Wednesday, 30 May 2018
I saw the video of the spiderman in France and it just didn't strike me as quite right. There are all kinds of reasons why it is right, and why it is a good thing that it is right, especially considering the hero, Mamoudou Gassama., has gone through such a gruelling journey involving time in Libyan ... It's amazing to think that refugees who went through pre-2012 Libya had it easy in comparison.
Anyway, he climbed up the balcony, rescued the child, came down, got made a citizen of France, and has an internship to the fire service. What's bad about that? It's a great rags to riches story.
Nothing except the whole storyline stinks. First of all it is a storyline. And it's a bad storyline. It's this sudden arc that reads like it was written on the back of a fag packet. And the backdrop to the story is the forced closure of migrant camps around Paris a few days before - making 1,700 already marginally housed people even more margiinal. With one finger you giveth, with the other nine you taketh away.
Second, the story isn't finished. This isn't rags-to-riches. It's a tragedy. You can play it out over two days and it has a happy ending. Play it out over a little longer and see what happens. It's the same as always happens with migrant focussed stories. Because packed tightly inside this rags-to-riches story is the flipside. The flip side of being worthy to become a French citizen, is the idea that if you're not a hero you're not worthy. What if you're a bit morally suspect, what if you're a bit of a failure, what if you have some kind of a questionable past, what if you have done something illegal, then what? Are you not worthy?
This heroism is a fantasy heroism, but behind it there's a real man with real traumas, and real failings which will be put under the spotlight to further the ends of the status quo. The story doesn't end with getting citizenship and an internship. That's the beginning. Anyone who has made that journey and experienced what Gassama has experienced will have difficulties in settling into this new, supposedly idyllic routine of being a French citizen with an internship in the fire service. Make a list of them and it's just about everything that matters. If you are serious about helping him, then you provide services for Gassama and others in his situation that address those needs; needs to do with health, housing, education, language, community etc etc. If you don't, your actions are empty and are part of the problem, precisely because you are setting up the story for a different kind of ending.
The happy story of Mamoudou Gassama isn't over. It's just beginning. It stretches into the future. Positioning a man in this unrealistic role is part of a status quo because in the long run, without addressing what really matters, there will be a fall, and that becomes and reinforces the bigger story which, once the exceptional bravery is over, is the one of land clearances in Paris, and forced returns and quotas in the UK. Behind every story of the hero, the non-heros lmass in their thousands, behind every story of the deserving poor, there are the non-deserving poor. And that's what this story is all about.
Friday, 25 May 2018
Finally the news comes through that Gazebook Sicily is not running this year. It's come to an end, the founders have family, work and studying commitments and so it has come to an end.
It's inevitable really and the three years it ran were fantastic. To create a festival out of nothing, with barely any funding, without charging entrance, making it truly open to everybody, is an achievement in itself.
To make one with such good feeling and goodwill is beyond belief. Looking back at the images of the three festivals (and I was really, really lucky enough to attend them all), you can see the loose associations and friendships and collaborations that came out of the festival taking root, on an international scale across borders and genres and boundaries.
I think three years is the upper limit for this kind of festival. It was started by Simone Sapienza, Melissa Carnemolla and Teresa Bellina, and they provided the energy and organisation to keep it going. They turned the event from something that was questioned by locals to something that was accepted and embraced.
But events like that also rely on a huge amount of goodwill and for that you need volunteers, helpers, and mounds and mounds of goodwill. That's what makes a festival, that's what gives it its special feeling. That and the town of Punta Secca. You can't take it away from there. So farewell then Gazebook. You are gone.
And in a way, it's a good thing it comes to an end. It makes us appreciate how much effort and work went into making it so special, how much diplomacy behind the scenes, how much tending to local and international concerns, how much walking close to the edge of all things financial, technical and meteriological.
So farewell Gazebook. You're ending at the right time. And I can't wait for the next Gazebook to come along. Thank you for everything.
So if you're somewhere in the world, especially if it's hot and by the beach, and you're thinking of starting a festival. Make it happen!
