Strange but Familiar – a guided tour with David Company and then Mark Power.

David Campany has already seen the exhibition three times! He is accompanied by exhibition co-curator, Alona Pardo.

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What counts as an outsider? Could people from the UK have made such images or do these images exclusively bear the marks of someone from outside? Photographers have a tendency to lurk around places they don’t know!
Martin Parr now seems to be a figurehead of British photography who is interested in the everyday as well as picturing Britain as a place. In his introduction to the catalogue, he comments that these photographers “display their amazement at the strange quirks that make the United Kingdom such a unique country, even now in the days of homogenisation.” Only an Englishman could make such a comment says DC and he refers perhaps to Parr’s obvious delight in the British way of life which he seems so adept in picturing.
Are the UK and Britain the same!? Apparently not.
We ascend the staircase to a place where an arrow points and some text announces “where the exhibition begins!”
The genre of this show is street photography which requires alertness.
 
 
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a leading exponent who coined the term Decisive Moment. A practicing photo-journalist. Made personal work, images for own pleasure. 1939 to 1977 period. Way of seeing, making fascinating images that go beyond formality and leave one wondering. Particular details of interest. Instants! Ambiguity in his approach. Used a viewfinder, no focusing screen. Shift in his attitude over the years?
Photographers are full of tricks, waiting for a particular image to happen rather than responding. Luck!? Not really!
H.C-B wandering around. What kind of insight did he have, for instance into the class system which is evident in other work here?
Choice of photos in the exhibition largely determined by Parr so reflects Parr’s vision!? There was a co-curator, Alona, who is with us during this visit and gives snippets of insight.
What about H.C-B’s photograph of a flag with a photo of the queen and a woman on her doorstep made in 1977. An outsider’s view because such an image a little dated by this time. Remeniscent of Frank’s American flag in The Americans.
The camera is neutral. Does not have an opinion. Not easy to get an impression of the photographer’s point of view; what they are showing does not necessarily reflect what the photographer is thinking. A mistake to make assumptions!
Class structure in H.C-B’s photographs!? Victor Burgin writes about intersection of personal and urban world. Have the photographer’s come to the UK with a preconceived idea that he/she is looking to uphold. Cliche images? Parr comments on this in his introduction by saying that the photographers “photograph cliches and stereotypes” and that “certain cliches are as evident now as hey were fifty years ago”; Parr goes on to defend cliches since “cliches have not become cliches without good reason.”
There is the ethical approach that one needs to spend a long time in a place before one can photograph it properly yet there is also the idea that it can be on the spur of the moment.
Edith Tudor-Hart
Interesting photos relate to where Britain is in the international community of this time.
Robert Frank
 
Many photographers have come into their own when leaving their mother countries! Frank is an example. Frank’s attitude different.
Bill Brandt not in show but an immigrant to the UK. His book The English at Home did not sell and was remaindered likewise Frank’s Americans was first published in Paris. Frank was inspired by Brandt. Frank’s work on Britain did not surface until decades later.
Brandt excluded from this exhibition although an emigrant; he became part of the British canon and hence no longer an outsider. Embraced by Britain and did not leave!
Paul Strand
Modernist, formal approach, socially engaged. Craft, seriousness but his communist politics forgotten. Strand felt his work stood up to anonomous effects of capitalism but one needs to be told that! Survival of rural idyll. Subjects appear to be looking at the viewer but are in fact staring into a camera. Gives one the chance to scrutinise another person who will never see oneself. Viewer and subject are estranged and remain so. Strand photographs people at their best while Frank’s approach more realistic. Strand frames his subjects carefully.
Cas O
 
 
Sergio Larrain from Chile visited London for a few months. Interesting body of work that brought out the best in the photographer. Skewed views, gorgeous presentation with jewel like prints. Larrain discovering London. Not sociological or anthropological as in H.C-B and Strand rather engaged in a different way. Little known at the time but his work resurfaced in the 1990’s; retrospective book now on sale.
Came on a grant from the British Council in the 1958 to 59 winter. Shows a cosmopolitan London as a dynamic place. Avoided stereotypes. Poetry of a surrealist nature!
Hofer
 
Like Hart, did go inside places whereas most photographers did not. Slow observer, setting up a frame and waiting for something to happen in it. Made formal portraits.
Vitrines in exhibition to show way the work of show was used at the time. Books are the most obvious example.
Bruce Davidson
 
