same way every parent photographs their child - in a desperate attempt to hold onto this version of them. I want to see them completely before they change again and my camera helps me with that. I want to drink them up, inhale them before this version of them is lost. Hold on, click, let them go, repeat. It’s what it is to be a parent.
When we hold them still in the act of making a photograph, in that intense act - we hold on to them and perhaps there is also an equal, but opposite reaction as we release our grasp, the photograph is over, they run out of shot, and we let them go.'
Thank you for reading - the blog will take a short break and will be back in May (or June or sometime).
Wednesday, 21 March 2018
This is the rationale behind Diane Vincent's new book, within the pine cone i take rest. It's a meditative book on the world created by walking as part of the natural world. Made meditatively in handmade fashion in an edition of 25, it has a dual pricing system for those who are better off and those who are not so well off.
I love the sentiment. It's one of meditation, of losing yourself in the shapes, in the textures, in the smells of the twigs, the leaves, the earth, the air, and becoming the world of which we are part.
It's a sentiment at the heart of All Quiet on the Home Front, and it's evident here in quiet and gentle images of Vincent's quiet wanderings, wanderings in which there is a loss of self, and so a gaining of self.
The idea,is that we are fragmented beings, that our ideas of what it is to be a person, to be human, are sidelined by constant assaults from a comodified and codified world. And we are not commodified or codified beings, this is just false consciousness taking over.
The natural environment provides a primal reset button that operates with elemental basics that go beyond a fabricated identity. The more we reset that button, the more we are part of the world around us, rather than imagining ourselves riding on top of it like some supremacist controller (who actually has zero control as we can see from the world around us), the happier we are, the better the world here, the less dick-like we become. I wish I could live in that reset state all year round, but alas, like Vincent I have to settle for the small tastes of environmental freedom that I can get.
This fragmentation is echoed in the accompanying jigsaw that comes as a sideline to the book. I like jigsaws (the Google Street View of the Analogue World, I like their fragmentary nature and I see this jigsaw (and other jigsaw/photography crossovers such as this one by Alma Haser - which links to that idea of the fragmented self) as being part of an increased interest in the fragmented, deconstructed and reconstructed image. You see it here, in very direct landscape-identity manner that though it appears ephemeral is very grounded in the inescapable reality of consciousness and attention. You see it in the rise of the archive and its deconstruction, reconstruction, decontextualisation and recontextualisation. And you see it in the ongoing interest in collage and image manipulation (the artist who has given me most simple that-looks-fun pleasure this year is Kensuke Koike and his image cutting, eye-switching, hole-punching, pasta-stripping manipulations).
Monday, 19 March 2018
For many reasons, as I look out of my window at the melting snow, I am beyond excited to be talking at the San Telmo Fotolibros Fenomenon festival in San Sebastian (top left, by the park in the screengrab) on May 12th with Julian Baron, Jon Uriarte and Laia Abril.
Julian Baron will be also be running a workshop (the images below are from the last workshop he ran in Bristol!) and showing us all how to book-jockey.
I'll be talking about All Quiet on the Home Front, domesticity and historical interference in the family album amongst other things, Laia Abril will talk about her work (including On Abortion which is a phenomenal book!) and Jon Uriarte will moderate a discussion on the intersection between image, education, entertainment and the limitations of generic confinement in the photobook world. Or something along those lines...
The event will take place at the Museo San Telmo on Saturday May 12th as part of a programme of events organised in conjunction with Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche. The wonderful Gabriela donated her collection of photobooks to form a permanent resource accessible both physically and digitally. Her blog is also a brilliant resource of in-depth book reviews.
Other activities at the museum include a discussion by Martin Parr, Horacio Fernandez (writer of Fotografia Publica - the original Pre-Parr Photobook History), and Gabriela Cendoya (moderated by Moritz Neumuller).
What also catches the eye is the conference and workshop (workshops) by Awoiska van der Molen, Federico Clavarino and Jon Casanave, a workshop which, if my eyes don't deceive me, is 80 euros for 3 days. In San Sebastian!
This is part of the increasing sophistication of landscape and the way in which it is incorporating (in simplified terms) approaches to landscape and space that include spiritual (van der Molen - her image above), political (Clavarino) and territorial (Casanave) power.
