Clare Strand @ Grimaldi Gavin Gallery

Grimaldi Gavin Gallery B+W AMANO-Amano Samarpan-

This is a photographer whose name I have heard before but whose work I am unfamiliar with. It takes us sometime to find the gallery in Albermarle Street made more uneasy by a shower of rain yet once we arrive at the Grimaldi Gavin Gallery we are warmly welcomed. Strand has done a book by Steidl and her pieces can be seen around the gallery; her work is based in photography but she constructs mechanical devices as well which gives them presence.

Grimaldi Gavin Gallery AMANO-Amano Samarpan-6520

Julie Gavin in conversation with OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd

Julie Gavin in conversation with OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd

OCA students discussing CONTROL IN MOTION, 2014 in which 100 graded photographic panels flick by continuously

OCA students discussing CONTROL IN MOTION, 2014 in which 100 graded photographic panels flick by continuously

OUTPUT ENTROPY in which photographic prints are degraded by a mechanical device and then hung up on a wall of the gallery

OUTPUT ENTROPY in which photographic prints are degraded by a mechanical device and then hung up on a wall of the gallery

black and white photographs of a sofa are hung above the sofa itself which is red

black and white photographs of a sofa are hung above the sofa itself which is red

OCA visit to the Deutsche-Borse Prize 2015

Deutsche-Börse exhibition

Deutsche-Börse exhibition

A group of us from the OCA meet at The Photographer’s Gallery to see the annual exhibition about this prize which is awarded to the photographer who has made the most significant contribution to photography. A rather vague notion perhaps but we are invited to see the exhibition of the four bodies of work, one has two authors, and make our minds up!

OCA day @ The Photographers Gallery-Amano Samarpan-6357

The first photographer’s work we see is by a Russian called Nikolai Bakharev and his exhibition Relationship. While this work might look like quite an ordinary study of people at the beach during the Russia of the 1970’s, the law forbade intimate and private photographs of this kind. These black and white photographs are constructed  and result in an interesting series of portraits.
OCA day @ The Photographers Gallery-Amano Samarpan-6364
OCA day @ The Photographers Gallery-Amano Samarpan-6377Passing through the room these portraits are in, one comes to the work of Zanele Muholi, who is a GLBTI visual activist and has made photographs in South Africa of this minority group who are sometimes persecuted with “curative rapes” and killings. She has focused on gay women and there is a wall of her portraits while there are also videos of her work; her nomination is for her book called Faces and Phases 2006-2014 which is published by Steidl and contains her work notably the collection of black and white portraits on the wall.
OCA day @ The Photographers Gallery-Amano Samarpan-6378
On the next floor, there are another two rooms of Deutsche-Borse prize exhibits. The first is by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Whitehouse which is about Ponte City, a large tower block built near Johannesburg in South Africa. There is a variety of information on display that document this rejuvenation project that did not however last very long. There a couple of impressive model tower blocks in the gallery which were not in the same exhibition we saw in Paris last year. The nomination here is for the book of the project.
OCA day @ The Photographers Gallery-Amano Samarpan-6388
One walks through this exhibition space to the final body of work by Viviane Sassen whose work I had seen in Arles over a year ago but not been impressed by. The work here however seems different and focuses on a exploration of the shadow which seems to refer to the whole tradition of art both in painting and photography. I find this exhibition a welcome relief from the gritty documentary of the other entrants and to my surprise realise that for me it is the winner.

OCA students in discussion

OCA students in discussion

We discuss our different views and conclusions around a table in The Photographer’s Gallery cafe. There are no heated exchanges but we put forward our different views with gusto. It remains to be seen who will actually be the winner for the judges do not make their decision for sometime to come.
In my support for Viviane Sassen, I talk about Dionysius who is credited with thinking related to the Sublime. Dionysius also talks about darkness as divine rather than negative and I see Sassen’s work as a continuation of this bold approach which is ready to examine darkness not as a negative but as a potentially liberating force. Yet what is Sassen actually saying about it? In one photograph, she makes a visual reference to the vagina as a shadow yet much of what she is saying seems less clear.
Perhaps one needs to turn to what others have said about this work from Moholy-Nagy who wrote in 1932 that “Through the development of black and white photography, light and shadow were for the first time fully revealed” to more recent commentators such as Moriyama whose book Light and Shadow was published in 1982.  Viviane Sassen Might be seen as the most contemporary contributor to this dialogue.
Almost a week later, the winner is announced as Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Whitehouse which I saw for the first time last year in Paris where it had filled about 2 floors of the gallery.

ERIK KESSELS: appropriation of vernacular photography.

Gives photographs a different kind of importance, a new context. I have seen Kessels work on show at Arles during 2013.
Vernacular photography. Kessels used to run an advertising agency. Annabella Pollen is interviewing him.
Different approaches to same photographs!
Annabella Pollen talks first … Abandoned photographs, on sale in markets, possibly photography as it’s lowest ebb but people do buy discarded photographs. Her partner does house clearances which helps in finding material. What happens to these discarded photographs? Pollen feels a bit sad for these kinds of photographs and wants to salvage them. Unwanted collection of objects. Pollen a social historian trying to make some sense out of these kinds of images. Discovering photographs that she can restore. Pollen interested in the culture of photography, vernacular photography which comprises of more than 90% of photography.
Erik Kessels fascination started with work in advertising which he does not like in the way it pursues perfection. Collecting images for inspiration possibly publication.
Album Beauty is a homage to the photo album of the kind that many people made for personal and family reasons. Has made an exhibition of these forgotten family albums. Photographs of births, marriage, children … Fairly obvious tropes that also include pets, car, photographs of interior of house, flowers in garden, pictures of friends on holiday, photographs of spouse sometimes in sexy postures, photograph with and of their children, people who have been cut out of pictures,
Another Photobook he did was Mother Nature … Putting wife or girlfriend in front of flowers, sometimes wife at edge of photo, sometimes partially hidden … made an installation of this work.
What are the real stories behind these pictures!? They may not be as obvious as they seem. The photo album era lasted about 90 years. Keeping photos or making them is a way to come to terms with situations ….
Fall asleep for awhile as speakers talk !
Series of photographs of bits of a car … A classic car … Car exhibited with photographs of the car and all the seperate pieces … The car belonged to Erik’s father who likes to resort old cars like this … Exhibition dedicated to his father … Shows short movie of exhibition of car!
This kind of work Pollen finds uniquely emotional. Involves keeping a little distance from the work! More opportunities to show work these days.
Project around 55,000 images all taken on the same day. Favourite photo one with an error sticker stuck on it!
Unthinking button pressers? Easy to dismiss amateurs as like this but often even amateurs do think about what photographs they are making; it is after all, something that costs them money. One can examine these photographs with an eye that looks for the potential within any given image rather than dismisses them as meaningless and amateurish.
One series Kessels found was of a woman who had been photographed again and again. As the series continues, the woman gets smaller and smaller in the frame perhaps because the photographer started to loose interest or their relationship suffered in some way with the passing of the years. After putting an advertisement in a newspaper, Kessels eventually found out about the woman photographed and her husband who was the photographer; they had never had children.
A book of photographs of rabbit with different object placed on its head .. From a cup to a toilet roll, to biscuits, to eventual death of rabbit and burial, tombstone made from carrots …
Selfies from 1930’s onwards … None during the war …. All of same woman! they continued until the 1980’s Called The Woman who shot herself! Eventually it was sold to a gallery and she earned a lot of money. Still alive in her nineties and “shooting herself” The photographs are actually made of her taking a shot at a annual fair in a stand which makes a Polaroid of the one who is photographing.
Series of photographs, Polaroids, with a hole in the middle of each image that removes most of the content. All photographs were taken on the beach and show only partial information.  Comic perhaps albeit repetitive.
Another book, series, is about shooting one’s black dog and the photographic problems of doing so. Many shots just show black dog without detail not even the eyes!
Another series of photos by man who photographs his wife immersed in water … sometimes up to her waist, sometimes lying in the water but always clothed sometimes even in swimming pools fully clothed and carrying her handbag. Kessels collaborated with the couple and made a book of it. Even photographed the woman in a swimming pool with the book Kessels had made. Made large photos of the woman and stuck them around town. Then Stella Mac Artney appropriated these photographs but the original photographer did not take action merely commented that Stella did not look as though she was enjoying it very much unlike his wife.
Is there a need to make any more photographs? Someone asks. Jorgen Schmidt thinks like this; he actually graduated in photography without taking a photo at all. However, of course there is a need to take more photographs and the questioner is surely exemplary of someone who has become so involved in art photography that they have forgotten that photography also plays a vital role in today’s society.
Are there new genres of photography emerging? People are still photographing friends and family as they always have done.

