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Monthly Archives: May 2013
At last spring! And the ditch has finally dried to reveal? Yup, a cone!
I have a long-running interest in the single road cone. Occasionally I am less than purist and photograph multiple cones but generally it is the isolated cone that draws my attention: the one that’s past its sell-by date or has been pressed into service for a purpose beyond its original design.
I have already produced a book, but still the images accumulate so this is where I document the Lone Cone on a continuing basis.
Here’s a walk I take when I want to see lots of quality photography in central London. I don’t rush and I take street photos on the way – allow a couple of hours at least.
I’ve made a Google Map if that helps:
I start by getting off the tube at Piccadilly Circus and visiting the Chris Beetles gallery,
then head up Regent Street or one of the many interesting back streets, to the Photographers’ Gallery. By the time I’ve had a good look, including a dangerous browse in the bookshop, it’s time for some lunch in their excellent cafe…
…then over the road to the Getty Images Gallery.
If you like ‘straight’ architectural photography, it’s worth detouring via the Royal Institute of British Architects where there are high-quality images on display. They are also planning to open a gallery space in 2014, which could well be interesting, photographically speaking.
I have been a fan of the Finnish photographer Arno Minkkinen‘s surreal self-portraits for some years, so I was curious to see what other Finnish photographers’ work is like. Claire Aho has an exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, at the moment (ends 21 July 2013) so I went along. The photos are from the 1950s to the 1970s and show a mastery of the sparse use of colour and design that we have come to associate with Scandinavia. And yet they also have an international twist – they are reminiscent of the modernist-influenced work of Beaton and Parkinson. There are individual images and a short video interview on the gallery Web site. They also have a very good quality blog: well researched and written. Check out the entry for Claire Aho and 1950s Finnish Photography.
The Photographers’ Gallery, London, is currently displaying the four finalists for this year’s Deutsche Börse prize. There’s a range of techniques in use – two of the entries re-purpose photographs rather than originating their own – but all have strong messages to examine and interpret. They are all good in their own way but is there a winner? Well, for me there is, but let’s look at the entries before deciding.
“No Man’s Land” shows remote European locations and the sex workers who ply their trade there.
Henner used information gleaned from the Internet to pinpoint the locations, then Google Street View to obtain the images for the exhibition. His work contained still images, a video that was really an animated slide show, and recordings of bird songs from the locations. This last component was the only evidence that the artist had visited the locations – assuming that he made the recordings – since the images had all been taken by the Google Street View project. I was expecting this work to make me feel at least slightly voyeuristic but oddly it didn’t. Perhaps this was because of the banality of the images, or maybe because I already knew that a robot had taken them rather than a human.
Although I found myself worryingly unmoved by the subject of his exhibition, I think Henner’s methodology is more significant than the actual images displayed. The idea of re-purposing information from innocuous to nefarious uses is hardly new, though it doesn’t do any harm to highlight and question the ethics of this especially in this digital, connected age. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
This pair of artists produced a hand-made book based on the 1955 publication “War Primer” by Berthold Brecht. This new book is called “War Primer 2” and has recent images overlaying the original ones, so each page is now a diptych with the original photograph partially obscured but still able to impart its chilling message. The overlay image is taken from the internet or news clipping and is from more recent conflict. There is also a four-line poem on the page. The exhibition shows multiple copies of the book open at different pages. Enough aspects recent wars are shown for the whole effect to be tellingly anti-war but, given the time difference between the original and new books, also asking why do we still make war? Have we learned nothing from these conflicts except how to create ever-more effective ways of killing people?
Killip documented the impact of industrial change in the north of England in the 1970s and 1980s. This period spans the decline of socialism and the rise of capitalism, as a labour government gave way to Thatcherism: when social need took a back seat to personal greed. The title of the exhibition is “What Happened – Great Britain 1970-90”. This is not a question (“what happened?”) but a statement (“this is what happened”). Although it would be more accurate to limit the title to the north of England rather than the whole of Great Britain, these images are part of a larger retrospective, which may well deserve the broader title. I found it impossible to put the images in chronological order from the image content alone, the message I take from this is that very little changed in the two decades – people were still living in a degraded environment in relative poverty and with a fair degree of hopelessness. So much for politics and politicians!