By passed by DC !!
Gian Butturini
Interesting bookmaker. Graphic design influenced by Klein. Full bleed with no white borders. Energetic layouts. Poetry from Allen Ginsberg.
Frank H
Gary Winogrand
Inspired by Frank and W.Evans. Decided to shoot in the moment, without thinking of financial reward. Frenetic way of shooting. London work not as good as that made in his home patch in NY. A bit of a fish out of water while in London.
Shinto Ohtake
Interesting body of work with a mass of 175 small prints laid out as a display in a vitrine. A bit like cigarette cards. Formal picture making rather than information gathering. Not necessarily significant. Photographers work without thinking about consequences of what they are doing which happens later. Intuitive approach. Quick notational approach. Everyday experience. Snapshot moments. Diaristic quality. Reminiscent of Stephen Shore and Instagram. Typographical. Array of small prints with only a few blown up and hung on the gallery walls. Collection of 600 prints from which 175 selected. Sophie Call approach. Never been displayed before. Photographer gave freedom for curators to do so.
Concept of the outsider. DC came into his own as a photographer while in London although he lived and was born only 25 miles away in a coastal resort. Still feels like an outsider in London. The city has its own areas that can be very different from each other.
The lower galleries of the exhibition show a different kind of work reflecting a more homogenised London that is no longer so different, a world that is found all around the planet particularly from the 1990’s onwards.
The DC talk finishes and I wander on.
One room contains work by Tina Barney and Rineke Dijkstra. Both are portrait photographers revealing their subjects in great detail by using larger format cameras and printing big.
Raymond Depardon photographs in colour, dark sometimes brooding images, of a fractured Britain. There are no captions so one is not aware of the exact places pictured except that these are all from Glasgow.
Hans van der Meer
These photographs of people playing football in urban locations away from the giant stadiums comment on a side of British life often forgotten by the “beautiful game.” Landscape views with captions and an underlying sense of humour ennobled by these players who are obviously happy with their game. Some of the images make one wonder exactly what is happening at the particular moment the photographer released the shutter.
Bruce Gilden
Has another room full of pictures from his more recent visits. I can not help but chuckle at the graphic ghastliness of these larger than life,many times larger than life images! They are far from flattering though and their grittiness is increased by incredibly sharpness.
Hans Eijkelboom
Is from the Netherlands and described as a conceptual photographer. His images are projected on to a wall of the gallery and reveal certain typologies such as women wearing burkhas, union jacks on T shirts, floral dresses, ties etc The photographs themselves are meaningless yet en masses they are a powerful observation of both the difference and identical that occurr almost simultaneously in contemporary society.
After two hours in this exhibition, I leave but am due to return in a few weeks time with the Open College of the Arts if a place becomes free!
I make a comment on the OCA director’s Facebook page; Fukase’s Ravens was one room, 31 prints in all, and I was there for 2 hours, riveted. I also spent about 2 hours at the Barbican exhibition but these mega-exhibitions tend to leave me feeling a little dissipated. Over 350 photos but what actually holds them together other than fact they were made by non-native Brits in Britain. Campany approached the exhibition which he had already seen 3 times by attempting to understand what is meant by the term “outsider” and concluded that having been born and grown up in a coastal town not very far from London, he feels nevertheless a foreigner in London. Lots of great photography here (Gilden’s giant blow up portraits made me giggle helplessly) which is good to digest but as a whole, I wonder if it had anything to say other than pass comment on the kinds of strategies photographers employ when visiting a strange land. What was it one Shakespearean character said of the Brits … Oh! They are all madmen there! This was not necessarily the subject of the show but possibly an underlying theme!
My second tour is with Mark Power, Magnum photographer, on June 2’nd 2016.

Mark Power is likely to deflate any ideas one might have of photographer as aggressor! He relates an amusing story about this exhibition when he was inside earlier and got apprehended by two members of staff, measuring one of the exhibits! “What are you doing?”

