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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...

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

"Surrender Pronto or we'll level Toronto"

Damn, it's getting near to that time of year when you get the best-of lists. It's always tricky to choose books and you have to be careful because, as Gary Cohen points out in his formula for writing best photobooks list, you don't want to be too transparent.

1. Mine
2. Yours
3. My other friend’s.
4. This one book I don’t really like, but everyone else does.
5. The book that hasn’t come out yet, but will be a best seller.
6. This one that if I say I like it will be good for me in the future.
7. A book I helped produce.
8. A book I hate but I put on here to be controversial.
9. A book made in such small release nobody has heard of it.
10. The book my cat (scratched up) chose.

There's a few more categories to go in there (this one's surprisingly nice) but you get the picture.

I love lists but it's always worth remembering that best doesn't mean best, a list can have something that doesn't exist on it, something that someone has sarcastically suggested as best, best can mean most toxic, or boring, or pretentious, or conformist. Y

Or it can mean 'best'. Which isn't the same as best.

Anyway, After the Fact by Tony Fouhse hits the 2, and possibly 7 because I did get to see it in progress and maybe 9 because it was published in an edition of 200, which is actually pretty high these days.

That's 3 out of 10, which isn't bad.

After the Fact looks at the city of Ottawa from what seems to me to be a slightly paranoid point of view. It's the idea that I identify with Cronenberg's early films where Southern Ontario and the satellite towns around Toronto serve as a landscape for the dark underbelly of Canadian life. It's not all Canadian Bacon, eh! and mounties in other words.

The order of anglophone Canada, the Squarehead way of thinking as the Quebecois put it, is resolved through images that have embedded within them a surveillance aesthetic mixed with End Times with an Ontarian Winter bleakness to chip into any smooth edges.

It's also very local with nearly all the pictures made within a mile or so of Fouhse's downtown Ottawa home, so that adds a personal element to the bleakness. You don't seem to get too many photobooks that are explicitly about Canada and Canadianicity, so this one is especially good to see. No, it's great to see!

Buy After the Fact here.

Friday, 26 October 2018

'Boring is a Critical Term'

I was writing a review of Txema Salvans new book, My Kingdom, the other week during which I changed my mind half the way through. I like the idea of changing my mind because we do it all the time but very rarely see that lack of certainty referenced. Everybody seems to be very sure of themselves all of the time, even though in reality we're not.

I changed my mind was because My Kingdom is filled with really great photographs that are all to do with Spain, land, exploitation, despoilation, and a very complex sense of place. Salvans can photograph. But at the same time his book is added a political dimension by including extracts from the King of Spain's Christmas speeches to the Spanish people. The extracts are patrician in tone and tie in to the idea of contested political and geographic landscapes. So it works really well and does add somethiing to the book.

I wrote this, hedging my bets at every available opportunity because, as I said at the start, I'm dealing in big broad brush strokes and I'm not entirely sure of what I'm writing about much of the time. 
'Most photographic artists can’t take a picture to save their life. Photographic art in the more conceptual sense is rarely about ‘great pictures’ that stop you in your tracks and make you wonder at the stories that are unfolding within the frame. Most photographic artists aren’t able to take a good picture, let alone a great one. That’s why you have so much photographic theory, much of which is to justify why these rambling, amorphous projects are actually really important and often made by the theorists who write to elevate what they produce.
Again, that’s a bit of a harsh division, but we’ll go with it because it is so simple and essentially true (except when it’s not. I’m thinking of all the examples where it’s not true, but what the heck, we’ll go with it).'

I started off hating that use of text in the book, the size, the colour, the spacing, the font, the references, everything -  because it has a certain flavour, and that flavour is boring (to keep it simlify). It's something that is usually part of a package that is made up of a complex array of elements that when viewed as a whole seems profound and deep, but when unpicked turns out to be empty. Take the packaging apart and there is nothing left, all you have are a series of pointers to a gap that is filled by boring pictures. In the case of My Kingdom, I ultimately decided, there is a lot inside the package and the package adds something to that, and the text is part of the package.

