Le Tour - Final Stage

Imagine you're a photo editor of a sports section/magazine - you want a shot besides the one of Alberto Contador drinking champagne while riding his bike as he celebrates his overall win of this year's Tour De France. You go for one of Mark Cavendish winning the final stage with an incredibly fast sprint... Having watched it on TV you saw how he threw his arms up exactly as he crossed the line and can see the image in you mind, Cavendish arms raised, the finish line perfectly leading the viewers eye to the bike and a wonderful composition with the two circles of the wheels, the cyclist and the road markings creating a frozen moment of harmonious joy. Here's how it happened on TV (apologies for the bad youtube screen grabs..)

Mark Cavendish just about to cross the finish line as the winner of the final stage of the Tour De France - Is this the shot? No, not quite....

Mark Cavendish just after crossing the finish line as the winner of the final stage of the Tour De France - Is this the shot? No, almost - just missed it. So.......

Mark Cavendish actually crossing the finish line as the winner of the final stage of the Tour De France - Is this the shot? Erm, Yes, except the TV camera is on the wrong side of this pillar.

Please tell me there was someone on the other side of the pillar, otherwise as our fictional photo editor you're gonna have to go with this tried and tested, perfectly fine but rather predictable shot...

Oh well. Congratulations to all the competition winners.

Here Comes Everybody

A few years ago I read Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. I had already read Dubliners and Ulysses, though I obstinately refused to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I don't know why, maybe it was because people who had only read that book of Joyce's and not the others kept telling me to read it. I can be stupidly stubborn and arrogant like that sometimes.

Anyway, Finnegans Wake is incredibly dense, difficult to follow and one of the most entertaining and humourous books I have ever read. Ask me what happens in it and I could barely tell you, but it had a profound impression on me, in a very indefinite but certain way.

Chris Killip's recent publication 'Here Comes Everybody' is titled in direct reference to the main character in Finnegans Wake - in so far as the book contains characters in the traditional sense. This character is signified by the initials HCE, and is known by a variety of pseudonyms with 'Here Comes Everybody' being one of them.

It is perhaps a fitting title for Killip's book. This mercurial title and it's direct and stated reference to Joyce's work mirrors the content and style of these photographs. The thread that ties these photographs together is the two pilgrimages at Croagh Patrick and Máméan. In the introduction (under the once again Joycean heading of 'AND BUT AND OF') Killip very simply states his connection to Ireland and the outline of what where and when these photographs contain, leaving out any metaphysical or theoretical explanation and subsequently allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps - gaps that are very pointedly referred to in the title of the book itself.

The fact that it is also stated clearly that this publication is a facsimile of an album that Killip made for his mother further heightens the intrigue; this is most definitely an intensely personal work. The reproductions are small - often one 6x4 on pages almost 11x14, which also increases the feeling of intimacy while looking at these photographs.

Beyond that they follow no real narrative, the people and places are the same but different. The pilgrims making their way through the mists and rain are all one, yet distinctly individual. The landscapes contain repeating motifs yet each is unique. There are even a few pages in which the same scene is shown at different times, perhaps minutes, perhaps years apart, yet each is again the same but different.

Just like Joyce's HCE is known by many names, as if every aspect of his nature requires a different reference, so here the character of the people and the land is tugged at until it unravels. All pieces cut from the same cloth as it were, yet each piece a slightly different size and shape.

One of my favourite spreads from the book shows a black and white photograph of pilgrims huddled together as they make their way up the slope of Croagh Patrick in bad weather and opposite is a set of four photographs of stone gates, the jumbled rocks of the gates perfectly echoing the people opposite. Here Comes Everybody, rocks and people, solid and serious, flippant and funny, everlasting and transient.