This tour is due to last an hour and a half so perhaps this time we’ll manage to see it all with commentary. Power has only been asked to speak for about 45 minutes possibly 60 minutes!
Both known and not so well known photographers have worked in Britain. Sensation of a new country yet need to go beyond these initial impressions. Local photographers tend to focus on particular subjects rather than the country overall. Power photographed as an outsider in Poland and feels he brought a new insight to the country rather than pandering to cliches which in the UK might include bowler hats and milk bottle tops.
Why do photographers focus on cathedrals, sunsets etc which never change but it is surely more valid to focus on what is changing such as the high street. However, cliches change over the years so these kind of observations are still valid. Good to see a Britain that is no longer the same yet still part of living memory.
Edith Tudor-Hart oldest work on show from 1930’s; she was actually a Communist and probably a spy! Worked for Lilliput magazine. Using photography to show struggle of working classes. Austrian-Jewish. Her husband was a surgeon with whom she split after he returned from fighting in The Spanish Civil War.
Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of the coronation of George 6’th in 1937. Effortlessly well composed, beautifully done and adept also at catching people unawares. Some of his candids are not dissimilar to those of Parr.
Parr and Cartier-Bresson had a mutual respect for each other realised before the latter died since H.C-B at first rejected Parr strenuously.
Frank did not really interact with his subjects in London yet felt an affinity with the miners who he also photographed.
Paul Strand, leftish leaning, formalist of Modernist persuasion. Photographed French countryside then the Outer Hebrides titled “Men of bending grass”(in Galicia). Deceptively simple yet complex images. Slow working with camera on a tripod. Structured photographs that would have taken time to make.
Sometimes easier as a photographer to approach others when a foreigner.
Photobooks are also an important part of this exhibition such as one about Eton school by Moholy-Nagy.
Cars Oorthuys, a Dutchman, who made a few books about Britain. Not exciting but detailed records. Mostly commissioned work as is the case with work on the upper floor here.
Sergio Larrain, Power’s favourite and probably mine too! Exquisite body of work which gives an insightful view of Britain at this time between 1958-9. Larrain helped by Parr to have his work shown many years later. Consistency is one quality! Short photographic career becoming a painter afterwards. Monograph published of his work a few years ago.
Evelyn Hofer, an American emigre, formal portraiture made with larger format cameras usually tripod mounted. Welsh valleys, a subject that crops up again and again, a landscape that gas now dissappeared.
Bruce Davidson, also Magnum, worked for The Queen magazine, who gave him a two years carte-Blanche. Later turned to colour when he returned to the UK; Kodakchrome 64 had greater descriptive powers but a slow working film.
When were the prints in this exhibition made!? We are not informed but it seems most are contemporary digital prints.
Gian Butturini whose books are also on show. Photographs sit well in books!
Frank Habicht photographs of people outside. Young permissive London.
Garry Winogrand visited at the hight of his career following a MOMA exhibition. For Power, these tend to be a big hit and miss. Comic element to some pictures such as bagpipe player in the toilets.
Candida Hofer of the Dussledorf School started by the Bechers who grouped similar photographs together. Interested in interiors! Visited during 1965 in Liverpool. Lot of images here made outside with a sense of detachment, subjects not interacted with.
Captions placed to side of photographs means text need not interfere with our perception of photographs on show.
Gilles Peress, mythical approach. Visited Ireland consistently but guarded about this work and there is a lack of captioning here. Sense of being lost in a place! Not newspaper images or even marketable; not easy to understand the sequencing which is intentional. Book due out next year! What is going on here?
Akihiko Okamura, a Japanese visitor, who had previously worked in Vietnam as a war photographer.
Downstairs to another Japanese photographer, Shinro Ohtake, who visited Britain in 1977, the time of punk. Now a well known Japanese artist. Made scrapbooks. Knew no English or anyone in the UK. Not a trained photographer, a more obsessive approach but work is visually based, understanding the world through the camera. Photographing signs he can not read. UK77 was the book published later on in 2004. Mishmash of images, a manic body of work!
Jim Dow, vernacular approach to the work. Large format giving incredible detail which assumes greater significance as time moves on.
Work downstairs is not so much about roaming and chance encounters as upstairs; it is more considered, about ideas!
Axel Hutte, another from the Dussledorf School.,modernist housing blocks. Returning to places until the light is right, right meaning something flat so that all is revealed evenly. Wonderful sense of form!
Rineke Dijkstra photographing young women between childhood and adulthood. Vulnerable look! Trying to communicate but her subjects look a little insecure. Like Barney using large format.
Tina Barney’s work part of a larger body of work concerning Europeans. From a rich American family who she has photographed in an apparently spontaneous manner while in fact they are set up and staged. Sense of hierarchy in her pictures from Britain.
Raymond Depardon’s work was made on assignment but never published because too tough. Cities with a bad name like Glasgow. Depardon did not follow the brief but made a remarkable body of work using Kodakchrome 64 for effect. Why was one of these images chosen for the cover of the book and posters? Power does not know!
Hans Van Der Meer photographs of amateur football matches taken from a fixed view that includes the landscape. Revealing of the U.K.?
Bruce Gilden shocking? Another Magnum member, working for Multi Story in the Black Country. Uses a medium format digital camera with flashlight! Landscape of the face!? Enlarged and sharpened to the maximum without artefacts such processing can cause. Gilden has an affinity with people. Technically brilliant!
Hans Eijkelboom, the final room, another Dutch photographer also Magnum also part of Black Country project. A sociological approach! Not proper photographs? Conceptual photography questioning the construction of the self! From 2014 in Birmingham; originally a book now a film installation. Positioned himself in a spot for two hours a day, he made the exposures surreptitiously. Reveals contemporary typologies!
A Parr curated show. Very much in evidence in last two bodies of work!
I did not manage to get a place on the OCA tour but their account is worth reading while there are links to other sites.
A link to the BJP review of this exhibition
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Karasu: The solitude of Ravens; photographs by Masahisa Fukase

On my way to see this exhibition at The Michael Hoppen Gallery in Chelsea, London, I decide to do a little research. My interest is the subject, birds, and the way the author represents them through the medium of photography; it seems likely that the Ravens have become symbols of something else, a fractured part of the photographer’s psyche perhaps or possibly something more transcendent.

