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To call Bill Jackson the L’Enfant Terrible of photography and in doing so to compare him to Jean-Arthur R, would be to make the slightest of exaggerations regarding age. However, it would arguably be entirely apposite in terms of content. For both display a sharply acute ability to slip inside of well established archetypes and forms only to almost by necessity rip those very archetypes and forms apart by doing so.
The glorious achievement of Rimbaud lay in his ability to construct poems that proffered formalistic perfection and seriousness with a very tongue in cheek attitude to content at the same time. The content poked fun at the structure, with serious implications. To thumb his front teeth at the mundanity of orthodox structures from inside its own structures; this was the foundation of the simultaneous intellectual brilliance and absurdity of the Voyelles.
And Jackson does likewise and as wittingly, in his current exhibition, Cabinet of Curiosities at Troika Editions on Farringdon Road. The series, Head, could at first glance be seen as photo-realist painting, with its careful attention to minute detail against a background of looser brushstrokes. But the nod toward De Chirico and other surrealists in the form of the actual mannequin heads and other odd elements is inspired in making the history of painting over the last 60 years eat itself in one image. For all his claims to be questioning photography (see his artist statement) I wonder if he isn’t also questioning painting, too? And, if so, all the better and all the more deeply probing for it.
All of the three series, Head, Relics, and Imaginary People, are hung in a unique way. From the clothes hanger and overlarge bulldog clip of the Lecterish Imaginary People (that would, no doubt, have delighted both Merleau Ponty and Sartre), to the intriguing forensic display of Relics, the exhibition becomes an experience in itself, an event in itself, quietly and sophisticatedly questioning both photography as a recorder of events, and the history and structure of visual communication as a medium more widely. In placing photography as a documenting medium in this wider context, Jackson engages more deeply with the conceptual questions that other photographers have tried to play with divorced from the more traditionally historical development of visual communications and its limitations. To that extent, as a viewer I feel he is asking serious questions, rather than merely constructing straw dogs just for the sake of photographing them ‘beautifully’.
But he achieves all of this without strongly proselytising. He does so without bludgeoning the point itself to the point of solipsism. He does so while keeping his sense of humour and irreverence importantly intact. It is only the true artist who can both laugh at art while engaging with it meaningfully, and Bill Jackson manages to balance his walk down that narrow path.
The exhibition is on until 30th November, 2011. And ST84Photo Blog can say, without a hint of hyperbole (but also, possibly, without the tired eyes of a cynic), that this is one of those rare and fleeting exhibitions where you either were there, or you weren’t.
If you live in or near to London, how much do you really have to lose on checking this out and spending an afternoon drifting through the layers of Bill Jackson’s crazy mind?
Standard Non-Affiliation Disclaimer Applies – To be bluntly honest, I’m not even that keen on the wine they serve. Good job the photograph are of much greater vintage…
Cabinet of Curiosities: October 5th –30th November 2011
The Front Room
96 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3EA
020 7833 2330
Nearest Tube Stations: Kings Cross, Farringdon Road & Chancery Lane
For more information please contact Bridget or Michael on 020 7833 2330 or via email email@example.com
I used to work as a lighting designer on tour. Early on, I received some good advice from a colleague, a sound manager, who told me, “If a music fan goes to a concert and the sound is great but the lighting is terrible, they’ll leave thinking the concert was terrible. But if they go to a concert where the sound is okay and the lighting is perfect, they’ll leave thinking it was great.”
Strong words that stuck with me. And he was right – we interpret visual symbols more powerfully than we do audio. If the band is tight but my lighting cues are slightly off, the band gets the blame for seeming loose.
A similar analogy can be drawn with famine photography, which is usually presented alongside journalistic text detailing the specific disaster; it is the images that stay with us. This is true and one only need to think of any recent disaster to acknowledge it – how many of us remember the details of the earthquake in Japan? And how many of us have images of it burned into our minds? I think we can agree that more people fall into the latter category.
So the photographs used to report disasters are important, and those who make them and those who distribute them have a responsibility to ensure that they communicate fully.
Recently, David Campbell and Jon Levy (of Foto8) have been debating the practice of famine photography. Discussions can be found here and here. This culminated in a debate last Thursday, hosted by Open-i to which David Campbell followed up with a summation of the points he raised in that debate (found here).
I attended the webinar debate, and found both speakers raised important points. Campbell began by showing the the imagery of famine has barely changed in 50 years, but argued that this imagery fails to communicate the complexity of the story, leaving the viewer with an iconic image but essentially an empty one, in so far as it fails to explain the context for the suffering. He contended that no natural disasters nowadays can really be said to be “natural” – they’re usually either caused by or exacerbated by government policies (eg the Irish Potato Famine occurring despite there being a good supply of potatoes being shipped to England) or economic strategies (eg the impact of bio-fuel farming in Africa). He focussed on the role of the photographer in choosing what to photograph and how to photograph it, while acknowledging that these questions fit into a wider discussion of how these images are distributed, but urged photographers to consider other ways of communicating the depth of a disaster where, in his opinion, famine is merely an end result.
