A photographer at the Hay Festival 2016

“The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” Laszlo Moholy-Nagy


an avid reader

A two hour drive in the early morning through misty landscapes and roads largely devoid of the cars that later on in the day will be infesting them as it is the Bank Holiday at the end of May and a Saturday which is change-over day resulting in people going on holiday and coming back from holiday not always in opposite directions. However, the mayhem does not start till later and I find myself reaching Hay on Wye in the time suggested by my Sat Nav in spite of a wait at the toll bridge.


the 60’s comes to Hay !?

I call my friends who are camping here but there phone is not switched on as yet. Finding the appropriate camp site is not difficult since I have been texted their exact location.

Moray, a friend, brewing up in the campsite

Julie is out and about as I approach and Moray is sitting up inside over a brew with toast in the cooker’s grill. We chat awhile over breakfast about the Hay Festival. The folk musician Danny Thompson comes up for discussion following a concert the previous evening of Appalachian folk music. Moray is surprised that Thompson emigrated to the United States and so am I but reflect that this might have been a result of the ingrained attitude in the United Kingdom towards, well life in general at times! America is much more liberal towards the arts as a whole and I expect Thompson ironically found more support for his folk music across the pond.

bus stop outside the festival

I mention this because as I walk into the site, an official accosts me. Perhaps he saw me taking a photograph of the bus stop outside where people were queuing up or maybe he just noticed the camera, a small one hardly bigger than a phone, strung around my neck. Of course, I am used to being challenged as a photographer but am still surprised to be told that no photography is allowed on site and that if I am seen with a camera, I might be asked to leave since cameras are not actually allowed on site unless one has permission.

entrance to the festival

After burying the camera in my bag, I enter the site and seeing the media centre, decide to enquire further about photographing here. Although I am with a group of students for whom I would like to provide photographs for our blog, permission can not be given. They can however send me a link from where photographs can be downloaded; they also inform me that contrary to the official who challenged me on entry, photography of the general site is permitted subject to the usual restrictions such as not including children.

The food hall

I can’t help reflect a little upon this. The attitude of the Press Office would be understandable if they had sent the link to where photographs can be downloaded (later I find it on the Hay Festival website) as they said they would but they don’t; the official seems to reflect the popular misconception of photography as a form of aggression. Photographs can appear to be devoid of imagination yet they are also objects to be read though in a different way to the books that are the lifeblood of this festival. Someone in the cafe where I write this shows me a Guardian headline discussing literary festivals.
Last night I was photographing an exhibition on the request of the painter. I found myself met with a blinkered response. Painters tend to see photography as a particular kind of representation they do not see that it might also have depth, a depth similar to that found in a painting, to that which can be read in a book. However, the public are largely uneducated in regard to photography and do not see the implications inherent within it. Painting continues to largely dominate the arts yet, of course, it is photography we see everyday and almost everywhere, not paintings.

tutor Nina and her son

There is a convivial attitude at the festival. The need to share a table while drinking one’s beverage does not incur any hostility rather friendliness. At the beginning of the talk, a sign flashed up to say that photography is forbidden during the events which helps to clarify the situation; I also hear that to photograph briefly at the beginning of a talk is also acceptable. This makes sense.
The first talk I attend is about the artist Velasquez. I can not help but be struck by the author talking as if the characters in one painting must have existed because Velasquez painted them. He was however, not a photographer and his mode of representation can not be as realistic as the photograph is even though there is a remarkable realism in his work. His faces are lifelike in a remarkable way yet this surely contains a fictional element unlike that of the photograph.

outside the festival toilets

My next talk is about 1606, the year Shakespeare wrote King Lear among other plays. The book being aired here is about the relationship between the politics of the time and the matter of the plays Shakespeare wrote. Afterwards, I see the actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the crowd, leaving; he has recently been acting in a series of Shakespeare’s history plays in the BBC film, The Hollow Crown, in which he played Richard II. Am starting to get a feel for the festival.
My final talk is the Russian Nobel prize winning author, Svetlana ???, who is interviewed by BBC Russian correspondent . A riveting talk.

Nina Milton, authoress, creative writing tutor with the OCA

I meet and chat with OCA tutor and author, Nina Milton, and another student called Pat;The Open College of the Arts account of the visit is HERE Before leaving, there is dinner with my friends to be enjoyed.


goodbye to my friends after a pleasant dinner

Yes, I would come again.

other diners in the camping area

Photo London 22.05.2016

04-20160522-Somerset House-3233

Somerset House flying a Photo London flag

A cuppa at the Real Food cafe before the first talk.

04-20160522-Real Food cafe-3169


Ewing who was responsible for series of lectures

The chat is with a dance photographer of many years standing who has worked at Sadler Wells among many other places. Lois Greenfield has had three books published. “Breaking Bounds” pictures from the optical unconscious! Or King within the square using Hassleblad. No auto focus! Perfect framing. Looking for the miracle moment. “Moving Still” making an art form. No longer concerned with gravity. Using mirrors meant off screen space involved. Curating and sequencing work! Co-created work. Studio based; wants to understand the dancer before making pictures of them. Gesture and expression not just position of the body. Photoshop, the P word, is not part of her work!! No compositing. “Airborne” another body of work. Looking for relationships between forms. Deciding to shoot before or after the peak moment rather than at what might be the optimum moment. Instability appearing as stable! Speed a technical issue; Lois uses strobes to get enough lighting! The chat ends with notification of a book signing!
04-20160522-Greenfield plus interviewer-3165
I do not really want a copy of the book or to meet the photographer but there is another book signing going on at the Atlas Gallery. Officially, it is over and the photographer, Nick Brandt, is no longer doing dedications so I just pick up a copy, shrink wrapped, which has been signed. The exhibition of which I do not buy the book, is a series of poignant large photographs, which show areas of wasteland in which large photographs have been placed ( a series of photographs on show reveal how this was done; Photoshop was not used). The fact that areas in which these creatures once roamed ( elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, lions etc) are now scenes of urban decay is a chilling one; a comment on the mad rush of contemporary civilisation in which progress is proving destructive. The photographs seem a little lower in contrast which is a good alternative to the high contrast imagery that tends to dominate much photography. This work is another example of nature photography in Photo London!
I go back to Damiani books to purchase a copy of Diorama by Hiroshi Sugimoto; I have other work by him but since I saw this exhibition I am interested in buying a copy. The book is expertly printed. I remind the publisher that he had offered it to me for €60 and he seems surprised; the cost is €100 but being offered for €80 during the show. He agrees to sell it to me for €60 though; it is the last copy but the end of the event and since he had offered it to me for €60 … !!

my version of an M.Parr meal

Lunch at the Real Food cafe; veggie pies sold out so try a Tortila that looks incredibly unappetising under it’s plastic seal with blue cutlery attached. In spite of the banality, Real Food has been a highlight of Photo London for me.
04-20160522-forest 1-3178
Sandra Kantanen has a photo called forest 4 which has a dreamy look.
04-20160522-forest 2-3179
Awoiska Van Der Mollen black and white forest growth
There is something truly poetic about Kertesz’s imagery which is further emphasised by his black and white prints.
Gregory Scott Van Gogh’s bedroom
Humour, video and photography
04-20160522-%22Loose Women%22 talking-3224

“Loose Women”: discussion among women photographers

The last talk I attend is by women who are in photography! I also meet up with a fellow female photographer, Dimple Agrawal.
04-20160522-Dimple TInotype-3191

