Joan Fontcuberta – Stranger than Fiction

I became aware of this photographer artist sometime ago but missed his talk at The Photographer’s Gallery. Sophisticated use of Photoshop, a tool so often over-used or merely employed for deliberately deceptive purposes was one feature yet Fontcuberta is also interesting; what exactly is he trying to achieve? To question our compliance with media, our readiness to believe in things because they have a certain authority.

His exhibition at The Science Museum’s Media Space was a must see and I informed the CEO of The Open College of the Arts about it; he replied almost immediately to say a study visit was planned. Meanwhile, I decided to see it on my own, at least with a friend, Daniela, a young woman who is familiar with Roland Barthes, a favourite author of mine. However, we had to cancel because the exhibition was temporarily closed for awhile on account of objections raised about one of the exhibits that has since been taken down. HERE is a link to an article about this.

As for the reviews, there were a number. The Evening Standard liked it and the reviewer gave a brief description of the six fictions Fontcuberta has conjured up.

Here is my account of the visit with the OCA and tutor Robert Enoch. The OCA write up is HERE

On entry, one is confronted by a large photograph of a strange creature … a monkey with wings and a Unicorn head! Welcome to the world of Joan Fontcuberta about whom there are a few lines of biography and text about his work … “His works are an investigation into photography’s authority and our inclination to believe what we see.

What I find questionable about his approach is the degree to which his work is fiction or fact!? One needs to determine which is which if one can!

Lot of play on reality says tutor Robert Enoch.

FAUNA is the first exhibit.

Portrait of Ameisenhaufen is not really of the period thinks Robert Enoch – when might it have been taken? Looks later than the suggested 1940’s!??.

Playful in childlike way with narratives

Satirical of nature photography

RE and I know it is fake: some visitors must drift around thinking it is real !?

A plausible pastiche RE

Richard Meinertzhagen episode; an ornithologist who stole from museums and even murdered rival ornithologists

Creation of animal exhibits which act as models for some of his photos

Pilau serpents adax – furry snake with jaws at one end

Mallard passed off as rare creature and as a tree dwelling bird

reference the Spanish photographer who won the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition but was disqualified; the woolf was a captive!

Video with squeaky music and people talking such as a Tibetan Taoist saying that everything comes from space including the Yeti

Clam like creature with long spindly legs


Parody of Blossfeldt’s work
E.g. Metal piping with birds feather to look like a plant – from a distance

I find this less satirical and more an evidence of Fontcuberta’s skill as an artist.


Use of computer scanning to create landscapes
Fed in info from paintings and geographers also tones from photographs etc

NB look up other L students www from OCA site

Kind of print seems true ie fact

Feeding in particular images both painting eg Gainsborough, Cezanne and photos eg Fenton, Francis Frith

Photography bears the burden of being a witness; of the way we take photos as fact
Our wish to believe
Repetition of planes flying into Twin Towers so it made sense and emphasised reality


photos of dead flies on windscreen of his car that look like images of solar system at night

Fakery has been going on since the inception of photography, before the days of Photoshop
Retouching of faces for magazines

Illusion created in films

Appropriation by Fontcuberta !?

Deconstructing the way we create realities, our readiness to believe … F grew up at the end of a Fascist regime his father worked in advertising which helped him to understand lying

RE is very religious and hence finds the anti-religious arguement anaesthetic rather than humorous

Questioning of authority – we need to also question F


About mythical mermaid; spoof NatGeo article


Fiction embodies the real

(Me – woman with 6 breasts photo manipulated)

RE feels personally involved as an re person talks about a miracle he saw
My experience of Sai Baba

What is F saying here ?

Fake photos of miracles – taking Mickey as a non believer poking fun

Miracle of Lewis Carroll ; an F self portrait

RE considers it trivial not as good as surrealist approach to photography

RE likes accurate or convincing reconstruction of period photos
The SPUTNIK exhibit was missing owing to intervention by the Russian Embassy in London; here is an article about it.