Levy felt that by discussing these meta-questions, we were missing the immediate and visceral response we ought to have when viewing these images – the compassion towards the victims of the famine, coupled with a desire to help. He also argued that what he was viewing** as Campbell’s tendency to blame the photographs for the continuation of famines to be akin to blaming Twitter for the recent riots in England – blaming the tools of communication misses the real problems in our society, and those abroad. Further, he argued that questions about the imagery of famine rightly ought to be directed primarily at the news distributors, and secondarily at the consumers of these images, for failing to promote or demand alternatives. He expanded upon this point by arguing that we are asking too much from photographers to cover the complexities of the issue, and that this could be better provided by journalists. The work of photographers needs to be understood as forming part of a wider framework of communication, and the wider framework should be criticised for failing to make the causes apparent.
This last point reminds me of that piece of advice from the sound manager I worked with. Inevitably, the images in a story will carry more weight than the words. Some wont even read the words, or may skim through to find key details, missing the depth of a well written article altogether. There is a strong sense in which many “read” newspapers at a very superficial level, to “see what’s happening in the world”, in which case, it is the job of the photographer to pull them in to reading the arguments of an article more closely at times.
While I understand and agree with Levy’s point that the wider network of communicators need to also be questioned for failing to make the causes of famine clear, it seems almost defeatist to assume that the iconic bloated-belly image is the best a photographer can hope to produce in this area of work.
I also question the validity of arguing that by engaging in these theoretical discussions we are obliged to surrender any feeling of compassion for the current events. To refer back to the England riots analogy Levy made in relation to blaming communication tools for underlying causes, I think it is wholly possible to feel both anger and sadness at the recent riots yet also seek to understand the underlying causes for them. Likewise with famine photography – I needn’t choose between feeling compassion for those currently suffering in East Africa, and questioning the robustness of the images produced. In fact, if anything, my compassion for the suffering is what causes me to question the robustness of those images; it is precisely because I want to know more, because I want to find solutions, that I look at the images and find something missing in them.
That said, I am fairly well educated, I did study and then work in politics, and I do have some prior knowledge of the political and social factor in Africa that give rise to disasters like that currently happening. I concede that many do not.
Yet, in those cases, I do wonder how much the image influences the feelings they have. Sure enough, we look at the images and we feel moved by them; it is almost impossible not to. But I wonder if the continued reliance upon similarly context-empty images encourages us to naively conclude that such natural disasters are inevitable. In which case, the imagery is arguably undermining the chance of resolving the issues, adding to a continuation of the resulting disasters. There is a sense in which the absence of wider context in the image encourages us not to ask questions.
Undoubtedly, the photographer is constrained by limited publications options, as Paul Lowe pointed out in the Open-i debate – the news outlets are looking for the iconic, impactful, single image; the exclamation mark of what needs an essay to explore.
But this assertion strikes me as being a little bit disingenuous. While it is still true that an image will receive more exposure if published in a major publication, such as the front page of the New York Times, the photography community has been collectively singing the praises of a recent revolution in technology that has enabled self-publishing, the proliferation of independent publishers, and the possibility for good work to go viral quickly and cheaply.
We therefore have to question not merely why the image of a child with a bloated belly seems to be continually promoted by major news outlets as the image of famine, but also why there seems to be an absence of other images of famine. For the number of photographers who flocked to East Africa, where are the youtube/vimeo videos? Where are the photo-essays self-published on personal or agency websites? Where is the work being published through independent print and online publishers?
In summation, it is unreasonable to expect photographers to take the full responsibility for the current state of famine photography, but there are too many holes in the argument that photographers are currently doing the best that can visually be done to convince me that the various issues surrounding this don’t need to be discussed further. It is only through interrogating the status quo that we can hope to create new options that do better justice to the unnecessary loss of life that is continually happening in the world. It is from being deeply moved by the famine photography that I have seen that I have become convinced that the best famine photography must be those photographs that contribute most strongly to the end of famine photography and the creation of a world where natural disasters don’t have the impact they currently do for those unfortunate enough to have been thrown into the world in poverty.
** David Campbell contacted me wishing to clarify this point, which I didn’t make clear. Here are his comments regarding this point, “I just want to underscore that the point attributed to Jon (“He also argued that Campbell’s tendency to blame the photographs for the continuation of famines to be akin to blaming Twitter for the recent riots in England “) is very, very far removed from my views on both famine photography and social media. Just to be clear – I don’t regard images as the reason famines continue. I’ve not written that and certainly don’t believe that.”