Dimple in front of a tintype

04-20160522-over river-3240

view from the Terrace

Photo London 21.05.2016

04-20160521-after meditation chat-3040
After a meeting with friends in Queens Wood Highgate for an hour of silent meditation and an hour of chat over breakfast, I make my way down to the Embankment and walk along to Somerset House, a different approach to the previous days. After making my way to the TOURS desk, I wait to be served but the small group of women talking amongst themselves clearly have no time for me. Should I interrupt? Instead I go and deposit my bag and return when there is now an extra woman who is prepared to talk to me. Where is my ticket? I was just sent a letter asking me to report to this desk before the tour starts! After hesitation, I am told to wait.
Jean Wainwright is the tour guide; she is an academic at UCA which is affiliated to the OCA through whom I study. This lead me to book her tour
Different kinds of printing on show! The most sophisticated printing is called pigment printing which does not use ink … or so she thinks! Wainwright is wrong on a number of points such as claiming at one point that the Manx photographer Chris Killip is dead! I am made aware that there is a lot of hype around this show.
Jim Campbell shows an image that is both still image and video.
Aerial photo of scars in landscape. (Burtynsky)
Jimmy Nelson of people in wild landscape.
“Photography is sculptural”
My notes of her informative chatter follow.
Robert Morat real life designs looking at different angles in room then projecting light on them. Like Cubist abstracts!
A5 Purdy Hicks
Tessa Traegar started making food portraits of food for Vogue. Very much an analogue worker! Photographed people but found glass negatives in a shop; decided to make prints from these “ghostly” originals even though some are damaged.
Fragility of nature, black and white prints made using medium format camera.
Pinhole camera techniques. Tom Hunter has used them for their special effects. Time and duration.
Betting Von Zwehl’s images of children in classic style. Preciousness of image!
Edgar Martin’s imaginative images.
B8 Micheal Hoppen
Stitched images to give impression of city.
Has collected Hungarian photography e.g. Brassai City life vignettes mostly Paris
Photographs that have been painted on.
Pieter Hugo weaves stories!
Staged photos of Caballero; mini movies in stills! Adds text bubbles.
Kafka and Chena Madoz insects.
B1 James Hyman Estate
Andy Warhol dodging McArthy administration.
Sam Haskins took portraits of stars. About selling the stars.
Andre Kertesz
John Blakemore nature studies (Wainwright calls him Blackmoor!)
Other archival works
Chris Killip, important photographer, now dead (according to Wainwright but the net does not agree!), from Tyneside; North very poor with docks closed yet people still living there.
Tom Wood; similarities with Martin Parr who visited later. Both photographed around New Brighton also in colour which was new at the time.
Graham Smith photographing gay scene that was emerging from the shadows.
B3 Catherine Edelman
Sandro Miller making rephotography like iconic photographs of photography. Humourous and clever!
Video and still combination.
Damien Hirst commentary.
Kilc hi Asano
Portraits of street people who were paid for sitting
B5 Nailya Alexander
A.Titarenko Moving crowds in city also Studies of city with soft colourations and low contrast
B6 Holden Lutz Gallery
David Yarrow elephants in black and white. Pigment print with excellent reproduction.
Egglestone’s colour work hangs by a Martin Parr. Did not make a lot of photographs but early colour worker. Interested in Bauhaus aesthetic.
Bruce Davidson documentary images. Humour in the moment. Are the nannies not responding to the camera!?
John Baldessari work sold.
Picture of shoes in light by Brian Griffin.
 Todd Papergeorge installation of photographs
Larry Clarke, precursor of Nan Goldin.
Photos from Japanese sewers
1885 Unknown photographer, cameraless
Claudet Daguerrotype
Jungian Lee painterly prints
Antonine Dugata blurry colour nudes
C11 Caroline Smulders
Gerard Malanga, a Factory insider working for Warhol
Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe also Patti Smith also Andy Warhol and William Burroughs with rifle in NYC
Vibrancy of the scene
Portraits of old analogue studios
Juanito Fontanive
Man Ray
Stephen Wilkes
Steve MacCurry
Stephen Gill who buries negatives later printing them. Time and Nature.
Thierry Cohen
About not seeing the stars anymore because of light pollution. Impressive black and white prints with starry starry nights!
Susan Derges
Guided tour ends! A romp that leaves me feeling exhausted yet much better informed.
Ed Burtynsky chat with David Campany; he has recently done a retrospective book with Ewing which will be shown in the autumn ( at Flowers Gallery.) Ed has done a lot of books but also exhibits prints in galleries. 15 minutes for 45 minute show! Changing landscapes such as rail cut about transport system slicing through landscape. Mines are further cuts in the landscape. Representing scale of human enterprise.
B’s work a world of images. Trying to make the superlative image!? Persistence of image making with little horizon. Elevation helps open up subject of imagery. Imagery can be understood in different ways, no particular response required. Not offering moral response. National Geographic aesthetic not his approach. Human agency! Photographs about humanity by stepping outside. Images point towards acceleration of population growth.
Anthropocene, a new word, a new era of human history concerned with approaching extinction. Burtynsky now interested in this such as large ivory burn, about 150 million dollars worth. Ivory trade driving elephant to brink of extinction. Doing 3D printing. Uses Internet for research particularly Googlearth also drones. Has a website for deseminating his message.
Meet a fellow OCA student who is now doing an M.A. after finishing his B.A. which he will be awarded in a ceremony in London next month; we last met two years ago at The Photobook week-end in Bristol. There is also another student, a female, who I met last month at the Performing for the Camera exhibition.
Wander through the hallowed ground of the DonMcCullin exhibition. My third attempt to be admitted and this time I am in. The black and white photographs are printed large and the lighting in the gallery is low. McCullin is not the master photographer of Photo London for nothing, his remarkable record of events from peace and war is well composed and flawlessly printed. I am struck but not attracted to the photographs of human conflict rather it is still the image of sheep being herded along the Caledonian Road in 1965 that attracts me; in fact, they are being driven to the abbatoir but the picture does not tell us that rather it is a reminder of how much London has changed in my lifetime as now the Caledonian Road is a busy thoroughfare that a human being might have difficulty crossing.
See the Webbs in The Leica Gallery; they seem to remember me from their workshop in London a few years ago. Meet a buyer from China called Frank who has also bought a book; he is an interesting guy and amusing.
04-20160521-Ricketts and -3107
Attend talk with female nature art photographers; Hannah Starkey and Sophie Ricketts (both Sophie speaks in general about her work. After awhile, her work becomes something other!
Hannah talks about experience of being a woman in photography (more tomorrow)!
How much can a photograph say?
I go for a cuppa at the Real Food cafe which is just closing and is out of veggie pies.
Contemporary nature photography is something of personal interest and I decide to scour the galleries in search of it! The first image I want to see though is one from this morning’s talk and of a herd of elephants.
On the way there, I pass by Purdy Hicks and see a couple of 78 by 61 cm blow ups of colourful Finches by Leila Jeffreys; these are “fine art inkjet prints” from 2015 and reveal feather detail to the point where it appears patterned.
I am also struck by Awoiska Van Der Molen’s black and white prints of nature printed at 120 by 100 cm.
04-20160521-elephant photo-3136
I find the elephant photo in the Holden Luntz Gallery which is based in Palm Beach. Called The Circle of Life it shows a herd of elephants in Kenya and is 56 by 96 inches having been printed in 2015. It is one of 12 prints and was made by David Yarrow. There is a book called Encounter that sits on the floor below the artwork. The suggestion by the tour guide that this is a chemically produced black and white print made with a large format camera struck me as unlikely because of the capture; elephants don’t hang around for a photographer with a tripod, a ground glass which shows the image upside down and needs a cloth draped over so one can see it. I suspect a medium format camera was used and there is a photograph of the photographer crawling over the ground in front of the herd but one can not see what camera he has in hand. The photograph has sold for £30,000!
One criticism might be that the image is too sharp, one would not in nature normally see such detail yet for some this is probably it’s selling point.
Ysabel Lemay in The Poets, 2015 has fashioned a piece showing two Common Starlings surrounded by flowers. Although photographic, this has been obviously photoshopped.