“They all say please!” by Sharon Boothroyd @ Williams, Soho, London

Sometime ago, my tutor at the OCA, Sharon Boothroyd mentioned she was making a body of work around prayer. As someone who meditates, I offered to be a model for her work. However, although Sharon’s work embodies the documentary she is not interested so much in recording the world around her but in interpreting it. Prayer is not being taken as an activity here, one does not see a selection of people kneeling in response to their faith, rather one sees a collection of images that seem to be saying different things. Initially, it may be hard to determine what they are saying as although image and text are combined, the text does not necessarily relate directly to the image. As Boothroyd says, “The pairings between image and text are not meant to be illustrations of the prayer but operate as visual stimuli for the viewer to bring their own nuance and interpretation into the space between, often referred to as a ‘third meaning’.

exhibition space

exhibition space

To see this work for oneself, click HERE The gallery space is at Williams in Soho, named after the visionary and poet, William Blake, one of the most extraordinary British artists. He wrote poetry which he also illustrated and there is a biblical feel to his work. The building is a series of offices or study areas for people working in artistic production and the exhibition itself is hung along the walls of the ground floor alongside the entrance, a welcome desk and a staircase; there is also a coffee machine and this space is obviously one used by people on a regular basis so the work gets seen. The rarefied presence of the gallery is barely noticeable but the photographs themselves are mounted on aluminium with wooden tray frames and hung on white walls. The archival prints have been made using an Epson inkjet.

Sharon at one point questioned the strength of the shadows in her work and I offered some advice from my own experience of working with Epson inkjets; the images do look a little contrasty but this arguably works to give an effect that is not manicured rather true to the etchy way we tend to see things. Boothroyd does not appear to believe in colour correction; for example, the interiors reveal the colour castes, often pleasurable, of interior lighting. However, her photograph of a couple fencing is a classic example of a perfectly lit and expertly designed image which can not help but impress as do the tips of the swords as they poke into their opponents. Boothroyd is an accomplished photographer.
Prayer exhibition by Sharon Boothroyd-Amano Samarpan--2
 Before considering individual photographs and their textual counterpoints, it might be worth reflecting on text that runs alongside one part of the exhibition space, “Mutual Forgiveness of each Vice, Such are the Gates of Paradise.” The prayers cited by Boothroyd do not seem religious rather they are personal wishes, demands made to a higher force to grant desires some of which can not be described as pure! As Boothroyd says, “Most seemed to centre around the self without a deference of God’s will or any alternative outcomes.” Some border on the humorous such as “Please bless my eBay listings” which is paired with a view of a warehouse.
30_screen-shot-2014-07-03-at-230236Another example, “Please make him kick her out” is  printed like the other text which is framed similarly to the images; it is right of an image of what appears to be a beauty salon. To the other side is an image of a washing machine for clothes, standing in the corner of a room in which there is also a basket and a box of washing up powder.
The next image in this row is of a young woman in a bar; we do not see her whole face, only the side of it as she turns; there is no bartender present. The caption reads “Please keep us safe tonight.” If one had jumped to the conclusion that this single woman was some kind of hooker then the sentiment of the caption would probably destroy that idea yet leave one none the wiser; as Boothroyd writes, “I hope the ambiguity allows for further, even conflicting, narratives and interpretations to emerge depending on the personal viewpoint and history of my viewer.
 Is there an image I would like to take home with me if I was prepared to pay £750 for a mounted photograph? The image of a dog looking out of a window from the chair it is lying on is immediately appealing among a group of images that can take time to even glimpse meaning within. However, the caption to the dog photo, “please help me to withdraw my affections” gives an almost diametrical meaning to the contemplative dog! Are we being made aware of a typical doting attitude towards dogs? Perhaps the caption to the left of the dog photo is the one we ought to be reading! This text states, “Please don’t let anything happen to Popo” and so the poor brute is kept locked up.
 Boothroyd says that this exhibition is about “loneliness in contemporary society” and this is what seems to echo from these images. The photographs themselves are imbedded with meaning but this takes time to extract. One could comfortably view these images in a few minutes but one would leave unsatisfied, unaware of the diferent layers of meaning. One image that seems straightforward is of a collection of mobile homes with the caption, “Please give me a new roomie” as is a photograph of an unkempt looking dwelling with the caption, “Please bring us some luck”, both perhaps reflecting the chronic lack of housing in contemporary Britain. Yet collectively this body of images is saying something more.
 After over an hour scrutinising the images, I am still not really any the wiser. I would like to be able to see all these images put together in a book that I can read and reread so that their meanings can be absorbed.
 Do I have a favourite? It would have to be a personal choice! As one drawn to trees, my choice is the leafless tree that casts a shadow on the pinkish wall behind it; the caption is one of the few that actually reads like a prayer …
his heart”
01-White Cloth Gallery Leeds-20160625-Leeds-4069

This is an exhibition I have seen before and written about; to make the trek up to Leeds which involves a 4 hour train journey each way does at least allow me to study en route yet more importantly, to see my old tutor again even though she has now left the college. Apart from a more in-depth view of the exhibition, there is the chance to show work and receive feedback.