A friend shared a link to this article, written by Reuters journalist Barry Malone. Titled, “Me and the man with the iPad”, it offers the viewpoint of a journalist working specifically in East Africa, reporting on famines, and he shares his thoughts on the ethical dilemma he faces in doing this job.
Open-i network have now posted the recording of the webinar debate here.
I’ve added to this post with Famine Photography Redux, which compares this debate about famine photography with the comparative absence of debate around conflict photography (despite ostensibly similar issues being present).
Tim W Glass shared these books in the comments below. I’ve added them here for easy reference:
“Compassion Fatigue” by Susan D. Moeller
“Photojournalism and Today’s News: Creating visual reality” by Loup Langton.
“Truth Needs No Ally: Inside photojournalism” by Howard Chapnick. Excerpt: “For visual journalists, perhaps the time has come to rethink the philosophical basis that determines not only how we photograph but what we photograph.”
“The Construction of Social Reality” by John Searle.
Panos Pictures have shared this video discussing the agency’s history and the changes in documentary photographer and photojournalism over the last few decades.
Harry Hardie who co-curated Collateral Damage with Paul Lowe (LCC) is a key contributor the discussion in the Panos video, as is Mishka Henner who exhibited in the Collateral Damage show.
This is a brief side-note to the conclusion of my review of Collateral Damage, which will be posted later today (and that’s a promise!), but the video is worth 25 minutes of your time and is an excellent way to augment the material ST84Photo has been discussing in this review.
You can read Part I here.
After a quick coffee and lunch, we reconvened at Novas CUC for the afternoon of the LCC seminar: talks by Paul Lowe (LCC), Mishka Henner, and Dr. Jennifer PollardDr. jennifer Pollard (LCC), and a roundtable discussion that also included John Davies.
This “talks and discussion” session was scheduled to be broadcast as a live webinar, with input from a global audience. But this wasn’t to be. I believe the politically astute term for this scenario may well be “technical glitch”. I also believe the politically not very astute gesture for this may well be a faux-shock gaping mouth and a finger pointing directly at the LCC MA Course Director. Hi Paul. Got my MA application, yet? Just checking.
To be fair, it was more that the venue had a very weak wifi signal, a fact known to ex-musical heathens like myself, from days spent practicing in the adjoining rehearsal rooms of Elevator Studios. But I was surprised that neither the venue nor the Look11 team seemed to have sought a workaround for this event, or to inform the LCC of this issue. I’m not sure who really dropped the ball here, but it was a fairly rookie mistake from someone or, more likely, several.
Lowe’s talk could be described as a Rough Guide to Conflict Photography History. I mean no insult there; as a relative newcomer to looking at conflict photography beyond the pages and webpages of the broadsheets, it was a very useful introduction to the debate, and I culled much in the way of notes for future reference.
Lowe’s argument was essentially that rather than there being a supposedly fairly recent trend of making a different form of conflict photography in response to photojournalistic efforts, photographers had been doing this all along. It wasn’t something that started with Paul Seawright and contemporaries (see here for more), but rather has it’s roots as early as the days of Stanley Green, who was experimenting at the start of the 20th Century with this notion of alternative story-telling, using metaphor and allegory to photograph the unphotographable (to quote that threadbare phrase).
He elaborates that while an increasing number of photojournalists are taking cues from the fine art world in how they make and present their work, we ought not to pass over the icons of classic photojournalims, like Green and Robert Capa, who frequently did find alternative ways to document what they witnessed.
That said, he noted that photojournalism trails behind fine art practice in adopting new techniques and methods of portrayal, leading me to question both why this is, and whether it will continue as the distribution media for classic photojournalism continues to weaken and new channels of distribution are created and experimented with. It seems to me that experimentation and reiterative processes are key to fostering creativity, and with a distribution media either in collapse or in flux (depending on the strength of view you take regarding the rise of the mount olympus of social media), the time is ripe for some truly innovative work to be produced. I think we may have yet to see that work be made, but I do wonder if, how, and when it might happen.
He also shared a few variations on The Capa Quote™ (note: quote must be uttered with defiant tone) “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Joel Sternfeld: If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re too close.
Todd Pappageorge: If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re not reading enough.
This sums up a move away from the literal into the metaphoric, a move perhaps most strongly demonstrated in the work of Paul Seawright, Simon Norfolk, and in Broomberg and Chanarin’s The Day Nobody Died (links in Part I of this review).