For more information on the workshop and conference, look here
I think sometimes in photography we look at new things and then leave them be rather than revisiting them, or we get rather parochial and what happens in one part of the world passes us by. This is certainly the case with Jon Casanave in particular (that's his image above). His Ama Lur is one of the great landscape books that is less well-known in the UK ( at least). It's part of the metaphysical approach to landscape that is also exemplified by the brilliant work of van der Molen, Katrin Koening and Sarker Protick as well as many others.
Anyhow, this is from a review of Ama Lur I did for Photo-Eye a few years back. Unfortunately I couldn't find the book. I lent it a student who didn't give it back. Please give it back if you have it. It's a wonderful book.
The title of Jon Cazenave’s first book is Ama Lur. That’s Basque for Native Land, and that is exactly what his book is about, the land of the Basque Country, and how it is lived, experienced and seen.
Cazenave’s landscape narrative is pinned down by a series of images of cave paintings. These paintings might not be far from the surface, but Cazenave takes us deep into the earth, a fact emphasised by the deep black vignetting found at the edges of the images. The lines, the dots and the primitive designs look as though they have been illuminated by flashlight, adding to the exploratory nature of the images; the idea is that Cazenave is getting on his hands and knees and trawling into a kind of Basque subconscious.
A picture of a handprint emphasises both the tactile element apparent in the making of the pictures and the way in which identity and landscape are so strongly connected. So we see a series of cave interiors, a painting leads to stalactites and then a shot of an opening to the world above. But with the light streaming in from outside, everything becomes upside down and it looks like glowing magma; we’re in the bowels of the earth, and the primal rules. Flick the page and we see the palms of two hands, all prints and lines and texture. It’s a mirror of the rock we see in the next image, its surface scratched by lines that might have been left 20,000 years ago, but were probably made by Cazenave himself. Kinship with the past is claimed.
There are more matchings. A picture of wet horse hair, all matted and spiked and swirled like an over-gelled adolescent is matched with the texture of a stippled rock. Only this time the rock looks like the belly of a turtle. Maybe it is the belly of a turtle, because the sea gets a look in, in both close up and medium shot, its waves all fluffy and blurred as they merge into the rocks of the shore.
The elements get mixed up as the sea turns to cloud, and a picture of the moon (or is it the sun – they look so similar in dark photographs) shows it cutting through a black skyscape. The capillaries of tree branches are echoed in pictures of what might be cave paintings or might be rocks veined with minerals.
We can’t tell and as the book goes on the human and the geological come together. The elements become inseparable till we don’t know what is water, rock, cloud, or fire.
We can see the snow covered slopes of a mountain, but which way round does it go? And what is that in the picture that precedes it? Is it a flooded underwater cavern or a flipped picture of the seabed? And is that rock at the top or seaweed?
The world is merging together. A glitter of dust (maybe) mirrors the night sky, the flesh of a woman’s buttocks and thighs mirrors that of cave rock, and the cave rock in turn is lit to look like the upturned neck of a human. Ama Lur is the latest in a line of photobooks where landscapes, histories and identity are merged in deep blacks and speckled greys. And that is the idea behind Ama Lur, that we are born of the land and though the land may not care for us, if you rip us from the land then you rip our historical hearts out.
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia came to Britain last week. He had some meetings and appeared in advertisements and billboards in London and in newspapers like the Guardian. The narrative was one of modernisation, of a new Saudi Arabia that connects very much to the presuppositions of the British public about what Saudi Arabia means. It's part of a long-running PR and soft-power campaign that dates back to well before the crown prince became the Crown Prince.
The image featured above was one of a series appearing in the Guardian last Wednesday 7th March. It focusses on the prince's directive making it legal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.
This linked up with other examples of PR representations. The BBC's Today programme had a Saudi woman talking about how she never felt any lack of freedom from the driving ban because she always had a driver to take her where she wanted to go. You can add narratives about 'informal power' and ignoring those women it doesn't work quite so well for when the informal power comes up against another informal power, or against discriminatory formal power.
