Don Mc Cullin “Conflict – People – Landscape”

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It is over an hour’s drive from my home to the Hauser and Wirth gallery on the edge of Bruton. This is a branch of an international gallery chain; the impressive buildings are both traditional and modern, the coffee is excellent and so is the restaurant yet how much is photography understood here? A blanket ban on photography in the galleries is more or less to be expected in the milieu of the art world where images have considerable currency.
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The Don Mc Cullin exhibition runs alongside another exhibition in which a couple of noted photographers are being exhibited. One of these is James Ravilious who has a show of woodland images that were commissioned work by Common Ground who are now lending the work. There are also photographs of dew ponds by Jem Southam that are large format prints made on dullish days. The power of these photographs is in their subdued non-invasive nature; images that can be looked at and enjoyed for their own sake. Mc Cullin has also photographed dew ponds but his work is quite different and he presents them with much more added drama.
Mc Cullin’s work is in a separate gallery called the Bourgeois Gallery yet his subject matter is far from bourgeois! Don Mc Cullin is described as a photojournalist and says “For me photography was originally nothing to do with war, it was to do with the beautiful”. It is his war photography for which he is best known.
This is a retrospective exhibition of Don Mc Cullin’s work. He joined the services as a teenager and soon worked in a capacity as a photographer; later he worked for leading newspapers and magazines.
The first image is a photograph of a gang in London, taken at the request of the gang members featured. menacing suited figures stare down from a house under construction.
There is also the iconic image of a shell-shocked soldier which reflects the nature of war on the psyche.
Although Don Mc Cullin is known for his social documentary work he has also made quite a lot of landscape images which I first saw about 20 years ago and which still interest me since they are of the county in which I live but not very representative of that county. His landscapes tend to be printed very dark with high contrast and were made during course of his career. They can be seen as a kind of consolation as a result of being a war photographer, possessing an underlying tension although contemplative and projecting the photographer’s mood. In fact, one might consider the landscapes as being more about him than the place; he is adding an element of drama so that the images have a constructed feel.
Another aspect of the Mc Cullin’s work is the captioning that explains the subject but not the individuals within them; it more about the situation we are faced with in relation to the world of that time.
A prize exhibit is the Nikon camera that took a bullet and so saved Mc Cullin’s life. Fortunately, he lived to present his remarkable body of work to the world.
There has also been an OCA discussion HERE (need to be a registered OCA student to access this!)
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A Handful of Dust: a talk by David Campany @ Waterstones

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I did not make notes during this lecture and the following quote is from David Campany talking about a photograph of dust by Man Ray …

” … I don’t even know if I like it. I know it fascinates me, and fascination doesn’t have much to with likes or dislikes. To be fascinated is to be captivated, compelled, absorbed, beguiled even.”
Campany’s book is reviewed thus …
“a Handful of Dust is David Campany’s speculative history of the last century, and a visual journey through some of its unlikeliest imagery. Let’s suppose the modern era begins in October of 1922. A little French avant-garde journal publishes a photograph of a sheet of glass covered in dust. The photographer is Man Ray, the glass is by Marcel Duchamp. At first they called it a view from an aeroplane. Then they called it Dust Breeding. It’s abstract, it’s realist. It’s an artwork, it’s a document. It’s revolting and compelling. Cameras must be kept away from dust but they find it highly photogenic. At the same time, a little English journal publishes TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” And what if dust is really the key to the intervening years? Why do we dislike it? Is it cosmic? We are stardust, after all. Is it domestic? Inevitable and unruly, dust is the enemy of the modern order, its repressed other, its nemesis. But it has a story to tell from the other side. Campany’s connections range far and wide, from aerial reconnaisance and the American dustbowl to Mussolini’s final car journey and the wars in Iraq. a Handful of Dust will accompany Campany’s exhibition of the same name, curated for Le Bal, Paris (16 October 2015 – 17 January 2016), with works by Man Ray, John Divola, Sophie Ristelhueber, Mona Kuhn, Gerhard Richter, Xavier Ribas, Nick Waplington, Jeff Wall and many others, alongside anonymous press photos, postcards, magazine spreads and movies.
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Campany raises interesting points and his musing on a photograph by Man Ray is no exception. He sees this image as iconic, it was taken in the company of Marcel Duchamp, and Campany talked about the way in which many other images resonate with it. These similar images which come from a variety of sources were shown on the screen and presumably form the content of the book which I have not looked into as I needed to leave before the end of the event. The way images might correspond with each other either by design, compositional approach or similar subject matter is an interesting point to consider. This seems to be the kind of book one might spend a lot of time looking over and in doing so digest some great work. There is also an essay which forms a book within a book and can be detatched; as Campany remarks, ” … It can also be thrown away if you like!” Good to hear an author who does not take himself too seriously and recognises that writing about photography which has now become so highly developed is perhaps not to be taken too literally.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015

I have seen this annual exhibition many times before and know what to expect. Predictable subject matter is perhaps one aspect of what prevents critical appraisal along with an often exaggerated sense of colour and an emphasis on technique. Nevertheless this is a wonderful exhibition and I sensed a change this year perhaps because I did not recognise so many names. To see it in an hour is doable but if one is to read the captions of each photograph, as usual these are backlit transparencies, and possibly work out how it was made by looking at the details of equipment used, means that more than one visit is necessary. Some images are available online.