Boring, as I read in a post on Twitter yesterday, is a critical term. Boring pictures, boring books, boring essays, boring organisations, boring ideas, it's not good however you dress it up.

But it seems there's almost an industry to uphold this idea of boringness.

I have a friend who used to teach on a really successful photography course. His course was understaffed and had loads of students but it was successful.

At the same uni, there was an overstaffed course with no students because the staff were lazy and self-satisfied - essentially it was funded by the successful course. It was decided there would be a merger and there was a consultation with the staff. The successful course staff were to be busy to spend much time on the consultation. they had two and a half full time staff and 100 students.

The useless course staff had loads of time (4 full time staff and maybe 40 students), so when they merged everything was done according to the useless course, with useless content that conformed to the interests of the useless staff, with the useless course staffing it, because it was all made to play to their strengths - which were really weaknesses.

The moral of that story is that people defend their own interests. Similarly, there are people involved in photography who, on the whole, are not able to make great pictures.  But they want to be artists as well. And because of that they decide not to like great pictures.

So it's almost like there's a whole industry constructed to uphold the idea of boring pictures. You sometimes look at work and wonder if a bunch of people haven't got round a table and one of them has suddenly said, "look we can't take pictures for shit, but what if we all wrote a bunch of stuff saying how it's not about the  spectacle of the great picture but about the minutae that we can actually do, something that elevates our monologues into work of great and profound significance. Jazza can wring the tiniest detail out of the smallest point and talk about it for hours and hours. No-one ever listens to him, so we all end up agreeing by the end of it. Isn't that a talent worth developing. And Mazza. Mazza can create a complex structure of arguments that hypnotise you into a world where they seem to make sense, until suddenly you snap out of it and realise you've been sucked into some parallel universe where the things that do matter don't, and the things that don't, do. And as for Chazza, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what Mazza and Jazza are doing and can pretend a) that it makes sense and b) that it's really, really essential to understand this before you can even get up in the morning. What better skill in the world can there be than that."

It's a kind of gaslighting where boring is not a critical term. And gaslighting is not a critical term. And self-indulgence is not a critical term. If you're not interested in this, if you don't get this, then essentially there's something wrong with you. It's a top-down, hierarchical way of seeing the world imposed from a narrow cultural framework which values a certain kind of discourse above all others. It's limited by itself, and it limits others. It's a colonial view if you like. And it's joyless.

Which isn't to say that there aren't boring pictures that are really interesting, or unspectacular pictures that aren't profound, or that history and theory doesn't add a huge amount of depth and context to work.  Of course it does and if you're not interested in it, then it is likely that your work is going to be superficial and dull - and boring. it's just that so often, ideas are framed in such a hostile, and ultimately boring way. And they have a defensive element built within them that is designed to exclude. It's the discourse of sobriety but with extra nasty, delivered in a tone of authority with a little bit of brimstone thrown in for good measure; Heed me not and ye shall be delivered unto hell.

None of this means that there aren't spectacular pictures that are accepted as profound.

Yesterday I got the latest Chris Killip series of elevated newspaper books published by Ponybox and designed by Niall Sweeney. They're gorgeous. They're filled with fantastic photographs which are beautifully printed and have a whole thought process going on behind their design, publication and distribution.

There's one set of images of the last ships to be launched on Tyneside and they are most spectacular. It's terraced houses with massive ships in the background, made on a large format camera. They're just great and you know when Killip was making them he was thinking, 'Wow, Amazing!' or something similar.

Then you look at them and you go 'Wow! Amazing!' You can dress that up a bit, or a lot because it's Chris Killip and they're informed by everything else he did in the northeast of England, but that's just the filling to go between the Wow! and Amazing! It's the Wow! and Amazing! that comes first. That's the entry point, and not just for a chosen few, but anyone.

