Disappearing acts: Turning a bowl on a pole lathe

This is a great subject, just the kind of simple story about one person's work that I really love to see told. If it had been narrated by Robin Wood - the pole lathe turner in question - rather than Jon Henley (I assume) and if Christopher Thomond's photographs had been complemented with a little bit of video it would have been perfect.

View it here.




Condition Critical

The other week I saw Marcus Bleasdale and Stanley Greene in conversation at the Host gallery in London, talking about their two new books (more on them once I've read and digested them). Marcus is well known for his work in the Congo - a region torn apart by a conflict sparked by the 1994 Genocide in neighbouring Rawanda with a death toll not seen in one war since the Nazi's invaded Poland and everyone kicked off. Incidentally, the Congo has long been a place of turmoil. For an interesting account of some cold war politics being played out with guns in the Jungles of the Congo I recommend Che Guevara's diaries...

I said to Marcus that I hoped he would realise his aim and get his book into the hands of people who could do something about the situation there and noted that beyond buying the thing myself there wasn't a lot I could immediately do, to which he replied; "You could go shout at your MP."

Of course.

There is always something you can do. Sometimes it may not seem a lot, but lots of little things add up to one great big thing - as I am often fond of saying.

One little thing we can all do is to go to the wonderful Condition Critical website (thanks to Benjamin at Duckrabbit for pointing me in the direction of this) and leave a message of support. That's all. It may not seem like much but as anyone who has ever felt that they are having a tough time will tell you, sometimes all you need is to know that people care.

Francoise's Story from duckrabbit on Vimeo.



Sometimes a little can mean a lot.

Top Ten

With everyone compiling top ten lists of this and that for 2009 and indeed for the first decade of the 21st Century, Médecins Sans Frontières obviously could not miss out - so here it is; the top ten humanitarian crises of 2009. With plenty of photography to boot.

MSF Top 10 Humanitarian Crises of 2009

The Climate

I don't seriously see how anyone can deny the fact that human activity in this industrial and electronic age is having a dramatic effect on our environment and is a major (actually THE major) cause of the climate changes and associated problems we are witnessing today. You know what I'm taking about; rising sea levels, shrinking ice caps, holes in the ozone layer, deforestation, desertification, pollution, despoilment, destructive mining, species extinction, CO2 production, resource consumption, greed, overproduction, unequal distribution, migration, disrupted weather patterns, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, drought, floods, population explosion, the poverty gap, war, pestilence, famine, death....

Cheery stuff right? Maybe that's why some people won't or can't admit that it's their (our fault). I'm as guilty as anyone. I consume too much. Buy things I don't need. Waste water. You name it. I just hope - still hope - it's not too late for us to slow down and reverse the effects. That's what our leaders are discussing this week in Copenhagen. Lots of things going on, and a lot of political hot air.

For now though, and on a photography tip - I suggest anyone interested in the issue of climate change (or as I said to a friend the other day, perhaps we should use a slightly less tame sounding term - maybe climatic apocalypse...) should check out the Consequences by Noor website and the UNDP picture this competition. For starters. Maybe after looking at those the urge to reduce, reuse and recycle, grow your own, eat seasonal, shop local, become energy efficient, demand biodegradable plastic, use solar, wind and wave, walk more, go green, live in peace and avert disaster will be stronger in you than it appears to be in our illustrious leadership.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to get some sleep before catching a flight which I haven't bothered to offset my carbon emissions for. Shame on me.


Stop and Search

In a couple of weeks I will be spending some time in the U.K. I will be taking photographs. I might be threatened with arrest. Nothing new there. I have been confronted by Police officers in the U.S. and the U.K. and had the anti terrorism laws of both countries cited to me. So it helps to read in the British newspaper 'The Independent' that recent legislation that has been used to harass everyone from professional photographers to tourists taking snapshots is being clarified by no less than Craig Mackey, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers. He states in this article that: "It goes back to the issue of briefing and training of staff and making sure they are clear around the legislation we are asking them to use. There is no power under Section 44 to stop people taking photographs and we are very clear about getting that message out to forces."

Let's hope the message gets through, because it's been a long time coming. For more on this see this earlier post..


Salão Escola de Beleza Afro (Salon School of African Beauty) by Tiana Markova-Gold

Tiana Markova-Gold is a friend of mine who has recently worked on a project on the Salão Escola de Beleza Afro (Salon School of African Beauty) in Rio De Janeiro on behalf of Excola Center for Research and Action on Childhood and Drug Use. Like many worthy causes, the Salon is in need of funding to continue doing it's work.

Below are some images from the project and an accompanying text by Tiana. See more images on the Photophilanthropy website and on Tiana's own website along with more of her fantastic work.






Centro de Estudos e Ação Excola
(Excola Center for Research and Action)

Salão Escola de Beleza Afro (Salon School of African Beauty)

Tiana Markova-Gold

Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and luxury hotels, Rio de Janeiro is also a city of the starkest inequalities imaginable. In addition to the four million people (one third of the city’s population) living in favelas, there are thousands of women and children who make their home and their living in the city streets. The instability and dangers of life on the streets have created a complex subculture that is little understood by the rest of society. Women and children living in the streets are easy targets for police brutality and other forms of mistreatment and exploitation. Many sniff glue, called cola, or smoke crack to give them a temporary escape.

Founded in 1994, Centro de Estudos e Ação Excola empowers women and children living in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to make long-term positive changes in their lives. In 2003 Excola began the Salão Escola de Beleza Afro (Salon School of African Beauty) program which trains and certifies 20 young women as beauticians each year. These women also received counseling, access to condoms and health information. The women are continuing to meet in the small salon space Excola rents in central Rio, and many of them have started offering hair and beauty treatments in their neighborhoods.

In the spring of 2009 I traveled to Rio de Janeiro as the recipient of a fellowship from Global Fund for Children and the Nike Foundation to document Excola’s Escola de Beleza program. I spent time with the women in the salon and in the streets where many of them live. Among the women I met were Glauciette, a 24 year old mother of six who has been living in the streets for five years, Juliana, who is 22 years old, HIV positive and the mother of three children, and Roseli, a 35 year old mother of seven who grew up in the streets with her mother and sisters, all of whom are still homeless. The hairdressing skills these women have learned provides them with the possibility of becoming economically independent, creating a viable alternative to begging or prostitution and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem. For many of the women, the salon also provides their only reprieve from the dangers of the streets.

Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the program was in dire financial straits; the rent for the salon was two months behind and no funding had been secured for the next step in the training in which the young women would learn how to use the skills they had acquired to run a successful business. It is my hope that the photographs I took can be used to help bring attention and continued funding to this incredible program.

Note: I was able to do this work through a fellowship from Global Fund for Children and the Nike Foundation in partnership with the International Center of Photography.


Who Shot Rock & Roll

Madonna, Danceteria, New York City 1983
Photograph by Maripol


I cut my photographic teeth in the late 90’s while living in London. A lot of my friends were heavily into their music (as was I) and I would spend night after night in a smoky room with a rotating cast of characters and very very loud music blaring from soundsystems that sometimes needed whole rooms dedicated to their setup. This was usually jungle. I couldn’t DJ or MC, but I took a lot of photographs. When not in some South London flat or a local boozer, weekends (and often weekdays) would be dedicated to going out to clubs, where my camera gave me something to do when I got tired of dancing, drinking or shouting to my mates over the music. It got me in free to many places or helped me skip the queues. A good friend of mine wrote reviews of club nights and chatted with promoters to often get us free or discounted entry. I published a few but that wasn’t really what I took pictures for at that time. I always thought that one day the photos would be an important document of the culture and the times – or at least my perspective and view of them – but didn’t really try and hustle to get them published or shown as much as perhaps I should have. For me, I was simply entranced with the vibes. A sampled vocal from a popular tune of the time went “Music is my life, and it helps me through the vibe.” And that is exactly how I felt. Photography was my way of recording the memories, the times and the atmosphere that the music was the touchstone for.

I am certainly not alone in this. Many photographers and visual artists are drawn to and inspired by music. Is it because music is the greatest art form possible; the purest expression of emotion? Some of the longest surviving (human) vocal communication in the world is more closely related to birdsong than any modern day language. We learn to understand and express ourselves in sound long before we learn any visual communication like writing or drawing. In fact, our very first expression in life is a cry or a scream. Music and sound drive primal instincts in a way that other art forms often fail to do and struggle to achieve.

It is really no wonder that music attracts such fascination, and therefore the people who perform music become a focus of our attention. I went to photograph a concert once for a band that was doing pretty well on the club circuit around the UK and were selling a decent amount of albums. I happened to have spent time at college with the drummer many years previous and this particular gig was a fan club only, no press ‘secret’ affair that he sneaked me into via the back door (very rock & roll right?). The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Maybe two or three songs into their set, one of my cameras had already stopped working from the humidity in the club and I was cleaning condensation from my lens constantly. I was pressed up against a monitor speaker, right at the front when the swarming fans exploded like a wave onto the stage, crashing through the singer and guitarist and into the drumkit, sending everyone and everything flying. I somehow managed to keep my feet and get a couple of shots off as this happened and after everyone had sorted themselves out the band carried on to play a blinder of a set. Raw, emotive, visceral and not just audibly stimulating but a visual treat.

So anyway, from this you can probably gather that I love photographs of musicians, and fans, and gigs and the whole culture. A music concert or a club night is a chance for people to perform, and for a visual artist, that is exciting.

This is the subject of a book and exhibition currently at the Brooklyn Museum entitled ‘Who Shot Rock & Roll’. No one can deny that rock stars are some of the most charismatic, magnetic performers of music. Rock & Roll (done well) has such vibrance and energy that it cannot help but possess those who take to the stage and channel it through to the audience. Think Mick Jagger strutting about, Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar, Kurt Cobain unleashing his demons, my mate’s band sparking an ecstatic explosion in a basement club in London.…you get the idea.

The book, compiled by Gail Buckland is presented as a photographic history of Rock & Roll from 1955-present and has many astounding photographs printed on its pages. The introduction is well written and engaging, and sets the tone nicely for the platform of the book and the role of photography in shaping the myth of the Rock & Roll star. A goal of the book seems to be to represent the photographs as works by the photographers, rather than photographs of the performers, but I’m afraid to say that ultimately it’s the performers who steal the show. Of course, there are music photographers whose work is famous and are more well known than some of the musicians depicted in this publication, but they are very few. However, it is great to see the authors of so many iconic images being given top billing as it were.

Unfortunately for the photographs, the design of this book lets it down. The layout of the text that accompanies the images seems often careless, and many of the accompanying anecdotes and captions are cut short, only to be continued in a 12 page section in the rear pages of the book. This is completely unnecessary and destroys the flow. Why if I am on page 161 should I have to turn to page 288 to finish reading the text? This is just terrible design plain and simple and as a result I ended up skipping over much of the writing and just focusing on the pictures. I wish the whole book would have been more like the introduction, where text and image were interwoven and complemented each other. As it stands, the book is presented as not quite a scholarly review, nor a coffee table ‘art’ book with plates, but an odd hybrid of the two. The section of album covers at the back seems random and tagged on (There are whole books out there dedicated to that subject alone) and even some of the picture selections seem to owe more to Buckland’s personal taste than to her academic rigour; 5 pages of Barry Feinstein’ s photos of Bob Dylan, and Glen E Friedman’s Public Enemy photography relegated to a thumbnail in the album covers section? A throwaway photo by Mark Seliger of Puff Daddy and Jay-Z playing on their cell phones and no photos - none whatsoever - of Ice-T , Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Ice Cube or N.W.A. If we’re going to include well know Hip Hop stars under the Rock & Roll banner, at least represent with some of its more interesting performers (we do get an excellent LaChapelle shot of Lil Kim to make up for it though). Oh, and plenty of photos of the Beatles but not one mention Michael Coopers shot for Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper album cover, which was a historic Rock & Roll photoshoot in so many ways.

But regardless of some may I say glaring omissions, a general feeling of randomness and a design that baffled me many times over, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There is the work of some amazing photographers here (Maripol, Jean-Paul Goude, Jill Furmanovsky, Glen E. Friedman, Jean-Marie Périer, Ian Dickson, Laura Levine are just a few that have stand out shots in here). There are also plenty of images of the musicians not performing, or at least not performing music anyway - and it's a joy to see work like Edmund Teske's contact sheet from a shoot with Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson and Stephanie Chernikowski's shot of Debby Harry at CBGB's in 1978, where the personality of the musician as a person comes through. (But do we really need two pictures of Amy Winehouse, especially when neither of them are that good?)