Photo London 20.05.2016

04-20160520-Photo London signage-2973

The third day! I wish this event was a bit more enjoyable although I did laugh helplessly at Erik Kessels photographic slide presentation yesterday while the Real Food restaurant provides support of various kinds … a place to sit down, a warm cuppa etc I think I am missing out on what is going on, acting more like a journalist than a photographer.

04-20160520-Real Food restaurant-2975
Arrive early and see fellow OCA student, Vicki Loader. We chat for awhile but while waiting for the tea to brew, I need to leave as I have booked another talk.
Olga Sviblova who is a giant among photographic curators; from Multimedia Art Museum ( as it is called) in Moscow. She has rescued much Russian photography from rubbish dumps!
I find her talk quite inspiring because she seems to have worked selflessly for photography and that is not the undertone of Photo London. Her talk is forced to end early as people are queuing up for Alec Soth who is booked out (Ewing the curator of the over 30 talks taking place says this is not actually the case and that there are always places free as not all the invited VIPs show up). She meets and greets a few people outside afterwards and I thank her for her talk which I consider the best so far; I grow tired of adverts and she is just talking about photography out of a love for it. Disappointing that she could be interviewed as this might have been very interesting. There is a book of Russian Photobooks up for an award and I wonder if she has anything to do with that.
I leave to visit the Painting with Light exhibition and although I am due to return for the Robert Misrach talk, I do not make it back. Not really enough time and I want to do the Painting with Light exhibition in depth which I have blogged about here.
An expensive day at Photo London. Almost £50 for about an hour and a half and one talk that started late and was ended abruptly!

Painting with Light; Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the modern age @ Tate Britain 20/05/2016

04-20160520-London Eye-2996

The London Eye

I walk along the Thames from Somerset House to Tate Britain which takes over half an hour; one is forced to make something of a diversion around the Houses of Parliament which directly border the Thames.

04-20160520-Houses of Westminster-2999

Houses of Parliament

04-20160520-monument near Houses of Westminster-3003

monument near Houses of Parliament

I buy the catalogue on the way in but have little time to see it before going into the exhibition. Jonathan (our mothers were life long friends) is where we arranged to meet near the ticket desk and we go for lunch. We do not discuss the exhibition beforehand; he has read some reviews, I have not even got that far yet there is something to be said for seeing an exhibition blind rather than with a mind conditioned by reviewers who often have to satisfy the preconceptions of their readers. One reviewer talks about the impact of photography on painting yet the intriguing message of this exhibition seems to be that photography and painting nurtured each other. For the practitioners, they were understood as two different mediums which existed coindependently rather than engaged in business rivalry although there is mention of copyright issues.
04-20160520-Tate Britain poster for exhibition-3013
We spend over two hours walking around this exhibition and I am not even making notes merely chatting with Jonathan. He finds some of my insights helpful such as pointing out the use of more than one negative to make a photograph as in Gustave Le Gray’s seascapes. I find his asides relevant such as his feelings towards the artist Watts whose work he has seen en masse elsewhere.
It is interesting to note the way the two mediums interact with each other. Painters employ photography to make records of scenes they can finish painting later while photographers themselves are inspired by painting to make similar looking photographs. Although this exhibition ends with the dawn of Modernism in the early twentieth century (others see Modernism as beginning much earlier with the Pre-Raphaelites being cited as early Modernists), a similar dialogue continues today.
One surprise is a photograph made by John Ruskin. His is not a name I associate with photography although obviously he can not have been blind to what was then a new and emerging medium although it was generally regarded as a method of recording rather than an art. Photography was another mechanical invention in an age characterised by many yet during the latter part of the nineteenth century it was started to be seen as something more than this with the rise of Pictorialism of which Henry Peach Robinson, featured in the show, was a major exponent.
04-20160520-Jonathan in Tate Britain-3005

Jonathan waiting patiently for me; I am on time!

I do not make notes during my visit with Jonathan as I am returning later as part of a guided tour with the curator. The critique seems to be that this exhibition is too academic and not visual enough. Photography is a visual medium yet more and more, photographs are being read as cultural objects rather than being seen as visual marvels; this is presumably because there are just too many photographs out there and many are being imposed upon us notably in advertising.
Curator Carol Jacobi worked with an expert in nineteenth century photography! This exhibition is about the conversation between photography and painting.
Celebrating early painter-photographer relationship, Hill and Adamson. There is a painting and engraving of Edinborough by Turner from the top of Calton Hill as well as Hill and Adamson’s photography made in similar vein. Hill also painted this view.
Small, miniature painting by Hill of city from elevated position following deaths of Adamson and his daughter in childbirth. It is called In Memoriam!
The Disruption portrait is a huge painting of a convention that took place when there was a schism in the Scottish church. Every individual was photographed for Hill to paint at a later date; some of the photographic studies are also on show alongside the painting which has not been out of Scotland for over 100 years.
6 of the photographers in this exhibition are women; it seems to have been an acceptable occupation for them!
Daguerrotypes are also on show; they face each other!
Photography has a direct relationship to what is in front of the camera. Idea of truthfulness in art assumed greater importance. Photography aided the development of photography.
Ruskin’s albumen print is from Northern France. His photographs were used by his students to make copies. Detail in this image of ivy over medieval carving. His Perennial Cornflower is a wonderful study using pencil and brown ink while his Dandelion Seeds is actually a photoglyphic engraving.
Use of photographs as preparatory studies. Views of Jerusalem. Photographs might take a few hours to make but paintings took days. The photograph became aide memoires! Photography became a useful form of communication which is one of the reasons for it’s rapid growth.
Important essay now online is P.G.Hamerton “The relationship between Photography and Art” from his book, Thoughts on Art. For instance, deals with the problems of painting with white as it always off white of some kind is one subject discussed.
FG Stephens in 1850 from The a Germ; “Truth in every particular ought to be the aim of the artist .”
04-20160520-Inside Tate Britain, outside exhibition-3016
Sometimes not easy to distinguish between a painting and a photograph; curators have been careful to label each image.
Photography not able to make instant views, snapshots, so tends to be more contemplative at this time.
Fenton was a prolific photographer of this era. He used wires to hold objects in place which later needed to be painted out. Required “patient models”.
Creation of tableaux vivants, story telling from British literature. The Lady of Shalott who could only see the world through a mirror; part of Arthurian legend. Julia Margaret Cameron a photographer who was inspired by Tennyson.
Album of photographs, privately owned by members of the royal family. The Davenport album used members of the family!
Photographs exhibited only for a relatively short time in the interests of archival preservation.
04-20160520-Djangology cafe in Tate Britain-3008
“Whisper of the Muse”, the Holland Park Circle as it was known, included both painters and photographers. Use of friends and family as models. Relationship between Cameron and Watts for example. Rossetti made 18 photographic images of Morris’ wife with help from someone with technical knowledge; enabled him to make many paintings of Jane Morris over the next two decades. Woman waiting for her lover not knowing he has gilted her.
A photograph of the artist, GF Watts, by Cameron and a similar looking self-portrait of Watts are other artifacts on show here.
Turning point in exhibition! Photography no longer concerned with definition, more subjective with softer outlines.
Landscape became more important. Whistler is exhibited here. Rise in interest of naturalism and realism; ideas coming from intellectual development in Paris. “Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads” by Emerson is also being exhibited; the copy is a bit tatty having belonged to T.F.Goodall, the painter who travelled with Emerson and used his photographs in making paintings. I have to say that I find the photographs more attractive although they did not take nearly so long to make! P.H.Emerson had not just an eye for a beautiful image but the ability to capture one.
Naturalism had a real eye for beauty which is apparent in Emerson’s photography. Atmospheric effect and light! Luminous beauty not unlike that of Turner paintings whose Picturesque Views in England and Wales were a direct inspiration for members of The Linked Ring. There are a few views of Harlech Castle.
Whistler is quick to see the values of photographic representation. The way photography flattens things into designs, asymmetry within views.
Grimshaw was painting over photographs; the images were taken during the day then painted as night scenes.
Influence of turn of the century craze and fashion around Japanese art. Effected painting and photography. Photographs made in Japan became a source of inspiration for artworks. It was also around this time that the autochrome came into use, the beginnings of colour photography.
04-20160520-Outside Tate Britain, advert for exhibition-3019
Exhibition concludes with recognition of photography’s immense influence; no longer so intimate, more international.
Painters and photographers sharing theories of art, similar aesthetics. Recalling physique of Michelangelo subjects for instance. Idealised notions of beauty prevailed. Fred Holland Day exclaimed that photography was now less about chemistry and more about poetry; it seems he did not use the “A” word.
Holland Day’s work is featured in this final room; in “The Vision” he has superimposed images to make a study of the myth of Orpheus. Day was an American who was inspired by Keats. A nude by Day shows a much darkened figure whose form is barely visible in shadow but outlined by a meagre amount of side lighting; this image was probably influenced by a Michael Angelo study and is an example of work that won praise from the critic, Charles Caffin. Day was also a publisher.
Photographers could now make a lucrative career out of making photographs. (Could they not do so earlier as with the Daguerrotype?)
Subject of goddess who took a bite of pomegranate! International sharing of ideas and spirited relationship between painters and photographers. Biting of fruit signifies notion of shame. Three artworks deal with this theme with Rosetti painting, a photogravure by Zaida Ben-Yusuf and a more modern photograph by Minna Keene. Oscar Wilde also wrote “A House of Pomegranates”.
It is interesting to hear from the curator yet I wonder whether she might be coming from a background of painting as art rather than a photographic background in which art tends to be seen as an aspect of photography rather than it’s purpose.
04-20160520-dinner at Djangology cafe in Tate Britain-3011