Anyone in the world can look at those pictures and say "Wow! Amazing!" and that really matters. Because that is the condition for going deeper into the images and cracking open the social structures, the economics, the financial systems, and everything else that lies beneath these pictures. And that's their ultimate sophistication then, and what really makes them great pictures; they draw people in, they are an entry point for deeper reading and understanding. And that matters.

It matters because if you don't have something deeper in your pictures, if you don't understand the history, the theory, the ideas that lie beneath the surface, then all you have is surface. Which is good for a chocolate box but not much more.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some cake and I want to eat it. And wait for great pictures to get boring - that won't take long.

And I'll leave it there...

Monday, 22 October 2018

Exploded Views and Story Arcs, Let's Start at the Very Beginning


It was lovely to go to Brussels and be, with Emilie Lauwers, Maroussia Prignot and Valerio Alvarez, one of the first speakers at the new Recyclart of the brilliant and super-lovely Vincen Beeckman  and many others. The setting was a room in an old printworks on the edge of Molenbeek, just across the canal from the West African car market (where cars are bought and sold and shipped off to West African ports). It's a great location with a great feeling.

I talked about my work, from Sofa Portraits to My German Family Album, and the dilemma of how to tell a story. And it's a dilemma I feel along with everybody else. It's the dilemma of having a mass of choices and having to make a choice. It's a problem I experience all the time - choosing is difficult.

That's a particular problem for the German Family Album. About 5 years ago, I casually mentioned to my mother (who was born in Germany) that I remembered these family pictures with Nazis in and did they still exist. Six months later she came back to me with a back with a bunch of albums and pictures in - from the 1920s through to 1943. From Sander and White Ribbon through to Leni Riefenstahl and Stalingrad. I looked at them and was stunned. They're great pictures, at a very different level to most family albums of the time because a) manyalbums were destroyed or at least censored in after-the-fact visual revisionism (that being said, there are still loads of albums still in existence) and b) they're great pictures in a way most family albums simply aren't..

So what to do with it. In the Sound of Music, there's the doh-ray-mi song which goes,

'Let's Start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start. When you write, you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with doh-ray-mi...

And it is a very good place to start. It keeps things simple. And simple is good. Start at the beginning. Start with the best pictures, start!

Starting at the very beginning is what Gerry Johannson does with his books. He sequences them chronologically, and it seems to work very well for him. It's easy, quick and people understand it.

It's all very linear and easy to understand. And in a world where understanding is at a premium, maybe that clarity of understanding is something we should aim for.

So this picture could be, and has been, the first picture in My German Family Album. It's a picture of my grandparents. It shows them apparently in love but they're not. Or if they are, it's one-sided. He's in love and she's disappointed. He's too old, too serious, too political (conservative with a small c), uninterested in the arts. She's the opposite.

That could be the starting point then. Here she is enjoying the sun - and I could show her in the sea, or the garden or at the zoo.

And here to hammer the point home is my grandfather, altogether different. The pictures back up the stories that are told. The pictures are true then (pictures have no truth value, let's clear that one up). The stories? Let's take them as being reliable.

Then it becomes a kind of love story in decline that flows down in a chronological manner as the two of them grow even further apart as she finds solace in the secret, platonic love of Bund, an army officer fallen on hard times who now tends the gardens of the local water castle.

It's even got an end point, written on the back of a picture - get food - which sums up where we are going and the gradual decline not just of a relationship, but of the very essence of being.

But chronological can be dull, linear can be dull. Last week I read this passage by Robin Wood on Satyajit Ray on the making of the Apu trilogy.

'In the West, we are conditioned primarily either by the classic Amecian cinemma with its taut narrative structures  in which when a sccen has made its point, we are carried swiftly on to the next, or by the European 'art' cinema with its tendency to intellectual thematic structures. We may feel, with Ray that we have already got the point when we are in fact continuing to miss it, for 'the point' may not be an extractable themastic or narrative issue but the total experience a character is undergoing.'