So not quite comprehensive or well put together enough to properly deserve being called A Photographic History, but as a collection of (mostly) great photographs (and some incredible ones) of people who help us connect to what I regard as a raw and pure emotive experience, it is a damn fine set of pictures. As any music photographer should tell you, photographing musicians is actually a lot harder than it might appear. A friend of mine said the other day that she hates photographing bands. Why, I asked. The reply came, ‘Because everybody photographs the band.’

Right, but not everyone does it as well as the people in this collection.

The Jazz Loft Project

Years before multimedia became a buzzword, Photographers were recording audio to accompany their pictures. Mixing film (video), audio, stills and written testimony is nothing new...Just about to be released is one such project by the giant figure from the history of photography that is W. Eugene Smith.

I came across this project earlier this year and have been eagerly awaiting it's completion. Check the website for full info....


The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner



Coleridge was onto something. Now we all have an Albatross round our neck.





Photograph: Chris Jordan


More photographs and a video here.

Gihan Tubbeh - Noches de Gracia

The other day I was looking over the work from photographers shortlisted for an award with a good friend and we were discussing style vs substance. Some of the pictures were visually stunning, but did this detract from the content? Was the drama and sensationalism necessary or is it more of a gimmick, one that ultimately detracts from the important issues the photography claims to address. It is my belief that the style of a photograph - it's aesthetic qualities - should compliment the content. I don't want the content to be hidden under layers of visual trickery. I want to be drawn into the world the photograph depicts and to find it rich with meaning, not just a glossy surface of visual stimulation.

Later that evening I came across the work of Gihan Tubbeh, a photographer selected to participate in this years Joop Swart masterclass - a prestigious workshop run by the World Press Photo. Her Noches de Gracia series is for me a perfect example of style mirroring content. Here the aesthetics are as visceral and decadent, as disturbing and alluring as the world they depict. The visual tricks in this series are not employed gratuitously, but with apparent purpose.







Writing about the series, Gihen states:

"Eyes are nothing but slimy beasts looking from behind"

Ricardo-Ayllón

The project presented is not intended to tell a story, it is rather an assemblage of photographs that form a grid, a puzzled group of soiled images that are read among each other, without beginning or end. If I could sum up the series in one word I would say it's about transgression. The photos document the most primitive and instinctive conditions of humanity. The tone is acid: it talks about the vulnerable excess of desire, the insatiable hunger for pleasure on the edge of suffering, about violation towards the flesh, joy throughout offense, the eternal return towards the visceral, the morbid by wounding and being wounded.

For transgression to exist, there must be awareness of good and evil, guilt, and condemnation of sin. But this knowledge is left suspended, hidden in our consciousness as a thumping secret that causes greed and temptation towards the forbidden. The body is the battleground between Eros and Thanatos, between desire and destruction; the woman is mother and destroyer, which represents masculine desire. This way, we break life’s boundaries with our bodies, resisting thirsty to nights´ pain, moving in between crime and repression.

“And the nature of pain, the pain is twice

and the status of martyrdom, carnivorous, voracious,

the pain is twice

and the role of pure prairie, the pain

twice

and the well of being, hurting us doubly”

-César Vallejo


Roy DeCarava 1919-2009


I remember the first time I saw DeCarava's book - “The Sweet Flypaper of Life,” a 1955 collaboration with Langston Hughes. I was entirely absorbed and dumbstruck. From there I discovered the wealth of his photography. A big inspiration.

RIP.





Lay Flat 2

Lay Flat is currently putting together their second issue and looking to raise funds to cover the costs of printing and distribution.

It is Edited by Shane Lavalette and Michael Bühler-Rose and the following photographers are to be included...

Claudia Angelmaier, Semâ Bekirovic, Charles Benton, Lucas Blalock, Talia Chetrit, Anne Collier, Natalie Czech, Jessica Eaton, Roe Ethridge, Stephen Gill, Daniel Gordon, David Haxton, Matt Keegan, Elad Lassry, Katja Mater, Laurel Nakadate, Lisa Oppenheim, Torbjørn Rødland, Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, Joachim Schmid, Penelope Umbrico, Useful Photography, Charlie White, Ann Woo and Mark Wyse

Their work will be accompanied by the textual contributions of Lesley A. Martin (Publisher/Editor, Aperture Foundation), Adam Bell (Co-editor, The Education of a Photographer) and artist Arthur Ou.

If you feel like supporting Lay Flat above and beyond actually buying a copy of the publication when it is released, visit http://www.layflat.org/ to find out how.


Michael Najjar - High Altitude.

I stumbled across Michael Najjar's work in the Bitforms Gallery last week.

netropolis | berlin, 2003, 180 x 120 cm, edition 6


These days I'm a bit of a photo snob, like my pictures to be 'real' and don't normally go in for photo illustration but I liked the graphic beauty of his Netropolis series on display in the Bitforms project room so I went downstairs and checked out High Altitude.

Here he has taken photographs from a trip up Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, apparently the highest mountain in the Americas, and the highest in the world outside of the Himalayas. But he has done something very simple and clever, if not very original. We've all looked at graphs and thought that they look like mountain ranges, so it's no great leap of the imagination to actually make mountain ranges out of graphs. By taking data from stock market charts and mapping them onto his photographs, he has created a wonderful series of strange looking mountain ranges, something akin to what you might see in some illustrators idea of an alien world.


hangseng_80-09, 202 x 132 cm, edition 6

I didn't do more than skim read the accompanying press release as I can't handle most art speak at the best of times, but it did get me thinking (again) about how the financial system we are pretty much all in thrall to is having an effect on us and our world. many of the mountains in these photo illustrations look like they have been hit by severely corrosive acid rain, stripping away the rock and leaving precarious vertical spikes.

These graphs we see in the financial pages of the newspaper represent a system that is messing with us and our planet. Michael Najjar's high Altitude series gives us a good visual reminder of how the abstract and the real connect.