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
These images are from Born from Christina Riley who has been featured on this blog for her raw book Back to me..
Christina new book is a sharp look back at her own motherhood, the loss of self that accompanies it, the messiness of it, the love of it, the totality of it, and she has started a Kickstarter to fund it. It's a book that is part of the wave of books looking at domesticity and parenthood and it's the only crowdfunding post I'll have on this blog for the rest of the year which isn't my own.
This is what Christina says about it.
"I watch this girl. She is somebody, she is mine. She is light, my darkness creeps in. My memories powerful, pulling me. Longing and guilt, love and devotion. The weight constant. The girl, beautiful and new. Fresh eyes, hers and mine. Everything becoming clear. We find our way."
'For years I have been photographing myself in my life, through many ups and downs and normal periods as a means to better understand and see reality. When I became pregnant I continued to do so. My daughter was born in 2013 and quickly I was swept into an isolated unknown world. The loss of self was overwhelming. The photographs in this book were taken throughout the first year of that journey.'
Back Born here.
Monday, 21 May 2018
Among the many other desirable objects at Photo London were the Nikolas Muray prints of Frida Kahlo which were just dripping with gorgeous colour.
Frida Kahlo gets a namecheck in Carmen Winant's excellent My Birth, a book which is about making the invisible more visible. It's a great book, a real 'why didn't you think of that' book.
Winant mentions the painting above, also called My Birth, a painting now owned by Madonna. "If somebody doesn't like this painting", Madonna said in an interview with Vanity Fair, "then I know they can't be my friend".
Madonna doesn't happily lend the painting out. It doesn't get seen, so people don't have the opportunity to like it. The painting is made invisible, and so is childbirth.
But never mind that. Have a look at Carmen Winant's book instead.
Friday, 18 May 2018
These are some of my favourite things at Photo London for no other reason than they seemed to have substance and soul. Not everything did!
Above is John Francis Brown at England and Co. No, I'd never heard of him either but he had these great little vintage dipytchs from the 1970s on a stand that was filled with a particular kind of goodness.
Nikolai Ishchuk at Joanna Bryant & Julian Page, an old photographic paper object that is sculptural in keeping with the moment. It goes from solid, to ephemeral to monumental, the material shifting in weight the more you look. It's Alison Rossiter but on a bigger scale with a very different take.
And last but not least the beautifully printed and hand-painted prints of Vasantha Yogananthan at Espace JB. There was nothing that told more of a story than these in all of the place.
Now then, how to look like a gallerist. Gallerist glasses. What would I look like in a pair of those? Where do you get them? They don't have them at Specsavers. And the lizard skin? I'll need twelve yards of that. Dead eyes and a psychopath rictus-grin are a must. My head needs enlarging a little, and the suit. A gallerist suit? There must be a shop for them. Perhaps it's the same place you get the glasses...
That's probably not fair. But neither's life. So it goes.
The move towards directness in photography, and long term self-initiated visual research projects continued with Laia Abril's winning the Tim Hetherington Trust Visionary Award for her ongoing project, On Misogyny. It's a long project, she could spend all her life doing it, and her brilliant book On Abortion is simply the first chapter.
This award will help her fund her next chapter on Rape Culture. So winning does matter as it allows her to spend less time writing grant proposals and more time working.
On the same day (and rather overshadowing the Tim Hetherington award) the award for the Deutsche Borse Prize was announced. The most direct of the Deutsche Borse finalists was Mathieu Asselin who presented a new fifth chapter in his exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery. It is a work that involves deep research. In some ways it's not photographic with its emphasis on images that link to captions that suck you into the wider body of the work, and with a link to how the book and the images in the book have been recontextualised throughout the course of the post-project.
It was superbly curated, packed a punch and showed the human costs of Monsanto's activities and their links to the markets, monopolising, suppression of freedom of trade and beyond.
It also linked Monsanto to Deutsche Borse, the sponsors - and I did see somebody on their phone at the awards ceremony checking some kind of commodity prices saying, "this is going up, you want to buy this, this is going down, this declares its figures next week, they're going to be good, this is having a merger..." which was beyond irony.
