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Monday, 23 December 2019

Goodbye 2019. We will look back on you as a great year.

Another year comes to an end and another year begins. The picture above shows how the year began, and that is basically how the year continued. And my brilliant Oracle Vision tells me that  is just a taster for what is to come. We will look back on 2019 as a great year and yearn for the stability and sense of completion that it brought. The shit is just put into the bucket, and the fan hasn't been turned on yet.

Enough of the politics, I'll come back to those later next year when we'll all be closer to the brink, on the brink or over the brink. So, in photography and writing, thank you to everyone I have worked with this year at Photomonitor, Source Magazine, Vogue Italia,  World Press Photo, Magnum Photos, PH Museum of Humanity, the BJP.

Perhaps my favourite things I've written of the year are this intro for Vincen Beeckman's beautiful and simple Claude and Lilly. And this article for my World Press Photo Witness series; it sums up the generic commonplaces of photography, writing about photography, photographic education, and everything else.

Thanks also to Andy for helping me to get to Romania and see how beautiful, weird and wonderful (and dysfunctional too in places) it is. It was a revelation to me. And sorry, but the scene from the supposed birthplace in Sigisoara is a sight to behold.

And thank you also to everybody at SEAD, the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council for the start of a really wonderful fellowship where the process is what matters. How rare is that. It was and is absolutely wonderful, challenging and mind expanding in equal measure.

Finally, thank you to everybody who came to my Writing and Photography workshops. It's been so great to share ideas with writers, curators, photographers, journalists and teachers - I've been truly bowled over by the range of people who've come and the energy and enthusiasm and original talent that is out there in the world, and the diversity of voices with which they tell stories.

The next workshops are scheduled for March and April 2020 in Bah, and you can learn more and see some feedback here. 

Have a great Christmas, Holiday, New Year wherever you are. I will be back in January, smaller and better.

Monday, 16 December 2019

The Election Post-Mortem

Here's a summary of the election gleaned from various agonised commentators. Condensed here so you don't have to read it all.

Jeremy Corbyn - He's an honest man, he's not a leader, people don't like him, he's a principled man, people don't vote for him. He's worked wonders. He's lost two elections and he's stuck in the past. But he won the argument... well, he didn't, because the election was the argument. He shifted the narrative. What is this media studies GCSE Module 1? He's a fucking saint... etc etc

Brexit 1 - if we had backed Remain in 2016, we absolutely wouldn't be where we are now.

Brexit 2 - we should have promised to just get it done. like the Conservatives. Then we would have won the North. The North don't like Europe. How would that have worked out in London or Bristol or anywhere else?

Lexit - remember that, the left wing renaissance that Brexit would bring. How's that working out for you? But the EU is racist and lets migrants drown in the sea.

Europeans resident in the UK - we love them. It was Johnson who said they outstayed their welcome. What about the Lexiteers who said they queue jump. Three and a half million people in the UK definitely remember this...

Anti-semitism - Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins want to join the Conservative Party and they're not anti-semitic, right? Yeah, right.

But the Labour Party are anti-semitic - But Jeremy Corbyn has spoken out and marched against anti-semitism throughout his entire life. So why didn't he say sorry on Andrew Neil. Thank God Jews can live safe in Britain under the Conservatives who are only homophobic, anti-European, racist, Islamophobic, but not anti-semitic whatsoever, no sirree, bob...

The Media - How long have you got? The lying media, for the last 30 years on Europe. The only reason Corbyn lost was because of the media. What about Blair then. He's the only Labour winner in the last 40 years. Because the right-wing press supported him. He would have won anyway. Oh no he wouldn't. Oh yes he would...

The North - voted Tory, thick as pig shit except in the cities. If you've got magic beans to sell, head up north, they'll buy anything. It's post-industrial, it's gritty, it's northern, they had miners' strikes, it's northern heartlands so they're bound to vote labour. Except they're not. Unless you're in Liverpool. But that's a different country They don't like London up north. They don't like the metropolis. The metropolis isn't white. Ah, I see what you're saying, can we patronise and generalise about the north some more, that will help solve the problem. Sure let's go ahead - everything in the UK happens in London. The money goes to London. That's the real reason. And that's why they don't like the EU and voted for Leave. I've seen videos on it. That's why Brexit. And parachuted politicians like David Milliband who couldn't mark his northern constituency on a map, now getting £600,000 pounds a year in the USA to tell people why Corbyn failed. So it's Blair's fault again. No, it's Corbyn. He's North London metropolitan elite. Because he stands up for justice and is anti-racist and stuff... etc. etc. etc.