The image above links in to the law allowing women to drive. It also links in to the law allowing tourism (including single women over the age of 25) to enter the country. It is classically designed for an overseas audience.
There's something of the cult of the individual in the ad despite the fact that the prince is smaller in the picture than the woman. He's got his perfect skin and his perfect beard and his smirk and the idea that he's a pretty reasonable chap who's going to do right by Saudi women (up to a point). But it is a smirk, you can't get away from that, and he just doesn't look that nice a man, probably because he isn't.
She's bigger than him in the picture with a made up face, a few wisps of hair poking out and the flesh of her right arm exposed. So there's a message about who she is and where she stands on some things. She's quite well off (she'd have a driver for the years before when she wasn't allowed to drive) and she's feisty. Look at that wry smile and those dimples. She's ready to play '...a greater role in Saudi society culture and the workplace' all granted by the smirking prince.
It's not exactly the world he's promising then. It's still the patriarchy, but a patriarchy led by, you guessed it, the Crown Prince. It's deliberately limited because this is the real world (that's the idea), you have to start small, it's the entire Saudi clergy he's battling, and let's face it who wouldn't take the Crown Prince against men who look back at the Dark Ages with a sense of nostalgic longing.
But some people are sceptical. The promise is limited even more by the fact that 'He' is empowering only 'Saudi women', not even women in Saudi Arabia, which is a different matter entirely, including women from other countries. But still, there's the idea that it's a start.
That's the idea anyway, but if you ever bought into the idea of the open-minded liberal King-in-waiting the next day this advert popped up in the Guardian fund-raising for Save the Children's campaign in Yemen, a country that is being bombed to pieces by the loving Crown Prince's not-so-loving expansionist side, as though the world really needs another expansionist wannabe-power broker.
That thought is summed up in this editorial from the Guardian. Which of course is the same newspaper which ran the ads in the first place.
And so the circle continues to turn...
The latest Stories from Home comes courtesy of Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche and is filled with absence. Find previous Stories here, here, here and here
These two pictures are the closest to All quiet on the home front I could find… I'm not sure they are about fatherhood or motherhood though, maybe they are more about the lack of it.
The first one is me in the woods in 1971 and it must have been taken by my aunt, who was THE photographer then. My mother died young and as far as I can remember, my father never touched a camera.
The second one is from 75, a few months after my father’s death, and has been taken by my brother. It is about living in a rather isolated place, very close to the landscape, and not being able to talk too much about what we miss.
I really love the way you do it in your book, showing this strong link of love with Isabel in the landscape, and your vulnerability and fear at the same time. Your book took me back in time, to remind me of the lost moments I miss today.
Monday, 12 March 2018
As part of the celebrations of the excellent 1,000 Words Magazine, there will be a special, one-off print edition, due for release in October 2018 with a London launch at The Photographers’ Gallery bookshop and party at a different venue.
Designed by Sarah Boris it will comprise a front, middle and back made up of exciting content that looks both back over the 10 years of the magazine and forward to what photography can be in the worlds of publishing, exhibiting and advocacy.
In order to finance its production and, perhaps more crucially, to maintain its independence, 1,000 Words are running a Kickstarter campaign during March, via a beautiful video made by filmmaker Carlos Jimenez.
Contribute to the Kickstarter and pre-order your hard copy here.
Contribute to the Kickstarter and pre-order your hard copy here.
Wednesday, 7 March 2018
The film's been made already, an experimental 1970s Czech animation. It was quite good. If you remember the title, do let me know. There aren't many avant-garde movies based on the philosophy of the image and its production/consumption.
Anyway, I saw this on Facebook yesterday (thank you whoever reposted it from Ripple Music's page). It's an x-ray record from the Soviet Union.
The basic story is this (from Ripple Music's Facebook page)
'Probably the most unusual record in my collection! In post WWII Russia, Stalin banned the possession of any western music. All records allowed in the country had to be of Russian composers. But there was an underground hungry for Western popular music—everything from jazz and blues to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and acquiring the scarce material to make copies of those records that did make it into the country was expensive and very risky.
An ingenuous solution to this problem began to emerge in the form of “bone music," or sometimes called "bones 'n' ribs" music, or simply Ribs.