Photo London 19.05.2016

I scour the net for mention of Photo London yet there does not seem to be much in the news!

One website, L’Oeil de la Photographie, talks about the over-consumption of images this event encourages and also points out that galleries struggle to survive in cities like London and New York as well as these days of the Internet so this event gives them much needed support. There is also an interview with the festival organisers, Michael Benson and Fariba Fershad, who talk about the success of the event in terms of the stimulus it gives to the photography market. Many galleries did well and more are back this year paying costs of around £350 to 500 per square metre.

McCullin can smile and look happy! image from Photo London after his talk.

Don McCullin is featured in The Guardian and quoted as saying photography is more about feeling than merely looking, an interesting insight into the craft. He is honoured by Photo London 2016 as a master of photography. A wonderful photo from 1965 of sheep being herded down the Caledonian Road.
04-20160519-Mary MacArtney-2921
Mary Mc Artney, daughter of famous photographer Linda McArtney, wife of the incredibly famous and much loved Beatle, Paul McArtney; her famous background might not have helped but a mother who photographed probably did! She did a 5 day course in the basics of technique at University of Westminster. Her approach is spontaneous, she is not interested in making incredibly sharp images! She did not do a degree since those she met who had said that while they found the space helpful to consider photography, it was not otherwise much help.
04-20160519-security and Erik Kessels-2907

when I made this photograph, the guard on the right said I might need him to sign a model form; I agreed. When I saw him later, I told him I was actually photographing the figure in the background, Erik Kessels!

Erik Kessels I have heard before and find his view of photography humourous! He is promoting a book #FailedIt which reveals some hilarious images. Are they photoshopped? Apparently, they are genuine mistakes and amusing unintentional double exposures. Appalling photos of black dogs the subject of another book.
Also talking on this theme are an American, Lucas, who does use Photoshop and Joachim Scmidt who makes books of other people’s mistakes, a body of work that has now reached 96 different books.
04-20160519-Erik Kessels talk-2942
There is a need for humour and playfulness in photography says Kessels.
Again, after the talk we are sheparded out, and have to queue outside for the next talk. I guess this is about security since surely they could check the tickets of those who wanted to stay on with relative ease. However, on the way out, I see a room in which magnums of champagne stand in ice and am reminded of the fact that some people are welcome here, I just don’t happen to be one of them. As a student one often encounters the nicer side of photography while here at Photo London it is more about the backside!?
04-20160519-entry to talks-2906

queuing again; fortunately it is not raining!

The next speaker is Don McCullin who Simon Barber from Tate Modern describes as needing no introduction! McCullin comes over as a very courageous man who has witnessed a lot of horrible events which he however managed to photograph. I have mentioned him before so won’t repeat myself as he did in his talk, telling us the same story twice about a recent trip to Palmrya to rephotograph the temple destroyed by Isis. He was not able to gain access and although he managed a single photo, he was soon shooed away by a Russian soldier so that his journey of a few thousand miles was largely frustrated one but such are the tribulations of photography.
04-20160519-McCullin and S.Barnes-2947

Don McCullin (left) with Simon Barnes (Tate Modern)

After the talk, I breath a sigh of relief at it being the last to attend for the day since the room is stuffy and I did not enjoy the queueing ritual. Instead, I make my way to the photography book section where I meet OCA tutor Helen Warburton who is behind the counter at Thames and Hudson. I mention my incredulity at fellow OCA students making derogatory remarks about McCullin on a forum currently running; she replies that McCullin has a reputation for old fashioned views in particular towards women though she has never heard him talk. I buy a couple of books, one by Harry Gruyaert, whose work I saw recently at the Print Room at Magnum Photos as well as a book on better writing about photography or at least art which Helen has found helpful.
At Dewi Lewis Publishing, I finally get to purchase a copy of Love on the Left Bank which I have wanted awhile. It is a reprint of a classic Photobook and I am reminded that my choice of Photobooks is somewhat at odds with the kind of photography I do. In fact, I aspire to other kinds of work but have not met with sympathetic response from tutors and fellow students!
Another publisher, Damien is selling copies of books by Hiroshi Sugimoto including the book of dioramas that he made. I saw and blogged about the exhibition but the book is a signed copy and hence rather expensive. The publisher seems ready to give me a discount and so I shall consider it!
I go down the steps to Hamilton’s Gallery where Don McCullin’s photographs are on show but get refused entry because I am carrying a bag!? My second attempt to see his work.
On the terrace, I enjoy a vegetable pie at Real Food and follow it with a cup of tea (plain and ordinary nothing fancy like green tea here!) Susie Parr is serving. Jem Southam is sitting at a table in conversation with someone so I decide not to bother him but would like a chat if he is still around later.
I wander through a few galleries (bag allowed) and start to get a feeling for Photo London (there is a lot of good work on show) and am impressed by Nick Brandt whose black and white work of animals juxtaposed with third world poverty feature on the walls. He will be in on Sunday to sign copies of his reasonably priced book. I shall try and attend!
04-20160519-Publishers entrance-2903
Before leaving, I meet Harry Gruyaert, Belgian Magnum photographer, who signs a copy of his book of colour photographs. He is from Antwerp which I have visited a couple of times to see the Photo Museum there. He has a large exhibition planned for next year or possibly the year after to be held there.