Scotland - canny bastards. I wish I was Scottish. You think the Conservatives are prejudiced against Europeans, just wait and see. English establishment nationalism is deepseated and has been around a long time. Why didn't they vote Labour again? Let's not think about that, what about Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland - the same as above with knobs on but we had 30 years of a small war and there's sea between us and them. As long as they don't bomb the City of London again. But they don't have Labour in Northern Ireland. Or Conservatives. So we'll leave that till later. Agreed? Agreed. Didn't Jeremy Corbyn go on picnics with Gerry Adams? Where did you read that? It's the media again.

Winning arguments - the only argument worth winning is the election. It was lost. Overton doors? It's not doors, numpty, it's windows. Overton Windows. We've shifted the narrative and opened the Overton Window a bit. Fuck the narrative, we lost the election. But we'll win the next one because the window's open.

Momentum - Incompetent at running a campaign, too many messages, secretive plans, not involving people who have experience of winning elections, alienating centrist members, alienating young members, telling people what they should think, telling them to fuck off when they don't think it, getting surprised when that doesn't work out too well at the polls. But remember when Labour MPs were voting for Bedroom Tax and Austerity. We've got principles and we've shifted the narrative. But you didn't win. It's the Overton Window. What about the membership...

The Crowds - nobody gets crowds like Jeremy. Yeah, to watch him lose. He got battered!

The Young - they overwhelmingly voted Labour. Ooh, so they did.

The Old - they overwhelmingly didn't vote Labour. Oh shit...

The Policies - which one, they were so many? And they were all great.

Understanding the electorate - the Tories did this, that's why they had one message, one message, one message, one message. Yeah, but who wants to do that. It underestimates the electorate's intelligence and their understanding of complex policy issues. Exactly, because that works. Who wants to live like that. Better than living under 10 more years of Tory rule.

The Next Leader - Can't be a remainer, the North don't like remaining. Can't be from London, that's a metropolitan elite. Can't be a woman, is that a northern thing or is it just our own misogyny? We need somebody to build on what Jeremy has created. He's created nothing, he's a serially loser, can't be Momentum, that approach has failed. No it didn't, Jeremy got more votes than Brown or Milliband. Yeah but against what...

Boris Johnson - so who thinks we're going to see the liberal, One Nation face of Boris Johnson now he's got a stonking majority and doesn't have to really on crazy right-wingers to get Brexit done? Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Fuck me, you agree on something.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Films of the Year

I've done my photobooks of the year, so here are my films of the year. Of what I've seen which isn't much, but then I'm kind of picky. And most of them aren't even from this year, so films of the year?

So there's Border which is a brilliant and odd film about special woman and her relationship to herself and the land and her people, whoever they might be. There's a lot to be said for odd and this is odd. Not much is odd. This is. Have I mentioned that.

The Chambermaid (which is said to have been inspired by Sophie Calle - but it wasn't really) which is about the roles women play, and how class and gender and relationships all intersect in the very separate spaces of a Mexican hotel.

Women of  Ryazan with live organ accompaniment. Great Soviet film from Olga Preobrazhenskaya all about love, rape and hypocrisy in a small Russian town in 1927 Russia. I love the scene where the woman decides to live with her lover without getting married (her parents don't approve) and he says something like, but what will the village say, and she says something along the lines of fuck em,it's our lives, who cares what the village says.

Bangsokol, which was a screening of sequences from recent Cambodian images accompanied by live music and a soundtrack featuring Buddhist chanting, environmental soundscapes and song.It's composed by Him Sophy and the film is put together by filmmaker Rithy Panh in a sequence that runs from the US bombing campaign through to the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge and the mind-blowningly cruel and stupid attempt to transform Cambodia into a world-beating rural economy. It was devastatingly powerful to see this in Phnom Penh with people who had suffered huge loss during the Khmer Rouge years.  I'll be writing about this more at a later date.