Susan Derges interviewed by Martin Barnes

I have met Susan Derges as she lives not far from Exeter; her photographic work is quite unique partly a result of her not using a camera. If I get a chance, I shall ask her if she would be prepared to do an OCA study day but that is not my intention in coming to the discussion today.

Idris Khan has not come; he has a funeral to go to!
Derges is introduced as an eminent British photographer and artist. Her last show at the V&A was made without cameras as part of a joint exhibition called Shadowcatchers. V&A have been buying her work since 1985 while Barnes did a book called Elemental featuring Derges’ work.
Rain drops falling past a blurred face is the image on the screen. Susan is well known for her work featuring water. Being on the banks of The Thames at Somerset House hence a very appropriate place to be!
Fluidity, of the eye, of liquid … the Observer Observed! Derges is I tested in self enquiry, the relationship between us and the world. Derges appropriated scientific studies or at least learnt from them and applied them photographically. Photographing with fast shutter speed via a strobe light, she got isolated drops of water rather than a stream. The photograph was the result of camera error; when the shutter did fire it caught her behind the drops and the resulting image proved to be one that Derges preferred. The drops of water acted as fish eye lenses. The photo was an accident, a gift for it produced a clarity that Derges was looking for but did not expect. She understands photography as a developmental process, a kind of self enquiry.
Accident as part of the creative process; for Derges, it is a gift. Accident implies something has gone wrong, misfortune but a gift implies something bigger than oneself. We are part of a complex world. The drops started a body of work.
Derges likes there to be an element of chance.
New work has centred around rock pools on the Devon coastline, their gemlike preciousness. Not enough just to take a photo of a rock pool, she wanted to explore them with her imagination. Derges identifying with natural processes. A tiny environment to be inhabited as if one was an inhabitant. She recreated a rock pool in her studio; other work has been done on location such as in her River Taw series. The rock pool on the screen is an elliptical shape in which green seaweed like forms. Suggests figures on the blue water background; there are also signs of refraction in the water. Understanding the environment and our relationship towards it.
Derges was a painter before coming to photography. Turning the frame of the camera inwards. Her landscapes are not documentary rather invitations to enter into the subject.
Mentions Anne Atkins and her documents of plants, algae etc that were scientific documents but also personal, her own qualities being fused with these scientific representations. Inspired by the approach of Atkins who had constructed her images evident in the way she put plants together.
Shows an image of a cluster of frogs spawn; came from seeing an image projected by the sun shining through the spawn onto the pool below. She started photographing frog’s spawn at length, observing the life cycle of spawn. Recreation of direct observation! Images that show fine details of process and the incidental things that happen such as refractive light forming around ripples.
Conducting work inside as well as outside.
Large images from the River Taw. Large piece of Cibachrome paper exposed to night with single flash used. Derges feels herself changing as she makes such work. Obvious reference to other artists such as Casper Friederich. Witnessing the outdoors and gradually embodying it and internalising it only to bring it out again.
Photographs of Alchemy. Witnessing and Gathering. Making work from glassware found in a cellar in Oxford. At one time the world of imagination and science was fused but nowadays it has become fragmented. Derges seems to be reuniting them.
A residency can move one on from where one is. Her Taw images about something that happens in the landscape but also about an internal experience. Embedded within rather than knowingly separated. There is a sense of emotional projection through the work. Descriptive powers of language begin to fail. Not a linear descriptive analogy, more like a dream with different layers.
Derges spent 6 years in Japan where she learnt that their language is pictorial. Her images are layers of content effecting one as a dream might. Metaphorical images rather than a narrative.
There are reasons why she makes a work of art yet these need exploring through the process. Not so simple as her trying to articulate x,y,z
Assumption that Moon was doing the work of exposure in underwater photographs but actually it is less than a second owing to flash though paper was left out for sometime to slightly pick up tones of moonlit night. Work looks pristine even perfect … Are there many mistakes, prints thrown away? Derges keeps a lot of her rejects some of which are good but did not represent what she was looking for.
Bodies of work arise around Derges’ interests. A body of work will end when she no longer feels motivated by it. Bodies required skills to be developed but once she had mastered the process no longer feels need to go on.
How to keep the element of the accidental, the gift? Tried working with jellyfish where one moved out of frame but still left an imprint; unexpected but effective.
Performative element to her River Taw work. Reworks and reworks imagery.
Intentional on Derges’ part. She is not identifying with seaweed in a pool even when she is arranging it for a picture but there is a connection with it, a sense that it is alive. Childlike wonder of a rock pool.
Open wonderment is a good way to describe Susan Derges’ way of working says Martin Barnes, the curator from the V&A who has been interviewing her.
Have always liked Derges’ work and now I feel I understand it a little more or at least the process of making it! I do not go up to say hello to her at the end of the talk being left slightly in awe if not wonder. I need to email her about a study day talk.

GENESIS platinum prints from Sebastiao Salgado

When I saw the Genesis exhibition almost a couple of years ago now, fellow students and the tutor complained among other things about the quality of the printing. The prints on show here however are black and white images made via the platinum printing process which is arguably the finest method of printing for black and white negative images although it is not so popular as other processes. The prints are made on Arches Aquarelle paper.

There is no mention here of what the process involves yet writing about another exhibition next door to this one in Somerset House, Martin Barnes who has been curator of photography at the V&A for about twenty years writes about “the ashen tones of the platinum printing process, chosen … for its superior tonal range and permanence.” He continues “The beautiful platinum printing technique flourished from the time of its invention in 1873 until the First World War. After platinum was discovered to be an excellent catalyst for making explosives it was diverted to the war effort, it’s price rose dramatically and its use in photography was forbidden.” It has however, in spite of the high cost of Platinum, been revived since then.
The prints themselves are much softer. Form is not so sharply delineated and the blacks not so black. Yet this obvious lack of contrast is perhaps more lifelike and allows for tonal detail that might otherwise be obscured. The eye is allowed to wander a little more, given more freedom to explore what is being represented.
Seeing images I saw in the last exhibition of this work is interesting because they do seem to have a different effect. The Iceberg between Paulet Island and the South Shetland Islands on the Weddell Sea which met one on entry to the exhibition at The Natural a history Museum, is as before an intriguing design yet what looks like a fortress that stands on top of the iceberg is here more apparently made of snow. The well known image of The Eastern Part of Brooks Range found in The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Centre, Alaska, USA, during 2009 which appears on the front of the Genesis monograph, is much more delicately portrayed with the valley sides looking more real and less rubbery that the exaggerated representation evident by other more accessible processes.
Does one need to be a connoisseur to appreciate all this? I don’t think so as the platinum prints have an effect of their own, a flavour anyone can taste; most viewers however are not going to take too much time considering this difference yet for those who felt the prints in The Natural History Museum did not do the work justice, they are likely to find themselves in a more positive frame of mind as they view what is on show here with the platinum versions.