Boothroyd has said of this work that it is about “loneliness in contemporary society” and knowing that does help to explain what these photographs are about. Of course, one is looking for something more than the sense of misery being conveyed; the prayers cited tend not to point to anything more than self-concern. Is not art only really art when it points to something greater than itself? That is a bigger question that I don’t think I shall be asking Sharon; am more likely to enquire how she came to be exhibiting in Manchester when she lives in London. Sharon however comes from Ireland.
05-Leeds station advertisement-20160625-Leeds-4157

advertisement in Leeds railway station

I arrive in Leeds and after a snack lunch on a bench at the station make the short journey to the gallery not 5 minutes walk away. Everything seems very quiet! Have I got the wrong day? Surely not. The exhibition is on and I wander through making some record shots. It is good to see the works again and clarify a few details.
Looking at these photographs, one year or so on, with a mind perhaps more developed in regard to reading photographs, I look again with fresh insight. To comment on every photo would be too tedious but I shall endeavour to do so about a few.
02-Boothroyd exhibition Cafe White Cloth Gallery Leeds-20160625-Leeds-4115
Some of the “prayers” seem strange. “Please help me to withdraw my affections” is such a one; it accompanies a photograph of a woman possibly Sharon looking at her mobile phone while sitting in a cafe with the photographer peering in from the twilight outside. One might comment on the symbolism such as the bicycle outside but there are no obvious meanings here!
The lead photograph for the exhibition of a tree and its shadow on a pinkish wall behind carries no caption.
Another photo of a seated woman, this time facing one, has the caption “please let him see the signs that we are meant to be together” yet the image contains no such signs that I can recognise!
02-Boothroyd exhibition Ice Cream Van White Cloth Gallery Leeds-20160625-Leeds-4102
I find the ice cream sales van in the middle of the country with no one around rather amusing; the caption reads “please lead me to a brighter path”
The woman alone at the bar has the caption, “please keep us safe tonight!” which is redolent of  violence against women who might be “picked up” in bars and similar places. No comment other than the picturing of the loneliness and violence such women sometimes are forced to endure.
This time I take stock of the faceless duo fencing. The caption here reads “please strengthen my heart.”
02-Boothroyd exhibition 1 White Cloth Gallery Leeds-20160625-Leeds-4091
The caption for the dog looking out of the window photo is clearly “please don’t let anything happen to Popo!” I know that dogs can get terribly lonely and am relieved that my dog has a carer while I am out today but, given the circumstances, wish I did not have to have said goodbye to her early this morning although by the time I left she had gone back to bed.
The man having his hair coiffured in the barbers is interesting. The caption is “Please lighten his heart!” The “open” sign has the n missing and so is reduced to ope which implies Hope. One might also read into this image the various connotations that a barber suggests but beyond mentioning contraceptives I shall not give in to conjecture.
A washing machine with a box of washing powder carries the caption “please bless my eBay listings”!
There is a second photograph of theatre seats this time containing not a close up of the seats but a wider view with a screen. Sexual jealousy of which the movies might be considered to encourage with their glamorous untouchable characters is mirrored in the caption that reads “Please do not let a romance grow between them”.
02-Boothroyd exhibition 2 White Cloth Gallery Leeds-20160625-Leeds-4099
There is an eerie quality to the ambiguous nature of these photographs suggested by the twilight nature of the light that is present in many of them.
I ask the barman about the talk and portfolio session. He says it has been cancelled. I contact the organisers Red Eye and receive a profound apology. Apparently Sharon cancelled this morning! I might have got a message but did not yet even if I had it would have been too late! Can’t help but. reflect for a moment on the perceived selfishness of the art world; those who transcend it are few it seems.
Ask Redeye whether they have considered local photographer, Peter Mitchell? Apparently they have! They also answer my question; they were approached by Sharon Boothroyd in the first place!
The White Cloth gallery itself is an interesting venture. The owner also owns the cafe-bar but is not present. The space looks good and they invite photographers to show work by emailing images for show. Apart from one other person who drops in for a drink, I am the only person present. The magazine Hungry Eye although advertised is not for sale. There is an account of the gallery opening on one placard; this happened over four years ago in 2012.