Photo London 18.05.2016

I arrive at the street entrance, overlooking the river! The information office is not open but am directed upstairs where I speak with a woman who is able to give me a map of where to go for the first talk, an interview with Nick Knight. She looks at my tickets, does not seem to hear what I am saying but hands over a sealed copy of the catalogue which I have ordered and have a print out for. The place seems to be buzzing with excitement yet also a certain amount of confusion!01-20160518-deli food-2815
Over a veggie wrap at the deli, I read a bit of the catalogue. The introductory essay is a blast of information that heralds Photo London as an event not unlike that which celebrated the arrival of punk music, a festival bringing to light the “white hot” creativity present in London. Photography which anyone can participate in is a democratic art.

01-20160518-entrance to talks-2829

The talks are to be held in an auditorium that seats well over 100 perhaps as many as 200 people. It is reached down a spindly staircase, a reminder that we are in Somerset House, an old government building, which does not seemed designed for an event such as this.

01-20160518-Nick Knight and Hans-Ulrich Obrist-2841

                                                 Nick Knight (left) with Hans-Ulrich Obrist

After a long queuing session, the talk starts almost a quarter of an hour late yet lasts an hour. Autobiographical, Knight is interested in what goes on around the models he photographs and has been making interviews of his subjects asking what the photographs mean to the sitter. He has been videoing himself photographing people since 1989 and so now has a fantastic archive. He did a degree in photography at Bournemouth after giving up his original career choice of being a doctor. I see Martin Parr in the audience.

01-20160518-Nairn and Kander-2855

                                                        Sandy Nairn (left) with Nadav Kander

The next talk follows soon but we are all ordered out (I am asked personally to do so three times by different people as I sit waiting to join the queue) and again we need to queue in the stuffy corridor. Am American woman complains loudly about British air conditioning. A woman asks us to queue in single file against the wall and then says we need not bother. Finally, we are allowed back in to the auditorium.
The atmosphere seems ghastly and I miss the relaxed feel of Photobook Bristol. People are complaining about the queen because the state opening of Parliament (actually it was the Queen’s speech) delayed their journey here. The man introducing the speakers makes a rather dud joke about the queen not being welcome at Photo London. The royal family certainly have a somewhat difficult relationship with photography yet rely on it for their own promotion; in fact, Queen Victoria saw the advantages inherent in photography making the presence of royalty felt around the globe.
Kandar does not like to reveal everything in a picture at once. The less you see of a person in a portrait, the more one needs to personally mine the subject. Admits to making slightly uncomfortable photographs; not trying to impress or ignore the viewer. Kandar uses Photoshop to emphasise light in his images which is often dramatic. Sublime quality to his landscapes. Aware of a difference between commercial work and personal work; it is almost impossible to depend on the latter! Kandar’s work is showing in the Flowers gallery. He is from South Africa originally yet the name sounds Arabaic.

01-20160518-Tilmans Stay in Europe exhibition-2865

Wolfgang Tilmans “Stay in Europe” exhibition

A Garam Assam Chai with a piece of Apple Crumble cake. As I consume this, I read a piece by Francis Hodgson that glorifies Don Mc Cullin, famous for being a war photographer but also competent at other genres such as landscape. Is photography becoming something of a cult? I do not see how it could be. While drinking tea, I see M.Parr again and Dewi Lewis (publisher) through some glass doors and make my way there later. This is an area where books are for sale and there are going to be book signings.

02-20160518-Parr Real Food cafe-2876

Parr excels again, this time with an installation that doubles as a cafe

Security is now tighter. I do not have a pass for the day but did manage to attend two talks! With entrance barred to most of what is going on, I make my way on to the terrace and the Real Food restaurant which is in fact an installation for Parr’s latest book called Real Food. It does function as a restaurant which serves somewhat tacky looking food though I am sure I shall try the vegetable pie sometime during the next few days. Characteristic humour from Parr, one of the most brilliant photographers of my generation although many seem to disagree, and who I see again as he turns up for a cup of tea; I decide to likewise indulge before I make my way back to the hotel.

03-20160518-Parr Real Food cafe-2883

Photo London 2016

I booked for this event well in advance. This is a commercial venture and apart from a daily entry fee, there is also a charge for talks some of which promise to be excellent although I can not help but wonder how objective they will be! The event might be more about promoting artists rather than questioning their work yet the talks could be an antidote to this.

01-20160518-Somerset House riverfront-2812

A few links to consider:

Time Out Review which says very little other than it’ll be bigger and better this year. The reader is directed back to the 2015 review.

There is also of course my previous blog from 2015

Lens Culture does however take a longer view with a general review cobtaining a slide show of 55 images from the event; there is also a focus on black and white in the show as well as the emphasis on street photography.

The major newspapers such as The Times have not reviewed the event as yet but probably will do.

As I arrive at the platform for the train to London from Somerset, there is an email from OCA tutor Helen Warburton who is working at Photo London; I email her back to ask exactly where!

There is a Facebook post from photographer Paul Hill M.B.E who has at least one photograph on sale at the gallery that represents him; more interesting is the fact that the gallery is exhibiting prints by Andre Kertesz!

There is an article in Times 2, a double spread that deals mostly with the Tintype as a couple of photographers are demonstrating one at Photo London as well as making images of contemporary people; these can range from recognised artists to criminals such as a drug dealer who has recently come out of prison after being sentenced for murder as well as drug related activities. The journalist, Nancy Durant, whose tintype is pictured also mentions 5 photographers to look out for.

01-20160518-Photo London display-2821

I am looking forward to this fair and I am sure I shall enjoy it yet it is going to be a very busy event and I wonder where I can find space to relax a little when the going gets hectic!? There is work that will inspire but if one is too rushed to enjoy it, there seems to be little point; I am not a journalist with an editor to satisfy, merely a member of the public with an interest in photography who is attempting to understand the medium.

I might have seen Mishka Henner as well as Dayanita Singh but have decided to visit Shakespeare’s Globe! In fact, I have heard them speak before as I have done Martin Parr and Alec Soth yet prefer to focus more on artists I have not heard speak yet have heard about.

My personal programme look like this …


2.30 – 3.30PM

Nick Knight OBE, the British image-maker, fashion photographer and documentary photographer, will speak with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery. Hans-Ulrich Obrist is an art curator, critic and historian who is highly visible on the world stage.

4 – 5PM

Nadav Kander is an internationally renowned, London-based fine artist, photographer, and director, best known for his portraiture and landscapes works. He will be interviewed on his unique practice, with special attention given to his most recent work. Sandy Nairne CBE FSA is an English historian and curator. From 2002 until February 2015 he was the director of the National Portrait Gallery.


12.20 – 1.05PM

Mary McCartney is an English photographer and will be interviewed by Philippe Garner, a Director of Christie’s, and the international head of photographs and 20th century decorative arts and design. Mary McCartney is specially known for her informal and relaxed portraits of celebrities, as well as ordinary people.  Philippe Garner has had a long and distinguished career in the auction business, and writes and lectures extensively on photography.

1.20 – 2.05PM

Erik Kessels includes Joachim Schmid and Lucas Blalock in his upcoming Phaidon publication Failed it! How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up. This book groups together work by international artists, photographers and designers inspired by failure. These three award winning artists will speak about their practice in a panel discussion.