A young 19 year-old sound engineer Ruslan Bogoslowski in Leningrad changed the game when he created a device to bootleg western albums so he could distribute them across Russia. Problem was he couldn't find material to bootleg his pressings onto, vinyl was scare as were all petroleum products after the war. Then, one day he stumbled upon a pile of discarded X-rays. It worked. At the time, Russian law mandated that all X-rays had to be destroyed after 1 year of storage because they were flammable so he dug through trash bins and paid off orderlies for x-rays and for 20 years he handmade about 1,000,000 bootlegs onto X-ray film of everything from classical to the Beach Boys, eventually spending five years imprisoned in Siberia for this rebellion.
For over 20 years, Bone Music was the only way Russian music lovers could get western music, which they played at "music and coffee parties" in their kitchens, away from the KGB ears and eyes.
So I had to find one. This is a 78 rpm recording of the Indian Song "Awaara" by Raj Kapoor on an exposed Chest X-ray. Probably around 1951. Each Rib, was handmade, and one of a kind.
Bone Music. A testament to the underground courage to subvert authority, rebellion, and the love of music. The spirit of rock n roll'
You can see more images of bone music at x-ray audio who have a book out.
Even better, you can see the albums, and hear the music.
So this one is Heartbreak Hotel
And this one is Awaarahoon (recorded onto engineering film)
That's from the Hindi film, Awaara, starring Raj Kapoor. That's him top left in the picture below. Hindi Cinema was huge in the Soviet Union, its themes of romance, victory for the underdog and flights from reality finding a ready audience. In 1954, after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union hosted its first Indian film festival where films like the neo-realist Do Bigha Zamin sold out to audiences hungry for entertainment.
Awaara had an audience of over 63 million in the Soviet Union, Shri 420 (Gospodin 420!) and Love in Simla reached similar audiences as 'Indian melodramas' (indiiskie melodramy) satisfied the post-Stalin thirst for mass audience cinema thanks in part to film exchange arrangements between the Soviet Union and India - with India always driving a hard bargain in the exchanges, but the Soviets always getting the best of the deal and by far the biggest audience - nobody watched Soviet movies in India.
Indian films were dubbed into Russian and edited to a maximum of 2 1/2 hours (Sholay was edited down to 2 hours), but still brought in the highest revenues in Soviet cinema.
Indian films would also be used to doctor statistics for Soviet films. One cinema with two films to show, Sita for Gita and Lenin in Poland, showed Lenin in Poland in the morning and Sita for Gita in the evening, then swapped the audience figures for the benefit of the state film distributors.
Tuesday, 6 March 2018
My latest photobook review is up on Youtube. It's of The RestorationWill by Mayumi Suzuki, a personal exploration of the post-tsunami family photography that Suzuki found washed up in her father's darkroom, ravaged by the waters that took her parents away.
This is the family album as nostalgia, but this is also the family album as memorial because both her parents died in the tsuanami and that story is told in the book and through the album from Suzuki's final phone call to her parents to the images that show her father's ravaged darkroom.
It's a typically expansive work (and I'm still waiting to get tired of that RPS expansiveness but it hasn't happened yet) but so touching with a degree of resolution found by the end, her parents finding solace in the azure night shimmers of the same waters that took their lives.
The Restoration Will is a descriptive title, and one that speaks of how we construct, or here reconstruct, our families in the image of the images that we have of them, that we find of them, that we retrieve of them, and ultimately that we imagine of them. It's what I did with All Quiet on the Home Front, but with a leaning towards the battered British landscape, it's what I'm doing, in a different way with My German Family Album. It's what we do with images, it's a central function of them. And even when we think we are not doing that, when we reject the nostalgic and the emotional, then that is just another construction - it's all made up, and Suzuki does it beautifully. With feeling. And with touch. And with fragility.
You can buy the book here. It's a special one.
The latest Stories from Home comes courtesy of Stefan Vanthuyne and has an eerie familiarity to it. Find previous Stories here, here and here.
“Are you done, dad?”.
“Are you done, dad?”.
He’s on a beach in France and he wants to climb the rocks and kick the waves.
He’s anxious and because of that he’s not settling into that state where he’s letting it all go and he’s just there; that moment of mere being.