Salt and Silver @ TATE BRITAIN

portrait by Frenet c.1855

portrait by Frenet c.1855 – the posing here is unlike anything found in more commercial galleries

The TATE Britain website says the following about this exhibition …
“This is the first exhibition in Britain devoted to salted paper prints, one of the earliest forms of photography. A uniquely British invention, unveiled by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839, salt prints spread across the globe, creating a new visual language of the modern moment.This revolutionary technique transformed subjects from still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of daily life into images with their own specific aesthetic: a soft, luxurious effect particular to this photographic process.The few salt prints that survive are seldom seen due to their fragility, and so this exhibition, a collaboration with the Wilson Centre for Photography, is a singular opportunity to see the rarest and best early photographs of this type in the world.”
There seems to be a lot about early photography at the moment with another exhibition called “Revelations” opening at The Science Museum and exhibitions due later in the year by Margaret Cameron and Linnaeus Tripe. The title “salt and silver” refers to the making of early photographic prints in particular the process discovered by Fox-Talbot who managed to record an image by using paper soaked with a chemical carrying silver (this had been done before) and then fixing that image by using a chemical containing salt which stopped the image darkening and fading beyond recognition. Fox-Talbot did not really invent photography but he did discover a process by which it was possible not only to capture and retain an image but also to reproduce that image ad infinitum.
Thre is an interesting discussion by those involved in the exhibition about the way in which salt prints had a certain quality; their inks seeped into the paper giving a tactile effect while albumen prints made from the same negative, would give a cleaner look more suited to the commercial market but with lesser aesthetic effect. Michael Wilson OBE responsible for James Bond films and owner of photographs on show remarks that “… Our memory’s vision is sometimes not pin-sharp, accurate. We remember in a fuzzy kind of way.” Hope Kingsley who works for The Wilson Centre of Photography replies “and the lower resolution of the salted print sometimes accommodates that. It does not give you everything. It gives you some space to complete the image partly in your mind’s eye.”
This argument about the scientific versus the aesthetic seems to appear in various forms in the discussion of photography. I find myself making images that I want to appear real particularly with nature photography yet am aware of making images that conform to a sense of beauty either a popular one or a more traditional artistic one.
This exhibition, (I have not seen it yet but looked through the catalogue which is printed on rougher more textured paper than the usual smooth coated paper of books), seems to celebrate the basic notion of photography, one that Talbot experimented with and one that photographers since his time have also explored. There is a sense of rediscovering the wonder of the original process which seems to have been lost in the current photographic climate.
My first viewing of the exhibition was a curator’s tour withy Carol Jacobi from which the following notes were made yet this initial observation is mine; there are obvious similarities between Darwin and Fox Talbot both gentlemen of leisure during the Victorian period who pondered over their discoveries being forced to make them public in the mid 19’th century!
The tour with exhibition curator Carol Jacobi starts by describing the presentation of salt prints with their own “lost look”; Daguerrotypes were on silver, salt prints on paper. Salt prints were popular for about 20 years being a technology that spread widely. The salt print was made on ordinary paper (the prints on show here are originals from the 19’th century). Made with use of camera Obscura; when paper soaked with silver salts was exposed a negative image would appear and from this a positive image could be made. Pigments within paper rather than coated on top like most photographs. Chiaroscuro effect that plays with light and darkness; Rembrandt like images.
Where was the camera pointed? Various subjects such as portraits and landscapes also cityscapes. Trees were also chosen.
