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Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022

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Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Putin, Platon, and Crazy Walls

I watched the film Navalny the other day. It details Navalny and Bellingcat's attempts to trace the people who poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a flight in Russia. 

One thing I love about it is it has a real life Crazy Wall (or Evidence Board etc if you prefer) on it. And on that wall, at the head of the board, you have a picture of Putin as the suspect-in-chief. But it's not just any portrait, but the portrait made by Platon. It's a great portrait - Putin at his most reptilian. It's a well-curated Crazy Wall then.

It's the first time I've seen that. 

Below is the extended wall. 

But anyway, the Crazy Wall, it seems is a bit of a cinematic exaggeration. Detectives who have served on hundreds of murder cases swear to God that they have never used a Crazy Wall - there's no room for a start. And then there's the chance the suspect will get to see the board - which is referenced in Dr Strangelove...

So all those boards you see in Se7en, The Killing, A Beautiful Mind etc etc might be at least a bit of a fiction. You get the idea Navalny was doing it for the visual effects as well, as a family album of FSB stupidity. 

Top of the stupidity list goes Alexander Bortnikov - pictured below. 

Navalny called him Moscow4.

Why Moscow Four? 

Well, he's the top Security Agent in Russia, Director of the FSB. His computer password was Moscow1.

He got hacked. He changed the password to Moscow2. 

He got hacked again. He changed the password to Moscow3. 

He got hacked again. You get the picture.

And I haven't even mentioned Navalny pranking the FSB agent who poisoned him. 

"What colour were the underpants?" 

He was second on the stupidity list. You can die from stupidity. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Prisons and Museums


That's a toilet in a museum on the left. 

And that's a toilet in a museum on the right. 

That's a room in a museum on the left.

And that's a room in a prison the right. 

That's a table in a museum on the left. 

And that's a table in a prison on the right.

That's a door in a museum on the left. 

And that's a door in a prison on the right.

The pictures are from a book called Prison Museum. Not Museum Prison. 

It's a book about museums and prisons.

I write about it here. For PH Museum. Or should that be PH Prison. 

The Natural History Prison. That has a ring to it. 

The Victoria and Albert Prison even more so. 

Or the Prison of Modern Art. POMA.

And what about galleries? What are they?

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Novelists on Photography: Abdulrazak Gurnah


Image by Diane Arbus 

I love it when people write about photographs in novels. It so often reads like an example of photographic theory put into a real world/fictional setting with the moralising removed. 

This is Abdulrazak Gurnah writing in Gravel Heart about how locals regard the new camera-wielding flock of tourists coming to his native island of Zanzibar. 

'At that time, respectable women did not allow themselves to be photographed tor fear of the dishonour to their husbands if other men saw their image. But this fear was not the only reason to refuse as some men were also resistant. In both cases it was from suspicion that the production of, the image would take something of their being and hold it captive. Even when I was a child, athough that was later than the time of Maalim Yahya's photograph, if a tourist from the cruise ships wandered the streets with a camera, people watched warily for the moment when the foreigner lifted it to take a shot and then several voices screamed in a frenzy of prohibition, to frighten him or her off. Behind the tourist an argument would start between those who feared for the loss of their souls and those who scoffed at such nonsense. For these kinds of reasons, I had not seen a photograph of my father's mother and so could not tell for certain if he did take after her.'

I don't know. It reads incredibly close to the irresolvable polarities that pass for theory in photography, that gulf between the people who fear 'for the loss of their souls' (or have inordinate concern for the souls of others) and those who 'scoff at such nonsense.'

That's a Diane Arbus picture up top, one of my favourite. I reduce it to his legs v the first two fingers of her left hand. I don't think it's a wholely accurate reduction.

This is Susan Sontag writing about Diane Arbus. 'To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves.'

Nonsense to scoff at or have they lost their souls. 

A little bit of both is not an option because it's the right answer - most of the time, or some of the time. 

Go read the novel anyway - it's beautifully written, crystal clear and direct and transparent. And there is more on photography including a great little passage which reminds me of Annette Kuhn's The Child I never Was

Read more about Abdulrazak Gurnah here in this article titled 'I could do with more readers.'

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Bedwyr Williams; Too close to the bone


The people and the behaviour in the illustrations of Bedwyr Williams are instantly recognisable. Just look in the mirror and that is who he is talking about. 

He mocks people who are constantly 'honoured,' 'inspired' or  'moved' by the inanities of Instagram. He points the finger at the constantly sycophancy of the art world. He mocks the strange rituals of the art world, its narcissism, its money-grubbing adulation of those who have, and much more beside.

He also talks about class and second-home ownership (he lives in Wales), which are things that almost nobody talks about because being an artist and responsible for homelessness and unaffordable housing is not a comfortable thing to talk about. Or renting someone's holiday home or airbnb, because that's part of the problem too.

It runs close to the bone, and if you don't recognise yourself in there, ha ha ha, who are you kidding?

Here's a snippet from this interview.

'I started looking at what artists were going on about on Instagram. I realised there was this really weird fakeness (in their reactions), this blowing smoke up each other’s arses: ‘Love this!’; ‘Hoping to catch the last day of your show!’; ‘Beautifully installed’ - all this hyperbolic praise. Or liking pictures of curators’ children you’ve never met. What’s weird is, I’d never thought of artists as being that way. My experience of artists is to be quite mean. You have to have a fighting personality to do it in the first place. Nobody wanted you to be an artist. It’s either you’re up the arse of a curator or he’s up yours – metaphorically, of course. It’s a competitive world. I know in the back channels they’re as horrible about each other as they ever were. If that’s not ripe for having fun with, I don’t know what is. My thing is that I never make it about actual individuals. There are people I’ve met or who have my worst qualities injected into them. I consider myself no better than them.”

See his drawings here....