Ori Gersht discussing his approach to photography @ Photo London

I first came across Gersht’s work at the Seduced by Art exhibition in The National Gallery a few years ago; his photograph of exploding flowers is not only an amazing technical accomplishment, it is a comment on art as well as being a photograph one can feel happy looking at although it contains extreme violence.

Ori Gersht

Ori Gersht

Gersht became interested in time lapse photography and other technically demanding photography such as high speed photography; he has also been occupied with video. However, in spite of his technical prowess, we have to wait several minutes while Gersht sets up for the talk !!
Gersht has a new body of work he wants to show but starts with a famous historical painting by Goya which was finished in 1814 but called The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid; it is of an execution and contains narrative elements such as members of the crowd and evidence of former executions as well as the soldiers involved in the deed. Gersht shows another painting, this one by Manet from around 1864, also of an execution and titled The Execution of the Emperor Maximillian. Similar but different with Manet depicting the exact moment of the shooting with smoke rising from the guns but the bodies still standing. During the time between the creation of these two paintings, photography was invented although it was not until later that it learnt the ability to capture the speed of the moment in it’s entirety.
Gersht also cites Roger Fenton and his photo of the Valley of Death from the Crimean War. Fenton was under orders not to show dead people! Instead he illustrated the ground strewn with cannonballs. Painting was allowed to show violence but not photography which was not yet able to capture the action.
Robert De Capa and his iconic image of a falling soldier, caught a moment of execution although there is some debate over the authenticity of the image. The image is of something falling apart but still holding together.
Gersht uses liquid nitrogen to help freeze the flowers he photographs exploding; he is using ideas from Dutch painters in his representation.
The execution of Lewis Pine that Barthes cites in Camera Lucida. Tensions between time, photography and memory; they are evident in this picture as they are in much of Gersht’s work.
Talking about the past and the future simultaneously!
H.C-B’s Behind the Saint-Lazare photograph of man stepping out into a pool of water. Looking at events that only exist because of technological devices.
Gersht is inspired by art work from the 19’th century and the role of colour particularly in the use of selected colours. Our technology is affecting the way we understand reality!
Photography has a strong relationship to the real, to something that existed in front of the camera. Gersht is exploring technology and its’ ability to represent the real, of photography’s ability to represent what could not be seen before. We live at a time when new boundaries are being discovered! The camera can record events that the eye is unable to see and can show different levels of reality.
Likes to make large photographs so that the viewer can see the details and not be let down as one can be by paintings where detail is being suggested rather than accurately represented. The special ability of the camera is to instantaneously record detail that would otherwise not be seen or examined. Gersht aims to make his photographs detailed!
Uses digital photography which he considers important partly because he wants to be as separated as possible in approach from the Old Masters. In painting, there are brush strokes and with film, aberrations caused by light hitting a gelatin surface; in digital such imperfections can be resolved. His means of production are removed from traditional painting and yet the similarities are there.
A moment of destruction and the moment of creation are similar. Violence and beauty as two sides of the same coin!? Part of Gersht’s vision.
Gersht grew up in Israel (and perhaps this explains his interest in explosions since the situation there is often volatile). He has been seduced by photography, the way we perceive the world and photography as well as the deceptive illusion that comes from watching media like TV.
Gersht’s new work is about digital revolution formerly about scientific revolution. Not easy to understand! Experience of the microscope, of seeing … today the boundaries of reality are being experienced, explored. Looking at insects under high magnification changes our notion of reality. Mirrors are also proving influential in configuring reality.
Looking at a Breughel paintings of flowers. Exuberant qualities of Breughel. These are the kinds of things that Gersht likes to consider. Groups of flowers that could never have flowered at the same time so images constructed. Breughel was painting at a time of Empires expanding. Gersht tried to replicate Breughel flower paintings exactly using synthetic materials.
Seeing things reflected in mirrors meant representation of objects was inverted. Takes a long time to make a bouquet but only an instant to destroy it; this tension also evident in exploding flower images.
Gersht shows video of how he makes work using mirrors. The process took months as the bouquets needed to be crafted yet a split second to photograph. Photographing through a mirror! Sense of touch gives the feeling that something is there; shows Leonardo painting of fingers almost touching. Touch and sight not the way we really experience the world, our experience is more cumulative and reflective.
Photographs show reflections in mirror; it is the mirror that is being smashed not the bouquet.
Uses toughened glass while making explosions. Some visual effects not easy to comprehend. Different effects to exactly the same moment depending on way camera is being used and what is being photographed at the moment of explosion.
Visited Northern Palestine to photograph olive trees that were hundreds of years old and had therefore “witnessed” historical moments. Over exposed film with long exposures …suggest the passing of time. Restored over-exposed negatives in the darkroom.
Material and Virtual combined in some works. Working close to a mirror and further away for reflections. Ends with a video of an explosion and the different visual effects this causes as well as sounds; the last frame shows the original restored!
The exploding flower in The National Gallery was really exploding yet since then Gersht has been photographing reflections in mirrors that are exploded.
I find Gersht’s talk riveting but it is not easy to follow his complex understanding of what photography means to him although there is a refreshing blend of art and science in vision. Gersht does not directly mention Walter Benjamin’s theory of the “optical unconscious” though this seems to be what he is inadvertently referring to in his work.

“Concerning Photography” RPS symposium @ Sheffield Hallam University

Having heard about this week-end through the OCA, I decided to attend. There are a number of good speakers such as Paul Reas who I find myself sitting opposite at breakfast on the first morning. I have a couple of his photobooks, Flogging a Dead Horse and I Can Help, which are now a little dated as they are about 30 years old; however, they are visual statements that seem likely to survive, records from a moment in history. His Wikepedia entry  seems quite accurate and gives some feeling for the man. I don’t however confront him though I might have; I don’t really know what this conference will be like and am not sure what I expect from it. What brings me up north from sunny Somerset?

Jury's Inn - my hotel in Sheffield

Jury’s Inn – my hotel in Sheffield

It seems worthwhile to consider photography rather than to just blindly pursue it. What is photography really about and what are we as photographers trying to achieve? I am not sure the conference will ask such questions and might just be about certain photographers showing us how good they are. Well, it helps to see good work but one also needs to understand what makes it worthwhile. I really do not know what I am in for today and tomorrow but a certain amount of dialectics would be welcome; photography is a medium that tends to be taken for granted yet remains elusive. It is not easy to determine what makes a worthwhile photograph rather than one that just fulfills a brief.
Another photographer we are due to see is Melanie Melanchot
She studied at The Royal Colege of Art from 1990-1992 and seems to come from a completely different background to the working class origins of Paul Reas. One body of work she has made is called, Voyage Around My Mother, which rings bells; her photography of old people as in Ageing Bodies seems poignant.
Photography might be about making the unconscious conscious but in the study of it, I sometimes wonder whether the reverse is not taking place! By the end of this conference, I find myself questioning the way I go on investing information about photography so much so that I am now a bit like a walking encyclopaedia, ready to correct even OCA tutors of which there are two here. Neither of them are particularly friendly or appreciative of me being the only OCA student to make it over to the event. Very different from other OCA tutors who are much more involved with the college, being regular guides for study days as well as commenting frequently on forums.
Chris Coekin is another speaker. Like Reas, he is a photographer turned university lecturer and is a tutor at that OCA. I studied his book, The Hitcher, and found it to be humorous as well as an in depth study.
I have had very little to do with the RPS and as I enter the “Heartspace” where the conference is taking place, I reminded as to why. There is something institutional about it and when I sit down to enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee, I am almost deafened by a couple of elderly men talking about camera equipment; one is describing his attempts at bird photography! The gathering seems convivial but is mainly middle-aged white; not a coloured face in sight just an occasional tan! Later I reflect on my negativity at these first impressions; I might have said hello and introduced myself rather than sneering slightly at the in-talk but I expected something more than techie talk.
Melanie Melanchot has not appeared so we start with Paul Reas who is currently putting together a book of 30 years of his work which means reassessing his practice and considering it in a way that he has not considered it before.
Reas became interested in photography through music and the North Country Soul Scene which is still going today. Echoes American soul music from the Southern States which had a ring that the more saccharine sounds of white music lacked. Talked about segregation which the North also feels in the UK. Attractive tunes but also questioning lyrics. Reas became politicised and attracted to political literature and in particular the photographic representation in such books.
Paul Reas