Fox-Talbot had John Herschel, an eminent astronomer as an advisor. It was Herschel who coined the terms positive and negative.
Blue registered much more quickly than green – initial problem in making of salt prints.
Adamson and Hill, some of the first photographers who made salt prints.
Impressionistic feel to these prints! A good 20 years before Impressionism. They have a delicate softness yet the detail is there. Mystery to these prints and their Chiarusco.
Many photographs made in France. French took up this technique eagerly. Baldus was one photographer who made photographs of the Paris of that time. British art insular, atavistic? Not true of British photography from this time. Use of soft “aching” foregrounds with fine geometric in representation of buildings; effective contrast with symmetry to design of image within the frame.
Photography took on history painting such as with Roger Fenton who trained in Paris. Well known for Crimean photos of which several are in this show. One image shows a badly cared for Acropolis in Athens, the Parthenon.
Image of sugar refinery in Sri Lanka brought up questions of treatment of workers in the colonies.
Photographs of cathedral possible forerunner to Monet’s paintings of Rouen cathedral.
Linnaeus Tripe another photographer featured; an exhibition of his work to follow this year at the V&A
Augusta Sazmann photographs of sculptures shown. Interesting texture and handling of light.
Portraiture perhaps best known aspect of photography. Hill and Adamson going beyond the surface of things to observe the reality behind things. Newhaven Fisher women well known and much discussed work.
A lot of the work in this exhibition seems uncontrived! Simple construction to images which do not require a lot of thought to understand.
Fenton made portraits not just of heroes.
Communicating psychological complexity of subjects; not even painting was aware of this at the time.
Frenet who posed his subjects as if religious icons yet still they remain contemporary human beings relating to each other.
Nadar whose photograph of a nude, Mariette 1855, is one of the most important in the exhibition; famous at the time. Complex relationship between sitter, photographer and viewer.
The salt print was superseded by the albumen print which looked more realistic in regard to overall appearance. By the end of the 19’th century, a resurgence of more art based photography in the Pictorialist movement.
Ignaco Gavino Rocha wad a Mexican photographer who made incredibly detailed portraits which were reproduced as salted silver prints.
There was improvement in the lenses used to project these images as well as the use of paper and chemicals so that images became clearer and easier to produce owing largely to quicker exposure times.
It seems all the salt and silver prints here are made by contact printing. This begs the question, when was enlarging prints introduced by means of a projector !?
There is an example of a salted paper print and an albumen print seen alongside each other made from de Clerq’s waxed paper negative of the entrance to a Turkish building in Jerusalem in 1860. The salted print does seem to have a wider tonal range than the albumen, the latter making it’s subject stand out more which is no doubt why it became the commercial success it was. Yet aesthetically, the salt print is more appealing containing more albeit less obvious detail.
Talbot was evidently more than a scientist inventor for he saw the photographer being like the painter with their eye often “being arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings.” (Pencil of Nature, 1845)
Thanks to Talbot, there was the salted silver print that was made from a paper negative. As the small booklet accompanying the exhibition States, ” despite the success of the daguerrotype’s small shiny pictures, the salt prints’ soft interplay of light and shade seemed to some more artistic. They could be reproduced and displayed like traditional  prints.” However, the technology developed and paper negatives started to be waxed as did the paper prints while later on glass negatives were introduced evident in the work of Fenton. The waxing quality made images more precise yet the salt prints tended to contain a wider tonal range which resulted in a more evocative image. The salt print however lasted only about 20 years before it was taken over by technological advances.
Statue by Auguste Salzmann 1858-65