Billingsgate Market

I love fish. And markets. So do these guys. In my 10 years of living in London this market was always on my list of places to shop. Shamefully I never made it down there..

In any case, some good simple audio drives this slideshow, and the fish photos are mouth watering...


Rinko Kawauchi at Mountain Fold

Rinko Kawauchi at the opening of her show at the mountain Fold Gallery


The Mountain Fold Gallery has a suitable name for a show by Rinko Kawauchi. The actual title of the show is 'Condensation' so if you say "Condensation at Mountain Fold", it sounds a little like a line from some sort of zen Koan.

I'm a big fan of Kawauchi's photographs (Her book 'Cui Cui' is one of my favourite pieces of published work), so despite a long day and a distinct lack of sleep I went down to the opening of this show, getting the opportunity to catch up with some friends in the process.

I'm glad I did, as this concise show of old and new work is a delight. There is an essence of something very peaceful and life affirming in her work. I began to think that she exemplifies the idea of the democratic image much better than Eggleston ever did. His work often seems to be forcing everyday objects to become equal to each other, whereas in Kawauchi's photographs I truly get the sense that a plastic bag brimming with goldfish is as important a part of life as a baby suckling and the bright sun glaring through a tunnel of trees. Though some of her photographs feel a little too casual - like a blurred shot of a bullfight taken from in the crowd - there is still an emotive power to these images. Looking at a couple of the pictures, I thought to myself, 'I would have edited that out for being too blurry, or the focus is not quite where I would have liked..." but I also thought that perhaps I would be wrong to do that. I have pictures I have taken which are not crisp, well composed, or sharp, but that I still love.

Life is not always something that is well defined and clear, so why do we try and make photographs that reflect the fact that it is. Talking about a slightly different subject, someone said to me that evening that if you are not open [minded] you don't ever learn anything.

Too true. thank you Rinko Kawauchi for having an open mind.



Rinko Kawauchi / untitled, 2009
C-Print

Ressurection of the Polaroid.

I just read this report in the British Journal of Photography. It seems that production of Instant cameras is to resume. Maybe now everyone can get rid of that damn iphone application that mimics the look of Polaroids.

Film is dead. Long live film.

Now all we need is a viable hemp based plastic base for film and some non toxic, eco friendly biodegradable processing chemicals and film using photographers can well and truly get ( even more) self righteous about it all...

Ayuni Images: Please help.

Here is a forwarded message from a friend of mine, photographer Alinka Echeverria. She has facilitated workshops for kids in Mexico and India and is just about to embark on another one in Cuba. I saw her yesterday and she told me they could really use some more cameras - anything that works will help. As she pointed out - the more cameras she has, the more kids can be involved.

Check out the following and please help if you can.



Dear friends,

I wanted to tell you about a photography workshop for kids that I am organizing in Havana. I have now set up a paypal account to make it simple to donate and support the workshop. You can donate by simply making a payment to ayuniimages@gmail.com through paypal. If you don't have a paypal account you set one up at the time of donating. For those of you who have already donated THANK YOU !! I really appreciate your support and would be grateful if you could pass this email onto whomever else you think would like to support this initiative. The more we raise the more children we can invite to participate !

......the idea

An ' Ayuni Images ' team will run photography workshops for kids from inner city Havana in collaboration with the ' Fototeca de Cuba ', the photography center of Cuba. I have given such workshops in Mexico as well as India. Kids' imaginations and creativity always exceeds our expectations. In India we used paper cut out cameras to 'snap' and the kids enjoyed it just as much as with real cameras. On the last day we made a trip to the source of the Ganges river and were able to lend them our cameras to take real photographs. What they had learned and practiced with the paper cameras was put into action and they produced some amazing images. The idea is to teach the kids 'to see' - to observe, compose and choose what to capture and reveal to their future audience. In Cuba the workshop's goal is to produce a 'a day in my life' photo essay of each participant. After a week of fun exercises we will give each participant a camera to take home over a few days and produce a visual diary of their lives. We will produce a slideshow of these photos so the kids can talk about their images, we'll edit together and the best images will be printed and exhibited at their school.

........your support

As this is my initiative I am planning it without financial backing and relying on donations from family and friends who support photography as a means of creative development for children. All donations will go towards buying cameras, film / digital memory cards, developing and printing for the exhibition. Every donor, no matter if you donate $10 or $1000 will receive an 8x10 inch print of the best photos from the workshop (which I will pay for so the donation money is not used) and will be mentioned on the Ayuni Images blog (under construction).

Please donate through pay-pal to my account: ayuniimages@gmail.com and email me with your address so I can send you your print. If you prefer to donate by cheque or by making a deposit directly into my account please let me know.

Also, if you have any old cameras - film or digital- in working condition that you would like to donate please let me know as these would also be a great help. If you are in Mexico or New York I a pick them up in person in the next few weeks.

Please contact me if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.
Thank you very much, I can't wait to see what beautiful work comes out of this ;)

Best,

--
Alinka E. S.

www.alinkaecheverria.com

G20 in Pittsburg - Jason Andrew

You may already have seen Jason Andrew's photographs from the G20 in Pittsburg over at BagNewsNotes and No Caption Needed with accompanying commentary.

As I noted in this post, the G20 travelling circus can be truly absurd at times. I asked Jason to send me some photos of the police there (most all of which are in the slideshow on BagNewsNotes) and here are a couple of my favourites.




Personally I don't think they look threatening, just ridiculous. Their armour (while no doubt effective) looks like something from a sci fi spoof. Even with the kevlar vests under their shirts I'm sure I can spot the stereotypical donut induced paunch on a few of them. I'm more scared of the dog, and even that's muzzled. (Incidentally, that shot reminds of Pieter Hugo's Hyena Men series - another travelling circus...)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'd like to be on the receiving end of a baton charge by these guys and I know all too well the effects of tear gas and other 'crowd control' techniques but seriously, I'm starting wonder if the power of laughter could be harnessed as a weapon against oppression.

Here's another couple of shots, this time showing the general populace. There's a shot of the lady and young girl gazing out the window with a look that seems to be a combination of concern and bafflement and one of some youth looking for all the world like normal kids on a normal day. I used to do the exact same thing on many a bored evening with my mates as a teenager. Hanging around just waiting for something to happen...



