Featured post

Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

  1.          Sofa Portraits is now available for pre-order from my website (orders will deliver in October/November)   The pric...

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Utopia/Dystopia by the Sea

Fifty High Seasons by Shane Lynam is a rather beautiful book filled with beautiful images of French Mediterranean resort architecture of Languedoc. 

 This is what the introductory text to the book reads.

In 1963 President de Gaulle initiated a regional development plan know as ‘Mission Racine', to develop a wild and windy stretch of French coastline between Montpellier and Perpignan into a series of resorts.

Avant-garde architects were hired to construct unique and unusual spaces which would be responsive to the local environment and focused on the individual. Although the project provided a new source of income locally, Mission Racine was not only about enriching the region. It included an 18% quota of social housing to allow more French citizens to take advantage of their time off work.

It would become an alternative to the expensive Cote d’Azur without the high rise excesses of similar developments further south in Spain. Fifty High Seasons reflects on the cumulative effect of half a century of tourism on the innovative built environment established by Mission Racine, while showing why I fell for its unique charm.

I'm not sure I fall entirely for its charm. My favourite place in the UK is the Gower Peninsula a) because it's really beautiful and wild looking b) it's two hours from our house c) it's really beautiful and wild looking.

You can go to Rhossili Bay on the hottest bank holiday and you will always be able to find an empty stretch of sand. The southern hordes go to Cornwall because they don't like Wales (it's a foreign country that doesn't respect their snobberies) and so you end up with a place that is relatively empty.

It's also relatively under-developed. There are no high rise resort hotels, no waterparks or theme parks. It's empty and I like it that way.

So when I look at the Mission Racine constructions, I stare with a mix of horror and awe. The buildings are futuristic in the way only 1960s buildings can be, space age in a time when powdered orange juice and dehydrated mashed potato were the future - in Britain at least.

It's a nightmare world of beached liners, lifeguard stations transposed from Miami Beach, Father Ted caravan holiday dystopias, and pampas grass key parties.

It's the future, and it's the past. It's De Gaulle's seaside sublime, organised, seaside statist fun for all the French family. It looks terrible and it looks great, an addition to the catalogue of  recent books on European architectural coastal misadventure by the likes of Txema Salvans, and  Ricardo Cases.

It's the future, and it's the past. It's De Gaulle's seaside sublime, organised, seaside statist fun for all the French family. It looks terrible and it looks great, an addition to the catalogue of  recent books on European architectural coastal misadventure by the likes of Txema Salvans, and  Ricardo Cases.

Buy the book Here 

Friday, 23 November 2018

In Belief is Power

In Belief is Power by Hristina Tasheva is an intelligent and self-aware book that links the history of Bulgaria with the mystery of Bulgarian identity and contemporary and historical responses to migration and invasion respectively.

The idea for the book came about from Tasheva's shame at Bulgarian responses to the migration crisis of 2015.

This is what Tasheva says in her introduction to the book.

what provokes one’s fear of foreigners; what is the life and history of the local population who live near the border, where different political interests intersect; what is the “Bulgarian” identity exactly made up of; how does the border region reflect what is happening across Europe; is there a "beautiful" nationalism that would help a vanishing nation preserve itself (Bulgaria is said to be the fastest disappearing nation in the world); and, finally, what connects us as people?

So nothing's simple there. The very question of what the Bulgarian people are and where they come from is contested (because it's not a simple answer ).

And that comes out in the book in archival images, contemporary images, handwritten text (in Bulgarian with an English translation at the back), and in sketches.

Bulgaria is shown to be a contested country, a border country where identity comes from resistance to outside forces, in particular resistance against invasion by the Ottoman Empire, the subjugation of christianity and churches (which is very visible in Bulgarian chapels), the defeat of the Turks, the Bulgarian revival, Bulgaria's Communist period, all the way through to the present day where you still have a border country that doesn't quite know who it is or what it is or where it's going. Same as everybody really but with a history that is genuinely on the edge of everything.