2.30 – 3.30PM

Don McCullin, CBE Hon FRPS is a British photojournalist, justly recognised for his extraordinary war photography and images of urban strife, not to mention a longstanding practice of landscape photography. Photo London is honoured to be awarding Don McCullin as the 2016 Photo London Master of Photography. Don McCullin will speak in conversation with Simon Baker, the first curator of photography and international art at Tate Modern in London.



11.10 – 11.55AM

The Russian documentary director, curator, art critic, founder of the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow (formerly the Moscow House of Photography) has been commissioned by Photo London to present an exhibition from the Museum’s collection of Sergei Chilikov. It is Chilikov’s exhibition that Olga Sviblova will use as a launching point to speak about Russian Photography more generally. Olga Sviblova has long been considered a figurehead of photography in Russia, and has done a tremendous job promoting it abroad.

Olga Sviblova will be in conversation with Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Wilson is an art historian and curator whose interests extend from post-war and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art.

13.00 meeting Jonathan at Tate Britain for “Painting with Light” exhibition

5.30 – 7PM

Richard Misrach is an American photographer “firmly identified with the introduction of colour to ‘fine’ [art] photography in the 1970s, and with the use of large-format traditional cameras”. He is also recognized as one of the most important landscape photographers of our time. Richard Misrach will lecture on his wide-ranging landscape practice, speaking in particular of a current major project.

18.30 V&A Painting with Light exhibition tour (I shall have to miss the Misrach talk if I am to be on time for this; possibly I shall come in at the end to ask questions of the curator.


1.20 – 2.05PM

Edward Burtynsky, the prolific Canadian photographer and film-maker known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes, and subject-based monographs like Oil, Water, and China, will speak about his practice and his upcoming retrospective publication, “Essential Elements”. Burtynsky will be interviewed by David Campany, the British writer, curator, artist and teacher, who works mainly with photography. Campany has written and edited many books, and contributed essays and reviews to other books, journals and magazines. Campany recently curated a major exhibition entitled A Handful of Dust for Le Bal, Paris

12.00 to 13.00  TOUR WITH WAINWRIGHT

Photo London Tour lead by Dr Jean Wainwright

Dr Jean Wainwright is a Professor of Contemporary Art and Photography at UCA. As an art historian, critic and curator she has published extensively in the contemporary arts field, contributing to numerous catalogues and books. Wainwright’s practice also features interviews with international artists and photographers, many of which can be found on the Tate Audio Arts site.

15.00 to 16.00 Webb book launch

4 – 5PM

Sophy Rickett and Hannah Starkey are visual artists based in London, who work with photography at the core of their practice. Rickett works across photography, video, sound and text, with some of her recent projects exploring moments involving the encounter between people and the natural world. In her photographic based practice, Hannah Starkey specialises in staged settings of women in city environments. The conversation will be chaired by Alison Nordstrom, the distinguished American curator, working for many years at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester. Today she continues her independent curatorial work on several continents.

I might leave on evening Saturday


12.20 – 1.05PM

Lois Greenfield is the world’s foremost photographer of dance, having created a unique style over several decades, much imitated today. No other photographer has covered so many dance companies and dancers, though she insists on them ‘leaving their choreography at the door’ and directing them in unexpected ways. Her most recent book, covering her last 20 years, has just been published by Thames & Hudson. Greenfield will focus on her recent work, now digital and colour. Thames & Hudson’s Andrew Sanigar, Commissioning Editor for Photography, has much expanded the range of photography published by the house in recent years.

4 – 5PM

Cheryl Newman: Loose Women panel Cheryl Newman, the award winning Former Photography Director of the Telegraph Magazine, writer and photography consultant, will curate a panel for Photo London entitled ‘Loose Women’. This panel will explore the role of women in photography across fashion, editorial and documentary photography.