But the winner was Luke Willis Thompson for his beautiful piece autoportrait. This is his response to the video that Diamond Reynolds shared on social media in the immediate aftermath of the police murder of her partener, Philando Castile. That video was filled with violence and mayhem. It's video as evidence.
This is film as evidence, but in contrast to the social media video, this is a quiet, contemplative piece. Curiously, it's the most photographic of all the pieces on show even though it's moving image. It's film, you can see the celluloid move through the sprockets. It has surface. it's black and white, it references classic studio portraiture through lighting and angles chose by Diamond herself. It's so photographic. the only thing that isn't photographic is that it's moving - a bit.
There is no sound, it's still, it's beautiful it exists solely as a installation piece, so it's not been uploaded by Thompson on social media as a moving image. Ironically, as a still image of the installation it's the hands-down winner of the best-looking image from all the four contenders, and probably the most shared. That matters. It shouldn't but it does.
Thompson is a Fijian New Zealander, so has very direct experience of racial oppression both now and going back into the past, and his earlier work reference this directly and very powerfully. Very powerfully.
There is some resistance to his victory and it seems a lot of it stems from the title and the lack of clarity in the statement. Claims are made for the collaborative nature of the piece and the title is autoportrait - which comes with very strong ideas of the author as subject.
This is Diane Smyth reporting on the award for the BJP.
“...the panel decided to award the 2018 prize to Luke. His singular and uncompromising portrait, made in collaboration with its subject, Diamond Reynolds, was conceived as a way to return agency to the protagonist.
“As a contender for a prize focused on photography, the jury felt autoportrait imbued the moving image format with the singular and almost obsessional quality of a still photograph, drawing attention to its materiality, and challenging viewers to consider the personal stakes of representation in an environment at once intimate and collective.
“Ultimately though, the project was felt to invite a timely and prescient conversation around the nature of image control, authorship and distribution in a way that expands rather than shuts down the debate.”
Statements matter and titles matter and if you have autoportrait as your title and are claiming it to be a very collaborative piece - and it is a collaborative piece - you do have to front load that. There does need to be some sharing of authorship in the naming. So it needs to be Diamond Reynolds and Luke Willis Thompson named as the creators of the work. And then that means the prize is shared and it can be autoportrait, because it is an autoportrait.
If you have only Luke Willis Thompson as the author, then any autoportrait is an autoportrait of him. I. I was with somebody reading the caption for whom this really matters and she was going through apoplexies at this. It's a simple indexical thing and people notice that. The title and the idea of the piece simply do not connect. Share the authorship and they do. Or change the title. It's very simple.
Anyway, titles matter, statements matter, but ultimately they don't. It's a great work, and you get the feeling all the elements that are mentioned above are in there somewhere, and obviously there are other things happening that but are not quite expressed as well as they could be.
Directness is good.
I can't help but feel like I'm missing something.
It's a great piece, never mind the semiotics. And that is the end of that.
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Walking is a political act. Everything is a political act in the German Family Album.
Monday, 14 May 2018
The Photobook Phenomenon exhibition at the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastian (executively curated by Moritz Neumüller) is a wonderful exhibition on the photobook - and more importantly on the photobook and its function in society. It takes place in a museum that blends a contemporary facade with a cloister off which runs a chapel decorated with the paintings of Sert. It's an amazing building for a start.
Step into the exhibition and you see one space that is dominated by part of the collection of Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche. Gabriela has been a huge supporter of photobooks over the years and donated her collection to the museum - a donation which provided the impetus for this exhibition.
In the exhibition itself, you see her books both on the shelf and also on a table surrounded by bean bags, there for you to view at your pleasure. They are also housed in the museum library, so providing an amazing resource for anybody visiting the town. This collection has a contemporary feel so if you want to see anything significant that has been produced in the last 20 years, this is the place to go with both regular and special editions from Akina books, Reminders Photography Stronghold, Beijing Silvermine and beyond giving it a really international feel that combines with the idea of the book as an object. This is a place where paper, bindings, and touch come close.