The book is about all that. It comes from an autobiographical moment, the dilemma of a country where economically survival means migration - so going abroad as Tasheva has done. And survival means sending money home and supporting the domestic economy. What happens to your identity then, what happens to your community. Money cannot replace the human loss of empty villages and empty cities.

So you manufacture your identity, as something emerging from ancient peoples like the Bulgars and the Thracians. It's all a bit vague, but then nationalist agendas are vague. And that vagueness is complicated by its conflation with religious, political and regional loyalities, all of which create a maelstrom of conflicting perspectives that enable nationalism to flourish, in the place that's best for it,  in the arena of aggressively stated vagueness.

And those agendas come with expectations against emigrants, that you 'don't criticise, you build a house,'

Tasheva intersperses her images - a mix of her own and archive images - with snippets of conversation that overlap with and amplify the text, that confirm and contradict expectation, that create patterns of interference that add to the general air of vagueness and uncertainty.

There's racism, against muslims because they're not christian, against roma because they're the wrong type of  christian. They're evangelical, they're  too pagan.

But then rites with a pagan flavour are shown as a central element of Bulgarian identity. As is religion and its trappings, and those trappings include head coverings (but not that kind of head covering is the anticipated response). There are images of churches and  chapels, the accompanying text showing these places of worship are sites for Bulgarians to be granted access to - or not depending on their intentions. Tasheva's intentions, we learn, are not always seen to be good.

The images show fences, newly built to defend against the latest invaders, then there are swords, Nazi salutes, frescoes showing christians being massacred by muslims, artisans, priests and livestock.

Ther'e's an awareness of history, of foreign policy, of political and economic imperatives in the snippets of conversation (much of it hostile to Tasheva's project) captured.

First you go one way, and then you go another until you get the feeling that history is repeating itself, that there is no identity, that (as one comment in the book has it) we are all refugees and that the home that we manufacture for ourself is ultimately arbitrary. Necessary but arbitrary and as such perhaps we should manufacture our home with a little bit of kindness to those who are living there or those who are passing through. Is that too much to ask.

Buy the book here. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

From Beyond the Grave: Sarah Van Marcke's Errors and Residues

‘Errors and Residuals by Sarah van Marcke is a series of small carboard-bound artist's books which explore the archive of a deceased priest,  Ignace D.K. 

The story is that Ignace D.K. died in 2013 in the house that Van Marcke's parents subsequently moved into. His legacy was some kind of strange archive in which the dead Ignace D.K. attempted to assert control from beyond the grave on the preservation of his house, his gardens, his eccentricties. 

He left behind photos, documents, lists, and notes detailing how the house was to be preserved  after his death. He left behind pictures of his living room, all taken from the same view, with increasing and decreasing amounts of furniture. 

He made a nature research at the end of his back garden and maintained a natural pergola to guide the visitor to their horticultural destination. This was to be preserved by the incoming occupant for the next 10 years. 

This is the material Van Marcke works with in this series of artist's books. The book titled 'a view' contains Ignace's images of his forest pathway with a hole punched through them - Van Marcke's creation of a pathway to replicate the one that has been overgrown by nature. Even in death, Ignace's will lives on, as Van Marcke puts the latent powers of his archive into action. 

'A visit' (see above) details the time his house was photographed by a Google Street View van, an event Van Marcke writes about in a letter addressed to Ignace. She imagines his discomfort at an event taking place beyond his control, but also considers the way this temporarily preserves the memory he wants preserved - until the street view is updated and Ignace fades into the background. Archives can be accidental then. 

'A ritual' contains the repetitive pictures Ignace made of his living room and is accompanied by a short story, a rather wonderful short story about a grandmother who needs to look after her grandchild, about the rituals of habit and repetition we use to stay in our comfort zone - that's what Ignace did wiith his pictures, that's what the grandmother does when unexpectedly required to look after her grandchild. 

It's a conceptual affair where the imagined powers of Ignace's archive, or albums, or shoebox, are given life through Van Marcke's three very different interventions. Those interventions have a roughness about them; they're not perfectly formed, they're in line with the eccentricity of the original notes it feels. In that sense, it seems like there is an honesty to them. I'm not sure, but I think that matters. 