Many of photographs themselves are - like much of Killip's work - deceptively simple. The look so casual, but they are not snapshots. There is a subtlety and sophistication in these photographs. Many photographers work very hard to make their work look so casual and offhand and the results are predictable and forced. In an interview, Killip stated that "A lot of the pictures were taken just for pleasure, as a souvenir to commemorate the joy of being in this particular place at that moment". This could explain why they seem to be so effortlessly wonderful - and I mean that in the sense that when I look at these photographs I can feel the same sense of joy that Killip is looking to record.

It is as if he is simply stating 'Look at the way this road looks with these stone walls running alongside it, the grass growing high and the wet surface from the recent rains; isn't it fantastic?'

After looking through the book I pulled my copy of Finnegans Wake off the shelf and opened it at random, hoping that what I saw on the page would be a fitting match for Killip's photographs. Here is what I read:

did ye ever, filly fortescue? with a beck, with a spring, all her rillringlets shaking, rocks drops in her tachie, tramtokens in her hair, all waived to a point and then inuendation, little oldfashioned mummy, little wonderful mummy, ducking under bridges, bellhopping the weirs, dodging by a bit of bog, rapid-shooting round the bends, by Tallaght's green hills and the pools of the phooka and a place they call it Blessington and slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, babbling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddgaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia.
He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak.

- Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiq!

Natalia Estemirova

Photograph: MEMORIAL / HO/EPA

It was a week ago that Natalia Estemirova was murdered. I heard about her death on the radio and reading about it again today it just makes me realise that as a species we still have a long way to go...

Foto8 Summer Show

This Friday sees the opening of the FOTO8 Summer Show in London, UK. I am happy to say that I have a photograph on display in the exhibit and my friend Clemence also has one of her pictures in the show. I'll miss the opening but will be in London later this summer just in time to check out the exhibit before it closes, so hopefully I'll be able to report that there is a lot of great photography on show (besides these two of course!).

Gitty and her daughter, New York. photograph by Clemence de Limburg.

Wonsando, South Korea. photograph by Tom White.

Le Tour

A long time ago I was on a trip round Europe with a good friend, sleeping on overnight trains and park benches, living off bread and cheese and generally covering thousands of miles with only one pair of socks. At one point we were at a music festival in Belgium subtley titled the 10 days of techno and I had the fantastic idea that I would go from the club to the train station, get an early morning train to Paris and go watch the Final stage of the Tour De France. Well, I actually left the club extremely bleary eyed as dawn broke, staggered through the streets to the house we were staying in and promptly crashed out. I was shaken awake by my travelling companion with words to the effect of 'Oi, didn't you want to go see the end of the tour? Well, get up and come watch it on TV.'

So much for my amazing plan. Anyway. I like cycling, and watching some of this years tour on TV (I've come a long way in the past decade) I was wondering if there were any good photo projects on the race. I've seen lots of great individual shots but couldn't recall seeing any lengthy projects. Of course, they exist. Flicking through some posts on Andrew Hetherington's blog I came across this interview with Brent Humphreys, who has been following the tour for a while. You can see a bunch of his work on this dedicated website and though personally I think he gets a bit heavy handed with his lights and stylistically the most succesful ones for me are those where the flash is at it's most muted, I think there's a lot of humour in the work and I can almost hear the crowds along the road shouting 'Alle Alle!' as they fill up on red wine and get in the way of the cyclists..

Team Time Trial - photograph by Brent Humphreys

My own bike has been quietly gathering dust since I moved to the U.S. (thanks to a combination of car culture and my own laziness) and as a result my fitness level has dropped so low that a slight incline is enough to get me out of breath these days. If I ever want to bomb around France for a couple of weeks taking shots of the tour with my 4x5 I think I'd better follow Humphrey's advice and get a van. Somehow I don't think I'll manage it with a couple of panniers and a backpack.

The last long ride I did was a 60 mile stint from London to Brighton on the south coast of England for the British Heart Foundation. Here's a shot I took of one of my housemates as we raced along the seafront at the end of the ride (and no, I wasn't actually looking where I was going as I took this picture...)