The arrangement of the exhibition into particular groupings has changed. One of these is now called the People’s Choice which is a collection of 25 images that are projected onto a screen and the viewer is asked to vote for one. This is an impossible task but I did find myself choosing one on an ad hoc basis. The image is of a flock of about half a dozen Fieldfares eating red berries against a background of snow. It was not so much the aesthetics of the image that drew me although they are striking, it was the fact that a short time ago I had seen a couple of Fieldfares, early arrivals, picking at red berries on a tree just by our house. There was however no snow!
Little it seems has been written in the way of critical appreciation of nature photography in general. I wonder why this is? An attempt to raise this question at The Open College of the Arts did not result in any great insights. Nature photography is limited in scope, it comments largely on the objective world with little import given to the subjective. Equipment often plays an important part and this further narrows the scope of nature photography along with the subject matter that although topical is not of interest to everyone although nature programmes on TV do prove very popular.
Are we seeing a rejection of nature photography by the art establishment? Nature and art have often been closely linked. If this is so, it might have more to do with general reservations about the status of photography as art which is not the same as painting although the forms of presentation in framed images is the same.
I found this exhibition enjoyable partly because I am intrigued by the subject matter, everything from evolutionary theories to the behaviour of mating Ruffs. However, what this exhibition does show is a bonding between art and science and that is contemporary.

Alec Soth @ Media Space

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What makes Alec Soth such a highly regarded if not revered photographer? He seems to have mastered the art of the Photobook. When I saw him in Bristol he struck me as a little slick for some reason; my projection perhaps and possibly a reaction to his obvious business acumen which we Brits tend to feel unsure about.
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Yamuna (the friend I attend with) and I agree that the strength of this kind of photography in which captions play a minimal role, is that they allow and encourage the imagination to wander.
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In Broken Manual, the captions are merely numerical metadata, some of which contains the year the image was made. Mention is made in literature displayed in a table case of a man involved in bombing an abortion clinic and a gay night club who lived for 5 years in the Appalachian Mountains while being hunted by the police. Although the photograph above of Charles with model aeroplanes, one of the most famous Soth has produced, is not from the Broken Manual series, it does reflect a tendency by Soth to accept the misfit and give him/her attention and hence understanding.
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Yamuna, entrance to the exhibition and an image from Songbook
In Songbook, the brief captions return, yet what is this part of the exhibition about? Human relationship seems an important aspect of Soth’s work; relationship between the real world and the individual. The key image of this series is a man dancing by himself with his arms open as if cradling another; there is a solitary chair in the background and the emphasis seems to be on loneliness. Images are in black and white.
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There are times when looking at Soth’s work that one might wonder whether he is not being a little cynical in his depiction of people as with the photograph of Charles the toy aeroplane maker or the man dancing alone yet the artist is not asking us to laugh rather we are left to our own response which might just as well be one of compassion towards some of the apparently hapless individuals Soth portrays in settings that resonate with the subject. These people are depicted as fish in rather than out of water.
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One felt welcome on entering the exhibition and seeing the above sign! Both has a realistic idea of the photograph not to be hoarded as a unique image rather one that needs to be circulated.

Decisive Moments @ Fine Art Society, London October 2015

This exhibition of Cartier-Bresson prints is held in New Bond Street at The Fine Art Society; it consists of original prints which presumably means either printed by or under the direction of Cartier-Bresson himself. They range in price from about £12,000 to £24,000. Although the exhibition was only scheduled to run for 3 weeks until the end of October, it is extended by popular demand so that the exhibition runs for over a month until the middle of November. A

Entrance to the Fine Art Society

Entrance to the Fine Art Society

number of portraits of artists have already sold such as the iconic one of Matisse sitting with birds around him and a couple of shots of Giacometti, one of them showing him crossing a street with his coat held up around his head as it is raining.