This is about an archive of sorts, but it leads with a voice that seeks to fulfil Ignace's wishes. I might be completely wrong in that, but that's the feeling I get. And I think it's what makes the series really thoughtful and considerate in the most human sense of the words. You get the feeling that if Ignace were some weird priest at some afterlife party, Van Marcke would seek him out and let him know that all was well, the tunnel was still there, the room still ordered and the lawn, though not quite as perfect as it could be, still in some kind of order. It's a book to reassure the dead, not the living, and that's quite sweet really. But as I said, I could be completely wrong in that.

Individual copies are available for 9 euros, or it's 22 euros for all three (with two more to be published in February).

Friday, 9 November 2018

Black Art, Black Hollywood, Bristol University and Doing the Right Thing

Whoever Heard of a Black Artist, Britain's Hidden History was a wonderful BBC documentary that looked at the artists, themes and ideas that emerged from the 1960s on about what it meant to be a black artist in Britain.

It looked in particular the Black British Arts Movement, a group that started up to counteract the marginalisation of black artists and to present new ideas on what art was in 1980s Britain (and here's an interesting read on why that time really mattered). Black Art was about marginalisation and the patronising tone of the establishment but it was primarily about great art and the energy and ingenuity that went into making it.

The 1980s was a time which had a huge before and after in photography, a time where the subcultural influences of the 1960s and 1970s were exploding into political and artistic directions with photographers like Vanley Burke, Ingrid Pollard, Clem Cooper, Pogus Caesar, Colin Jones, Dennis Morris, Neil Kenlock and many more creating a politically charged record of the time that extends into landscape, art and fashion. But the programme didn't really touch on that, it was far more conceptual than that. But as some of this work is possibly the most politically relevant and interesting of all the 1970s/1980s documentary work (which currently has such high profile here in the UK) to be made, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of it soon, but then again, I'm not holding my breath.

That's art then. Then there was film. It was really enlightening and entertaining to watch Simon Frederick's Black Hollywood: "You've gotta have us" on TV. It's a series in which Frederick (who also has Black is the New Black, photographs of successful Black Britons on show at the NPG) interviews a whole slew of successful actors, directors, writers and producers from Harry Belafonte to Boots Riley on the barriers, borders, excuses and lies put up to prevent black people making or appearing in films. It's about racism in the film industry then, but actually first and foremost it's about all these amazing films that have been made and the brilliant ways that people talk about them - and the ways that people tried to stop those films being made - the excuses ranged from "People aren't interested in that sort of thing" to responses like "A Black Henry V, whoever heard of such a thing!" which would be fine if movies were about any kind of accuracy, historical or otherwise. "A rabbit that talks, whoever heard of such a thing, A car that goes back in time, whoever heard of such a thing. " You could go on and on.

It gave me the excuse to watch some movies for the first time - films like Carmen Jones. a movie with an all African-American cast filmed in 12 days by producer/director Otto Preminger, and then watch  films again like Do the Right Thing.

One thing I'd forgotten about Spike Lee's film is how considered it is, how thoughtful and considered it is. Also notable is the use of a still photograph in the film. Running like a thread through Do the Right Thing is  the symbolic power of the photograph as the character Smiley tries to sell to whoever will buy them his hand-coloured pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

One person who will not buy them is Sal, owner of the local pizza parlour, a restaurant which has a wall decorated with stars of Italian background; Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Robert de Niro etc etc, they're all there.

And so the film goes on, with every character flawed, imperfect but thoroughly human in some way, every character filled with a spike of life that rubs up against other spikes, until Radio Raheem (another flawed character who plays Fight the Power and nothing else at full volume on his boombox) gets killed by the police. That was then, it could be now.

And then all hell breaks loose, and violence against the person is responded to by violence against property and the demons of the past are let loose on Sal's pizzeria. History isn't static in Do the Right Thing. It's embedded in the present, its traces live on, its traumas evident as the older you get the more injustice you have witnessed, the more it needs catharsis, the more time folds in on itself as repressed anger explodes into the destruction of Sal's pizzeria. It's not a like for like response, it's not an eye-for-an-eye, it's impotent at heart, another expression of rage, but if that's what you've got, that's what you've got.

