Landscapes by Edward Chambre-Hardman

Open Eye Gallery - Liverpool

Open Eye Gallery – Liverpool

After coffee, we went back to the Open Eye gallery to see another exhibition upstairs in the Archive Gallery. this time, another OCA tutor, Keith W Roberts, introduced the work to us since he is presently working on a Ph D about Hardman, focusing not on his landscape work visible in the gallery but the thousands upon thousands of portraits that Hardman made.

Keith gave us a brief introduction to Hardman, a photographer who worked in Liverpool during the middle of the twentieth century, and whose house in Rodney Street is preserved as a working studio by the National Trust; the Trust’s information says … “Explore the contrasting sides of this house: the neat, professional, spacious business rooms and the cluttered, cramped living quarters of the renowned portrait photographer Edward Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret. They lived and worked here for 40 years, keeping everything and changing nothing. The business focused on professional studio portraits but their real love was for vivid landscape images. Some of their huge collection of photographs is on display in the house, along with the equipment they used to take and develop the iconic images.”

Hardman seems to have been quite an astute individual and was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society; Keith hands us a copy of a talk delivered by Hardman about obtaining “Exhibition Quality” prints which seems a bit ironic since I am not the only one to find the prints on show as somewhat lacklustre; there are no bright highlights for instance rather a certain dullness pervades. Hardman recognised Alvin Langford Coburn as an influence and there is a similarity in style but at the time Hardman was working the technology of photography had increased in quality allowing Ansel Adams to make prints of much better quality. In his article, Hardman quotes a photographer called Ward Muir who encouraged photographers to “make your photographs sing!” and although the compositions of these images are pleasant, the photographs do not personally inspire me.

photographic prints by E.C.Hardman

photographic prints by E.C.Hardman

In his article, Hardman writes about pictorialism and points out that “Some critics – those belong to the world of journalism – would have you believe that it is almost a crime to produce a pictorial photograph. The highest praise goes to semi-documentary photographs showing life and action – often a very slummy kind of life. One could sum it up as a glorification of the instantaneous moment. Composition, balance, lighting, tone rendering, definition and all the other things which we pictorialists strive after, do not seem to matter in the least. In fact, the photographer’s personality must not intrude. It is subject-interest only which counts.” (from The Photographic Journal, Volume XCV, 1955)

Peter Haveland talks to us about this exhibition. He considers the subject matter as unrepresentative of the age in which the photographs were made. Hardman photographs not what was there rather certain views that he wants to make a picture of. For instance, a hay rick is included as what would appear to be the subject of the photograph yet apparently Hardman made the image because of the cloud formation in the sky behind; there is a similar image of a copse on a hill where clouds engulf the small wood and spiral up into the sky. To emphasise his point, Peter remarks that these images were not made of the 1950’s but of another time, they are not honest representations.

20130209-Liverpool-_MG_8545-Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

Peter addresses OCA students in the archive gallery – Keith, bottom left

At this point, a woman storms through our group towards the exit exclaiming, “You don’t know what you are talking about! I knew Hardman, he was a friend, and I can assure you all his images were made by him in his time!” I call after her, suggesting she might like to join the debate but she replies that she has an appointment. She has misunderstood Peter by taking his remarks literally which is surely a mistake – if I took Peter that seriously, I would no longer be studying at the OCA but would have “exploded” and gone off on my own way. Peter has a reputation for challenging people!

For instance, Peter makes a reference to the Ansel Adams School of Anal Retentiveness which is amusing but not an easy pill to swallow. Personally, I feel I learnt a lot from the basics of the Zone System since it gives a grounding in the understanding of the photograph which many critics of the medium seem to lack. I can’t help that Hardman’s work would be a lot more appealing if he had understood Ansel Adams a bit more. However, we live in an age where the screen is taking over from the print and although the latter is not redundant, most photographs are viewed on screens.

The fact is though that we all photograph things to which we are attracted since photography is a selective process. Hence, the view expressed through our images is bound to be slanted and can never be total.