And so there's a cinematic way of looking at the story, with different characters (my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, or my uncle, perhaps most of all my uncle) in it, different voices, different points of view, different ways of telling the story.

You have those possibilities and they appeal because the pictures are very cinematic. That's embedded into the images as are photographic references. You get the feeling my grandfather, who took most of the pictures, was channeling a little bit of August Sander at times, or was influenced by neue sachlichkeit.

He worked for Siemens too, so you start seeing some Germaine Krull in there (and he would have seen them) and the pictures take on a very different sheen with the whole metaphor of family, power and Naziism making for visual and political overlaps.

    (Siemens workers)

The love story takes off too as my grandfather is increasingly absent, as children are born (my uncle, my aunt, my mother) as my grandmother spends more time away to be with her needy mother - and the understanding Onkel Bund - seen on the left below.

   (Onkel Bund with my grandmother and aunt)

And then tragedy. Bund is caught stealing a bag of potatoes from the water castle. He is publicly shamed and, virtually destitute, is forced to leave his most basic room in the castle.

Rather than face an uncertain future, he kills himself by laying his head on the train track outside the gateway to the Baron's property. His head his severed, there is blood on the tracks and my grandmother is heartbroken. When she dies in 1975, her children find an old box of her belongings in the attic of their rambling home. Included in the box is the bloodstained shirt that Bund was wearing when he died, still there forty years after the event.

That's not in the pictures, that's the story that is told. So how do you tell that, how do you incorporate that into the images so that the one riffs of the other, so there are gaps and pauses and arcs and a bit of emotional satisfaction going on. And everyone likes a love story, they're universal, so you know you're reaching an audience.

Things are complicated by the time. It's the 1930s and the Nazis are coming to power. That's in the album, it's the first thing you notice. It's there in the view from the window of my grandparents' apartment in Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), as Nazis march down the street on Hindenburg's birthday in 1932.

  (view from the family apartment window, 1932)

And it's there in salutes, swastikas and uniforms that suddenly tap into the visual and political history of the time (and are in many ways the least interesting part of the album) - the map below is from 1933 and details the number of impromptu SA torture camps set up in Berlin in 1933.

The Nazi imagery seeps in everywhere. It's there in the company days out my grandparents took at Siemens, a company heavily supportive of the Nazis, it's there in the replaying of Olympic medal ceremonies that Leni Riefenstahl filmed in Olympia, it's there in the gymnastic displays my grandmother performed. It's in the oak trees, the mountains, the water, the games, it's everywhere. And it's generic and it takes you into a different place.

And most of all it's in the way in which my uncle embraced the Hitler Youth from an early age, flicking what my grandfather called his 'Nazi paw' at all and sundry with his best friend Lothar (on the right below), son of the local SA chief.

    (my mother's christening)

My grandfather hated this. He wrote letters to the papers complaining about it, saying that the only good thing about a Hitler Youth uniform was that for the kid the lederhosen were made of thick material which protected their backside from the regular beatings they should all be getting.

There is a bit of redemption in the story. By the time he was 14, my uncle was reading books and taking self-portraits of himself as an intellectual. When the war started, he refused to fight and was signed up to the signals department and sent to the Eastern Front. He was at Stalingrad, but caught measles and was on the last plane out. So the story goes.

  (the Siemens Boat)

So there's that. There are pictures and stories, and there are the things that people bring to the pictures.

No picture is innocent, we bring our global knowledge, our library of images to them when we read them. So in the German Family Album, a train is not a train anymore, a row of low barracks in winter is something altogether different, a leather coat is as sinister as you want it to be. We've seen these things before, we think we know what they are, they infest our thoughts.


And that's interesting. Where do those images come from (the answer is fairly modern cinema), how do they pop up in our minds, how do they create memories of something we have no experience or knowledge of?