But then there's Smiley's picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and ultimately that picture does get shown, it does get put up on the wall. Because pictures matter, they contain within them repressed histories, memories, injustices. They can have beauty, they can have violence, they can have depth. They can be like the character Mother-Sister who is all dignity and grace, until Raheem is killed and the depths of pain, memory and unexpressed anger explode into agonised screams of "Burn it Down, Burn it Down".

Pictures are like that. What you show, what you see, what you acknowledge is what matters. It mattered then and it matters now. And acknowledgement isn't much to ask.

I watched Do the Right Thing one day, the next day I saw this tweet on the new staff lounge at the Royal Fort Gardens at the University of Bristol. It features a painting of the Tyndalls Family, a family which had major slave-trading connections, and the Royal Fort was built with profits from the slave and allied trades. In other words they are a family who made their money and built their reputation on the back of kidnapping, imprisonment, rape, torture, and general brutality, all of which somehow evaporated over the distance of the Atlantic Ocean - and time.

It's part of Britain's amnesia and  the historical gaps that you find all the time when you wander around places like Bristol and Bath in particular, where the classical architecture is a constructed facade behind which all kinds of horrors lie. Again, they're a bit like Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing. There is the beauty, but behind it there are beatings, rapes, whipping and lynching. The difference is Mother Sister is on one side of that, the Royal Fort and the Tyndalls Family on the other.

And again, what you show and how you show it matters especially in a city like Bristol. And what you don't show and what you don't say. Sometimes that matters even more.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Katherine Longly and my favourite book of the year

Last but not least a quick heads up for Katherine Longly's fantastic-but-pricey (it's the product of  a Reminders Photography Stronghold Workshop) collaboration on Japanese eating, disorders and neuroses. If you can't afford it you can see it at the Tipi Bookshop on the Polycopies Boat.

Chris Killip will be signing his brilliant Ponybox newspapers there as well. They are wonderful and look great with real nice pricing touches for the community the pictures were made in.

And Tipi will have some editions of Sohrab Hura's beautiful love story between his mother and her dog Elsa, Look It's Getting Sunny Outside. Which is probably my favourite book of the year.

And if he doesn't then somebody else will. Check out all the signings here from wonderful people at Akina (good luck Simone and Soham), Journal, EA. Witty Kiwi, Rorhof, L'Ascenseur Vegetal, Lyre, Gost, Dalpine,  and many more.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Arsenic, The Universe, Panama and Everything

More quick notes on books starting with the Eriskay Connection (and you will find them this week in Paris on the fantastic Polycopies Boat), a publisher who make beautifully designed and quite serious photobooks which approach subjects with a definite aura of sobriety.

Universe by Jos Jansen is a visual exploration of the cutting edge of scientific research. If you want to know what the edges of scientific imaging looks like, this is the book for you. Universe is s a visual template for how we frame this way of seeing, a kind of visual check sheet for the Scientific Gaze - which is where the Medical Gaze, the Surveillance Gaze, the Anthropological Gaze, Eugenics, and I'll stop there because it doesn't end nicely. You want to know where the end of the world will come from. The answer might be here.

The Arsenic Eaters by Simon Brugner slips into that scientific way of seeing - that's what Eriskay is all about - and examines the fascinating world of arsenic eating, but with added folklore and superstition. So it's science and superstition which is really what science is all about when it comes down to it, albeit superstition of a scientific bent. The basic story is a long time ago that is not really that long ago, it's within living memory....

Actually living memory is quite long ago. You've still go people alive whose met people who would have met Napoleon. There are people alive who knew people who knew Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein, there are people alive who knew people who remembered the Opium Wars. I'd better stop there before...