There is a good review of Hardman’s work to be found on the internet that was published in The Independent while a blog called That’s How the Light Gets In has accounts not just of this exhibition but also other work of Harman such as his book, Life through a lens.

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Out of Focus : a visit to the Saatchi Gallery

“Springs” outside the Saatchi Gallery

Images are snatched from the ether; they are serial, unsequential, layered. They spill out of frames and art turned into objects. Ambiguity is prized.William A Ewing quoted from the catalogue of the Out of Focus exhibition

Another OCA meeting, this time at the Saatchi Gallery where I have never been before although the name Saatchi is famous; I once worked with someone from Saatchi on a project which in the end came to nothing perhaps because people did not seem to like this person in whom they had invested some kind of moral authority that they also wanted to dismiss. Chelsea conjures up not just The King’s Road but some of the artists who once lived around there such as Augustus John who apparently once tried to seduce my mother – he was no longer in his prime then!

Sloane Square and the beginning of The King’s Road, Chelsea

Make the mercifully short walk from Sloane Square Underground to the gallery in pouring rain

It is suggested that we read a review of the exhibition by Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian newspaper. It is not very complimentary, describing the exhibition as a big sprawling mess yet it also recognises it as a significant exhibition of contemporary photographic art with a number of key players and obviously it exerts a fascination for O’Hagan. He mentions that the book accompanying the exhibition by William A Ewing is helpful and I have picked out a few quotes such as the following … “I believe that we are missing something essential if we don’t acknowledge that photography covers a much broader field than what is found on museum or gallery walls.” The reviewer from The Times wrote … “I left feeling rather perplexed — the variety is astonishing but it feels uncurated. The catalogue suggests looking at this show through “an appropriate lens — a kaleidoscope”. It made my eyes go a bit funny.”

Entrance to the Saatchi Gallery

The OCA suggest we take one or two photographers whose work we like and look at them as a way to understand a little of what this exhibition is about; it is not easy to restrict oneself but Mitch Epstein interests me while I can not help be attracted by the work of Katy Grannan that features so prominently.

OCA CEO, Gareth Dent, whittles down the list of photographers to see

This exhibition is perhaps not easy to understand for the layman although there is nothing to stop the casual onlooker enjoying it unless they are rigorously stuck in the traditional view of what art should be. Ewing is helpful in deepening one’s view of what it might all be about writing that “the fields of photography overlap and interconnect in dynamic and complex ways” while OCA tutor Clive White echoes Ewing’s comment that photography is “a world, with continents, countries, extremely varied terrain, unsettled lands, over-populated areas, and boundaries that are vigorously contested” while he singles out one of these groups as Amateurs, described as “A savage folk, Amateurs know no history, nor follow any rules.

From left to right, Gareth Dent, Sharon Boothroyd, Clive and Francesca White

I look around the Saatchi Gallery website and come across a page of links to videos of discussions that have taken place there recently. The most recent is entitled “Photography and the art world” (art world is actually spelt Art World, the capitals announcing it’s importance!?). I decide to watch this and end up making notes because the debate is not only lively but also an interesting reflection on contemporary photography and photography as a whole; it also turns out to be a good introduction to the Out of Focus exhibition.

The first speaker is Hannah Starkey, for whom photography gives freedom from the tyranny of words (being a dyslexic she seems to have trouble talking sometimes repeating words until she gets them right) who did a degree course in vocational photography. For her, it is the medium that most succinctly expresses the human condition which is why she loves photography. She works towards making a portrait that both sitter and photographer are happy with and says that consideration and observation are qualities of photography that she respects. She makes allegorical photos with layers of meaning. The following is a statement in her own words about her work which appears in the book Art Photography Now by Susan Bright in the section Narratives … “By carefully constructing my photographs and controlling all elements within the image, I can express to others how I view the world around me. Also, by collaborating with the people that I cast for my characters and working with them, I find out how others view this world … I then use this history, both cultural and personal, as the framework for the work.