Paul Reas

Worked as a bricklayer after leaving school at 15 but later went to university to study photography, being taught by people such as Keith Arnott and David Hurn. Other influences were Bill Brandt and Ian Berry, Don Mac Cullin and Mark Power. There were representations of the North as a dark and brooding place that Reas did not recognise.
Notion of the concerned photographer; photography could that help bring about social change. August Sander was striking in his representation of working people with dignity rather than as a lower class. Preoccupied with working men rather than working women; felt an affinity with working class men having been one himself. Had tutors Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr arguing over his work! Meadows favoured straight documentary approach while Parr saw images that stood out a little more, had a more artistic impact; a photograph did not have to be an accurate representation of life.
Tony Ray Jones and his visual choreography fascinated him. Often left not knowing what the picture is about but rather asking a question. Spent a lot of time on beaches photographing. Reas also interested by American photography both the more idealistic Ansel Adams and the more contemporary, Lewis Baltz. Robert Adams and Lee Freidlander.
The “Valley’s Project” in mid 1980’s was an early body of work Reas made. More influences from Stephen Shore and William Eggleston as well as Paul Graham and Martin Parr. Peter Mitchell and Bob Phillips are less well known as is John Popadec, Ron Mac Donell and Charlie Meecham. Mostly working with big View cameras; Reas used the Plaubel Makina which was a medium format camera that also provided a different way of working. Ernst Haas was another photographer exploring colour yet in a more formal way to some of his contemporaries.
“Beyond Caring” was a controversial book by Paul Graham; controversy centred around use of colour or was it about the depersonalisation of the individual within the space of the photographs? Not what people expected! Graham replied that black and white was a reduction, a form of depersonalisation. Martin Parr came out with The Last Resort but also photographs from Ireland. Parr’s approach more subjective than that of Killip; Parr found the term “social documentary” problematic and assumed a more opinionated stance. Other photographers learning at this time were Paul Seawright and Anna Fox.
Reas trying to talk about the complications of consumer culture. The out of town shopping centre was new, an example of a different way of shopping. Featured in Who We Are exhibition at the Tate Britain. Making photographs of the socio-political landscape. Books use smaller images and often one needs to see them much bigger; not just for effect but also for detail. There is innuendo in Reas’ work if one cares to look for it which is often there in the detail. Used the Plaubel Makina for much of this work to give an edge of quality. Need to read his photographs to elucidate meaning. At time of making this work, Reas was working as a technician at Newport, only able to work at week-ends. The success of this work allowed him to work independently as a photographer, travelling around; enjoyed the challenge but found himself making images that had context outside of the magazine or other editorial assignment.
Next body of work, Flogging a Dead Horse, looked at the heritage industry and it’s commercial representation that was a facade for other kinds of living.  A stereo-typical North being marketed. Examined declining industries and their culture. For instance, Constable Country was one subject as was Dickensian heritage. Photographing and depicting rather than merely representing consumerism.
His work attracted advertising companies, somewhat paradoxically, which meant he needed an agency. Kept a documentary approach as this was what the advertisers wanted. Reas enjoyed this kind of work even though it was much more contrived in approach. Sometimes worked more spontaneously being followed by a director who paid models encountered on street to get appropriate model release forms. Took Reas over who found he was starting to loose contact with his roots; seemed contrived and he gave it up to start teaching. Still works but now in a much more thoughtful way similar to his original approach. Worked in Elephant and Castle area around 2011-2012.
Before his talk, I exchange a few words with Reas and tell him I have a couple of his books to which he replies that I have the whole collection. I joke that I should perhaps have it made into a boxed set! Reas seems quite proud of his working class origins or certainly conscious of them; my origins are more middle class perhaps, I went to a Public School and although not really proud of this, I do experience a sense of separation from most people that some might interpret as privilege.
There is a COFFEE BREAK after the first talk and I look at books on sale from Dewi Lewis; there is a healthy discount and some books worth looking at. While looking at a book presentation by OCA tutor Derek Trillo, the man himself turns up and we have a little conversation but don’t really make contact. I do not quite understand what his book is about. There are a group of Photobooks on show from the RPS Photobook competition which was judged by Gerry Badger who has written extensively about the Photobook.
Melanie Melanchot

Melanie Melanchot

The next speaker is Melanie Melanchot who has a Teutonic twang to her voice; her blond hair is cut short. The first image she shows is of a naked older woman, the artist’s mother. The camera is more than a device, it is a collaborator, a protaganist. Melanchot is concerned with gender politics, representation of the body. One off pieces photographed with a 5 by 4 camera, resulting in large from film prints. The works become art in the sense that they are quite unique objects. Making colour as well as black and white images. Photographing her mother she is working with someone she knows well but Melanchot is asking a lot from her mother as she exhibits these images in galleries.
Performance art! The presence of the camera creates a performance and it is this that Melanchot is photographing; a response to the presence of the camera. She continued to photograph her mother and work with people posing for her even with strangers in public spaces. Worked like this in Moscow. Issues around permission to photograph in Russia; can have equipment confiscated. Even laws about groups of people gathering in a public space. Yet Melanchot stops people on the street, shows them examples of her work and encourages them to pose for her although after 10 minutes, security guards are likely to appear. The people photographed are the ones who happened to be there and agreed; no deliberate choice of people; they are asked to do this as a protest and possibly emailed results but encouraged to disperse if security does appear.
Berlin Postcards! Old images from about 100 years and more ago. Melanchot is German! History inscribed in these images; there is a lot of information here that can be investigated. Decide to restage these images! Same buildings but different facades with different people. After Germany, she started to do the same in London. Photographs from museums of subjects such as street parties. Photography is a storage place with the camera as an organiser; people have to arrange themselves in relation to the camera. Also using movie footage. Decided to make a film too, using film in a sculptural way. Decided to stage her own street party, a street where people had lived for generations although one end has become more privatised. Works with a core group who live in the street. Movie shot to show street stretching out in front of one. Chose Cyprus Street in London.
The movie opens with camera moving down the street, following a few people as they approach the party! The camera continues down the street, passing through the party with people paying little if any attention, as they know what is happening and expect it although some children obviously want to be stars! Eventually the rolling camera stops and the party goers congregate for a group photograph.
(An elderly man who is part responsible for organising this event talks as the film is being shown! Seems to be lacking in respect for the audience and the artist as well as being an unnecessary distraction! Perhaps some people might be reacting to me taking the occasional photograph.)
After assembling, and standing in front of the movie camera awhile, the crowd disperse; a moment of stillness in a continually moving image. Melanchot talks quite a bit about the influence of the camera on her work. After the crowd disperses, the camera moves on until the end of the street.(I later learn that the camera was carried on a crane to prevent it from shaking too much and giving a privileged perspective!)
Her work has necessarily become more controlled over the years yet Melanchot still likes to leave space for the unexpected to enter.
Dancing all night in Paris is another short video made in 2012. There is no music but one can hear the sounds of shoes scraping over the floor as the dancers dance. The space is almost as important as the dance. Some dance alone, others dance together! The dancers are skilled and perform different dances. After awhile, one hears exclamations from the dancers but these are not loud and the sound of their steps continues. More and more dancers appear and the space fills up. There is no sound of music!
She started making a series of photographs around a place in Switzerland where there is a ski slope; different because instead of people, she started photographing a place which was a liberating moment. Close up of rain followed by a wider view of the place with cars going along a road at night; gong like music plays in the background; these are different views of the ski slope! The camera works it’s way up the ski slope.
Melanchot has been working with people recovering from addiction. Her most recent work that is due to be shown soon in London. I chat to after the talk about her “sculptural approach” which is based around the analogue use of film and the objectivity resulting from that. She used a crane to keep the camera steady while progressing down the street she was filming.