To conclude his talk, Lowe argued that instead of judging this style of work based on individual pieces or even individual photographers, we would be better off viewing it as a collective narrative that provides a sustained and complex response to the too-frequently seen classic photojournalistic images of conflict that blinds us emotionally by saturation of imagery to the reality of the situation they set out so earnestly to depict. As Lowe said later, “the problem isn’t in the presence of certain kinds of images [classic photojournalism] but in the absence of certain other kinds of images [the more allegorical and metaphorical style discussed in his talk].” Conflicts, and their effects, run too deep for a solely surface appearance of them to suffice in documenting their true nature.
Edit – struggling to find the relevant links for the rest of this post and must dash for work. Shall finish up later tonight.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited by Paul Lowe to attend a one-day seminar for LCC students at Liverpool’s CUC.
Why Liverpool for a London University event? Well, Paul Lowe and Harry Hardie have curated the group show, Collateral Damage for Look11. The show features conflict photography and seeks to offer a refreshingly different perspective to the repetition of ‘stock’ compositions that are heavily featured in photojournalism new pieces.
The show runs Tues-Sun, until 26th June 2011. Check it out while you can – my personal opinion is that it is one of the strongest exhibitions in the Look11 festival, and the curatorial aspects of the show really enhance the selection of images by contrasting the approaches of different photographers and positioning them so the different perspectives play off each other very strongly.
The day began with a tour of the show, and some time spent visiting some of the other Look11 exhibitions; some of the Lightbox work and the John Davies/Donovan Wylie Signs of War exhibition at Milk and Sugar. This was followed after lunch by talks from Paul Lowe (LCC), photographer Mishka Henner, and Dr. Jennifer Pollard (LCC), and a roundtable discussion that also included John Davies.
Collateral Damage features work by Simon Norfolk, Tim Hetherington, Zijah Gafic, Paul Lowe, Edmund Clark, Lisa Barnard, Ashley Gilbertson, Adam Broomberg and Olivier Chanarin, Brett Van Ort, Mishka Henner.
The exhibition is largely laid out across three ‘corridors’ where images from two photographers face each other. Brett Van Ort and Edmund Clark are paired together, both works dealing with “what exists but can’t be seen” – Brett’s work shows beautiful looking landscapes in frames which open to reveal coldly photographed product photography of the mines hidden in the landscape, while Edmund Clark’s work comprises photographs of letters sent to inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The photographs are of scanned copies of the letters, with text blacked out, as prisoners never received the actual letters themselves but the scanned copies. The photographs are the more poignant for this fact – the sense of distance the viewer feels is akin in kind to the detachment the inmate has from the actual letter sent, and often sent by a family member. Both works allude to dislocation between beauty hinted at (or proclaimed, in Brett’s work) and the dangers that aren’t at first apparent to the viewer, but ever present for those living in these spaces.
The next ‘corridor’ features work by Tim Hetherington (whose tragic death this blog wrote about here ) and by Lisa Barnard. A perhaps unintended consequence of this pairing is that, in light of Tim’s recent death in Libya, and the attendant discussion in the media and photojournalism forums of the psychological effects of warfare on both those who participate in it and those who document it, Lisa’s images depicting the psychological training and treatment of American troops takes on a further potency than it otherwise might have had. Tim’s work featured in this exhibition is early work, examining the graffiti in post-conflict zones, pointing to the territorial nature of disputes. These ghostly echoes of the causes and basis of war are powerful, both for their similarity in appearance to the markings left in all urban spaces, and for the link with Lisa’s work, namely that marks of war live on after the war has ended, both physically and psychologically. It makes the viewer question where the end of a war actually is.
The final corridor pairs Paul Lowe’s images of the wall separating Israel and Palestine, and Mishka Henner’s aerial google views of American military bases around the world (his 51 states). Each offering unique perspectives on the divisions of architecture, symbolic of the divisions between nation-states, these images carry a hypnotic weight through repetition of content and framing. There is a pervading sense here, as in other work featured in Collateral Damage, that this could be anywhere, and the absence of stereotypical or easy markers for locating the spaces depicted adds to the force of interrogation the viewer faces – by refusing to show whose backyard this is, it becomes everyone’s backyard. Interesting, then, that Lowe and Hardie feature Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen along the side wall, printed in large-scale panoramic format (a powerful counter-point to the comparatively tiny panoramics of Lowe’s Wall), depicting bedrooms of American soldiers. Instigated after Ashley was working on assignment and witnessed the death of a soldier who had taken him to the top of a mosque for picture opportunities, the work is laden with emotional cues and is reminiscent of the Rimbaud poem, The Sideboard and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (see also Gibson, Affordances, 1971) – objects are never merely objects but always exist in relation to us. In this case, the artefacts of youth where life has ended, there is an unsettling feeling created by looking at a bedroom that will never be slept in again. The relationships of attachment, entertainment, and utility that these objects once had in relation to their owners are now broken, and instead the whole room becomes a shrine for the family remembering their loss.