Catsticks by Ronny Sen which is a brilliantly moody and beautiful meditation on drug addicts in Kolkata. It's a beautiful film but it's also a sophisticated film where relationships, hopes, dreams and the downfalls of the protagonists are set against a rapidly changing urban landscape.

Director Ronny Sen comes from a photographic background as well, and this is his first film which is just astonishing. It's beautiful, striking, but most importantly has an emotional depth that intensifies as the film goes on. I really didn't want it to end and I can't wait for what he does next (though seeing the amount of work he has to do just to get this shown is a revelation in itself).

Thursday, 12 December 2019

England: A Shitstorm of Ineptitude

It's election day in the UK - there's a whiff of hope in the air, with the fear that over the horizon there's a blazing bush fire of disappointment.

Anyway, it's the perfect day for my review of John Angerson's English Journey (my photobook of the year) to go up on the Ph Museum website. Here's a snippet....

A new England was created, one where a burgeoning multiculturalism came up against a racist England bathing in an overwrought nostalgia filled with Spitfires, stiff-upper lips, ‘two world-wars and one world cup’ exceptionalism and little else. Very little else.

And that is essentially why people are voting Conservative. The little England hegemony that Mishra writes about here has won. We’re wallowing in a dream of a dream that never existed. We are the spectacle, the simulacrum, the medium-become-message all wrapped up in British irony and a sense of humour that is second to none! Fawlty Towers. Just amazing, except for the racist bits.

This idea of Englishness is what John Angerson’s book is all about. It’s controlled and good-natured but it still has bite. The outsourcing of industry, the nostalgia market, the pursuit of impossible dreams the undertow of a deepseated denial are all there. It’s a book where Englishness is a shadow of a Platonic shadow, a structure on the verge of collapse, where even the foundations of fox-hunting and country homes seem worn-out and shabby.

Read the whole review here....

Buy the book here...

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Best Books 2019, kind of

Covers of English Journey by John Angerson

It's best books time again, so here is my list. I don't know if it's a best-of list, because I haven't seen everything, because I find it difficult to look at books at fairs or bookshops because of the sensory overload, because some of them are from last years, and simply because there's just so much that escapes the relatively parochial surroundings of the southwest of England (the England part being the parochial bit).

But these are all books that gave something to me that has remained with me, that have a human element, that have kindness and understanding at their heart (or maybe not). Anyway, here's the list in all its massive imperfection.

Apples for sale by Rebecca Sampson

Your maid wants a day off? Your maid wants a room of her own? Your maid wants her own clothes? Your maid has Body Odour. Your maid has sex? The problems of maid ownership are laid bare in Rebecca Sampson’s wonderful Apples for Sale.

Photobook Belge 

The chapters in Photobook Belge have sections on 19th-century photography, The Congo, Word/Image, Belgitude, The World seen from Belgium, and Artist’s books. It’s a serious book with a serious voice then, but one where there is a merging of the photographic with the historical, a feeling for why images were made and how they reflect a nation that is divided by language, class, and geography, but still manages to retain a defined sense of identity (however split it might be) despite having France, Germany, and the Netherlands as neighbours.

Enghelab Street

Enghelab Street, edited by Hannah Darabi, is another book of photobooks, and magazines, and pamphlets and tracts made between 1979-1983. It's a book about how images create history, feed on history, destroy history. And how a country's very identity and origin story is rooted in the cannibalisation of photography. The book was made in a ridiculously short time frame and as such it's a beginning not an end. But isn't everything. Except the ends.

The Coast by Sohrab Hura 

I like this for the 'flashy pictures' and he multiple layered narrative that stretch along the Tamil Nadu Coastline. Here Sohrab Hura is moving away from his domestic life to show an India that is at odds with its present, its past, its everything. And how you represent that is the question. Coast is a question that has no easy answers, that puts photography centre stage and then shifts it to the shadows again.

English Journey by John Angerson

I was blown away by the design of this book when it arrived unheralded in the post. That never happens. Angerson's English Journey is a reinvention of the book of the same name by J.B. Priestley. It's a book of faded empire, disappointing nostalgia, and lifelong disappointment. But in an uplifting, resilient, English kind of way. It's miserable. But chipper. Especially with the design.