Move beyond this and there for you to open and leaf through at your leisure, are some of Martin Parr's best 57 books.
On the walls there are presentations of works by August Sander. Henri Cartier Bresson's ideal library of 90 books is shown with his portraits of writers and artists on the walls above, and there is a feature on William Klein's New York work.
All well and good. I thought that was going to be it, but then you slip into the next room. Here you get a collection of photobook histories that you can look through and cross reference with the books featured earlier; global histories, Dutch histories, Chinese histories, Latin American histories, Spanish histories, you get the idea. You can spend hours on this table alone.
But if it was only about books it would be a bit limited. The Photobook Phenomenon is about how photobooks act as a focal point and sounding board for wider political trends. You see that as you head into the protest and propaganda section. Giant vinyls featuring images from fascist Portugal, from Nazi Germany, from protest books that run from Laura El-Tantawy's Shadow of the Pyramids or Veronica Fieiras's The Disappeared back to screen based presentations on Chinese propaganda and original copies of Willem van der Bol's Nazi Hel.
At the end of the room there is the centrepiece, a wall of covers from Der Führer magazine. It's a wall full of Hitlers. And there to one side is a veritable snowstorm of the 1945 publication KZ. KZ (as in Konzentration) consisted of pictures of atrocity from newly liberated concentration camps. It was a blunt and direct message to the Geman people of the regime they had supported, and the snowstorm represents the airborne means of delivery of the magazine to German cities.
The final room has another change of mood. Here things are more contemplative. There's a presentation of the post-911 Democracy of Photographs, and then we're into the contemporary photobooks with interviews, slideshows and books to handle from around the world. It's global, it's diverse.
I was hugely impressed by the whole exhibition (as were other people who believe this sets a new level for the presentation of photobooks ). There is a danger with books to over-rely on the books and the interest of the audience in photobooks. You can have too many books, as anyone who's ever been to a book fair will know.
Here the giant vinyls, the prints, the videos, and the text all lead into a fantastic presentation with a balance between the book as object, the book as information, the book as entertainment, and the ways in which it is a reflection and a creation of news.
It wasn't preaching to the converted, or even attempting to convert, but highlighting, through the visual, the lingual, and the tactile, the relevance of the photobook. You could see how this could be developed further and the avenues that were being explored, because this was an opening of photobooks, an engagement of the book form with how we understand the world.
Because books do reflect the world around us, and are a product of the world around us. In the evening I was part of a panel of speakers on the relevance of the photobook. I gave a talk on All Quiet on the Home Front - which is all about how my relationship with my daughter developed through the landscape.
picture by Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche
Laia Abril gave a talk on her brilliant new book On Abortion (one of my books of the year so far together with Carmen Winant's My Birth) and the process of making visual information engaging and accessible. On Abortion is a reflection of the world, a response to the misrepresentation and hijacking of women's control of their own bodies by the religious right and other reactionary forces.
A few weeks ago I asked some photographers, editors, and publishers about the future of photojournalism. One version of the responses was photojournalism is dead. That's it! Forget it, you're not going to be the next James Nachtwey, never mind that Time ran a whole issue of his pictures. It's dead. Photojournalism. Move along please.
But the other side of that is that photojournalism is in the process of redefining itself. It's become about working in different ways, representing events in different ways, and developing a new visual language. It's about enlarging the world and representing it in all its diversity and complexity, something that has been lacking in the past (and the present). That's something that is now being recognised. That's a start.
It's also about emphasising the personal, and ultimately creating your own content. Because why surrender your work to a publication owned by some reactionary conglomerate that is guaranteed to misrepresent that work - and in another section, undermine it completely thanks to the publication's editorial position (photography has always been the shadow of a liberal conscience in otherwise reactionary newspapers. It's the beard!).
In the mythical old days, the rationale was that you got paid for doing this and a photographer could get a good spread and the image was king. Once that's gone, well what's left. Not much.