Finally, I liked this shot most of all. For some reason, after seeing it I couldn't get Dr Dre's 'The Watcher' out of my head...

Media Evolution

David Campbell, on his Photography, Multimedia, Politics blog has just written a series of interesting posts on the subject of Revolutions In The Media Economy. Well worth a read. There is much sensible analysis contained in the articles and even, usefully, some reasoned and workable solutions to the current problems of how why and who this new media economy will pay for itself.

Of course, web content will have to be funded, at least until we make the real revolutionary leap of actually doing away with money and having everything (including information) available free, with everyone provided for, everywhere, not one human being excluded. But that's one for the future Utopians to pick up on - back to today and Campbell's essay.

Here is a sample paragraph from part one relating to the content of journalism itself:


"...there is the assumption that journalism, as routinely practiced in traditional news organisations, is a
public good essential to democracy because of its history of challenging authority. To put it mildly, this is viewing things through rose-tinted lenses. It’s easy to think that each and every news organisation is run by people who see Bernstein and Woodward’s pursuit of the Watergate scandal as a template for daily reporting. But recent history suggests that much reporting promotes the interests of those in power (think about The New York Times cozy coverage of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, which subsequently prompted an apology of sorts from the paper) or recycles PR material (see Nick Davies critique of “churnalism” in the UK, and the “10 ugly truths about modern journalism.”). For sure, we need critical journalism more than ever, and there are some good existing examples, but overall it is something to create as much as it is something to protect. With survey’s showing Americans barely trust what they read or see, journalism’s belief in its inherent social value is ill-founded and needs to be re-established."

And this one, which relates to the problem of how the internet publishing can be used to pay for journalism:

"The first thing that is necessary in answering this is to resist the temptation (again) to look back on an allegedly golden age that has been lost. We have to recognise that news and probing journalism has never made money by itself in order to pay for itself. We should not, therefore, be judging the social media future for reporting via the flawed assumption that we are looking for a business model that will do what has never previously been done."

As I say, much of worth here. I could easily quote the whole 4 part essay, the two paragraphs above are just a taster. If you have not already done so, I well advise you to check out parts one, two, three and four. Do it now.


Money

Money. The root of all evil. When the current financial crisis took hold of those who didn't expect it last year I wasn't surprised. I didn't believe anyone who said no-one could have predicted it (because so many people had been practically screaming predictions) and I routinely said that the banks should have been left to go to the wall. What I find amazing is the fact that people think that this financial chaos is the exception. It is the rule for at least half the world's population. Financial Crisis? My whole life has been a financial crisis but by comparison I am secure and wealthy. I have known what it is like to run out of food and electricity and have no home, but I have always had friends and family to provide when I could not. For many, when they have nothing, neither do their friends, family or neighbours.

What has this got to do with photography? Actually everything. Money seeps it's greedy little debt stained fingers into every aspect of our lives and I wish we were all free from it. I recently sat a table with several photographers, one of whom said that the job of a photographer was difficult for many reasons and to be a good photographer often requires a degree of competence - expertise even - in a vast range of subjects. I wholeheartedly agree. One reason I love being a photographer is that it gives me an opportunity and excuse to learn about the world. A photographer - especially a photojournalist - should be hungry for knowledge.

Even more recently I sat at a table with other, non photographer friends (who joke when they see my cameras that they all have them on their phones so why do I need that hulking great antique thing...) and discussed many things, as old friends often do. Weddings, kids, sex, food, future plans, old exploits, jobs, politics, economics, rude jokes and serious intimate exchanges all formed part of the conversations happening at the table. It was a truly great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

A few days before that another friend lent me a book entitled 'Confessions of an Economic Hit man' along with the recommendation that it is "Fucking Amazing". That recommendation was served up again at the table that Sunday, which prompted a discussion that lead to debate on the current financial situation and the possibility of an alternative system (They do exist).

Today I sat down to watch Zeitgeist Addendum. A documentary that I truly recommend. My hatred of money is once again fueled.

So what has this all got to do with photography again?

I want to make the world a better place, for myself, for my family, for my friends and - fuck it - for everyone else as well. Why not. The real question should be:

"How the hell do I use photography to do that?"

Step One: Identify the problem....



Fashion

Don't get me wrong. I understand the need - no wait, I think the word I mean is desire - for fine fashion. Food clothes and shelter are the human necessities right? And who wouldn't want to look good while keeping the elements at bay. For someone like me who usually wears clothes until they fall off from from being literally worn out then the world of fashion is a foreign entity only experienced through TV, magazines and the discount rack at the factory outlet store. My wife is forever holding up items of clothing that I usually respond to with a look that ranges from confusion to outright distaste.

I also find it interesting that when fashion weeks roll around, magazines and newspapers burst with heavyweight supplements. Must be all that advertising revenue. Let's hope it funds reporting on the more serious issues.

Which leads me to 'War Photographer Shoots Fashion'. The phrase has an intriguing ring to it, something that might appeal to the business side of Marcus Bleasdale's mind. This English photographer who traded a career in economics and banking to become a photojournalist (now why didn't I do that...?) has spent much of his time covering conflict but has just spent a month covering the international fashion scene for New York magazine. I think Marcus' work from the Congo in particular is fantastic so was naturally curious as to what the result would be with his lens trained on the catwalk. He does seem to make the whole spectacle look fairly dark and cold, but that could just be because that is what my perception of the fashion world generally is and also due to the fact that I am aware of his previous work. Some people might find it slick and glamorous, but to me it looks - to quote the sex pistols - pretty vacant. Check it out for yourself here.



G20 in Pittsburg

Ok people, you know the drill: massive Police presence, protesters of every ilk (for representation in the media; prefferably with odd coloured hair, shabby looking clothes and some sort of banner or instrument), boarded up Starbucks/MacDonalds/Gap, etc etc etc.

These G20 meetings seem to have become some sort of bizarre travelling circus, however I had not realised that the future of the world as portrayed in the 2006 movie 'Idiocracy' had actually already come about...


Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

The Apocalypse


Dust blankets the Opera House at sunrise
Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters


The apocalypse will probably not be an amazing cinematic event occurring in minutes or seconds and accompanied by orchestral music and a handful of stoic heroes battling against the odds, rather it will be a drawn out series of seemingly unconnected random events that can only be averted with the efforts of billions of people working together....