Sweat by Reiner Riedler

Sweat is a book of faces, bodies, breasts, limbs, and hands that have been marked out on sweat sensitive material and then photographed. The book itself is a beauty, a fold-out extravagance of full Saint Veronica sweat-based weirdness in tactile form.

The story of Sweat began when Riedler found his body marked, in Turin Shroud style, on the t-shirt he was wearing. Intrigued by this example of pre-photography with spiritual overtones, he got in touch with the Fraunhofer Institute in Munich.

Family by Masahisa Fukase

In the summer of 1971, the great Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase began making studio portraits of his family. Over the next 20 years, he made portraits that became monuments to failed relationships, to death, and to the power of photography to both record and destroy life.

Claude and Lily by Vincen Beeckman

Vincen Beeckman first photographed Lilly and Claude in 2015. He made pictures of them holding hands, kissing, embracing. They were pictures for Lilly and Claude, simple pictures of love and togetherness. In the 23 years they were together, Lilly and Claude led difficult lives in Brussels, moving from small flat to street and back again. In June last year, Lilly passed away, and Claude was left alone. This book was made for Claude, for his memories of Lilly and the years they were together. It is also made for everybody, a reminder that love is for everyone, everyone. This is the story of Lilly and Claude, this is A Love Story. My little text is in this, so it's a bit of a biased view.

Rise by Alexa Vachon

Best football photobook ever? Alexa Vachon’s Rise is a book about a group of refugee women who play football. It’s also about life, love, home, family, dress, friends and finding a space that is free from male violence and control.

Here, Waiting  by Maroussia Prignot and Valerio Alvarez

I got this in the post the other day and alot of it is familiar territory. Painted on, drawn on, decorated pictures of refugees - but there are nods to another life, to the bureaucratic motherload that being a refugee carries, to lost identities. And it's got photocopy pictures in!

Miki hasegawa Internal Notebook

I remember opening this a couple of days after seeing the film Shoplifters. That's a film about the neglect of a child in Tokyo, Internal Notebook is about the neglect and abuse of children across Japan. It's from the Reminders Stable and an example of the layers of meaning working to devastating effect.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Mark Duffy: A Case of Gross Misconduct

Mark Duffy used to be the in-house photographer for the Houses of Parliament in the UK. If you buy newspapers you will have seen his pictures on the cover in the UK and indeed across the globe. 

His picture of politicians petitioning the speaker John Bercow (the man who shouts Ordaaahhh) is a particular favourite. 

The problem with Duffy is he doesn't like Brexit. Because he's got a brain basically. And an Irish passport. He doesn't want to be in the Boris Johnson transports I guess. 

And so he made, in various stages, works on Brexit outside his parliamentary practice. Here's one of his fun installations at Derby's Format Festival.

And then he lost his job for 'gross misconduct.. 

A photographer bringing the UK parliament into disrepute because of gross misconduct (and lack of impartiality) is beyond irony, a case of killing the messenger when it should be JRM, Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel or any number of scum-sucking groundfeeders getting the narwhal horn up the arse treatment. 

It's really interesting on so, so many levels. I might write about it. 

Anyway, he lost his job and made an in-house exhibition called,  Brexit House .
Co-curated by Duffy and his partner Briony Carlin, it shows the signage of parliament, the layers of photographic functions it is represented by, the iconography of Brexit, the artefacts, the state of mind and the psychosis of Brexit, the control of images by parliamentary button pushers, and the complete absence of any kind of control at any stage anywhere. It is all a big dog's bollocks of an affair. 

The work is shown on a room by room basis around the house (and it's a nice house). It's kind of messy, but it looks great, and messiness fits the theme in a big way, and the way the images fit into the nooks and crannies and drawers of the house fits the mass psychosis of Brexit and the way the house (both Duffy's house and the House of Commons) and all its corners works as a metaphor for all our damaged psyches. This element combined with the layers of management and control - and everything that connects to - is what is interesting, Freud meeting Foucault and forgetting their lines somewhere in the middle. I'm really sorry I didn't get to see it in the flesh. But isn't that always the way. 


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