He is ten now. I’ve photographed him many times. It used to be easy. He would be doing something – or nothing, I would see something, I would ask him to hold still.
For a second he would release everything, let his mind drift somewhere, and there it was: a swift picture.
Ask me why I photograph my children and I’ll most likely lose my way in trying to find a sufficient answer.
Of his photographs of his wife Edith, Emmet Gowin said that they established Edith as a person, and them as a couple.
“If you set out to make pictures about love, it can't be done”, Gowin said. “But you can make pictures, and you can be in love. In that way, people sense the authenticity of what you do.”
By photographing my sons, am I establishing them as such? Am I establishing myself as their father?
Do I find authentic proof of my fatherhood in the photographs of my children?
“Da-ad, are you done?!”
He’s too anxious now.
“Yes, I am. I’m done.”
He runs off.
I press the shutter.If you would like to contribute to Stories from the Home Front (word and image), send me a message at email@example.com
Monday, 5 March 2018
Britain's snow psychosis was wonderful while it lasted. It went as quickly as it came, a dreamland meringue landscape turned back into slush and mud, green fields and tarmac.
The wind came in and whipped the snow into drifts that hung on the hedgerows like a stiff-whipped meringue. On Solsbury Hill, the flat surface was blown into an ancient landscape of snow flying over ice covered tufts. Solsbury Hill felt older than it ever felt.
It was like a short holiday, a weekend trip to an other-world where different rules apply, where everyone is a little nicer, more playful, slower, where there are no cars on the road, where the city and rural soundscape becomes muted and audibly soft, a whipped cream soundscape of muffled sounds, of an absence of the mechanical and harsh.
And then it ended...
Friday, 2 March 2018
It has all been terribly exciting here in the UK where temperatures have been below freezing for a few days and there has been quite a lot of snow.
A little bit of snow shuts everything down here, so you can imagine what quite a lot does. The shops have run out of milk and bread, nobody is going to work, the buses and trains have stopped running and there are stories of people stuck on roads and on trains.
The news bulletins are full of it. It's a rolling news cycle of disappointing weather-porn with pictures that fall into basic categories:
- Idyllic snow-covered landscapes from hill country where people are 'used to the snow'
- Aerial images of fields almost covered in snow.
- Disappointing pictures of motorway junctions where the roads are not quite covered in snow.
- A bus skidding on a road
- A car spinning its wheels in the snow
- Live reports of people trapped on motorways.
- Images of abandoned cars.
- Someone digging out their cars.
- and so on....
But the image at the top is my favourite. It's people on a train that was going from London to Christchurch (a journey of a couple of hours). It left at 5pm on Thursday and was still on the tracks at 8am on Friday, with no heating, no food, no water and all the rest of it. The driver of the train hid in his carriage by one account
And that's the picture. It looks like it was taken by an old Nokia. It reminds me of the early days of phone photography, and that's what makes it. It has a post-apocalyptic feel that is accentuated by the rough quality. They are wearing bad hats and even worse fleeces and one guy is wrapped in what looked like a space blanket but might just be a giant piece of clingfilm. The picture is blurred, they have yellow-eye and they are halfway there to being part of a Richard Mosse installation.
They are also just standing there looking for leadership, spaced out and on the verge of anarchy in this strange enclosed space with no light, that looks almost like some kind of salvationary pod rather than the height of technological excellence that is a Southern Rail Train. These are feral people, on the verge of leaping up and thrashing into the viewer in some crazed commuter-zombie feeding frenzy. And the guy in the back with no hat who is smiling? Who knows?
But it's also a look into the future, especially because the only relief from the snow chaos news is Brexit chaos news, which is no relief because it's like a three-year stammer of but-but-but and wtf-wtf-wtf-wtf-wtf and why-why-why and wondering why crazed gunment never get the right people because I have a list if you need one.... And as you watch the snow and the Brexit, they become conflated until the image of the people on the train looks (as Jamie Dormer Durling puts it) like a flash forward to 2019 and this becomes a bunch of English refugees caught in the Channel trying to escape to France.But they've been caught off the coast of Calais and are being returned for reprocessing back into the United Kingdom of Taking-Back-Control.