The exhibition is called Decisive Moments and this title rather underplays Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the Decisive Moment which he saw as underlying photography as a whole since in his work, a photograph was a record of a moment that needed to be caught at exactly the right time. The famous if not iconic photograph of a man walking into a puddle behind the Gare St Lazare in Paris is a classic example of this since the effect might have been lost a fraction of a second before or after Cartier-Bresson made his exposure.
exhibition announcement in shop window of The Fine Arts Society

exhibition announcement in shop window of The Fine Arts Society

Looking around at these wonderfully composed photographs one is struck by the quality of the printing that has caught the light in each image. The play of brightness and contrast brings the formality of the image into life. The tones differ too creating harmonies within the image.
Most of the images here are well known and they cover a wide range of places but Cartier-Bresson is not so much a travel photographer rather someone who is observing life and the humanity that makes it worthwhile. The prints hanging from the wall are clearly carefully made and although they might be described as snap shots, they are minutely observed and not directly the result of happenstance.

Images of Conviction @ The Photographer’s Gallery October 2015

This exhibition that is accompanied by a catalogue which has been shortlisted for an award in Paris, is being held at The Photographer’s Gallery in London (among other places). The relationship between photography and science has interested me of late; this exhibition is more concerned with forensics as well as the power of the photograph to tell the truth.

War From Above

War From Above: the section that shows photographs from the First World War                                                                   that were made for reconnaissance purposes

I arrive early before the crowds and while entry is still free. Reading the catalogue and watching a video in which the curator who is from Le Bal in Paris is quite a good introduction. This exhibition is as much about the unreliability of photographic evidence as the use of photographs in criminal cases and elsewhere as testaments to the truth of what happened. Photographs can tell a story but their ability to prove that story is circumstantial rather than authorative.

There are a number of different presentations within this exhibition, all of which give a different interpretation of the exhibition’s theme which is an interesting examination of the veracity of photography.
Alphonse Bertillon

images from the Alphonse Bertillon collection

The first one that is visible on entry concerns Alphonse Bertillon who laid down ground rules in the early days of forensic photography; there was a certain way to photograph a corpse that involved a camera with a wide-angled lens being held directly above the body and a series of measurements being made. The photographs on show are quite gory, typical of much that follows in this exhibition. Knowing these photographs are not staged but actual records of murder scenes adds a sensational element that the viewer might not enjoy yet possibly be fascinated by.
The next section involves the work of Rodolphe A. Reiss, another pioneer of police photography, who made meticulous photographs of possible evidence such as finger prints. His work reveals precise attention to detail which rather characterises the clock-making Swiss.
images about the Turin Shroud

images about the Turin Shroud

The Turin Shroud is the one exhibit I had heard of. The evidence is impressive particularly in the way a camera has been used to draw out evidence that the eye was not able to perceive. However, it was carbon dating that exposed the religious fakery behind this “miracle” by dating the cloth to about 1,000 years later than Christ who many hoped was the figure depicted.
Images of Conviction from the First World War

Images of Conviction: First World War aerial photographs

War Seen from Above is a series of photographs showing the destruction wrought by Allied bombing during the First World War when such reconnaissance began in 1914,  as well as some more recent examples. At this time, photography was “considered objective, exact and immediate” in regard to military manoeuvres yet the photographs especially those from 1914 seem very difficult to interpret.
The great terror in the USSR consists of projected portrait photos of a few of the over 1 million people who died under Stalin between August 1937 and November 1938. One cannot help but question the authenticity of these photographs yet their impact is unavoidable.
Images of Conviction from Russian Terror section

Images of Conviction: The Great Terror in the USSR section

The Nuremberg Trials are shown in a booth which features movie footage from the time. Another harrowing experience that brings home the horror of the Second World War.
There is quite a lot in this exhibition shown about current problems in the Middle East which includes an attack on Gaza, the persecution of Kurds as well as a drone strike on Pakistan.
Mengele's Skull

Mengele’s Skull: photographic document of reconstruction of face from skeleton

There is an interesting review in Time Out magazine by Ananda Pellerin which states that the exhibition relies a lot on the effect of it’s harrowing nature rather than a conceptual understanding of what is being shown. I am not sure I agree! Certainly the show is harrowing, the film of the Nuremberg Trails is one example as is the exhumed skeleton of the world’s most wanted Nazi criminal Josef Mengele who died of natural causes before he could be brought to justice. However, there is a lot of text to accompany the photographic imagery as well as the catalogue which contains a couple of essays.
What perhaps muffles one’s appreciation of this exhibition is the political import certainly of later work as we are again reminded of what today is so often in the newspapers notably the war against IS and the problems of what was once known as Palestine. While this is all grist to the mill, my interest is to see photography and an examination of the photographic process as well as the way that photography can be used as evidence today, rather than political arguments; this exhibition does that rather well.