Not quite as Glamourous as Le Tour but a hell of a lot of fun.

Ellen Blaschke - Eye on the Strand

Kathy, rare books department - photograph by Ellen Blaschke

My friend Ellen is a finalist in this competition run by the Strand bookstore in New York.

There is an exhibition opening on Wednesday the 15th July at the Pratt Institute CCPS gallery, Manhattan Pratt campus,144 West 14th street from 6-8pm.

Mohammadreza Mirzaei

from the series 'Rewind'

This week I got a very pleasant email from a designer in Iran who pointed me in the direction of Tehran based photographer Mohammadreza Mirzaei. I like his work very much. He has a great eye for simplicity and harmony and there's a touch of light humour in there too. Check him out.

from the series 'Humans'

Kathryn Obermaier

The wonderful Kathryn Obermaier has recently updated her website. Some great work I've known about but not seen until now. Check it out.

Iranian Elections slideshow

By Gianni Cipriano.

Click on the image above to see the slideshow.

The Aftermath in Iran

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi try to calm down fellow demonstrators as they rescue a bloodied riot policeman (center) who was beaten during a protest in Valiasr Street in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran. This is a country I have wanted to visit for a long time, and my desire has nothing to do with the political situation there. I read about ancient Persia and Islamic Sufis when I was a kid, long before I knew who Ayatollah Khomeini was. I never held the impression that this was some kind of backward society, even when I became aware of the politics of the country. It always seemed to me like a fascinating place with a long cultural history.

In any case, the recent election threw up a veritable volcano of analysis, propaganda, fiction, discussion and debate. What are we to make of this all. I honestly do not know. Facts were kind of hard to find amongst all the vitriol and rhetoric. I do know that Mir Hossein Mousavi is not some angelic reformist who would dismantle the Iranian Theocracy and abandon the country’s nuclear ambitions. I found it amazing that Conservative voices in the west were touting him as some kind of Saviour of Iran. I suspect they were mostly using him as a propaganda tool to attack the Obama administration, with one radio host I overheard whilst in a hardware store saying that Obama should have intervened in the election aftermath and that the fact that he didn’t proved he was less committed to peace in the Middle East that Reagan and Bush. This is quite frankly preposterous. I’m not even going to begin to unravel that kind of statement as it’s flaws should present themselves immediately to anyone with even the slightest clue of what is really going with the power struggles in the region.

In fact, politically speaking, the last thing the Obama Administration should do is interfere, both for their own good and for the good of democracy in Iran. See this insightful essay by Stephen Zunes on why that is the case.

I actually suspect that the Election was legitimately (as legitimately as these things get anyway) won by Ahmadinejad but they shot themselves in the foot by trying to rig it anyway. So in fact, they rigged it, won by a narrow but legitimate margin, announced the huge margin from the rigged results, got caught rigging it and then had to deal with the civil unrest that followed. That is what I suspect.

I don’t think I will ever truly know. As always, I turned to the articles of Robert Fisk to give me a clear and thoughtful report of what was happening in the country. Recommended reading if you have not already digested them.

The truly horrific thing in all of this is the fact that the protests were then put down in the most brutal and repressive fashion. This should really come as no surprise, and I’d just like to point out that demonstrations worldwide are often treated with violence by the Police, yes, even in the liberal western world where democracy is perfect and the people duly represented by their honestly elected officials. I don’t know if you can taste the sarcasm in my voice here but trust me it is extremely bitter. Remember people that Hypocrisy truly is the greatest luxury.

That said, I am not in any way belittling the loss of life that occurred during the demonstrations. Along with the many arrested and detained, those Iranians who lost their life should never have had to do so.

The widely circulated images and videos have been greeted with disgust and indignation, and rightly so.