Next to Ashley’s work, and on the opposite wall, creating a pair crossing the walls of Van Ort and Clark, are two images by Simon Norfolk, from Full Spectrum Dominance: Missiles, Rockets, Satellites in America. Like Van Ort and Clark, there is a notion here of what can’t be seen – the missiles are created and transported in top secrecy, and the satellites are fired into space, where they can’t be seen, only their effects are tangible. Here, Norfolk photographs the single brief moment when they are visible, and spectacularly so, during their launch. That these two images are the only clear signs of the “shock and awe” of warfare in the exhibition reminds us of the link between the quieter images presented by the other photographers and the newspaper images we are all saturated with, but Norfolk does it in a conceptually intriguing manner; the viewer is reminded of the childhood (or childish? maybe) interest in war games for their spectacle, for the fireworks we celebrate with every November, for the sheer sense of display.
In all, Lowe and Hardie ought to be commended for producing an exhibition that explores a wide range of different dimensions to the effects of war, on the military involved, the people stuck in war zones, and the families of those lost in the name of supposedly noble causes. Henner’s work also shows how the military machine is everywhere, and inescapable in terms of distancing oneself geographically (and, by extension emotionally), the from the debate. The work presented is quiet but insistent in it’s interrogation of the viewer, and manages to ask questions without polemicising strongly one way or another. A fantastic exhibition, and extremely well delivered.
The Saturday Sessions of NPS 3 were too much to squeeze in to one blog post, without doing a real disservice to all the wonderful speakers so, here it comes….Part II.
When I was invited to speak at Format Festival, I had wanted to make it clear that as big a fan of Social Media as I am, simply using it because it is popular is pointless. The faddish nature of wanting to use “the latest web platform” often overtakes clear thinking about how to use it effectively. What excited me about he Street Photography Now Project was precisely the fact that it couldn’t be duplicated without Social Media tools without incurring a massive cost. We have 52 photographers offering feedback over the course of a year, and participants from every continent. And the whole thing is free for people participating. That’s pretty damn special, if I may say so. It’s what had me say “I’m in” when it came to running it for a year.
I wanted to find other web-and-photo projects with a similar thought behind them. I’d say web-based, but these projects rarely are; they’re web-facilitated, if anything. And I found an amazing one (which we highlighted in our presentation) in The 4am Project. I’d googled and found it, and I’ve been telling everyone about it ever since. So, imagine my delight to walk into a small lecture space, only to have Mike England kindly introduce me to Karen Strunks, the amazing lady behind the 4am Project. I had no idea who had set this project up, and even less idea that it had come from just down the road in Birmingham (okay, motorway, let’s not quibble though…).
Her 15-minute talk covered the growth of her project, from its organic beginnings with her happening to be out late one night and finding the change in public space photographically and emotionally intriguing, to going out with her camera and photographing in the small hours, uploading the images and receiving other peoples’ late night images in response, to setting up the website and organising 4am Events for people across the globe to participate in.
In a time where arts organisations are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate their value to the wider community in their work, people like Karen really ought to be applauded for organising a novel idea, executing it in a relatively low-cost manner (using Twitter and Facebook as key advertising tools), and genuinely engaging with the power of todays communications devices to create a project that fosters a sense of community without borders.
I was amazed to learn that the 4am Events that had already occurred included people who went out on prearranged photo-walks without even taking a camera, just to be part of it. Those who go out alone do so knowing there are other people out there doing the same thing at the same time. And Karen has taken it to a new level in her home town of Birmingham by (somehow – and I want your ninja secrets here) getting permission to building and sites normally closed at this hour – Birmingham New Street station was opened, as was the Library, and the New Art Gallery. At 4am. For people to take photographs. Given the popularity of complaints that photographers are being prevented from photographing in public places (complaints that are, at times, extremely valid), this project deserves to be known by every person who ever picks up a camera and photographs in a public place.
At this point, hunger pangs really did overtake me, and I had to duck out for food. But the Bluecoat did an admirable job with a barbecue (inside, due to the rain), and people got to chatting away, catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones.
Photographer, Edmund Clark enjoying a bottle of wine with Karen Newman and Adam Lee at The Bluecoat.
This was followed by casual drinks at local cocktail bar par excellence, Santa Chupitos. TNT was the popular choice, and it proved a nice way to wind down from a photography-packed day.
War never changes. The weapons may change, but people still get killed.” Paul Seawright at NPS 3
The Saturday sessions for the National Photography Symposium started with a keynote speech by Paul Seawright whose work, Sectarian Murder is considered a classic documentary piece on Northern Ireland.