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The book was first published in 1986. It made Fukase famous and recognised as an artist. The picture series started in 1976 and was made during an era in which he separated from his first wife and married his second; this suggests that the Ravens might well be a reflection of an inner process Fukase was undergoing. Fukase said that the work might be “his own revenge play against life” and this was the enjoyable part of the work during which he became a Raven! Technically the photographs were not easy to make owing to the fast movement of the birds and the constantly changing exposures required as well as low light levels.
In 2010, the book was voted the best Photobook from 1986-2009 by a panel of 5 experts organised by The British Journal of Photography. Copies of the book second hand start at about £500 so one is only likely to see them in an exhibition which is of course the best place to see photographs as the printing is the work of the photographer rather than a publisher.
My train in the end is about 3 hours late arriving in London. Fortunately, the Circle Line is running and I make my way to Sloane Square from where I walk down the King’s Road to Jubilee Place. The Michael Hoppen Gallery is only a few paces from the main road. I ring and there is a buzz which allows me to enter. Ravens? Yes, the exhibition is on the first floor.
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At the top of the stairs, I am met by three framed prints, all black and white images. The photographer’s name Masahisa Fukase is printed in large black capital letters on the wall. Like all the 31 framed black and white images in this exhibition, there are no captions or any indication of which way round they might be read. With Japanese language running from left to right on the page, it is anyone’s guess as to the intended order which might or might not be the same as that in the book.
What I like about Japanese art photography is the imaginary quality. The view is fixed owing to the technicalities of the camera yet here it is made with an abstract sense of perspective. The imagery not all of Ravens clearly resonates with the human spirit. For instance, there is one image of factory chimneys spouting smoke with no Raven in sight; another shows a close up of a cat in the snow, another appears to show a snow storm in which a group of trees loom in the background. Another image shows what might be an explosion with dislodged objects flying through the air assuming a variety of forms not unlike the shadowy shapes of the Ravens in other images. One image shows a close up of a plane flying overhead, a dark shadow from which a patch of light glimmers; another image shows an obese reclining nude; people walk down a road … yet most of the images in this exhibition do contain photographs of Ravens!
Initially, the ornithologist within wants to make sure these are Ravens and not starlings, a bird that flocks communally and is much more common in the UK than the Raven although roosts of Ravens do occur. They might of course be Jackdaws, a bird that has similar features but a slaty grey eye rather than the darker one of the Raven. Technically, none of these images are clear enough to show any real detail such as that of feathers or eye colour and this, for many, might make this series of images uninteresting and too amateurish to be worth looking at for long. However, these images are not made as detailed studies of a particular species that can be studied as scientific objects rather they are commentaries. Obviously, they would not do well in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition even if entered into the black and white category unless there was someone there with a truly enlightened outlook. In fact, to enter a photograph into this competition, it needs to be taken not more than 5 years ago and these are from about 50 years ago.
I chat with someone from the gallery. These photographs are original prints made by the artist that the Michael Hoppen Gallery acquired from the estate of the artist; the gallery represents the photographer and loaned the photographs from other bodies of work presently showing in Tate Modern. The selection of prints on show here are only some of the ones seen in the book yet there are also other images that were not in the book.
Another gallery employee informs me that the order of the prints was chosen by their owner, Michael Hoppen. The order in the book was actually made by a friend of the photographer so this curatorial influence is not out of place. With the photographer dead, it is simply not possible to construct something that is a direct result of his vision.
While professional bird photography demands perfectly exposed subjects in which one can see the feathers with razor sharp detail, there is something relaxing in seeing imagery free of these restrictions. One cannot deny this is nature photography simply because it does not live up to certain conventions expected from those who see the photograph as a valuable document aided by a certain amount of compositional artifice for effect. A nature photograph can be much more than this if only by referencing the jizz of a bird, jizz being a term that refers to the initial impression a species of bird might make on one when only being allowed a momentary glimpse. This kind of imaging tends to be completely ignored by books about birds even though it is part of the ornithological enquiry.
What makes Fukase’s images intriguing is their impressionistic approach. The first image, if one can consider it that as it is the first one to be passed, shows some detail; back feathers including primaries and secondaries, the shape and nature of the beak, the way the bird stands, one is even seen flying with drooped wings at the top left hand corner of the image while others stand and crouch in a variety of poses … the second image shows the birds flying as a flock, again with a variety of wing movements while a few are still perched, hanging nimbly on to the tops of plants. In the third image that suggests night, the birds fly overhead as a flock, a light illuminating them from below; here light reflected from under their wings suggests different colourations which are unreal and yet this is more or less how one would see them at night under a street lamp.
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I could discuss each different photograph of the birds but that might encourage pedantry. One image worthy of note is what might be a dead Raven in a landscape covered by snow which is placed above the image of the obese reclining nude who is possibly one of Fukase’s wives though I later learn that it is possibly a masseuse he visited. Separated only by one photograph of a blurred landscape, is another image of this dead bird only this time it is the main object of interest, a close up in which there is no landscape other than the surrounding snow; above this is the cat close up, the cat being the natural enemy of all birds. Death is present here in this small extracted collection yet there is no direct comment, no caption to entrap one with it’s ideology! Also present is the naked woman …
There follow four images with no Ravens until one reaches another couple. Again, the Ravens are seen as a flock.
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photos of Ravens on wires with a portrait of the photographer-artist at far right