But then again, it's quite possible that we shouldn't bother connecting the dots between economic crisis, climate change, oil extraction, earthquakes, resource mining, poverty, disease, cities, pandemics, greed, war, consumerism, weapons, profit, politics, corporate strategy, the entertainment industry (and so on and so on) because maybe, just maybe, a super massive solar flare will burn the planet in an instant after all....

....or not, as the case may be....




Building on the past

The start of this month was marked as the 8th anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers of the world trade center in New York. While the event has lost none of it's awesome power (and I use the word awesome in the original sense, not the sense American teenagers use it) I can't help but feel that the legacy of this day is much bigger than the thing itself. Just before watching a compilation of footage called 102 minutes that changed America I watched a Dispatches program by David Modell on British Soldiers struggling from varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress on their return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq then a few days later I find myself reading about the English Defense League.... And so it goes on.

In any case, the mess that the world is currently in with regard to the 'War on Terror' involves a lot of backward looking and backward thinking. Not many people are looking forward - or so it would seem - and it is refreshing to look at photography that documents some positive moving on from the events of that September 8 years ago. That is the case when looking at the work of Nicole Tung, who has been documenting the rebuilding of the WTC site. I was introduced to Nicole earlier this year and have been meaning to post a little about her work for a while. The other day she posted a few photos on her blog which seemed timely. They are taken from inside the building site at the WTC, looking out through the fencing onto the street and the passersby with their curious stares and cameras, or even their indifference to the whole thing.


Photographs by Nicole Tung

On yer bike fatty

I saw this in a gallery of winners from the Ciwem environmental photographer of the year 2009 competition. The environment and the way we affect it is often a difficult subject to photograph without resorting to cliche's and usually a theme lacking in humour. Some great shots from the winners and important subjects highlighted, but this one made me laugh and think, both things we should probably do more of.


Burn Fat Not Oil by Pornrutai Lohachal, England
Photograph: CIWEM

National Media Museum, Bradford - Don McCullin Exhibit and Animalism.

Today I went to the National Media Museum in Bradford to see the Don McCullin 'In England' exhibit. McCullin is one of my great inspirations, not only in his photography but in his attitude and it is always great to look at his work. A couple of things I hadn't expected to see included the page from the Observer newspaper with his first published picture and some contact sheets of a photoshoot with The Beatles. There's a couple more weeks left of this exhibit so still time to make the trip to Bradford and check it out. There is also a fantastic mini site and internet resource to accompany the show which I have mentioned before and is well worth exploring.



Towards an Iron Age hill fort, Somerset, 1991 -

I also took a look at the museum's Animalism exhibit, which had too many dogs on show but was worth it for Jill Cole's compelling pictures of birds trapped in nets on a nature reserve on an army base, Brent Stirton's photographs of executed Gorillas and Pieter Hugo's Hyena Men portraits. Jill Cole's work was the only one of these three that I hadn't seen before.


Bird #1, digital c-type, 2007, 24" x 20", edition of 25

FOTO 8 'Best in Show'

Well, it wasn't me. Nor did I get the people's choice award, and as you can see from the photo below of Host Galley staff member Harry (lovely chap) rolling up my unsold print for me to take home, I didn't sell anything either. (Damn this economy is tough on us freelancers...)


Not that I will lose any sleep over this though, as I managed to get a look at most of the work in the show as they were taking some of it down the day after I arrived in London and I reckon that I was in pretty good company. I'd seen everything on the FOTO8 website but that didn't really do justice to some of the gorgeous prints on display. Among the work that caught my eye were pieces by J Carrier, Samuel Hicks, Oli Kellet, Charlotte Rea, Erica Shires, Corinne Vionnet.

I am told it was probably the gallery's most successful show in terms of attendance - the two friends I gave my opening night tickets to also said that night was great (and packed) so all in all I think it's a pretty healthy showing for photography, fine art and the documentary style.

Oh and best in show? Torben Weiss. People's choice? Sofie Knijff. Congratulations.

As a consolation, I get to share a page with Torben Weiss in the catalogue and when I discovered this I of course allowed myself a little smile. Why not eh?

Censorship at Noorderlicht

According to this press release, Stuart Franklin - one of the curator's at this years Noorderlicht festival - has removed his curatorial text after being threatened with legal action by the AP.

Apparently the text was critical of Israel's actions in the attacks they carried out on Gaza at the start of this year.



(Thanks to Robert Stevens for posting this up on facebook where I came across it - isn't social media great...)

Shooting for The Fader

The Fader is one of those cool magazines. Great photographs, hip music coverage and lots of 'I've got my ear to the underground' writing.

One of my close friends Gabriele has written a series of blog posts on what it's like working on assignment for them. Check out parts one two and three.

I know he works really hard but it sounds like a blast to me.

South Bronx - David Gonzalez

I love the south Bronx - a fascinating place with many wonderful people and a remarkable history. I always like it when I get the opportunity to visit and work in the area. The talented David Gonzalez has a bunch of photographs from around 1979 in a slideshow on the NY Times Website today. Well worth a look and also a listen.

knowledge

This week I have been teaching. It has been fairly intense and I have learned (relearned?) two important lessons:

1 - I have a vast amount of knowledge.
2 - Still I know nothing,

Police Powers

Much has been made of the new terrorism laws in the UK and their use in preventing photojournalists and even tourists from taking photographs, so it's a breath of fresh air to read this notice being circulated. If you plan to take photographs in the UK, it might be a good idea to carry a copy of this notice around with you. Importantly it states that the police have no power to delete images or destroy film and have no power to prevent you from taking pictures unless they suspect you of being a terrorist. Of course, they police are often a suspicious bunch by nature, but at least they have some official definitions of a terrorist and this notice will help you defend your position as a tourist/journalist/artist/not a terrorist...

Much respect goes out to the British Journal of Photography and the NUJ for championing photographers rights in this regard. Good work, keep it up.