Performing for the Camera @ Tate Modern

The OCA quota for this visit is full up but at the last minute, the college email me to say that a place is available! I pay £10 for the privilege; the days used to be free but the college found themselves buying tickets for people who did not show up. The £10 covers not just the exhibition entry fee but also a group discussion over lunch guided by Russell Squires, an OCA tutor, which is what makes such a visit as this worthwhile.
I watch a video Tate have made about this exhibition in which one of the exhibitors talks about his photography that centres around his finding a wife in Eastern Europe; one is struck by the apparent amateurishness of his approach which mirrors that of the multitudes that take selfies everyday.
A review in The Guardian by Adrian Earle gives a brief rundown of what the exhibition covers; it is not a plaudit! I wonder what this exhibition is really about, what the intent of both the Tate and the curator might be. Possibly, the exhibition could be seen as a cash cow as photography has become enormously popular and hence effective at growing people in. Before seeing the exhibition for myself, I can not help question what the subject, Performing for the Camera, might contribute towards a better understanding of photography as a medium other than introducing us to a number of leading players in the field.
Meet with a fellow OCA student before going in and we discuss the large size of this exhibition, 14 different rooms, which seems typical of the Tate Modern. Sometimes, small is better because there is more time to absorb the work rather than the mass of images presented by large exhibits that contain work by many different photographers who are being considered in regard to the topic of the exhibition rather than in their own right.
I start reading the article in the Tate Etc magazine about the Performing for the Camera exhibition to which it devotes more than 10 pages of text and photographic reproductions. This is a brief resume of the exhibition that picks out items of interest. It is the kind of writing that may make more sense after seeing the exhibition yet it is also good preparation.
The exhibition itself is ticketed and photography is not allowed. We enter as a group and are soon riveted! The first two photographs facing one are of someone pinning themselves to a wall with a plank; looks like a form of self-impalement and conjures up the idea of crucifixion.
Seeing the photo by Yves Klein leaping into the void, one that is being used to publicise the exhibition, one realises the way the print stands out from the many copies seen in newspapers and on the internet. The print is remarkably more impressive, being much more well defined and better lit.
Aaron Siskind is known as an author hence it is good to see his photographic work for a change. His subject is levitation! Presumably, these images were made with the model on a flat plain surface rather than in mid-air (apparently though, as I later learn (see below in comments) they were made in mid-air!! Curator Simon Barnes comments “he sought to reveal the formal capacity of the camera to transform actions into shapes.”
The next room contains images inspired by Yves Klein. They were made of an art performance held in 1960 when bodies were painted. How much are these images about photography? They seem to be more concerned with the subject matter which also includes judo and handling a gun. Once again, these prints stand out and hence emphasise that these are photographic reproductions not merely record shots.
 “Photography has been integral to the history of performance art, often providing the principal means by which an action can be documented, remembered and understood.” The above quote is from text on the wall of the third room and this continues by outlining photographic considerations such as the unpredictable, the chaotic, and creative decisions involving camera angles, processing and printing. I am reminded of my own work in relation to photographing Tibetan Sacred Dance.
A couple of photographers stand out. Harry Shunk and Janos Kender who both died in the first decade of the present millenium; they worked with a number of artists. Minotaur Hirata born 1930 in Japan is another photographer who worked in this way. Photographers vary in their use of abstraction and objectivity. Some of the performers are better known than the photographers (Merce Cunningham for instance) yet there is a feeling that photographers and artists are not really working together; the photographer is documenting possibly interpreting but working for the artist. In the next section, the photographer plays a more pivotal role.
Nader was a famous photographer; described as “the most celebrated portrait photographer of nineteenth-century Paris”. The photographs seen here are of subjects the photographer has deliberately set up; Nadar is collaborating with his subjects which include the mime artist Paul Legrand and Sarah Bernhardt.
The next room, the walls are red while the previous 4 rooms were white, features work by Eikoh Hosoe. Here we see the photographer collaborating with artists to make narratives about their lives. Results include a Photobook called Kamaitachi from 1969, a collection of 48 photographs that were reprinted in 2010. There is a striking quality here also seen in Simmon: A Private Landscape from 1971, printed in 2012, that details a journey made by the actor Simmon Yotsuya while in androgynous character.
The next room, it seems we are back to white walls, is titled “photographic actions” and makes me feel nauseous. Man Ray is one of the photographers featured. What is the cause of the nausea? Perhaps my failing to understand what this room is about.
The next room continues the subject but with the large photographs of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, dropping what the caption says is a Han Dynasty Urn and hence presumably priceless, adds a sense of amusement. In this room, we start to see colour photography for the first time. I notice that my hour and a half here has only 15 minutes left so I sense the need to move on barely glimpsing at the work of Mikhailov.
It is good to see the exquisitively made photographs of Francesca Woodman. These feature her in various poses and guises; she features herself in “deserted interior spaces, in which her body almost merges with its surroundings, half-hidden in doorways and alcoves, or crouching in shadows.” Woodman began her work at age 13, taking her life at the age of 22.
The next room is concerned with “performing icons” and features work by Cindy Sherman among others. There is a rephotograph of Yves Klein’s image discussed at the beginning of this visit; the setting is in Japan not Paris and the photographer is Yasumasa Morimura who made the image in 2010.
Andy Warhol features in the Public Relations section. Here there are advertisements on display being presented as artworks.
The next section is about self-portraiture and features the auto-portrait series by Martin Parr of which I saw a larger version at Wakefield last month; in the context of this exhibition, I am struck by the originality of the approach.
Performing Real Life is the final section. What is the work of Amalia Ullman saying other than the fact she is a pretty blonde except when she dies her hair another colour.
Romain Mader’s series about his Ukrainian “mail-order bride” is an interesting comment on love as well as contemporary society.
Keith Arnatt who “engaged with ideas around photography” has work that shows people and their relation to their gardens. Masahisa Fukase has photographed his wife from an upstairs window on many occasions as she goes to work.
Russell introduces the day! Welcomes any new students and people from different disciplines.
Way the exhibition is divided up into different sections … is the effect continuous or meaningless!?
R struck by rephotograph by Yasumasa Morimura of Yves Klein image of man falling from window. The scene is different but the man on the bicycle looks very similar.
Photographs from man with camera on his head.
Performance piece with Japanese photographer running through panels.
One student comments on Strip because of the way the photographer was engaged with the work. Circular process.
American sounding student comments on model who held a mirror in different ways. Dora Maurer.
Another student commented on the Klein photographs which she felt were records of the events being staged rather than the performance. Is taking away a notion of what performance is.
How much is the photographer influencing the event? We automatically react to the presence of a camera. Are the performances just performances or being constructed as a result of the camera?
The clinical nature of the photograph!
One minute sculptures is discussed; I don’t remember seeing them. Neither do I notice the Claudia Schiffer images.
I comment on the main image used to promote the exhibition.
Arguement about the Ai Wei Wei images of him dropping an urn. Surely it is a real Han dynasty urn! I am sure it is not.
What are Tate Modern trying to say with this exhibition? Is it about photography, performance art, perhaps both, a cash cow to bring in lots of people so they can see what art is really about? Russell sees it as an experiment in curating but the format of Tate Modern photographic exhibitions is of many photographers contributing to the topic. One student suggests that the exhibition is for people with no artistic understanding! Making art accessible to many people.
Everybody knows about the selfie and this exhibition traces the origins of the current social phenomena. Marketing wants an image that looks out to the viewer as that attracts people hence the choice of the main advertising picture!? It might also have been chosen because of it’s contemporary nature.
Maybe the exhibition is about exhibitionism!?
What is performance being done for? For money, for attention … possibly for art whatever that might be! What came first … photography or performance art? asks tutor Russell. It seems they both emerged around the same time unless one wants to include theatre in performance art in which case photography is the latecomer that merely helped to mould the course performance art has taken.
UCA and OCA merge about the OCA experience of distance learning which is highly regarded.
Russell has no news about the forthcoming OCA conference; I am not the only one objecting to the fact it clashes with PhotoLondon.
After the OCA meeting is over, I decide to see the exhibition again and buy another ticket. This time, I shall start the exhibition at the end and slowly work my way back, lingering over work I want to see more of.
The last room includes work that feels more accessible perhaps because of it’s contemporRy nature. One can relate to this kind of work even if it does require some attention such as the reading of captions. Boris Mikhailov has made photographs by the Crimean seaside in which subjects act out roles. As usual with Mikhailov, there is a comic element that tinges the darkness. This room is called Performing Real Life. Romain Mader’s photos of the dream wife made real are strangely striking yet the the black and white images from 1974 but printed in 2015, of Fukase’s wife leaving for work are deeper.
In the previous room, Self Portrait, Fukase has a set of images of himself blowing bubbles, made in 1991, after his wife had left him not just for work but for good. Some 79 images explore the way one might make self-portraits in the bath while blowing bubbles. Another example of humour in photography which is evident in much work on show here including Parr’s Auto-portrait and the Dutch photographer, Hans Eijkelboom, picturing himself as the father of different families.
Strip in which the photographer, Jemima Stehli, with back to camera strips for a variety of male viewers is an interesting and visceral exploration of voyeurism since one can see the face of the viewer and his reactions.
Lee Friedlander’s images are cleverly constructed and being made over 40 years have a durability. They are seldom particularly attractive.
Public Relations is not so much about the photograph but the way photography is used in media. Apart from Warhol, Joseph Beuys also features. There is a portrait of Imogen Cunningham photographing a nude that has been made by Judy Dater; it is a clever contrast between a young naked model and an elderly woman between whom there is a tree trunk.
Hannah Wilke makes a comment in 1977 that “Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism.”
Sometimes the performance is just about dressing up for a photograph as in Man Ray’s Rrose Selavy made in 1921 in which the model is not in fact a lady but the artist of the readymade, Marcel Duchamp. Cindy Sherman’s work I have become familiar with and it is remarkable in the way she morphs herself into different characters. F.Holland Day’s self portraits as himself on a cross in the guise of Jesus are a direct reference to the crucifixion; other images here perhaps hint at it.
A room full of Francesca Woodman’s photographs half way through the exhibition provides a contemplative space! What are these delicately made self portrait photographs about? Light, shade, movement, the human form … Beauty! Sexuality! Although Focusing on form, they remain abstract. They are part of the Photographic Actions section which is about creating “a unique space within which an action can be performed or captured.”
I like the Ai Wei Wei photographs of the ancient urn being smashed! There is humour here and innuendo. The caption suggests that the urn is real but it does not need to be for the idea to work. Destroying a unique object is not what is happening here (even if it us) rather it is our tendency to cling to the ancient.
Some of the work does not resonate with me such as the emphasis on the male view of the naked woman particularly when colour is being used.
Mikhailov’s self-portraits of himself naked are humorous in a bawdy kind of way. Clearly he is making a statement of some kind!
Sometimes photographers and artists collaborate as in the pictures of Carolee Schneemann; the work was made in 1963 but not printed until 1973.
By the time I reach the red room, number 5 out of 14, I am back on ground that I was able to consider at length on my first visit.
Returning to the first room, I read that the exhibition “sets out to explore a rich and varied field of artistic practice, discovering that performance art is often more photographic, and photography more performative, than their usually seperate histories suggest.”
Walking slowly through the exhibition, I am aware of the spacious white walls in which the photographs hang almost diminutive ly until one approaches closer and is drawn into their individual worlds.
The fourth room contains only photographs by Nadar and the walls here are light grey as they are in the Woodman room. These objects from the very early days of photography feel like precious objects; they would surely be worth a lot of money on the market but their real value can be sensed in this exhibition space.
Much of the printing in this exhibition is remarkably done, something that many visitors are likely to be unaware of.
After the exhibition, I read about a photograph of Man Ray’s depicting Adam and Eve in the manner of Cranach the Elder’s painting of 1528. An interesting discourse but the photograph itself was not one I remember seeing at all. The large exhibitions that Tate Modern holds are not easy to absorb owing to their size and the different meanings they embody.
The next day I rise early and make my way across London to an active meditation. A film company are there to record us for a series they are making about spirituality. Performing for the camera!? Not really. Some people ask not to be photographed while I am happy to be. Media needs to know about such events and although they are not the reason for my going, I am aware that I am being photographed. For one or two moments, one is acting with the awareness of the camera and possibly responding yet after awhile, this superficial awareness disappears and one starts to find a more authentic version of oneself, one that the photograph might reflect but never truly capture.