At the end of the gallery, there is triptych of prints in which the birds are silhouetted along with the wires they perch on. There is an element of humour here, of relationships being struck, of tension in those relationships as birds caw with beaks agape or silently share their presence. To the right is a photograph of the photographer, it’s’ smaller size suggesting that it is not part of the exhibition merely a reference point. To the left are a couple of postcards which can be purchased.
The next part of the wall is a mid-tone grey which I personally find a more pleasing background for these black and white images.
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The first is a full frame image of a flying bird not only blurred but grainy, the abstract quality given a tangible feel. There follows an image that looks like it might have been taken at night though it may just be under-exposed yet the effect is of birds seen at dawn or dusk; a small piece of the negative is visible in which the holes for winding the film on can be seen.
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An important image, it has been made into a postcard printed darker with a colder tone, is a silhouette of a bird that has one claw held up as if pressing against a window pane through which it looks out.
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Perhaps my favourite image, someone at the gallery I chat to also likes it, is of a flock of Ravens roosting in a tree, taken at night. One knows this is a night image because the flash has reflected in their eyes producing a myriad of white dots that stare inquisitively back at the viewer. One can see the tree with its’ detail of branch and twig yet the birds are little more than blobs and might be taken as insects of some kind if one was not now familiar with the nature of the imagery.
There are 21 photographs of Ravens and they do show different aspects of the bird, different behaviours and so in fact form an interesting record of the bird. Yet this is not what the exhibition is really about, there is an underlying theme which is not easy to define in words. Impossible perhaps hence the need for the symbolic power of images.
Another image that has been made into a postcard shows three people, only their heads feature, standing by the sea and looking out towards the horizon onto which the sun is reflected. This suggests a personal message, of an experience being lived and communicated. Loss and finding of love, the children affected …
The penultimate image in my anti-clockwise tour, does not actually show Ravens but only markings presumably made in the snow by Ravens, a comment perhaps on the nature of photographs which do not actually convey the scenes they reveal but are composed of an elaborate system of markings on a flat surface.
I spend almost two hours in this one room, surrounded by Fukase’s black and white photographs. Each print is different owing to size and manner of making with some having been toned or printed on different kinds of paper although all have black frames with white mounts. Am not sure I know what the work is about yet I am left with a feeling for what it conveys and as a book of bird photographs, it wordlessly communicates something both real and stimulating.
The book by Fukase is mentioned in volume one of Parr and Badger’s History of the Photobook Volume 1, page 306, where it merits 3/4 of a page. The authors see the Raven as an ill omen end bird which apparently is the view in Japan also. I tend to see the Raven as an intelligent Corvid and although menacing in nature not a harbinger of the bad. There is something almost human in the antics of this bird with its’ raucous call and this tends to colour my reading of these images as a commentary not so much on a negative aspect of life rather it’s transcendent quality.
Parr and Badger suggest the work might be “a bitter indictment of the industrialised country, dehumanised and picked over by the natural scavengers of capitalism, the skies heavy with pollution” yet it is also “as vivid a picture of personal depression as has been depicted in photography.
Parr and Badger describe the book as “perhaps one of the most romantic of Photobooks” which works on “many levels – graphically, descriptively, technically, metaphorically“.