Statue by Auguste Salzmann 1858-65

The next day, I saw the exhibition again, this time with fellow students from the Open College of the Arts and accompanied by tutor Rob Broomfield who acted as catalyst for our observations, encouraging us to look with a critical eye – what are the curators up to !?
The very fact that the photographs are being presented in a museum, framed and mounted, with soft lighting is encouraging a predictable response. Might there not be a statement being made about their cultural significance? One might question this presentation! Is this really what defines these objects or is it just a certain point of view being put across by the curators.
As viewers, we do not have to criticise the works on show in terms of their quality, the fact that a group of experts has gathered to select them, more or less affirms their excellence but one can question the labels that a certain group of people are attaching. They are likely to resonate differently according to the individual observing.
For instance, I am struck by two photos that show the China and Glass collections owned by Talbot and photographed by him. He wrote, “… however complicated the arrangement – the Camera depicts them all at once” while “Glass articles impress the sensitive paper with a very peculiar touch, which is quite different from that of the China …” (From The Pencil of Nature 1844)
Soft or hard? It depends on the body of work! The harder appeals to the commercial world where results are often predetermined while in art based photography in which the viewer may have expectations but is not laying down the rules, a more rounded softer approach is possible. As a photographer making prints, the result might depend on client expectations or be a response to the body of work being presented. Tutor Rob Broomfield mentions that during the 1970’s there was something of a vogue for soft focus prints; I can not help but wonder if these might have been in part a response to technological limitations at a time when colour photography was only just begining to emerge.
For me, this exhibition is about the dialectic that exists in photography between science and art, between the delineation of subjects and their aesthetic.
For the curators, the exhibition seems to be about the value of these early prints both as art objects and historical artefacts. Obviously, they are aware of other implications in this work such as the one that struck me concerning a dialectic that is still at work in photography.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” Yet I think most people would find these images beautiful even if some of the subjects are banal.
Even early photographers responding to composition and traditional motifs such as The Golden Mean. Not so contrived as more concerned with the technology? Rob questions this!
The introduction of glass plate negatives changed the look if photographs even though the prints were still silver and salt based.
Was Impressionism a response to the apparent realism of photography? Apparently so as was it’s focus on the everyday with framing that on occasion would only reveal part rather than the whole of an object.
This exhibition evokes a more innocent era in which people were not so generally nervous about photography or aware of the many ways it could be used to bear a false rather than a true testament.
Looking at Hill and Adamson’s photograph of two girls called The Gowan, one would expect a photographer these days to find the photograph extremely low in contrast and in need of manipulation via a Curve!? This image is lighter than others probably as a result of wanting to retain shadow detail; in those days with the techniques of the time, contrast was much more difficult to apply. Nowadays it is much easier and so overdone.
Portrait of a Man made by Fenton in about 1854, shows a rather robust posture which makes the individual look like he might be disabled. This is almost certainly a result of the long exposure which required the pose to be held motionless for a considerable period.
Frenet’s posed portraits are however “a long way from the posed studio portrait.”
Similar motifs such as the after the flood photograph
Roger Fenton c. 1855

From Glass Plate Negative by Roger Fenton c. 1855

After the exhibition, we meet in the cafe, a group of about 10, to discuss the exhibition and try and determine what it is actually about.
We discuss the prints which are of everyday life with their own soft aesthetic. Wilson mentions their rich velvety look and tonal range which has been lost.
Luxurious! The effect of the prints is somewhat rarified. That they are black and white is a misconception of this work.
The connoisseur approach which looks at these photographs as art objects yet they are also a historical record. This method has been  “improved” upon !? Possible to see prints from a historical perspective or solely as art objects even though this might be the obvious response. Were not photographers of this era “upper class” and this resulted in photographswith a certain way of looking at the world. A privileged view. One can also view this exhibition from a connoisseurship perspective!
Archaeological approach in work of Salzmann and Linaeus Tripe among others.
Two ways of seeing the exhibition, as art and as document. One might see the exhibition in terms of technological development though the curators give us little understanding of this. There is not much if any mention of the significance of Talbot’s technique by which a captured image could be preserved and then duplicated. No mention or example of the “rival” Daguerrotype!
About British photography rather than French photography except French photography did use this British invention; we are in Tate Britain!
This show does not really challenge anything except perhaps our knowledge of what early photographic prints were like!? An example of early photography with the selection being made by curators and the owner of the archive. Perhaps exhibition does challenge our misconception of early photography as being composed of prints that do not have aesthetic value, being the products of an archaic process that needed improving. These photographs are perfectly acceptable representations of reality.
This exhibition seems to fly in the face of Walter Benjamin and John Berger who said the photograph has no aura since it can be reproduced infinitely; here, the photographs seem possessed of much aura but is it just that created by their museum and critics or do the images themselves have something remarkable about them? One would need to see the photographs free of all their trappings but these are as much in the mind as in physical objects hence not easy to separate the fiction around these photographs from the reality.
Alternative processes can become over-indulgent, a leisurely pursuit rather than an objective view. Gratuitous perhaps! However, understanding the process of alternative technologies (using film is one of them now!) might be helpful in developing one’s knowledge of photography.
There are examples of lost photographic processes being revived such as with platinum printing, an old process of photography that has not been surpassed and hence is being used to show an exhibition of Salgado’s Genesis.
Digital technology has roared ahead but can it produce work of the quality seen in the Silver and Salt exhibition? Digital has so much further to go; it is the Stone Age for digital at present. Camera sensors that can accommodate a much wider dynamic range is one possible area of development.
This exhibition a reminder perhaps that progress does not always produce better quality objects rather it tends to be more pragmatic in it’s approach.
This exhibition is about aesthetically produced prints that might be said to have aura either real or artificially produced by the art environment in which they circulate; however, unlike the early days of photography when these photographs were being made, photography is no longer concerned with the aesthetics of the print as much work will never be printed but distributed digitally or in reproduced in books where the printing process is not so easy to control. What Benjamin and Berger say about the photograph not having an aura whereas the painting does, is more an ideological statement than a factual one. However, the aura of a photograph hardly features in discussions of photography these days since it is no longer of much importance.
The Open College of the Arts itself has moved away from practical considerations of photography to more cultural ones.
It has been a good discussion with fellow students and tutors and I come away feeling that I have a better understanding of what this exhibition is actually about rather than merely what the curators want us to see.
Perhaps it is a rediscovery of the wonder that photography can bring that makes this such a rewarding exhibition!