Before you know it, a simple story of an unhappy marriage and unrequited love has become a story with all these multiple elements and multiple characters wrapped around them, tying in to the before, during and after of the rise of the Nazis and all that went with it.

To take it all in, you'd need to work at a  reflexive level like the Act of Killing or Pictures from Home, but with a meta commentary - so Meta Maus on a much smaller, less tragic scale - told from the wrong side. Then the project becomes about the making of the project, about the images and how they tie in with the rise of the Nazis, how fascist ideology was embedded into everyday life, wasn't something merely contained in the salutes and the uniforms and the swastikas, but was there on a daily basis. It becomes a didactic, educational tool where you lay everything on the line. It's good to lay things on the line, to take things back to square one.

But that makes for an even more difficult choice. I spoke about this with Andrea Copetti at his brilliant Tipi Bookshop and he gave me the exploded view as a solution to the problem, as a possible structure.

This an exploded view of a guitar.

Here you have multiple parts and multiple choices. The complexity can be endless but it is given a structure, links are made by the original blueprint which forms a overlying edifice which the viewer can navigate.

What's good about this way of looking at things is that you can include everything if you want, as long as it fits into the broader structure and makes sense. you can have stratas, you can have a hierarchy of comprehension and meaning, you can make things opaque, you can make them transparent. And then you can redesign as you go, streamling your structure to make it as functional as possible.

The other thing is you can take things right back to basics and start at the very beginning. There are plenty of people who don't know who Hitler is, who have no idea of the Nazis, of the Holocaust, of any of it. So you can address the assumptions we make about what people know or don't know.

The problem with the exploded view structure is that it does limit the audience. It's a very structured, ordered, initially emotionally distant view. So it doesn't exactly draw people in. It's a view that preaches to the converted in some ways because it is meta..

The emotional story, in contrast, is universal, it draws more interest, it gets a much bigger audience and it does get the curiosity going. It's got the immediate recognition factor of a boy meets girl story arc. That appeals. The Sound of Music has a basic boy meets girl crossed with a man in hole story arcs. It's boy meets girl (with the complications of kids, a convent and Nazis). Mines boy meets girl, with complications of kids, Nazis and Siemens. But no happy endings.

So we're back at the beginning again. And that's a very good place to start... again.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Home is not a Place

Always the Guest by Wendy Marijnessen is a delightful but curious book. It's a mix of text, archival images, and photographs from Pakistan, with some from the particular the Koohi Goth Women's Hospital, a place Marjinessen advocates and fund raises for (5 euros from each book sold goes to the hospital).

The text kickstarts the story, bridging from one kind of domestic to another, mixing the personal image with the photojournalistic, mixing genre and voice as she goes. Marijnissen tells the story of her childhood, of her mother's struggle with cancer, her death, and that of her father some years later. It's a hammer blow to her heart, one that leaves her lost and reeling.

Where, she wonders, is home.

Faded snapshots of a distant life punctuate these thoughts, a dreamlike reverie of what once was - though even here the cracks appear, her mother and father standing together, united in life as they became in death, as a child (even Wendy or her younger sister) stand back to the camera to one side.

Confusion reigns in her life until she crosses the border from India into Pakistan and makes her way to the Women's Hospital. There she witnesses birth, she experiences death at close-quarters, in the vacuum of cultural expectations she finds herself again. The flow of life in Karachi, the food, the smells, the easy familiarity create a space for her. Even the crows become symbols of life.

And amidst that explosion of life, she finds a little corner of herself.

It's a story of rebirth, of finding a place in a country where she has no place, which is a vacuum to her, but where life, with all its celebrations, its sufferings, its failings, is all around.

It could go wrong in all kinds of ways here but it doesn't, there is a genuine sense of Marijnissen grappling to express her loss, her self, her idea of being through the images she makes, the images that have been bequeathed to her, the way and the roles those images play in the defining of who you are. That's a very unusual thing to do.