Christina De Middel
In the 1960s a Zambian teacher had the amusingly crackpot idea of using a catapult to put a team of Zambians (and a cat) on the Moon and Mars ahead of the Russians and Americans. All he needed was the money (yeah, know the feeling!)
Reviving the idea, De Middel has created a fictional account of the Zambian Space Programme in her book “The Afronauts”. This project has a charming wackiness to it that really appeals to me: fiction meets fashion meets documentary meets archive. Its more serious message is to question our sometimes gullible, unquestioning attitude to the way stories are distilled and presented to us.
Each of the finalists is good in their own way. I’m not a great fan of image appropriation but War Primer 2 uses others’ images very effectively, in fact it is hard to see how the book could have been accomplished otherwise. No Man’s Land, though, is a lazy man’s approach to photography: the whole project could have been achieved from an office and a computer, its only saving grace is the questions it raises by virtue of the methodology, including image appropriation, used.
De Middel’s project is fun but also has a serious side, so “well done”, but I just find the message a bit naive to be a real winner. Then there is Killip’s documentary, which shows commitment and competence over a long period but could be criticised for having a traditional approach – well of course it does, Killip’s career has spanned 4 or 5 decades and easily predates digital manipulation and multiple media. But its still gets its message across loud and clear, and it is still relevant today.
So my winner is: Chris Killip
worthy runner-up: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
third would be: Christina de Middel
and a hearty pat on the back for Mishka Henner.
The official winner will be announced on Monday 10 June.
Hasselblad may have announced the end of the line for its long-lived V system but we shouldn’t let the square image die! Sales were dropping and digital is the way forward for most photographers but the cameras were well-made and should last for a long while yet, but what I most regret is the demise of another square-format image device. Although there was a small-sensor (36mm square) back it didn’t last long, and Hasselblad conspicuously dropped its promotion of the square image when it launched it rectangular H series cameras.
So here’s my homage. Not to Hasselblad V system but to the square image. Let’s keep it alive. And don’t let your Hasselblad V system Rest in Peace!
Some photographs make me want to keep looking at them or return to them again and again. Why is this? It’s not just subject or composition, but a generic set of cues and clues that seem to apply to many of my favourite images. I thought I’d share my ideas about some of these: Abstract Reality; Message; Symbol; Metaphor.
The more photos I see the more I believe that a single uncaptioned photograph cannot tell a story. I can’t prove this but it is a theory I haven’t found an exception to yet. An image can convey a message or a mood – let’s face it, advertising is founded on this principle. And a viewer can construct a story – or many stories – based on an image, but that’s not the same thing as an image telling a particular story. Show any single uncaptioned photograph to 10 different people and you will get 10 different stories. Even if the viewers are visually sophisticated and know how to decode an image, the process is still culturally dependent and so will generate variations. It’s the viewer that constructs the narrative from a photograph, not the other way round.
On the other hand, a good photographer should be able to convey a message or meaning in an single image that 10 different viewers will interpret in much the same way. A message is equivalent to a sentence whereas a story will be at least a paragraph, a chapter or an entire book. To use another metaphor, an image can contain signposts but it cannot contain the entire journey in detail.
I like this about photography: a strong factor in being drawn back to an image is its ability to be read in many ways. It doesn’t seem to matter how well-composed or beautifully-lit an image is, if it is just a record of an object it probably won’t get a second glance except as a record of something beautiful. That may be enough for some people but not for me. Add some complexity, spice with symbolism or make it abstruse or ambiguous and you have an image that stands a good chance of engaging my curiosity and imagination, and that appeals to me.
If a photograph has moved beyond “recording what is” to engaging the viewer’s imagination by “recording what isn’t”, then the photographer has moved from craft to art. Minor White wrote of “photographing the same things for what else they are”(1), and I think I’m talking about something very similar.
(1) White, Minor. 1967. Brief Account of Career as Exhibition Photographer. n.p.
The winners and runners-up in this year’s International Street Photography awards had an all-too-brief physical presence in London recently,when they were on display at the ICN Gallery at the end of April. It was a really good show with high-calibre images and well-deserved prize winners.
The exhibition has now finished but you can still see the images on-line at http://fotoura.com/competitions/international-street-photography-award-2013/. All the displayed images were insightful, revealing and often either humorous or full of pathos. This is a first-rate competition. What we need is…
…More competitions of this standard!