Anyway, people used to eat arsenic and Simon Brugner decided to follow the thing and photographed the archives, the places, the people, and the region of Styria where the practice was especially common. Essentially, Styria was a backward place filled with backward people, ugly backward people who were lethargic, bad-tempered and nasty. Until they started eating arsenic, which made you lively, vivacious and attractive in a mountain environment kind of way. It warded off other diseases (they were all killed by the arsenic) and gave you superhuman strength. The only problem was - stop eating arsenic and you die. There are lots of questions left unanswered in there I know.

In the Heat by Arturo Soto meanwhile offers up an urban examination of the accident of history that is Panama, a country that invented by the USA to enable them to build the Panama Canal. So right from the start, Panama is an extension of the USA. This theme is pursued in In the Heat through images that captures the Panamanian elite's attempt to build a Panamanian Miami on the border with South America. There are images of resistance in the black and white urban landscapes, the sad shadow of Hector Gallego appearing in one image. Gallego worked on cooperative projects in rural Panama and was disappeared for his efforts. The image serves as both a reminder of the brutality of the landowning and military powers that have dominated the country, but also of hope, that things don't have to be this way, that there is something good in this world, there are people we can aspire to be like. And that is something we all need wherever we are.

David Jimenez puts himself through the seven circles

David Jimenez's new book, Aura, is a book of luxurious blacks and sparkling whites. It's elemental, with water, wind and fire creating a metaphysical enquiry into who we are, where we live and what we are.

While some of the pictures are quite literal, others you are left wondering what exactly is happening - there seem to be interferences and interventions but nothing is quite clear.

Birds figure large (crows and seagulls), so do horses, snakes and fire. There are tree branches and wall markings, pairings that come together then fall apart. There are weird shadow plays on water, the figure of what seems to be Jimenez himself is put through the seven circles of hell, the illusion of our life played out in distorted form, so you're never quite sure what you're looking at.

It doesn't look quite like other books that operate on similar themes, it's a personal meditation that has flashes of Ravens and Cowboy Kate  operating amidst all the symbols. It's individual in other words, and when something doesn't look like something else, that's a reason to stop, look and question. Which is what I did with Aura. What's ultimately going on I'm not sure, but then that's true of everything.

Buy Aura here. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

A tyre-tracked Stream of Consciousness

Next up in this week's quick overview of books is Julia Glassberg's  Bike Kill, aka The book formerly known as Bike Kill, aka The Stinky Book.

Something happened with law and the title so it's not called Bike Kill anymore. It's a wonderful book, covered with rubber with an unashamed tire-tracked stream of consciousness all the way through.

And it does smell. It smells of the rubber it's covered in, rubber which mirrors the tyre-smears, soot-stains, smoke trails, paint spots, ash flecks and overall urban detritus contained within its rubber-lined pages.

It's super tactile and the black and white grain and dirt goes completely with the subject.

Buy the book here.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Kensuke Koike's Triple Publication

                               collage by Kensuke Koike from the No More No Less series

It's Paris Photo week so here are some books to celebrate from a distance.

The first up is Kensuke Koike's No More, No Less which you can also read about here.

The basic story of this is that  Kensuke Koike's No More, No Less collaboration with Beijing Silvermine (where Koike put his knife to prints from the Beijing Silvermine archive) is being published by three publishers, SKINNERBOOX, TheM ├ęditions, Jiazazhi Press/Library.

To make the books, Thomas Sauvin sent files of the original prints, albums and Koike's interventions, and said, go ahead, make a book, edition of 400. We'll see them in Paris. And that's it....

Nobody has seen more than one of the editions Koike and Sauvin have seen none of the books. There was no guidance so it will be a voyage of discovery for everyone.

The book(s) are being launched  during the ‘No More, No Less’ exhibition at A PPR OC HE fair, 9-11 November, 40 rue de Richelieu, Paris, with a book signing session on Saturday November 10th from 3pm to 5pm.

You can also find the books at the publisher’s tables at Polycopies from 7th to 10th of November, Bateau Concorde-Atlantique, Berges de Seine.

If you believe in the 'perfect book' you might see it as a competition. I'd see it as a chance for 3 different publishers to make three different perfect books. It's such a lovely idea and surrender of control.