Healthcare Reform

This isn't completely photography related, but it is an issue I care a lot about. Having moved to the U.S. from the U.K. I can attest to both the positive and negative aspects of both Public and Private health care. One thing I do strongly believe however is that basic health care coverage of a good standard should be a right and not a privilege. Call me a socialist terrorist if you like but it is something these people don't appear to understand.

image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. caption: Protestors hold signs during an anti-health care reform rally August 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California (via BAGnewsNotes)

I cannot honestly see what the objection is to the proposed health care reforms in the U.S. Most objections I have heard are absurd both in tone and content and appear to be more bigoted uninformed posturing than actual serious offerings to the debate.

This past weekend I read (in the NY Times - so obviously it would be instantly dismissed by anyone on the right as the propaganda of the liberal east coast elites) two incredibly sensible articles that - without going into depth on the details of the reform - neatly laid out the case for why reform is necessary.

One was by Sarah Lyall, an American writer living in Britain. One was by Barack Obama himself. As an aside, though I regard Obama as a conservative rather than a socialist, it is a pleasure to have an American President who can actually convey issues in an erudite and intelligent manner. A giant leap in the right direction shall we say...

Slightly Out Of Focus


If you're in the market for some vintage magazines, I just came across Slightly Out of Focus, an online store stocking such fare. Get to see some great photos the like of which would never probably never have published if taken now because they might offend people's sensibilities or some such bullshit.

A word from the wise

'The real horror, to me, lies in the fact that there is absolutely no vehicle in American journalism for the kind of "sensitive" and "intellectual" and essentially moral/merciless reporting that we all understand is necessary - not only for the survival of good journalism in this country, but also for the dying idea that you can walk up to a newsstand (or a mag-rack in Missoula) and find something that will tell you what's really happening ... or at least what a certain group of editors honestly believe is happening, based on whatever mix of truth & facts & madness they've managed to rip out of the mire.

What is happening all around us (or at least around me - and I travel a lot) is a sort of tandem nightmare in which there are fewer and fewer examples of the kind of journalism you say is necessary... and meanwhile more and more people are using that scarcity as an excuse or maybe even a good reason to turn their backs (or heads) on journalism entirely. The people I deal with most often - for good or ill- simply don't relate to newspapers & magazines. They might scan a daily paper for something specific - something they're looking for - but the idea of reading the daily paper for news or general information, as I do, simply doesn't occur to them. A lot of them read the paper, but it's more for amusement than wisdom.'

Hunter S Thompson, in a letter to Tom Wicker, New York Times Washington Bereau Chief. June 18th, 1971.



One man and his gun

Truly, honestly, can someone please explain to me why healthcare reform is prompting people to compare the Obama administration to Hitler and Nazi Germany, or why this guy feels the need to turn up to a rally with a 9mm and a placard referencing a quote that overtly threatens murder and is used (actually misused) by a far right white supremacist group? It appears that in the land of the free the right to threaten murder is more important than the right to preserve life.

By the way, seeing as some commentaters have brought up the issue of political statments involving firearms and the right to bear them, we're not talking personal defense or even civil rights here. No one is threatening this guy's life or liberty. When armed militants marched on Washington in the 60's under the banner of The Black Panther party that was a political statement. They were literally fighting for their rights to be recognised as equal to their fellow citizans.
Some perspective on the issue is required; this is a debate on healthcare goddamn it!

Please take this man's gun away from him before he shoots a president, or a kid picks it up and shoots another kid, or anyone gets shot in fact. Unneccesary in the extreme. Even Britian's Daily Mail newspaper - not known for it's liberal and tolerant slant - found the story to be incredible. Check out this, if you want to hear the man speak.





William Kostric wears a 9mm pistol as he stands outside
a town hall meeting on health care held by Barack Obama.
Photograph © Joel Page/AP


Talk to The Times: One in 8 Million

The 'One in 8 Million' Series in the New York Times is a great example of how to do the audio slideshow well. (I will do my damndest to avoid calling it multimedia for as long as I can!)

Now the newsroom staff have gone online to answer questions about the series, which is worth a read for several reasons. Here are a few of them;

1 - To see how many skilled people are actually involved in the production of these pieces. The myth being pushed in many journalism circles these days is that as a lone journalist struggling to survive in this industry you have to go out into the field with four still cameras, two video cameras, a host of microphones and audio recorders, three cameras with HD video capability and a notebook for good measure, and that you have to take the pictures, record the audio and shoot the video all at once and edit it before bedtime. Not true in this case. It takes a whole team amd a long time. As it should.

2 - Stories are difficult to do. Possibly my favourite quote "We're perpetually trying to break into neighborhoods and ethnic communities that are less visible, less predictable, less familiar — but it's hard."

3 - There is lots of people doing this, and doing it well. Not only are there a wealth of people's stories, told through these slideshows, but this kind of series is not unique to the Times. Check this one from Brazil for example. (Could someone with knowledge of Portuguese translate for me please!)

4 - Multimedia (oops) might well be the future.

5 - Then again....

Liz Lock and Mishka Henner

A couple of weeks ago I was taking with a couple of people about social deprivation and was using the word 'estate' to describe places where there is often an abundance of this situation. The Americans I was talking with began to look very confused until I realised that 'Estate' means something very different in the US than it does in the UK. In the US the word still refers to a piece of land owned and managed by persons of wealth, whereas in the UK it has become synonymous with public housing built after WWII and often neglected thereafter - similar to what in the US is often referred to as 'The Projects'.

Via the always worthwhile Duckrabbit I came across the work of Liz Lock and Mishka Henner. They are director and chairman of the excellent Redeye organisation but I hadn't seen their own photography before. Much of their work deals with the people and places of the post industrial north - specifically Manchester and the surrounding areas. I grew up in a town not far from here and the photographs represent an environment I am very familiar with and as such they have a particular resonance for me. Check out their website.


Amy and Nicola, from the series 'Hinterland'

from the series 'Borderland'

On Edgar Martins, Or, Thus Puked Zarathustra

You know I really tried to stay out of this debate surrounding Edgar Martins apparent digital manipulations but yesterday I had a brief conversation with a colleague on the importance of ethics in relation to a journalism class I am going to be teaching. Then I got sent a link to the NY Times lens blog which has in turn a link to Martins' reply to the whole debacle.

I read this and the bile rose. The guy is incapable of admitting his deception (and let's be clear - it was a deception) and apologizing.