Melanie joins me for LUNCH and I show her the BBC book, The Secret History of Our Streets, of which she is unaware. Melinda Gibson also joins us and we discuss China, in particular Beijing. Liz Bingley also joins the group; someone else who has been in China since she is working in Shanghai.
Melinda Gibson

Melinda Gibson

Melinda Gibson is the first afternoon speaker. She grew up in a world surrounded by photography, her father being an avid amateur while her mother also carried a camera. Both she and her sister used cameras. She did a photography A level and continued studying photography although she was initially not keen to do a university course since she wanted to make photography her career; she is now a university lecturer! She worked for awhile as an assistant for Martin Parr, cataloging his many negatives.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art, a body of work she started in 2009. Resulted in part from her teaching experience and overall survey of photographic art. Became aware of a canon of photography represented by particular photographers. Influenced by Charlotte Cotton’s book by the same name, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, as well as by Susan Bright. Melinda is appropriating work! Every second some 4,000 photographs uploaded to Facebook according to one estimate; where does this work go?
Appreciation of photography depends upon our understanding of the context! This is along the lines of what Derek Trillo mentioned to me about his book.
Cutting up others work might seem arragoant! Assembling and disassembling imagery. Female artist looking at male archives. Examining traditional sense of how we see and how we look. Only providing context of photographs such as captions as well as showing the photograph; front and back of photographs are very different. How to make material interesting even exciting? Method of presentation! Showing backs of photographs; requiring effort to turn the photograph over to see the actual image! Her books are hand made hence labour intensive. Individual response to those who buy copies.
Thomas, a Parisian photography collector approached her via an email containing links; she was unsure what the intention was and emailed him back. There was a reference to Martin Parr saying what a great photographer Thomas was! Thomas collects old photographs from China bought from a man who collects old film from garbage; he then boils down the old film for the silver content. Thomas wanted Melinda to come out and help him archive all these images. Melinda Was being valued for conceptual approach. She edited 500,000 images down to 110; some images were repetitive but further editing was made possible via subject matter. Negatives were carefully printed with varying success. Often negatives damaged in some way resulting in effects that can be considered attractive while also offering an understanding of the discourse of photography. Sculptural element obvious!
Most recent project also a book though book not her intention. Worked with “Self Publish, Be Happy” company and helped produce number 6 in their book club. Asked to produce an additional new element. Work needed to have never been seen before so Melinda needed to make new work. Her studio got burnt down during which time she managed to make some iPhone images. Stuck Polaroids on wall while destruction of her studio was happening and came back to claim them soon after! There was a sensory experience of the disaster such as the smell of smoke in her hair though this smell has been compared to a smoky whisky. Due to set fire to some of her work at Tate Modern in the turbine hall next Sunday as part of Photo London.
Melinda Lives and breathes photography. Excited by the endless possibilities opened up by contemporary photography.
I follow out an elderly man (quite a well known photographer who I studied with for one a day workshop in photography once about portraiture) who farts continuously possibly unaware that someone is right behind him or possibly not bothered by the fact. I hang back a bit but there is fortunately no smell to contend with. Quite literally, an old fart! I might have said hello to him but I don’t.
I buy a book, “Empire” by Jon Tonks which I think will help in my Ford Street project; showing subjects this book might give them some idea as to what I am doing! I would like to buy another book of John Blakemore photographs since I studied with him yet the reproduction although good is not up to the original standard.
Experience a Eureka moment! Sitting there, I can’t help but feel I might be more open to some of the people here rather than resort to internal criticism. The British reserve hinders one from making contact since not only am I burdened by it but the others are also suffering from it! The sly British fox who would rather keep his distance and register the situation when he or she might jump into it. I do however make myself known to Averil, the woman who is organising the event.
The last talk of the day is given by Chris Coekin who has made a newspaper edition of work called Chewing the Cud. I had anticipated Coekin’s humour from his book Hitcher and it is evident from the start of his talk.
Chris Coekin

Chris Coekin

Going to show and discuss 4 bodies of work including photographers he has been influenced by as well as cultural communities. Coekin left school at 15, got a job, went into the building trade, got into photography; younger but similar career trajectory to Paul Reas and also interested in Northern Soul. Work is based on his experiences.
Blind Vision, an early work, represents his way of working; it comes from 1996. This project was a starting point for his own later work. Based around blind people; portraits of subject, use of text, landscape imagery – these created triptychs. Working across different genres with different styles. Photographs of people with their guide dogs.
Photographed places abroad such as in India but was not satisfied with this approach; would rather photograph in his back garden, things that relate directly to him rather than the exotic.
Knock Three Times is another project; work done in 95/96. Published by Dewi Lewis. Combines a variety of ephememera. Thinks of himself as a writer! Lot of photographs from his life included. From a working man’s club that he visited for 10 years. Dragged to such places as a kid! Coekin plays the pop song Knock Three Times; it has always struck me as one of the more banal of pop tunes. Family photo from a working man’s club. 70% of images are constructed with rest more spontaneous. About the way the club is or was at at the centre of the community. Trying to reflect change, using metaphor; reflects people, the community yet also himself. From the working class but now a university professor like Paul Reas.
Metaphor at heart of much of his photography. Not really interested in documenting club activities such as pigeon fancying. Thinking about and then constructing images such as when using signs, text. Childhood memories playing on his awareness of making photographs as was knowledge of way other photographers have covered this subject of working man’s clubs. Wanted to do something different. Worked on this book with David Campany! Coekin photographed at the club for an extended period. Making his own photographs but also using archive material. Intertwine fact and fiction in his own experience of the place as well as using ephemera existing as history.
This publication juxtaposes documentary evidence with photographs; there may be a letter on one page and a photograph on the other.
Hitcher is another project. Read Jack Kerouac On The Road, listened to Woody Guthrie, read Laurie Lee “As I walked out one Summers Morning” and was further inspired by the excitement of the journey; a cover photo of the Laurie Lee book he had proved to be a direct inspiration. Went hitching himself and wanted to do a project on it. Chris shows some pieces from a violent film about a hitchiker which also influenced him. Idea of the stranger! Three elements also to this project; self portraits of Coekin on the road (did make the journeys himself although photographs often constructed by using a camera with a self-timer); collected all the signs that he used for later reproduction; close up photographs such as of feet, discarded times of rubbish, road kill, found objects and people who gave him lifts who were photographed with a larger medium format camera as they deserved more attention. He questioned the people who gave him a lift as to why they did so; their answers became part of the text for the book.
There is an interesting combination in this book of the layered elements, the way they are juxtaposed. Coekin wrote a short story to accompany it while there was also an introduction written by someone else.
Final body of work that Coekin discusses is Manufactory, parts 1 and 2, collectively called The Altogether. Wanted to make a different body of work to those who had already covered manufacturing. Trade Union ephemera included. Images of workers working; he collaborated with the workers finding digital photography equipment helpful. In fact, he used a digital Hassleblad (borrowed from the college he was working at) so that he could immediately review work with the people he was shooting. Got workers to pose. Found flash helpful in getting appropriate saturation.
Photographed details such as the factory floor, looking behind machines at places no one had seen for years. Pseudo-landscapes. Found old discarded tools and started photographing them as they were odd yet quite beautiful objects. The factory closed down towards the end of Coekin’s project.
Finds working with the 2D image as in photography, a little restrictive! Photographing books with images in and also creating sounds to accompany his images! Coekin is conscious of his past and uses photography to communicate it.
The day ends and I return to my room to relax a little, meditate, and prepare for the evening event.
Around eight o’clock there is a dinner. About 30 of us sit around a large table! I am sandwiched between a recently retired Scotsman who is an enthusiastic amateur photographer who nevertheless takes it quite seriously and travels around with his wife who is also a photographer; he leaves me his email address; On the other side is a retired ITV film director, Hugh de las Casas, who has made a book about a river near to his home in Suffolk which he has known since a child; it is a self published work of 500 copies with captions at the end of the book rather than alongside the photographs.
After the dinner, there is a talk by Liz Bingley who shows her Under Gods work, published as a book by Dewi Lewis Publishing, that was made from 2007 to 2009. She has photographed different religious communities in Birmingham, somehow managing to gain their confidence. I find this work surprisingly good perhaps because I have tried to do similar work myself and failed. Her being the daughter of a couple of Anglican priests as well as having an Anglican priest as a step-mother probably helps. Bingley has also worked in Shanghai from where she returned a couple of weeks ago and is due to return to in a few months time.
I return late to my hotel room after having a good night cocoa with Lauren, a man who works with oil companies, an occupation he finds tough and intends to retire from soon and is looking for a new career. As a photographer? He is old enough to realise the difficulties implied by that.
For awhile I watch comedy on the TV before falling asleep.
Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack

After a full breakfast the next morning, I make my way back to the university lecture hall where the first talk with Laura Pannack is just about to begin. She Studied at Brighton University where she was encouraged to try all kinds of genre and discovered her interest lay within portraiture. She has interrogated different ways to make portraiture as in photographing her subjects behind glass, waiting for an undetermined amount of time before taking the photograph etc She likes photographing young people apnd researched the way they were being portrayed in contemporary culture and found they were not being represented fairly. Photographed them against neutral backgrounds. Moved onto photographing young couples who had not got into serious commitment by virtue of not having had their hearts broken or anything but were living chaotic lives. Felt privileged by being allowed into the world of these young people. Not taking guardian role or encouraging them to be too irresponsible. She likes drawing pictures in a book about possible subjects. Gregory Crewdson has adopted a strict approach of highly contrived sets! Laura uses analogue because it is something of a performance in itself and helps to slow her down.
Decided to photograph Young British Naturists who she found on the net. They were welcoming, all under 30. Friendly response but Laura found her subjects wanted a more journalistic approach. Needed to change tack. Simon Roberts, a photographer who has given her support, advised her to get formal permission from subjects or stop the project.
What unites us
What scares me
What interests me
She photographed at different naturist clubs over a period of 2 years with subjects in agreement!
Laura started in painting and drawing and is still attracted to oils and sketching; although photography has endless possibilities it is not as free as painting
Apart from Crewdson likes Philip Lorca Di Corcia as well as Vanessa Winchit, Rob Hunstra, Taryn Simon and so on.
Attracted to Alternative processes – likes the idea of experimenting, being scientific, that the camera is just a box, vision counts, exploring information that the viewer can contemplate. Another influence is Annie Liebovitz … not just a jobbing professional, she really ekes out the essence of her subject e.g. Lennon with Yoko image, Hymie Goldberg in bath. Laura likes David Hockney who is not afraid to try new things!
What kind of photographer am I?
Are these boundaries safely defining me or creatively restricting me?
Laura lectures a lot and noticed a great difference in university courses; some encourage aping of successful photographers which she does not like.
What kind of photographer is Laura? A curious one as well as a passionate one. Her specialisation in portraiture means she can spend a long time with a person yet not so long with a commodity such as bread!?
Works for week-end magazines and among her work is a story on bewitched children; working alongside a charity. The children are being killed indisciminitely. Bizarre experience but felt privileged to be and wanted to better understand the culture that had created this killing
Feels some of her subjects are brave to agree to be photographed; respects her subjects. Laura feels it can also be a burden for the photographer to see work published that does not really represent the photographer’s insight or commitment.
Laura does advertising as well as editorial work. Works with a massive team in advertising. Personal projects also.
Another body of work is called The Grey Zone. Lot of pressure to make bodies of work, concentrate on a theme … Laura still does this, sits and researches but also likes to pick up the camera and go for a walk.
How do we face creativity?
Random wanderings with an analogue camera. Does not have to take pictures. Walks with friends. The Grey Zone!
Experimenting with Polaroids and a camera called the Polaroid 180; in this instance, collaborating with a friend. Polaroid film is now very expensive. Wet plate collodion is another process she has experimented with
Sometimes images planned to every detail; images stand alone but still relate to theme of work. She considers herself a story teller
Youth without age, life without death!
Pursuing lots of projects. Finds Romania an inspiring place building objects and placing them in the landscape. Came across a term “The lunar forest”.
After another coffee break, the final speaker is Peter Mitchell whose book I bought last year; we also met and chatted over dinner with Martin Parr and Brian Griffin! Peter is a great wit and modest, being a seminal art photographer in Britain who is not well publicised. He has recently had a new body of work published called Everything Means Something to Somebody; this has been published by RRB Photobooks who run the Photobook Festival in Bristol and is there first published Photobook. I obtained a copy of Mitchell’s other book, Strangely Familiar, which is all about his home patch in Leeds. It struck me as a useful book about the locality a photographer was in which is something I find myself confronted with.
Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell

“And now for something completely different …!” says Peter Mitchell by way of introduction. He has no middle name! Has been called “the recluse in the north” “the Alan Bennett of photography” but calls himself The Winged Cobra Workshop!
Talk about attitude possibly aggression. Starts with a photo of graffiti from his local telephone box. Shows snap of nude couple with kid, backs all turned, from mid 20’th century America; photographer argued with Ansel Andams and then dissappeared.
New Conservative government likely to help photography! Shows poster from 1920’s interested in graphic aspects of photography. Another image of a Brownie camera advert ( text and drawing); Kodak and Eastmann have now gone.
Found photo of a woman sitting on a baby crocodile possibly large lizard. Both woman and croc appear to be smiling! This image reveals a primary attribute of photography.
Ooooh no …… titter ye not!! This phrase is credited to the late Frankie Howard and is another example of the typology that Peter likes. Now everything has all gone digital.
Photo of a bound album that he inherited from an uncle. Had to rescue it as it was being used as a door prop in a relative’s house. Shows family photos with witty comments. “Real not fake” a quality of photography revealed in family photos. Shows a photo he took of his parents in their garden from late 1960’s and then a photograph of himself sitting on a scooter around the time he got a job working for the civil service in Whitehall. Worked for many years for Ministry of Housing.
Later went to college to study photography. Did a course in printmaking. At that time, photography education was technical. Shows an early print he made of plimsoles; a limited edition print from the same negative was the way artists sold their work. Nowadays a different procedure!
Shows an old photograph from Sheffield of a spoon and fork company that used to occupy the area on which the building we are now using for these talks stands. Made pictures that were later intended for screen prints. Shows another photograph of Old Sheffield and a picture of someone standing outside his home who refused to be moved on by the council.
Moved from London to Leeds. Started in a squat with friends. Moved into a flat that he later bought. Leeds a football city! Photograph of a sign put up for the death of a footballer, Billy Bremner.
“Lots of people die in Leeds of course … Lots of dogs in Leeds too!” quips Peter as he talks us through his photographs.
Walked into Leeds City art library and said he wanted to do a show of screen prints. They were not interested but they did want other of his work. Peter has had a range of ordinary jobs such as factory worker, lorry driver. Uninteresting, ordinary things, things no one notices have been subjects Mitchell has photographed. Small but interesting things! Things have not changed since 1975 for Mitchell.
Photographs of people outside their buildings; buildings that were later destroyed. Businesses that went under and dissappeared. Leeds one of first cities to be made out of red brick, a process that had started in Tudor times.
Some of his prints sell. One has sold 5 copies and so one of his best sellers. Images of a Leeds that has dissappeared. They tell a story of a time that has passed. Photograph of a swimming pool in Leeds, one of many swimming pools that has since dissappeared. The Leeds International pool has more recently gone; it was a centimetre or so too short for international records to be made!
Photo of ghost train. Photo of an old motorbike. Connection between aircraft ugliness and Leeds. Old Tetley factory now gone; it was a beer but no longer exists. Peter avoids bright red things and blue skies in his aesthetics.
“Please say if you are getting fed up with this!” says Peter as he shows his pictures. They are fascinating records of a Leeds that is no more and are interesting pictures in their own right.
Photographs of shops and their shopkeepers. Every snap has a story.
Picture of Mars. From Viking Lander 2 1986.
Mitchell has a show coming up at Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Got a photograph from a space lab of Mars. Made a poster from this. Putting borders around photographs of Leeds that give impression that they have been taken from a lunar mission to Leeds from Mars!
Urban decay and ruin! Where did this aesthetic come from? Derelict buildings in Leeds!
Photographs of demolition workers. Time destroys one’s negatives owing to microbes etc photographs of blocks of flats that were later destroyed. Some found, some photographed by Mitchell. Some images created for propaganda reasons later appropriated. Mitchell did a book on flats that is recognised as a classic on architectural photography.
Mitchell likes America a lot and has visited 5 times. Photograph of Nazraeli, an author and publisher. Did a book with them, helped by Martin Parr. 47 photographs, selected from 90. Mitchell proud of this book. Publisher in Southern California.
Produced a limited edition poster for Strangely Familiar. Image of building that once employed 3,000 people that is now empty.
Mitchell does not work on projects rather photographs something that attracts him, that he has noticed and wants to record. LS7 4DX is his post code and a working title for a growing body of work made in the area.
Beautiful photographs of run down places. Old metal signs being stolen that are now replaced with plastic signs. Photographs of sites where Yorkshire ripper victims were found. Photographs from Yorkshire Ripper era.
Photographs of rubbish. Sometimes rubbish would hang around for a long time but council now better at disposing of it.
Mitchell continues to show us pictures he has made. Often, the object seems obscure so he explains their relevance. Strange stories!
Peter gets a lot of letters; does not have email etc he shows some photographs of his junk mail as well as an Islamic rally poster from late 1980’s! Wing Cobra, Mitchell’s emblem, taken from another old factory now closed down.He draws inspiration from children’s books.
He finished with a photograph of a scarecrow; with characteristic self-depreciating humour, he says scarecrows tell his story in a silent way.
The talks are all over, various people are thanked. An organiser, Brian Steptoe, comes forward and talks about …The PHOTOBOOK OPEN INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION which will be shown next weekend at the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern which is to be filled with Photobooks. There will also be an exhibition open to all in a small Central London gallery this september. For the 2016 competition, there will be 3 selectors; last year just Gerry Badger, author on Photobooks, was the judge. I may enter!
Dewi Lewis Publishing store

Dewi Lewis Publishing store

The week-end has been interesting but eventually I find myself tiring of continually looking at a screen for inspiration, to see good work. Across the road is the Taylor Wessing portrait competition, an annual event that tours around the UK. Here are photographs that have been printed, that are visible behind glass and framed, one does not have to sit in the dark to look at them, their visceral quality cannot be hidden but stands out. I would like to spend more time with these images but am tired and it is time to return to Somerset.
The week-end has been enjoyable and I find myself questioning my own direction in photography. Three of the seven speakers I have heard before and I wonder if I want to go on listening to artists talks, to photographers showing me how good they are. One needs to work, produce ones own results rather than get over fed with other people’s ideas. Next week though I shall be attending more talks at Photo London with only a couple of days at home before doing so. Greater more contemporary photographers on show!
I am doing all this because of my choice to study photography, to learn an art if indeed there is an art to learn. Anyone can pick up a camera and make images but these may or not be relevant although perhaps this does not matter if one enjoys the process. I would like to make images that others are interested in though and the ability to communicate with others means learning from those who have managed to do so.


The blurb for this event says “London’s first international photography fair will harness the passionate, growing audience for photography in the city and nurture a new generation of collectors. Photo London’s exciting public programme is supported by the LUMA Foundation.”

ticketing office @ Somerset House

ticketing office @ Somerset House

The programme includes mimi-exhibitions by participating galleries as well as book launches, talks, exhibitions and other events such as screening. However, it is not easy to find a clear programme; one needs to buy a ticket for the day and then more tickets for any event one wants to attend. The tickets have to be bought through another organisation called Ticketmaster and there were problems; I found the date printed on one ticket to be incorrect. There was however a page from which one can explore the various events some of which are sold out within a few days while there is also a catalogue that features images from the exhibitions …

There are a number of exhibitions. Sebastiao Salgado is exhibiting his Genesis portfolio, this time with platinum prints; the V&A have put together a collection of photographs called “Beneath the Surface” which is described as follows …

A new exhibition commissioned by Photo London that will open concurrently with the inaugural Photo London fair and continue until 24 August 2015. In keeping with the breadth of photographic works represented at Photo London, Beneath the Surface will reflect the international scope and historical depth of the V&A’s preeminent collection of photographs.

This exhibition of some 200 works reflects the Embankment Galleries’ riverfront location in one of London’s most ancient quarters, focussing on images of water, the topography of the city and the people within it. Depictions of water – implying depths beneath the surface – provide a metaphor for the richness of the V&A’s collection, and the exhibition will also include photographs of the museum itself. Selected from a collection that dates back to 1852, Beneath the Surface comprises unseen or rarely-displayed photographs chosen by Martin Barnes, the museum’s Senior Curator of Photographs.

Beneath the Surface will include works by the earliest practitioners in the field, including nineteenth-century masters William Strudwick, Victor Prout and Charles Thurston Thompson; great observers of twentieth-century life such as Thurston Hopkins, John Gay and Brassaï; contemporary and fine art photography by Susan Derges, Nigel Shafran, Sinje Dillenkofer, Stephen Gill and Naoya Hatakeyama, and photographic works by practitioners better known in other media, such as graphic designer Robert Brownjohn and installation artists Ackroyd & Harvey

The exhibitions don’t start until the thursday though.

Photo London from the Courtauld Institute-Amano Samarpan-6277

On wednesday evening, an audience with the photographer Sze Tsung Leong sounds interesting; I have ordered his book Horizons. Before this, there is an interview with Don Mac Cullin whom I have heard speak before. No entry charges for this preview day but charges for the talks. I did not come on the first day but later met Sze Tsung Leong.

On the Thursday, Nadav Kander is talking but this is already booked and I was anyway torn between listening to him and a group discussion with Susan Derges, Martin Barnes and others from 2 to 3.30 p.m; I own a book published by the V&A relating to this on cameraless photography and want to contact Susan Derges to see if she would give a talk for the OCA. Her talk is the first event I attend and it helps to explain her work. Following this Annabella Pollen (who I met in Brighton back in 2012) is interviewing Erik Kessels from 5 to 6.30 pm. In the evening, Stephen Shore is also talking about his career at The National Portrait Gallery but I have heard him before. There are also a few book signings in the Great Arch Hall such as Simon Norfolk (14.00 to 14.30) whose book on Norfolk and Bourne I have been wanting to purchase for sometime yet I manage to miss this!

In the afternoon, Ori Gersht is talking between 3 and 4.30 pm while Kander’s talk on Sargeant at The National Portrait Gallery is booked but can get on the waitlist. However, there is a discussion on “The Dissolution of Photography” at The Courtauld Institute (Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre) at the same time which seems more relevant and runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and is free! Between 15.00 and 15.30 in the Great Hall , David Parker is signing copies of his book Myth and Landscape which is another book I have purchased; between 16.00 and 17.00, Sze Tsung Leong will be signing copies of his book Horizons. There is also a film presentation with Salgado in the evening at The Curzon Cinema in Chelsea from 18.15 to 21.30. Not easy to choose.