Koike's collages and videos are a constant source of inspiration and outright pleasure to me so I can't wait to see what comes out.

And I hope that Kensuke can have a bit of a rest from cutting - if you've ever tried doing your own crappy homage to these (I do on a weekly basis) you'll know how much work these take before even allowing for the way of seeing combined with perfection that makes these work on such beautiful but complex levels.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Ma Jian's China Dream: "We have to remain constantly vigilant"

There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not being co-opted, on standing hard in the face of state violence, and not surrendering to it. I don't think many of us can be this brave, but it's always worth recognising and admiring those who can. And letting their stand against corruption, cruelty and violence (at huge costs to their own lives) influence us just a little bit.

Ma Jian, who wrote Beijing Coma, has a new book coming out called China Dream, a phrase first coined by Xi Jinping but now turned on its head by Ma in a novel that is about a leader who is driven mad by memories of his own corruption.

Here are a few snippets.

'Ma has responded “in a rush of rage” with a short, ferocious novel about the way turbo-capitalism and authoritarianism have combined to inform a Chinese dream that excludes all but a chosen few. “I wanted to give myself the challenge of encapsulating everything in as few words as possible,” he says, wryly adding that it will be interesting to see how the Chinese authorities react to the novel, given that they’ve outlawed so many “key words” online – “even the name Winnie-the-Pooh is banned because people joked that Xi Jinping resembled him”.


“Living in the west allows me to see through the fog of lies that shrouds my homeland,” he writes in the foreword to China Dream. During the interview, he invokes Dante’s Divine Comedy: “It’s only through being expelled that the poet gets to see heaven and hell and purgatory.”


Everyone thought we could ignore what happened in 1989 [the Tiananmen Square massacre] and that economic expansion meant it would become increasingly like the west, but that has been a catastrophic miscalculation. China might have draped itself in a coat of prosperity, but inside it’s become more brutal than ever, and it’s this venomous combination of extreme authoritarianism and extreme capitalism which has infected countries around the world.”


“The disregard for truth is infectious. It also explains the rise of Trump. We need to protect concepts of humanity, and freedom can’t be taken for granted. We have to remain constantly vigilant. The more you buckle under these pressures, the huger the monster becomes. One’s responsibility as a writer is to be fearless.”

Friday, 2 November 2018

Pets, Fruit and Shrapnel: 5k from the Front Line

My second article on Anastasia Taylor-Lind and her work in Ukraine is up on Witness now. It's about the mapping of war, how people do that people do that psychologically, technically and how that determines how they see and experience the world. 
I think the point of it all is that the most interesting war photography does not show war in the way we traditionally think of it. War is a state of mind and it destroys from without and within.
In other words, mapping is not neutral territory. The references you use, the borders, the lines of control, the colours, what is shown or not shown — all of it carries a significance that extends beyond the map. Even eyeWitnesses’ time and GPS coordinates carry within them psychological, political and geographical assumptions that have embedded within them expressions of military and economic power.
This is something Taylor-Lind is aware of, and for her, the dilemma is how (in parallel with the more constrained mapping of the eyeWitness app) you can tell stories of people and places that are not usually told, but are absolutely central to how war affects the land, people, and daily life. How can you provide a new kind of mapping that is perhaps more human than that traditionally offered?
“Working with the app has forced us to think about how violations are taking place and how we can document that using not just the app, but also through the people who are living there,” she says.
Accompanied by Sopova, Taylor-Lind’s working process was to begin on the frontline photographing the shelling damage and then move away. And as she moved away, so the working process moved from the indexical precision of the eyeWitness to Atrocities app to something more personal, more narrative-based, that showed the psychological undertow of the war.
“We focus quite a lot on parents of young children and how parenting techniques are adapted in this environment,” she says.
“For example, what do parents tell their children the sounds of shelling are? Alisa started collecting these lists of what parents say: some people say it’s just thunder; other people say it’s the neighbours moving their furniture round; one mother and father we met said it’s a cloud exploding and when their daughter asked why does it explode, they said it’s because it was an angry cloud.”

Read the full article here.