I see Laia's work as being part of that new way of working. It's a long-term project that goes beneath the surface but also uses design, video, and persuasion as tools that connect culturally and politically to external events that have roots that go way back to broader historical currents. It's the new photojournalism if you like, a photojournalism which is actually incredibly more sophisticated and demanding than what came before.
That's one way of looking at it. If you want to be a bit anal with genres and labels, you can say it's not photojournalism - and in many, many ways, it's not. And then you're left with the idea that photojournalism is dead. But I prefer the other model.
Next up was Julian Baron who talked about his practice, and the ways in which the book can be made accessible and moved from the private to the public sphere. Being in Julian's company is like being in the presence of this amazing energy, an energy you always end up learning something from, an energy that is firing on all cylinders in all directions, all at the same time - in a lovely and very open and welcoming way. You also end up questioning what a book is, and opening up the idea of what a book is or can be, something that is challenging to one's complacency and so ultimately invigorating.
In the group discussion led by Jon Uriarte that followed, in which he talked about how books and their design provide an avenue into a different way of considering ideas, understanding images, and disrupting images. His latest book (which you can download here) is a case in point. It's a book that was taken to the street in Peru but is also a downloadable book that is free. But if you want to have it as an object you can buy the screenprinted cover, copy off your download, and bind it yourself. This was one of those rare occasions when the talks ended too soon. But that's a good thing too sometimes. Short and sweet can be good.
Brilliant is also how I would describe Julian's book-jockeying skills. I took part in a book-jockey duet with him. Brilliant is not how I'd describe my book-jockeying skills. My attempt was a bit like John Malkovich's first puppeteering performance in Being John Malkovich.
But the location was amazing, in the San Telmo chapel with giant paintings by Sert decorating the chapel walls. It doesn't get any better than this. This was as good as it gets. I take this opportunity to announce my retirement from book-jockeying at this dizzy peak. You've been fabulous. I couldn't have done this without you. I love you all.
Thursday, 10 May 2018
Life is a continual learning experience and I'm looking forward to learning all about being a book jockey, with the master of book-jockeying, Julien Baron (shown below installing ICVL's brilliant Cage installation in Bristol earlier this year).
Ok, book-jockeying, what is it? It's this! Editing from multiple books to music! I will the learner and Julian Baron the master I think.
And I'll be talking about All Quiet on the Home Front as well, in San Sebastian this saturday as well as participating in a discussion with the great Laia Abril and Julian Baron and Jon Uriarte, so come along and say hello if you're in the area.
Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Photographs have a power. They can freeze and isolate a person into a particular state of being simply by the visual structures withing which they're made.
Photography mattes in other words. This article looks at how the innocent should be removed from UK databases of custody images is a case in point as is the wider question of the UK's extreme surveillance laws.
This snippet exemplifies this idea of how the construction and cataloguing of an image turning a person guilty.
'In the current issue of Photographies, Lourdes Delgado writes about this in her piece on the bias of mugshots, and the way in which the functionality of the mugshot imposes a pre-supposed guilt onto the person photographed; the very act of photographing somebody in a mugshot makes them guilty in other words. As a result photography is responsible for a huge number of innocent people imprisoned in the USA each year (a very conservative 2.3% - 5% according to the Innocence Project organisation).'
But photography can also work the other way and be used to romanticise and reinvent people.
That's the idea behind the 19 crimes wine. The 19 crimes were the crimes that would get you deported to Australia back in the day. Here's the blurb.
Flip the bottle round and you get a mugshot, an image of one of those deported. Load a phone onto your app, point the phone at the picture and it will come to a stuttering half-life on your screen and tell you the story of the man depicted. It's almost interesting.
The idea is men don't buy much wine, so butch it up a little and then they'll lap it up. So the men shown are real men, the tasting notes tend towards the macho, and we're deep into the mythology of the Australian Origin story, 18th century style - 'my great-great grandad was on the first fleet'. That kind of thing.
It's a bit shit really; the wine, the branding, the origin story, the augmented reality. Especially the augmented reality But you get the feeling it's the future. A bit shit.