The family photos are mixed with what look like polaroids from Pakistan, parallel images that make the case for this new life morphing into the old, so that genre is serving a purpose and is part of the narrative in itself - not explicitly, but embedded into the story telling.. Also mixed in are larger black and white images, the realities, both harsh and pleasurable, of life folded in the visual flow.

I don't know if it's always successful (what book is?) in the telling of the story, but who cares? It's tells a personal story and it doesn't  follow all the conventions that you get in the telling of those stories. It's a bit odd in other words.

And that fits the theme of the story, an idea of never finding home that is common to so many yet never really expressed. For Marijnissen, the question of whether it's in Karachi or in Antwerp is never quite answered. In Always a Guest, Home is an emotional state where emotion happens, where human contact happens, where you are a person.

Or perhaps, as James Baldwin states at the beginning of the book, it's not a place at all, it's an irrevocable condition.

Buy the Book here.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Hoda Afshar's Acceptance Speech

                   picture by Hoda Afshar

This is Hoda Afshar's portrait of Behrouz Boochani, a writer turned refugee living a half-life on the Pacific Island of Nahru won the Bowness Prize in Australia.

This what Afshar said about the portrait.

 “I sent this portrait to Behrouz after I returned from Manus in April 2018, and called him. I said, ‘This is you, Behrouz, with your passion, your fire, and your writer’s hands. It symbolises your resistance.’ He heard this, and paused. ‘You are right,’ he said. ‘But I do not see myself in this picture. I only see a refugee. Someone whose identity has been taken from him. A bare life, standing there beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring.’ He fell silent, then said, ‘This image scares me.’”

That idea of a picture scaring the subject is so poignant. That fear is not because of the camera but because of what has been done to the man by his confinement on an island with no hope, because of a policy that treats people as less than human.

You don't often get to read the reactions of people to how they are photographed (Larry Sultan's father springs to mind here) and perhaps that's not a bad thing. Here Boochani's response adds  to the image, to the spectacle of the image. And it is a spectacle, it is theatre - of fear, of terror, of despair.

You can read more about Manus, and about Behrouz Boochani's writing on the island (written on a mobile phone). Here is a snippet..

Refugees are not angels and are not devils. Both ideas of refugees come from the same framework, and it is a dehumanising one … In Western culture, there is a deep desire to see refugees ... devoid of complexity. What I am saying is that there are two main discourses around refugees: as terrorists and dangerous people - an overtly racist representation - and a romantic image that many refugee supporters construct and perpetuate. I hope that my book confronts this.

And this is Afshar's very moving acceptance speech. There is no room for ambiguity.

2018 Bowness Photography Prize acceptance speech by Hoda Afshar 

"In March this year, I travelled to Manus Island, where today nearly 600 asylum seekers remain after having spent four grueling years in an Australian government detention centre. 

I spent a week there with some of the most gentle, and fragile men I have ever met. Men who made the decision to flee war or other circumstances in their country, to seek a better life, but instead found themselves on Manus, stripped of those rights which, more and more, we regard as the privilege of citizens, just because they were born into a world of unequal geographies. 

Behrouz was one of them. But in one sense at least, he is a bit different from the rest. His training as a journalist taught him the power of communication, and his tireless efforts to get the news out has given him a kind of resolve, and purpose. 

I got to know his circle of friends, too—a group of Kurdish men who share a language, and an experience of stateless-ness that binds them as a community. They have each other, at least, and the fact that we grew up in the same country, speaking the same language, meant that we could work together more easily. 