The next speaker is Susan Bright, the author of the book in which the above quote appears. As a writer about photography, she is concerned with the medium which she says is dogged with questions not so much about whether it is art or not but more exactly, what is it’s place in art ? In the introduction to her book Art Photography Now, she says … “Photography is constantly changing and hard to define. Its discursive and somewhat promiscuous nature has tended to confuse many people as to its status and value as an art form. The trouble is that it lends itself to many varied uses.” For instance, what is it’s role in auction houses, archives or agencies !? There is confusion about photography and about it’s purpose … “Meanings can slip and slide depending on context, and the fact that photography lacks any kind of unity and seems to have no intrinsic character … “; this is helpful in understanding what the exhibition is about.

She is particularly attracted by the work of Cindy Sherman about whom she writes “exclusively photographing herself and using the formulaic appearance of certain types of photographs, from the publicity shot to pornography, Sherman has continuously questioned the construction of feminity in contemporary society.” She was however, inspired initially by Ansel Adams, on seeing one of his “3 dimensional prints“. She mentions his “stylistic elegance” but does not include him in her book since he is no longer contemporary. Nevertheless, she talks about him in her introduction to the landscape section since along with Edward Weston, he “took American landscape photography to its formal conclusions.” Adams was a modernist who self-consciously and self-assuredly declared his work as art … “They dazzle and seduce with technical and sensual qualities that aesthetically idealise the landscape.

Susan Bright chose photography as a medium to study and write about partly because it has a short history but actually she found it to have a very complex one; photography is many things … trade, value, intention !! There are so many photographers trying to make a living through art photography; one needs to learn the language of photography to be a photographer. It is no longer correct to say “We are all photographers now!”

Bright thinks we should celebrate the confusion surrounding photography, that the art world does not really get photography. There is a lot of freedom at the moment since what photography is has not been established … photography going through an identity crisis – a good practice would be to enjoy the confusion, it can allow one to do things one might not be otherwise able to. Of the confusion, she writes in her book that “in the acceptance of photography, new areas of confusion are emerging. Just as we think we are beginning to recognise the medium, or at least to characterise it, important technical changes see certainties slip through our fingers once again.” This however is not sounding the death knell of the medium but indicative of “vital elements that are important to its existence.” Photography has always confused people and probably will continue to do so.

It is an oversimplified idea that Black and White equals photography; colour equals art.

One might consider how many photographs one sees in a day !

The next speaker, some of whose work appears in the exhibition Out of Focus, is Mitch Epstein whose book American Power won the Pictet photo book award; he has worked as a photographer for 40 years. ALthough he does not appear in Susan Bright’s book Art Photography Now perhaps because of his somewhat modernist rather than post-modernist stance, he does exhibit regularly in galleries.

OCA student Ariadne, makes notes in front of an Epstein photograph

Epstein is not trying to defend photography since it does not need to be defended; he does however, talk at length about the position of photography in the art world where he says it tends to get short shrift since it is not fully understood being quite a young medium. There is a lot of written reflection on painting, centuries worth in fact, yet not merely so much on photography. Starting out as a photographer, he was helped by Szarkowski’s pioneering ideas on the unique nature of photography and its elusive meaning.

The art world sometimes denigrates representational photography believing it not to be imaginative and inventive enough since it is apparently just showing the real world as we already know it. However, it helps us discover things we would otherwise miss and to see the familiar anew, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary as in the work of Atget, beloved by the Surrealists. Photography as art accomplishes a convergence of mythmaking and memesis that is impossible in any other medium.

To see our actual world in a photograph, tricks us into recasting that world into something more meaningful and shocking; a subtle and deep effect! It is easy to overlook masters of straight photography particularly in the internet age which values speed. Furthermore, it is easier to see art in a constructed work such as painting, conceptual photography or where the artist’s imagination can be seen to have created something rather than in a representational photograph where the imagination of the artist is embedded. It is hard to see the art in a representational photograph because the artist has chosen to embed his imagination in an uninvented subject matter; the photograph itself is the invention! The art world forgets that an imaginative concept does not have to be overt in order to be an animating force in a work of art; art not a matter of flaunting the imagination rather imbedding it in the world one is describing.

