Archive for May, 2011
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…
I know, I’ve been quiet around here lately. I had a double bereavement – my brother and my brother’s mother. So things have been difficult, and this blog was low on my priorities.
But, I’m back now, and this blog will be getting regular posts with a bit more structure than before. And we have some exciting times coming up.
So you know what to do – STAY TUNED FOR THE PHOTO GOODNESS!!