Paul said his work is made in response to straight photojournalism and, as such, could not exist without that context to create the potency of his distinctive and unique method of working. Focussing on the surface normality of the Troubles in contrast to the drama or the abstraction of the conflict, he takes influences from Paul Graham’s (Seawright’s mentor at the start of his career) Troubled Land* and Clive Limpkin’s Battle of the Bogside. He also noted a deep affinity for Benjamin’s critique of Atget, “pumping the drama out of photographs”, saying that the sought to achieve this in his own work.
Seawright’s second project in Belfast is informative as a comparison against Ed Kashi’s work also completed around the same time period. Whereas Kashi bases his narrative around one individual in Northern Ireland, Seawright adopts a much more open and undirected narrative to give a starting point for contemplation of a more complex set of questions.
The process of photographing is functional for Seawright – he claimed not enjoy the actual making of the photographs, and his work is initiated with an end exhibition very much conceived of, as the final product or presentation of an idea. Naturally, this makes commissioned work particularly tough, since is way of working is opposed to making single images and requires a strong personal statement to precipitate any work. As fascinating as his speech was, I do however have to question how far ambiguity in a visual narrative can be pushed before it slides in to a solipsistic framework. It will be a key question in my mind when I visit (and blog about) his exhibition at Look11 next week.
I’ve never been a great photographer, never trendy, but I have focussed on continuing a great tradition of portraiture” John Stoddart at NPS 3
I’m sure the numerous fans of Stoddart’s editorial work would disagree heavily with the former part of that claim. Photographing the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger for top magazines, John Stoddart moved from an initial interest in documentary photography to more commercial work after finding success photographing bands such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Echo and the Bunnymen.
He gave one of the many 15-minute break-time talks at NPS 3 last weekend, sharing with us some images from his commercial work alongside rarely seen images from his earlier documentary period. Personally, while I have great respect (not to mention a teensy bit of envy….okay, more than a teensy bit) for his commercial work, it was his documentary work that has interested me more. I was due to be working with John in presenting some of his work at Look11, as part of a 30 year retrospective of key Liverpool imagery. It is with regret that this exhibition was made unfeasible, but I do hope the images find a way into a public space somehow.
Observant of long-since lost details of Liverpool’s life and legacy, Stoddart spoke about the Cotton Picker Pub, the only pub so named in Britain with it’s clear ties to Liverpool past. He also picked up on the Irish connection within the city, presenting images that gave a continuity of sorts with Seawright’s earlier speech for their references to IRA militia, resonating with Seawright’s mention of Ed Kashi and suggesting the pervasiveness of visual symbols even (and especially?) in the minds of young children who knew little of the context.
We’re all orphans now…
Up next (or sideways, given there were overlapping talks to offer a wider choice of events to attend) Simon Brown, Paul Lowe, and Andrew Wiard discussed the Hargreaves report and the important issues of orphan works and how they may be reproduced and used by commercial companies, the media, and other groups.
Simon Brown has been pretty vocal on this issue, organising Stop43
in response to the Hargreaves report, and he gave us an instructive outline of how that organisation has been lobbying Parliament, representing photographers, and raising awareness about the Hargreaves report since its inception. As I both studied and worked in politics, a fair amount of the procedure was familiar to me but very useful for other members. And Simon really made it clear just how far reaching the ramifications of this shoddily thought-out piece of legislation can be. I urge all photographers to check this out immediately. It was an education and a half.
We all know vaguely about Creative Commons Licensing, right? About the 8 or so different options you have available to you if you give a work of yours a CC License? In terms of the general “politico-lifestyle” choices we tend to make off the back of scant researching, CC Licenses tend to fit in a wider schema, along with Open Source software, not-for-profit work, web transparency, and wider data sharing. In short, it is often viewed through those heavily cliched rose-tints as generally being A Good Thing.
Now, I’m not bashing CC Licenses at all here. But the result of making a work available in this way reaches far wider than merely side-stepping
the issue of getting paid for our work. It also means rescinding any control over how that work gets used, what it gives its artistic or visual support to. As an example, that wonderful photograph you made of the Royal Wedding celebrations could, if given a CC License, be picked up for the next BNP poster campaign. Nice. If you’re happy with your image being used in that way, that’s your prerogative. But I am guessing a fair number of photographers wouldn’t be so keen to work with organisations that don’t fit with their own beliefs and lifestyle choices. Simon argued that we have a duty of care for the content/subject matter of our images, and this duty of care would be undermined by Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill.
Creative Commons Licenses were only a fraction of the wider issue, though. Clause 43 really addresses the issue of orphan works. The CC License aside is related, because both can result in our images being used in ways we wouldn’t consent to if given prior knowledge of the intended use. Further, Clause 43 is particularly dangerous in a technological climate where many of the key platforms for sharing our images are effectively creating orphan works by stripping images of metadata – Facebook, twitter clients/apps, etc. all do this. There is an incompatibility with the expediency and
practicality of the proposed legislation and the reality of the landscape of image-sharing in which this legislation is suggested to govern.