On saturday, Salgado’s talk is booked out but I shall probably be busy anyway with the OCA.  Simon Schama is talking on portraiture at The Courtauld Institute in the evening from 5.35 to 7 pm which should be worth listening to. If I get there in time, David Campany will be signing copies of his book The Open Road between 2 and 3 p.m. which I already have while Kander will be signing copies of Dust between 16.00 and 17.00 which I have just bought, having seen the Dust exhibition last year and written about it.

On Sunday, Steve Mac Curry is talking at 14.30 at King’s College and called a satellite event he will be there!? The latest book about coffee sounds interesting and is included in the price. Mitch Epstein is also talking at The Courtauld Institute starting 15.55. After this, Stephen Shore is talking about the Instagram which could be interesting. Shore also has a book signing between 4 and 5 pm for his book about the Middle East.

Thomas Struth in London

Thomas Struth photographer

Thomas Struth photographer

What draws me from the Spring of Somerset to the smoke of London? Among the photographs Struth is exhibiting is a series of landscape images from the Israeli border and it is these that are of special interest to me since they relate to the course while I have also visited Israel in the past. Of course, these are photographs from what was once known as The Holy Land which has been photographed since the early days of photography, notably the journey made by a young Prince Edward who was accompanied by the photographer Francis Bedford. However, the context here is very different as it is the menacing sense of conflict that dominates Struth’s photographs rather than religious idealism conveyed by photographs revealing places associated with Christ.

Of his work, I find myself drawn to Museum Photographs which, as the title suggests, are of museums and the people who visit them in particular their viewing of these works of art if they may be referred to as such.
An article from The Guardian contains some interesting comments from Struth who talks about constructing his photographs before he goes out to shoot so that they are an expression of what’re he wants to convey. There is mention of his “quiet alertness” that  also permeates his work; Struth has been a Tai Chi practitioner for nearly 20 years.
from Tel Aviv

from Tel Aviv

 The photographs are on show in a smart Central London gallery; they almost look small against the gaping space of the white walls. These are no captions but one can pick up an A4 print out if one wants to contextualise the images which are reflective compositions. This have been planned beforehand even if room has been left for the chance occurrence such as a woman who walks into a towering landscape of Jerusalem where the hills are covered with houses. There is a similar view of this city where a street ends with heavily barred and locked metallic gate.
This exhibition contains work from more than one project and hence it is not clear whether there is a theme running through it. My interest, as previously stated, is the Israeli landscapes; what the photographer is saying here is unclear but the images are not inviting though neither are they intimidating preferring to show the architecture rather than any signs of violence. This is a different way of looking at the place rather than that preferred by the media who often provide little context for the scenes they show just violent action. Is Struth showing us what The Holy Land, as it is known by Christians, looks like now?
a photograph from the Californian technology series also incorporated in this exhibition

a photograph from the Californian technology series also incorporated in this exhibition

 Amongst these cityscapes, are photographs of small scale industrial interiors. I am unaware of the context here but these highly defined images of metal and other substances are immaculately photographed and one can be drawn into the intricacy of the compositions. There is a seemingly endless array of detail which does not appear to be leading the eye anywhere with the eye finding no place to rest and so continuing to explore the expanse contained within the frame.
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The gallery is impressive, it’s large rooms echoing the huge photographs hung on it’s white walls. The feeling of uncontained space is relaxing although it is of course actually contained since ceilings as well as floors and walls are there. For awhile, I am nevertheless transported unaware that Central London is buzzing around me until the smell of paint reminds of where I am; walking up the staircase I smell the wood from which it is made.
Upstairs, there are more images of Israel, some of which do address the conflict there, that has been going on for literally ages. There is one landscape from the border that shows direct traces of conflict in the foreground presence of some kind of bunker. There is only one room upstairs and one can sit on a chair in the centre and look around at the images on the walls.
The black and white, an interior of a church, catches my eye as the interior suddenly reveals a painting in the background beyond the towering masonry and dimly lit stone walls. The scene is not surprisingly a religious one and pictures three haloed male figures holding on to a haloed body wrapped in cloth that they carry.
Struth holds aloft his book

Struth holds aloft his book at his talk in Waterstones

 Inspecting the photographs more closely does make more information available yet while the eye is encouraged to roam, there is no obvious meaning to these images. They remain hard to define yet are more than mere representations. There may however be some detail that draws the eye such as a minaret that reminds one of the religious ferment dominating this area or a lone leafless tree jutting up from a pond around which rubble lies.
There is a Jewish family, recognisable by the small hats on their heads, sitting on the steps of a house, looking intently at the photographer, some smiling. Struth has done a series of photographs around the family.
One photograph here does reveal destruction as an actual occurrence rather than a brooding presence. The photographer has shot from the interior of a damaged building. One column is bent and beside it is a large angular block of concrete rests partially suspended; column and hanging concrete look precariously balanced. There is graffiti on the walls.
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Many of these images can be examined at length to allow further meanings to emerge and yet they are also there to delight the eye, perhaps not immediately but soon after as the eye is allowed to roam.
Upstairs, there is another dead end street; this looks like it could be the final image just as the other was the first!? The suggestion is of a conflict that has no apparent end.
Could there then be a sequence in this exhibition rather than just a juxtaposition of images? Time to look around with less focus on the individual images. There seems to be no obvious sequence and there is not as Struth tells me in a brief meeting after his talk. The gallery guide, an A4 print out, says nothing about the sequence although it does frame the context of what is essentially two bodies of work being shown together; there are the images from Israel that skirt around the conflict suggestively and the high-tech interiors from different places.
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The essence of this exhibition is however noted in a statement made by Struth; “my exploration was about observing the human drama and what seems to touch me most. In essence, it was about the reading of the signifiers and the pictorial possibilities of the place.” In brief, Struth was eschewing the colossal for the personal and the “challenge of how to condense an epic narrative into a still image “
He also comments on landscape … “You can only look at landscape as a potential location for human experience … a landscape doesn’t need me, you or anybody. It becomes interesting if it can be the ground plan for human experience, projection or desire.”
After seeing the exhibition, I walk down to Piccadily and into Waterstones bookshop for a bite to eat before the talk by Thomas Struth. It is free and we are offered a glass of wine!
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Struth talks slowly, there are gaps in his speech, and what he says is largely initiated by Simon Baker from the Tate; Struth has a neutral approach to his subject and yet his photographs are highly charged.
Struth talks about his experience of photographing in Israel. He did not take a lot of photographs eventually selecting 19 (of which 15 are in the exhibition) from about 50; the photographer Giles Peres worked for much longer in Israel and took many more photographs but is said not to have really found what he was looking for. Another artist who was also invited to Israel to make work was Jeff Wall.
Struth does not smile but looks as though he has a great sense of humour. He talks about his method not just the technical aspect but also the way he plans ahead.
I meet him briefly afterwards when I get a copy of his book signed. He had described the way in which he hung his nearby exhibition; this was done by placing the works in relation to the space they occupied. Nevertheless, I had noticed the possibility of a sequence and so mentioned this to him. He considered it for a moment and said “maybe this was a result of intuition!” and thanked me for bringing it up.
I left feeling that Struth is not really a thinker; he probably does not spend too much time in analysing preferring to express his vision through his art.
The book contains the photographs that were in the exhibition, an amalgamation of two bodies of work; photographs made in Israel and Palestine, part of the “This Place” project that features some of the best photographers in the world as well as another body of work made around places of scientific and technological research in California. These bodies of work do not seem to relate to each other, the Californian images understating the emotive qualities of the Israeli/Palestinian ones; the A4 gallery print out informs the viewer that the Californian technological images “enforce both their reading as two versions of a seemingly indissoluble conflict “.