But I met other men, too. Men who lacked even those fragile bonds. And I would struggle to tell you in words just how broken they are. Each day, they retreat further and further into a darkness which they lack the will, much less the words, to communicate. … 

We are not islands. We are social beings, and all of us depend for our well-being on the safety and bonds of a community. But in the last decade, we have been made to think that men and women like those on Manus and Nauru represent a threat to the sanctity of our own community. We have been told that, in order prevent the loss of lives, it is necessary to sacrifice a few; that we should be careful not to care too much. We have watched politicians invent monsters for the sake of convincing us of the need for stronger borders. 

But I was born in Iran at a time when a terrible war was being waged on the border with another nation, so I know what it feels like to live in fear because the enemy is waiting at the city gates; to be told to hide in the basement because the planes are overhead. Here in Australia, we have been made to believe that the men and women we have placed in offshore prisons represent a coming threat like that. But they do not. … 

This is not just about Australia. This is about a new world that we are seeing come into being before our eyes—a world in which the defense of borders depends on the drawing of new lines between the included and the excluded. Between citizens and bare lives. But these are very dangerous times, for what is being redrawn here are the limits of our human community. And the very fragility of those shifting lines means that, one day, any one of us might find ourselves on the outside. 

I dedicate this prize to all the men, women and children on Manus and Nauru."

Friday, 5 October 2018

School Projects continued

I wrote a post bemoaning the fact that there are so few 'authentic' school or college photography projects. I think by authentic I mean ones that look or feel like school or college look like. In the original post I've got Ivars Gravlejs' Early Works down as the most important and truthful school project of all time, so that tells you a bit about where I'm coming from.

Anyway, these are some of the projects that were suggested and there are some great ones in there

Ian Macdonald

George Plemper

Florian van Roekel - le College

Joseph Szabo

Chin Paochen

Dawoud Bey 

Megan Chloe Lovell

James Mollison Playgrounds

Mark Steinmetz - 'Detroit Schoolteachers

Julian Germain

Colin Combs

Nico Young

Inside Santa Monica High

Portraits of Hazleton Public Schools

These are all great projects and present very positive or nostalgic views of school - very empowering views.

But that doesn't correspond to the way most people experience school or talk about school - think of the great school movies, from If and Clueless and Lord of the Flies to Fame and even massively romanticised films like Mr Chips - they thrive on that dysfunction. I think back to when I was at school and everyone was either a psychopath, clinically depressed, abused, or a religious freak. It was genuinely and deeply shit. And I never see that view represented in photography. Some of the projects touch on those elements (click on Ian Macdonald to see the kid in detention) but there does seem to be a lot missing.

People have written about school, they've made films about it, or tv programmes about it, you get that representation in comics, but photography, no. And that's for school which nearly all of us have been to. There's an absence that is quite apparent.

As I said, some of the projects above are fantastic like Joseph Szabo's brilliant, brilliant portrait os his pupils. Or Florian van Reukel's Le College, which gets a poetic sense of what school is, but it's poetic and it's stylised and it doesn't match the nauseous scuzziness of it all.

Perhaps it's the politics of format and framing of photography, and the more suffocating ideas of collaboration, empowerment and consent that are so overwhelming that they have rendered anything more emotionally valid almost impossible. And I suppose for my conditions to be met, and they are entirely arbitrary conditions, then the project would have to be photographed by a schoolkid. Which is what Ivars Gravlejs was when he made the pictures for Early Works.

I would love to see more student-made education projects, both at a high school level and a university level - and Andrew Moisey's American Fraternity is a kind of side-example of this. It's a mystery why they're aren't any emotionally valid projects on studying at university. I've suggested it in the past and I suggest it again. I would love to see photography students do a project on being a student in contemporary Britain or anywhere, complete with pictures, emphemera, notes - from the student loan company, emails, texts, student feedback, university messages, room changes, doctor's notes, food bank parcels, blackboard pages, facebook group messages (that's the killer), notes from fellow students, assignments and all the rest. It's all really basic stuff, and it's fascinating but it doesn't get made. So if you're a student, why not make it, it would be fun. It would be hard. It might be nasty. But you could do it in your spare time. Go for it.