Among the suggestions were a move towards the system in place in Germany, whereby the right to be known as the creator of a work is assumed. If a German newspaper wishes to use an image, they have to seek out the author of that image. In the UK, if the author is unknown, this obligation doesn’t hold (particularly not if proposed legislation permits free use of orphan works). Since the media outlets (and here I shall include online as well as print, social sharing sites and well as news corps) don’t have an obligation to assert your creative rights, the issue of accreditation is undervalued, and this leads to a proliferation of supposed orphan works, orphaned out of a professional negligence on the part of the companies redistributing images. To make any sensible and lasting headway into the issue of making orphan works available for use, it is imperative that the creation by neglect of new orphan work needs to be strongly addressed.
I may write more on this at a later date. I know the MP, Tom Watson has been pretty vocal over the Digital Economy Bill in past months, and I really do owe this subject some further study. Thanks Simon, you’ve bent my ear with this one.
The Last Things….
But not the least things. I was planning on skipping David Moore’s talk in favour of grabbing some much needed lunch (I blame my inherent naivety), but I was persuaded to delay on that by Paul Lowe. And a great call he made with that (big thanks).
I’ve seen David’s work before. Unfortunately, being fairly new to photography, a lot of great imagery currently falls into that netherworld of “stuff I’ve seen somewhere but I have no idea who did it or what else they did”. David’s work was firmly in that epistemological swamp of mine, so it was great to get familiar here.
Studying photography at Farnham, Moore always held strongly to the notion that documentary photography is inherently subjective in nature. This is an issue I have often considered in my own work and thinking on the medium, so it was useful to hear him elaborate on this and how it influenced his creative decisions from the outset to create a strong body of work with a unique perspective and a sense of thematic consistency running through his work.
“The panopticon is perhaps a perfect metaphor for photography,” he remarked pointing out that, much in the same way as the warden of the panopticon can view all the prisoners yet they can’t view back, for a long time photography was a tool of the elite and the institutions, used to survey the dispossessed. The Farm Studies, and the British Observation studies attest to this quite clearly. In his work, Moore began by turning Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage on its head, shining a light on the details of the rich and powerful instead of Doré’s poor. This work culminated in The Velvet Arena,
of which he said that, “there is a notion of the flash being an assault on the body.”
The themes of The Velvet Arena were developed into his later, and perhaps more familiar works, The Commons (2004) and The Last Things (2008). The Commons delves into the minutiae of details in, well, The Commons. An institution and space that is heavily documented via the BBC televising debates daily, a space of high surveillance in a sense, and one that reaches into every detail of daily life, yet a space which is largely unknown to the wider public. I’ve worked in Westminster and I find looking at Moore’s images of this space gives me a fresh take on the space, one that I couldn’t have obtained otherwise. I was personally struck by how much of my working life in Westminster revolved around that space while that space remained essentially isolated from me, or I from it. And I imagine that is a feeling that is extendable and applicable to anyone living under the British state. His mere presence working there was, as he noted, itself a political act. And the details, the scratches and frayed edges of furniture and artefacts acts as cyphers to the history that has been contained within that space over time. By photographing these details in a way that the public (and I would also guess many of the MPs themselves) don’t see it, Moore forces us to look again at our political and traditional history, while doing so in a manner which eschews cheap cliche, easy tropes, or a heavy hand in guiding the outcome of our reflection.
The Review of the Sunday Sessions for NPS 3 will follow tomorrow. Stay tuned.
With key talks being held in the upstairs performance theatre, and a range of smaller discussions taking place in the breaks in smaller conference rooms around the building, the range and depth of speakers was overwhelming. My first ever NPS, it definitely encouraged me to add this event to my list of must-attend events.
2011 is Liverpool’s year of Social Justice, with the tag line of a City of Radicals. The Look11 photography festival also carries the theme, A Call To Action? And it is perhaps therefore rather fitting that key themes discussed at NPS 3 included social justice, legislation over orphan works and photographing civil protests, and how the internet has changed the game for collaboration and photo-sharing in recent years.
The popular Symposium kicked off on Friday afternoon, with a discussion about surveillance featuring guest speakers Sara-Jayne Parsons, Gary Austin, and David Hoffman. Hoffman has been photographing demonstrations and riots in Britain for over 30 years, and is an excellent public speaker on these issues. If you missed the event, you can hear him on the subject here along with viewing some of his images from the course of his career. Hoffman has observed how policing tactics over the years became increasingly brutal, with police taking to the street in plain clothes, using kettling tactics to incite violence, and being suspicious of journalist reporting of events. This stance has since been modified by the introduction of the FITs (Forward Intelligence Team Police – I still can’t figure out if that is meant to be a description or a command…Forward Intelligence Team! Police…). The FITs routinely use camera and video technology to document public disorder events, essentially compiling dossiers of “evidence” on those in attendance.