Mitch Epstein mentions the silly definitions people make in order to divide and conquer. The opposite of straight photography is conceptual photography but one can not really separate the two; all photography is both straight and conceptual.The photographer should not need to shout loudly anymore than a playwright should do !!

Epstein considers his equipment as a painter might his brushes and paint; spends a lot of time composing, getting the cameras into exactly the right position for the light etc The photograph isn’t made until one brings something to it, something of one’s life experience. The picture is made when something inexplicable enters in. No photographer simply wanders around just snapping the world around him – need to set every mechanic and compositional element – still not made until one brings something to it while something of the inexplicable is also required. There is the vantage of light and frame, a need for research.

Art is the convergence of the right mechanical tools and the artist’s practiced intuition; it requires athleticism, resourcefulness, psychological resilience, the extra element that we can not control, what Walker-Evans called “an unapproachable thing”. It can’t really be named but the artist needs to be aware of it and ready to receive it; a fleeting thing!

Takes a lot of effort to make a fine so called straight photograph, something that art critics can miss all together. Would one consider someone like Lewis Baltz as just a snapper? He has been described as thus by one critic.

Epstein ends by saying there is no difference between old art and modern art just between good art and bad art !! Unfortunately, it seems “we humans can’t handle so much reality!?” is this the problem photography has !?

The final speaker is Geoff Dyer, a writer on photography who starts by bluffing the audience in an attempt to humour them which does work to a certain extent. He delivers a few quotes …

real battle for recognition of pictorial photography is over !” (Camerawork 1906)

Is photography an art?” asked Susan Sontag in 1962 according to her diaries; she also wrote “art is never a photograph!” Logically, one might ask whether art even art !? Nowadays, few question whether photography is an art .. except perhaps some photographers !? Photographers feel excluded as do Jazz musicians yet this is actually one way of trumpeting their achieved status, helpful for them to act so!

Steiglitz on Weston – “if he’d only forget trying to be an artist maybe he’d come close to being one!” Steiglitz according to Walker Evans was “a screaming aesthete who forced art into quotation marks and into unwanted earnestness”.

a photographer in a gallery of photographs

There is a danger now that art can force photographers not into earnestness but into knee jerk irony with a light conceptual gaze, a light conceptual reduction. There are problems with achieved respectability

Joel Sternfield referred to 1970’s colour photography as “the early Christian era of colour photography” ; not much chance of being accepted then if working in colour more likely to be “fed to the lions“! No institutional acceptance! Egglestone’s show at MOMA marked the turning point !

Some of best art has been produced in circumstances where it was largely believed to be anything but art while there is a tendency for artists to be accepted as photographers should they choose to work in that medium. The practice of blowing photographs up very big can be to make them look like art even if they are shit !!

GB Shaw said “He would willingly exchange every single painting of Christ on the cross for just one snapshot!” For GB, thats’ what photography has going for it, a reference often quoted by the photographer Philip Jones Griffiths. Geoff Dyer finishes his talk by reading out another two quotes. One is from the late MOMA director of photography, John Szarkowski who said that “Walker Evans’ work is rooted in the photography of the earlier past and constitutes affirmation of what has always been photography’s essential sense of purpose and aesthetic, the precise and lucid description of significant fact

It is Lee Freidlander who regards photography as a generous medium since it accepts many different types. This final aside is perhaps a good introduction to the “Out of Focus” exhibition which contains work by some 39 artists from around the world whose work covers many different kinds of genre. The title of the exhibition, Out of Focus, appears to be a reference to this for photography has no homogeneity, no easy definition – it is composed of many continents. Gareth Dent who introduces the day says he can give no simple definition of the work we are going to see because it is too diverse, it presents a very broad view of photography.