Fox Talbot: the dawn of the photograph

Media Space, The Science Museum, May 1st 2016

The title of this exhibition is significant. There was a time when Fox Talbot was hailed as the inventor of photography even though Daguerre announced his process beforehand. However, Daguerre’s process only allowed for one copy of the image captured while Fox Talbot’s allowed for countless copies. Nowadays, the invention of photography is not so hotly contested with many people including both chemists and makers of optical instruments are considered. Fox Talbot’s claim has furthermore been dismissed as both patrician and based on virility!

Before coming to this exhibition, I do not get around to reading the reviews but manage a little of what Batchen writes in his book on Fox Talbot who he sees as not just a scientist but also an artist who created a body of work worthy of consideration. I shall use this as a guide and wonder what I shall make of this new exhibition.
The Batchen book is available at a kiosk near the entry to the exhibition in Media Space at The Science Museum along with others such as a book of essays titled Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography and the catalogue to the exhibition which I purchase if only to offer a little support to the museum which grants free entry. Downstairs the museum heaves with people but there are very few in the Fox Talbot exhibition which requires an entry fee.
I walk briskly through the exhibition before returning to the first room and starting to analyse it greater depth. The title does suggest a mature view of Fox Talbot’s significance; “The dawn of the photograph” seems to summarise Fox Talbot’s contribution to the photographic medium.
Photography is not allowed in this exhibition to protect what are antique documents, a member of staff explains; this is also why the lights are low.
The first exhibit can be considered as a photograph of Fox Talbot made by John Moffat in 1864 which is a large about A2 sized carbon print. Fox Talbot sits be a chest of drawers with a lens in his hands and a box on the top of the drawers. He looks sideways at the camera in what is a formal well made photograph slightly engulfed in shadow near the bottom which helps to bring the viewer’s eye back to the central subject, the face and upper torso of Fox Talbot. Writing on the wall from curators Greg Hobson and Russell Roberts mentions William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) who “transformed visual culture in the 19’th century” although its’ recognition as an art form did not really begin until the 1860’s being initially seen as science, an automatic process, “the pencil of nature”. Fox Talbot Developed an understanding of photography’s potential by making photographs of a wide range of subjects; “His vision was diverse, emphasising the medium’s evidential power that characterised much of the wonder of photography as a distinct medium.”
The Athenaeum described it as “A wonderful illustration of modern necromancy” which must have aide many laugh while quietly ignoring what was to become so influential.
There is a mezzotint from from 1775 which has an almost photographic quality while the first negative ever made of a latticed window from 1835 looks dull in comparison. It is not the original but a digital copy.
There is a timeline at the end of this first room which notes significant events in Fox Talbot’s life along with events during his lifetime such as the publication of experiments in photography conducted by Davy and Wedgewood. In 1824, Fox Talbot became a member of the Athenaeum club while in 1833 he went on a honeymoon with his wife and became frustrated by the camera Lucida at Lake Como. He later applied for patents to cover his methods and in 1862 won a prize for photoglyphic engraving at the International Exhibition.
This first room contains digital copies of his early salt paper prints. The second room likewise contains digital copies though there are some original Daguerrotypes.
At Lake Como, Fox Talbot was struck by the beauty of the images cast by the camera Lucida, describing them as “fairy pictures, creations of a moment” which he subsequently longed to capture permanently. He was aided by Sir John Herschel in his chemical explorations.
A number of other early photographers are included here such as Hippolyte Bayard, Herschel and Daguerre as well as typical equipment from this time that was used by Fox Talbot including “mousetrap” cameras, a camera Obscura and a calotype camera which held a paper negative and about the size of a medium format camera.
In the third room, what look more like photographs, as we understand them, are on show; these are characterised by a three dimensional quality. Some of these are original salt prints made from a calotype negative and most were made in and are of Fox Talbot’s home, Lacock Abbey. There is also a show of early copies of The Pencil of Nature, Fox Talbot’s Photobook that explores different subjects that photography explores.
There is also a book containing examples of botanical specimens that Fox Talbot made which however is not photographic; in the next room, we see what is generally considered to be the first photographic book, a collection of cyanotypes made by Anna Atkins (1799-1871) being published in 1843 with a copy being sent to Fox Talbot whose own book came out in 1844. Pipped at the post again it seems but Fox Talbot’s contribution to photography cannot be underestimated and in the introduction to his book, he spells out the significance of his discovery.
There are a lot of original salt prints from calotype negatives made by Fox Talbot of Oxford s well as original prints made for “The Pencil of Nature”. He also made a series of photographs connecting places mentioned in Walter Scott’s Waverley novel. As with many of his photographic ventures, this was not commercially successful partly on account of variations in image quality of these ‘sun prints’ and lack of permanence.
There are also photographs of his Reading establishment which run by Dutch born Nicolaas Henneman, was given over to the mass production of photographs yet this enterprise also failed commercially.
The final room of the exhibition shows work made by other contemporary photographers using Talbot’s process. The Reverend Calvert Richard Jones was one of these being also a water colourist and responsible for some of the first joined negatives. Others shown here are David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Reverend George Wilson Bridges and John Dillwyn Llewelyn.
The final exhibits are photoglyphic engravings made from steel plates, an attempt to make more permanent images, by Fox Talbot during the 1850’s and 1860’s as well as waxed paper negatives from the 1840’s. There are hand coloured salt paper prints from calotype negatives that show not just the diversity of Fox Talbot’s work but also his skill in making images. Other examples demonstrate the use of albumised glass negatives and waxed calotype paper negatives.
It takes me an hour and a half to work through this exhibition which gives one the chance to examine unique and original documents even if they are seperate X by a pane of glass. The tonal quality and overall representation has vastly improved particularly with the introduction of colour yet these images here retain the sense of fascination that photography exerts over the viewer with its’ ability to capture both time and space so convincingly.
Work that is “impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil” as Fox Talbot wrote in a notice to the reader from Sun Pictures in Scotland, 1845; he called them “sun pictures” and not “engravings in imitation.”
The walls of the exhibition are mostly light grey yet some are also darker in colour and appear greenish although to some one else they are bluish! The way the light is reflected perhaps.
The catalogue contains good reproductions of many of the photographs shown in the exhibition along with a couple of essays; the latter by Greg Hobson is about the business failure of Talbot.