And it is important to put “evidence” in quotation marks here, because anyone even vaguely familiar with this technology knows that camera can and does lie. It is limited by the frame, by the moment captured, by the general lack of context. I know myself that I have photographed at a public demonstration where a minor scuffle occurred between police and protesters. I photographed that, but in my photographs the incident appeared wholly different to the event that I witnessed. I had to use my personal judgement and integrity to exclude it from the work I have shown publicly. I have a duty to do that, and all journalists should feel similarly. But it is questionable whether the FITs have the same sense of obligation to unbiased reporting, especially given the lack of transparency inherent in the institution’s design. The reliance that the police have come to have on such a perspectival piece of technology is really quite worrying, and it was interesting to hear David’s account of how it has become ubiquitous with their policing tactics at demonstrations in current times.
Photographs can have multiple uses, and this multiplicity of function was further elaborated upon by Sara-Jayne Parsons, who discussed the images of Gertrude Bell and the idea that she was a spy in the World War. It is questionable whether Bell ever actually committed to undertaking such work, and yet her photographs contained enough information to prove highly useful when used in this manner.
Gary Austin discussed his work as a surveillance photographer, training to make photographs specifically for that purpose. He was also critical of the importance that this tactic had been given, especially considering the costs involved in training and equipping officers in light of constant talk about cuts and budget limitations.
The talk was followed by the official launch of the Look11 festival, with a particularly emotional speech by Chair of Look11, Colin McPherson, who fondly remembered Liverpool photographer Tim Hetherington who, as reported on ST84 Photo, was recently killed while documenting the civil unrest in Libya. Rest in peace, Tim.
This was followed by the Look11 launch party at Novas CUC. From here, a few of us took off to Bumper for good tunes and great dancing (yup, Paul, I’m looking at you here…). The relaxed socialising was reminiscent of the excellent vibe created at Format Festival back in March. As the official scouser among the photographers at CUC, I volunteered Bumper as a good spot to spend a few hours, but the invitation was open to all, and a strong group convened for some impromptu partying.
Stay tuned for the Saturday review….
Last Wednesday saw a Redeye Netowrk/Open Eye talk by Paul Trevor at Novas CUC in Liverpool. I’d set the ball rolling on this one, as I had been in contact with Paul and thought that, with his exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery coming up, it would be an ideal time to share some of his less published work and hear his thoughts on photography.
Novas CUC is a strange venue. The talk was held there at the last minute, as Open Eye (the usual venue) is moving to Mann Island, and their old space was being filled with their exhibition of work from their archives, as part of the Look11 photography festival. Novas CUC is massive, and has some great spaces, but I’ve never taken to the location being 10-15 minutes out from town, and in the middle of an area of derelict factory spaces and garages. No handy transport links further diminish the incentives to head down there, so I rarely go unless the event is of particular interest.
Paul Trevor has been documenting British life since the 1970s, and has worked in film until about 6-7 years ago. He noted that the digital revolution has resulted in much of his work being unavailable to most photography fans. His archive is largely undigitized, and the process of digitizing it will be a long one. I couldn’t help thinking then of Vivian Maier, and wondered how many great photographers who established themselves during the film years could be overlooked by the development of digital cameras and the move to sharing work digitally. Perhaps we will be “discovering” many more Maiers in later years in part because of this.
Trevor showed a selection of work that he had photographed from the original contact sheets using a digital camera and a macro lens. This included images from Like You’ve Never Been Away (work made in Everton in 1975 and currently showing at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool), Eastenders (a long term project based around Brick Lane), and Sueños De Fuego, a colour project made in Spain around 2003-2004.
A street photographer, Trevor said, “For me, really, the street is not literally the street. The street is my studio. The possibilities are endless.” He prefers not to set up anything in his images for this reason, favouring the chances offered by the chaos of the street. He resisted shooting in colour for a long time, only switching to it in 2001, and working exclusively in it since. His reasons for this are partly practical – with more experience of working in black and white, he felt no need to switch to colour earlier and change how he composes. “Colour is a very different tool to black and white” and he felt no pressure to change.
Trevor shares with Tom Wood an interest in how images can create a narrative when juxtaposed. Presenting portraits from his Eastenders project, all the images had been paired. Wood has sequenced in a similar manner, although with Wood the juxtapositions tend to feel more lateral and poetic. Trevor notes that he has always been much more interested in narrative than in single images. By sequencing images into pairings, a sense of narrative can be created than can link two images, seemingly disparate in content, by visual clues such as similar composition. A relationship is created and, for Trevor, “everything is about relationships.”
To Be Continued Later…