The OCA group assemble outside for the study day

Before entering, I acquire a cheap version of the large-sized art catalogue; this contains reproductions of all the images in the exhibition and like the gallery, a distance is kept between caption and photograph so that one can look at the images without trying to project a suggested meaning onto them. This helps because although it is nice to have some kind of reference for the images such as who they are by and what the subject is, looking at the photographs with an open mind helps one to discover meanings that might otherwise go unnoticed.

first gallery in the extensive “Out of Focus” exhibition showing work by Katy Grannan

The first gallery is composed of large portrait photographs by Katy Grannan made of people in the street with their permission. Against plain white often textured backgrounds, the subjects are portrayed graphically with harsh light being used to bring out the details in people’s faces such as wrinkles. How accurate are these photographs as documents? It seems there has been an emphasis not just in detail but colour that appears to have a slight magenta shift. The images seem rather unsympathetic of the subjects and there is the suggestion that the photographer may be ridiculing them; this seems unlikely but there is an obvious attempt on the part of the photographer to show the unglamorous side, the side that people don’t really want to look at. This work could be considered as a reaction to the glamour photography with its’ airbrushed faces that dominates so much of contemporary media and the business of celebrity.

A woman comes up and tells me not to use any photographs of her. I have no idea of who she is but it turns out she is an OCA student and after looking through my photographs later on, I see that she is in some of the group shots often near the centre; it seems that she is unaware that I am using an ultra-wide lens and assumes I must be focusing on her when in fact I am making group shots with her somewhere near the centre; only one of these works as she mostly has her back to me. If I do use it then I can black box out her face or use some other kind of digital trickery. It is always a bit unnerving when people come up for no apparent reason and tell one to stop photographing them; it can make one question what one is doing in a rather negative way. At the end of a day, another woman comes up to ask whether she can acquire copies of the photos and I tell her that they will be mailed to the OCA. Perhaps I whould offer to share them with the group as a whole; something I can do through my Flickr account.

fellow OCA students in the Saatchi Gallery

The second gallery is full of monochromatic landscapes with some slightly cryptic captions such as “Soaring Yellow Morning Breath” of a giant yellowish rocky outcrop and “Ultimate Earth”of a landscape with forest, lake and mountain. This is certainly a far call from Ansel Adams’ landscape photographs though there is a similarity in composition and subject matter. Some are quite pleasant to look at and in the right context, an office or even a home, might prove attractive but altogether in a gallery space they look a bit like what an amateur might produce at a camera club after playing around with cross-processing in an attempt to make something “arty”.

In the third gallery, one is initially confronted by a couple of Mitch Epstein’s large photographs. These are carefully composed as Mitch described in the discussion that began this particular blog. A new student objects to a certain asymmetry in one image and poor use of light in the other. I can not help but remark that photography is true to life rather than the principles of art! In one of these images, it is industry that dominates and in the other nature; both show the relationship between the two and are part of a larger body of work that won Epstein an environmental award. Other work in this room contains intricately made black and white montages of aerial city centre views by Sohei Nishino, a tableau of nature-landscape images by Matthew Day Jackson and views from the inside of vehicles by Luis Gispert.

looking at a photo-work by Mathew Day Jackson

The fourth gallery shows the work of John Steziker and his schizophrenic poraits (my description) in which a face is portrayed by using two photographs placed together or a photograph placed over a face; the associations seem quite obvious here suggesting the anima and animus or the persona that hides the real. Although striking and suggestive, these photographs do not have a great deal of appeal. I miss the small circular photographs that were covered up by stickers being placed on them by archivists.

In the fifth gallery, I am struck by the work of a South African photographer Michael Subotzky whose images are somewhat outrageous. One is of an operating room where someone is lying prone and a drama is being enacted around them; another shows a dead goat with its insides removed as an offering to the gods.

There is work by Mariah Robertson that looks more like art than photography with garish designs on a long sheet of paper that runs up the wall and along the floor; other images look more like photographs. A group of photographs that run along a part of the gallery wall are by Sara Vanderbeek; I feel drawn to these and intrigued by the design. Am not sure this is an obvious attempt to mirror the work of the artist but quite a lot of work here does seem to be referencing painting such as the portraits of Daniel Gordon whose portraits immediately remind me of some of Picasso’s portraits from his Cubist period and beyond.