In fact, this brings me to the point of how the images coming from Iran during the protests were used. I know from talking to a photographer who was present that it was extremely difficult for professionals with their big cameras to work unhampered – though once again this is a trend not unique to these demonstrations – hence the fact that much of the footage came from cellphone cameras. There is a compiled slideshow on the FOTO8 website. Citizen journalism in action. The big news outlets utilized many of these images for their own ends. I noticed that a still from the video of Neda Soltani’s shooting was being distributed by Getty. I don’t know if any money changed hands here or if Getty are syndicating this for a fee. I begin to wonder about how thin the line is between reporting and voyeurism, about how often we as human beings cross this line without thinking and about the moral repercussions of our actions. Death and violence are part of the journalist’s trade. It is news. But it is also the commercialisation of a woman’s death. It is also propaganda. It becomes so many things. I feel like things get trickier every day; that the black and white of right and wrong become more and more of a murky grey. Will that woman’s death become overwhelmed by the aftermath of the event? I’m sure it will. Stan Banos put down some words that I think go right to the core of what should be important about the footage.

“I don’t usually do “these” videos. It had a graphic warning, but this time, for some reason, I unwittingly ignored it. And there was no amount of violent Hollywood desensitization that could have possibly prepared one. In seconds, the brutality of death overwhelmed the fragility of beauty, the promise of youth, and finally, the very thought of hope itself. It left no time for moral or meaning.

In an age when images rarely shock or move us, this one will forever haunt me. And when I again accidentally gazed upon the opening still later the same day, I realized why. She stares directly at us, knowingly or not, she confronts us and demands we bear witness to humanity’s long history of depraved indifference.”

Indifference indeed. That is the key word here. In a world where I can turn on my TV, open a newspaper and Browse the internet, I can hear about brutal oppression in Peru, China and Iran, I can read about poverty and desperation in South Africa, corruption in the United States and Political hypocrisy in Europe. I can hear about a Coup in Honduras and remember the photographs a friend of mine took in a Gaza hospital and I can do nothing to change these things right now. I have no magic wand to make the world a better place in one fell swoop, and when I am confronted with so much that is wrong I am left with a feeling of helpless indifference. But I can make small steps. I can do something to make the world a better place. Even if I do nothing today except ask my wife how her day was and actually give a shit about her reply. I can do something. And this is what I learned most from what I read, heard and saw from the Iranian protests. These people are doing something. They might not overthrow a repressive regime in one week. They might not change the world, but they are making steps toward a better future. A flawed future no doubt, but a better one. And that is a lesson we can all learn something from. If we do, then no one will have died in vain.

Not if but when...

This is the mantra everyone utters regarding loss of computer data through crashing/dropping/burning/flooding/acts of god etc. Well it finally happened to me. Even though I properly ejected a portable hard drive from a Mac, the next time I plugged it in I found I had lost all the data on the drive. 120GB worth. Unbelievable. The drive was actually empty. No computer I plugged it into could read anything from it.

Fortunately, the stuff I was working on was backed up - well, I was actually working from the backup at the time as someone else was using the master, but the point is there was 2 copies of these particular files so I was able to get everything done with only a minor headache. As for the rest of the stuff on the drive - gone. The bitch of the matter is that this was my 'work in progress' drive, which means it had raw files and scans and documents on it that were in transit from one computer to another, or were in need of a quick edit and a sort before being properly filed (and backed up).

So, now I face the prospect of many many hours of headache with data recovery software and trawling through gigabytes of recovered files in order to see what files I can restore and what negatives I have to rescan and what I have lost for good.

The lesson here? Shit happens.

A picture of one of Corey Arnold's photographs 'recovered' from my hard drive

As I always say in these situations; 'It's a good job we don't rely on machines for anything really important right?'

So, even if I was to back up everything immediately in triplicate (which even with the best intentions in the world I'm sure I would not do every single time...) there is still the potential for things to go wrong and for data to be lost. The probability of the master and the backups all failing? Well, let's just say it's a matter of not if...but when...