I met former OCA tutor, Jose Navarro, at Mshed on Good Friday and we looked around the Open for Business exhibition which features 9 Magnum photographers who have covered manufacturing in the UK.

Palyang looks at Open for Business poster exhibition-Amano Samarpan-

The exhibition would appear to have benefited from the guidance of Martin Parr who lives in Bristol and is head of Magnum in the UK. He has photographed the local Aardman Animations who are responsible for the Shaun the Sheep film. Parr has one of his photos on front of the catalogue, a free newspaper, available on entry. Are Parr’s photographs the most outstanding images in this exhibition? They appear to occupy more wallspace than that of any other photographer but there is other work to see that seems to have as much depth possibly more.
Jose considers Mark Power-Amano Samarpan-4665
Jose was struck by the work of Mark Power whose images formed an interesting web that almost formed a photograph of it’s own. Here were dark shadows out of which machinery and faces loomed. At the bottom of this matrix were two images that revealed feet; the shoe of one of these showed a worn shoe inside which the bottom of a green sock could be seen. British manufacturing, no longer the innovative global force it once was, starting to come apart at the seams perhaps.
Some of the contributors, three out of the nine, are from abroad. Bruce Gilden with his characteristic in-you-face approach has nine close up facial portraits of workers. All of the faces seem a little stressed, at Gilden perhaps, but the creases in their faces might be revealing the tensions of the workplace rather than a reaction to a photographer with whom they have such a brief encounter.
On a wall opposite is the work of Allessandra Sanguinetti from Argentinia who has captured people at work. There is the head of a woman, her hair neatly held back by a net, the headless body of a uniformed worker and the full body of another worker who is crouching in front of a robot. These three images form a triptych the meaning of which is something for the viewer to contemplate.
view of Open for Business exhibition-Amano Samarpan-4677
The other foreigner, the view of those from outside the UK is surely to be valued, is by a Norwegian called Jonas Bendiksen. His colour images are nice slices of industrial life but what makes them of peculiar interest is the fact that some of these colour images are videos and hence change as one watches, their animations giving life to the overall display; there is both stillness and motion. Perhaps the exhibition could be pared down to just a line of animations yet the photographer has not made it that simple.
David Hurn is one of the senior photographers here and he has chosen to photograph a drapers from his home town in Wales. These photos are nicely made and arranged with an interesting triptych.
Peter Marlow has photographed the Black Country and provided some impressive images. One that stands out for me is a close up of machinery. There is a subtle correlation between images with a few portraits standing out to illuminate the dominant mechanical processes with a sense of the human who devised them.
Chris Steele-Perkins shows some interesting but not very striking photographs. In one, a number of workmen peer through a fabricated wall.
Jose considers Martin Parr-Amano Samarpan-4674
Some of the nicest photographs to look at are the large black and white prints of Stuart Franklin. These are not just aesthically pleasing in their tonal range and form, the subjects are also striking such as that of what appears to be a submarine breaking surface (this might actually be some kind of machinery for testing tidal power if the accompanying newspaper catalogue has been correctly understood) it’s’ ominous hull sending water rippling in every direction.
This is a great exhibition tucked away in a part of Bristol that many people do visit but who are probably unaware of the importance of this exhibition. It is due to tour further afield.