I'll try and ignore the insane amount of pretentious waffle as it's really not worth the effort to examine. Suffice it to say that it reads like a bad piece of undergraduate art theory (ie very bad indeed) and is probably only there to confuse people into thinking that he is actually really intelligent. The phrase 'Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me boy' springs to mind.

Anyway, let's start with this little quote:

It is my view that there was a clear misunderstanding concerning the values and rights associated to the creative process, which made a renown publication such as The New York Times Magazine commission an artist such as myself to depict a very specific view of reality without taking the necessary measures to ensure that I was aware of its journalistic limits. On the other hand I did not see these as a valid boundary. It is quite plausible that two parties might start on an assumption that there are no-misunderstandings.
I did not present the work as something it wasn't nor did I obscure or conceal the relevant constructions and originals.

Ok. There are so many holes here I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should point out that the NY Times contract is very specific in that '...all Work submitted to The Times and that the Work will be original and unaltered.'

That is a direct quote. Now there is an unwritten agreement that some colour correction, toning and dodging/burning is allowed but any competent photographer knows the limits here. Cloning, mirroring, digitally adding or removing elements is not allowed. Pretty much everyone knows that - even non professionals, so the little misunderstanding Martins refers to is surely on his part only. In fact his statement that he did not see these journalistic limits as a valid boundary (his words) tells me that he is well aware of these guidelines and deliberately chose to ignore them.

That would suggest a deliberate breach of contract to me. If I were on the Times editorial staff I would be spitting fire at what is basically an accusation that they weren't clear with him on their ethical guidelines.

Skipping over some more bullshit on meta photography and the representations of the real, we come to the line that

Photojournalism has never felt the need to challenge or contravene certain rules, aesthetic or ethical.

I'm sorry but this blatantly isn't the case. Photojournalism has struggled with aesthetic and ethical dilemmas since the beginning. There are books and articles galore on the subject. Put down the art theory book for a minute and go to another section of the library.

Then we have

In a society where visual communication prevails, the transparency of the camera promotes unattainable expectations. As Peggy J. Bowers rightly observes, this does a disservice to the public. ‘And it contributes to a voyeuristic culture who use and view images carelessly and gratuitously.’ 5
It is my view that this attitude towards Photography also does a disservice to Journalism.

What 'the transparency of the camera' is supposed to mean I have no idea - it is one of those phrases that sounds fine but actually means nothing. However the quote he references about carelessly and gratuitously using images is one he should perhaps pay more attention to himself. His own sentence following that is one I would fire straight back at him.

And moving swiftly on through a whole load of nonsense about symmetry and fire we come to

Discussions about process are all but irrelevant in today’s world.

Um.... No they are not.

And then;

I see Photography as a complex medium that concerns wide latitude of processes and mechanisms.
I, for one, am happy that my images will once again be viewed with a degree of ‘skepticism’. Perhaps now the focus may shift from ‘how’ to ‘why’ (...eventually anyway…).

I too see photography as a complex medium, however Mr Martins, we are asking you the questions how and why already. I am not only skeptical about your images but about your whole damn attitude.

Near the end of this little regurgitation of half baked philosophy and vague responses we come to this:


I recognize that when the contract between author/newspaper/reader is broken it negates the newspaper’s raison d’être and alienates its public.
Regardless of whether our starting points may have differed, regardless of whether I may or may not have embarked on this project with intentions to produce a completely factual approach, regardless of what my decision making process may have been throughout the production and post-production phases of this work, regardless of whether I may have been the right person for the job, the question which I believe to be most relevant to ask is this: in the same way as journalists derive their authority from a binding relationship to truth, would it have been possible for an artist, such as myself, to render his views obsolete and tackle this project in any other way than its present form?
I suspect that, if I had done this, I would surely have misrepresented my work, moreover the viewer.
I fully understand the need to protect journalism and its ethics.

Well, quite frankly I don't believe Mr Edgar Martins does fully understand the need to protect journalism and it's ethics, and if he did realise that when the 'contract between author/newspaper/reader is broken it negates the newspaper’s raison d’être and alienates its public' then perhaps he would have not given a damn about his own personal work and it's misrepresentation (whatever that is) and done the job he was hired for, which he clearly understands but chose to ignore.

Let me outline the main problem here. I understand that photography's claim to truth is a tenuous one and the subject of much debate, but there is a certain limit within which we can trust photography to represent the world we share albeit one that changes constantly with each single photograph - what I choose to omit from the frame, when I choose to press the shutter, where I choose to position myself etc all are a manipulation that lead to a constructed view of reality.

However, as a journalist it is my duty and responsibility to represent reality in a way that provides a certain truth in that the viewer has to trust that it is an accurate representation of a situation and an event. This relationship between photographer and viewer in regards to that exact level of trust is fraught enough with potential misunderstanding and misrepresentation without me going in and manipulating the image with such blatant fraud as cloning, removing and adding elements and mirroring. Isn't it enough that fashion and advertising and the celebrity and lifestyle magazines erode our understanding of photographic representation with their constant alterations and manipulations of the 'real'. Isn't it enough that they are doing untold damage to this relationship of trust between the journalistic photographer and the viewer? Do we really need an artist such as Edgar Martins to come along and do a documentary assignment, manipulate the images to the point where they are essentially lies and then tell us it is his intention to open up a debate about the very nature of photographic representation of reality? The debate has been raging for a hundred and fifty years and this adds nothing constructive to it

Seriously. I am insulted that he thinks this aspect of his work is more important than his contractual obligations and moreover his obligations to his viewer. Frankly it is this kind of self centered selfishness that all too many artists are guilty of and raises my heckles beyond belief.

My job as a photojournalist relies on trust. Trust with the viewer, trust with the subject and trust with my editor. I don't care if the subject is a dying human being, a celebrity with a huge PR machine or a building or a landscape. Trust is paramount. Without it, I cannot properly work. What I come away with will be at best woefully incomplete and at worst an outright lie.

So, in closing, I'd like to thank you Edgar Martins for further eroding that trust and making my job harder than it already is. Perhaps now you can go back to the gallery circuit and quote Nietzsche to a naive and doe eyed young art student at an opening over a glass of cheap wine. Some of us have real work to do.