“Pornographic” images by A.L.Steiner on view in Gallery 9

In gallery nine, there is a grotesque montage by A.L.Steiner of photographs portraying women with naked breasts. I do not like it very much but it does make me laugh as it seems to be an obvious parody of the kind of big breast images and corresponding psychology that is part of the psychological make up of some men. In fact, this room contains other pornographic images that are shown in a particular way that makes one question the nature of the male gaze. It seems hard to take these images as pornographic in intention though obviously some visitors will see them in this light and perhaps draw their own voyeuristc pleasure from it. I mention to Gareth and other who are discussing it the practice of putting erotic sculptures on the outside of temples not to glorify sex but as a way to say that this belongs to the outer world of desire.

looking at photographs in Gallery 10

There is quite a lot of humour in some images and one is of a woodland scene in which there is a false waterfall made up of polythene sheets that are draped in a way to make them look like flowing water. This is one of a couple of photographs by Noeme Goudal from her Les Amants series and might be seen as a satire on so called “beautiful photography”

The photographs of Hannah Starkey draw my attention since she features in both the debate and Susan Bright’s book. Of her work she says, “Working within the language and medium of photography, including Photoshop, is enough to keep me occupied.”

a member of the gallery explaining work

I find myself pausing to reflect while looking at this exhibition, on the practice of putting photography in a gallery to look at. People come to see what they expect to be art and if photography does not live up to their expectations then they may consider it poor or not worth looking at simply because it does not correspond to preconceived notions of what art should be. There is also the idea that if a work is big then it is art while if it is small it is photography! There is so much to see here that one can not take it all in although some themes do emerge such as Marylyn Monroe (at least a couple of images suggesting her) while coloured monochromatic images also occur more than once.

There is confusion in this exhibition because there not bodies of work rather than fragments; the selection of work seems to be a result of images being cherry picked, as good examples of the artists on show. What made Saatchi collect these particular images? Was it a conscious choice on his part to collect photographs he liked or even loved or was he trying to amass a body of work that contained the best photographers of the time. Perhaps it was an investment decision. I don’t think one has to like the photographs on show or even enjoy them; it is enough to respond to them in one’s own way and according to one’s own taste. One tutor points out that this is the kind of work thet is exemplary – one does not have to aspire to it but is a useful reference for one’s own work. There is no point in making photography fit into a particular framework.. difficult to know what if anything this exhibition is about but it can be considered a comment on the star of photography as a whole, out of focus perhaps because it is not concerned with popular notions of the photographic medium. It is described as a “rag bag of stuff” by one member of our group.

Rephotographing Bruce Davidson : an OCA student exhibits in Sheffield

The College had another study day arranged for photographers; a visit to an exhibition of photographs in Sheffield which have been made by an OCA student living in New York. In the end, I found myself unable to attend so here is a link to an excellent account of the day by fellow student Eileen Rafferty ..

http://www.eileen-rafferty.com/2012/06/tanya-in-sheffield.html

An image from Tanya Ahmed’s East 100’th Street

We are treated to a video interview with the photographer, Tanya Ahmed, a British sounding woman who has been living in New York and rephotographing East 100’th Street 40 years after Bruce Davidson was there. In his time, it was a very run down area, a ghetto for drug takers and no-hopers; although the buildings remain and the similar kinds of people? live there, the area is no longer run down. Tanya’s images attempt to capture the place as it is today beyond the popular preceptions of gentrification. More images can be seen here …

http://East100street.com/E_100_St/East_100th_Street_HOME/Entries/2012/6/15_Slideshow_-_I_call_this_place_home.html

According to Ahmed, the area is now inhabited by regular folk living in a rehabilitated area. She lives there and set out to give an up to date view of the place in which people are pictured in their own homes. Her neighbours did not know much if anything about the history of the street or the photographer Bruce Davidson. Ahmed wanted to photograph the present day community, “us”, and explained to them her motive as a student of the OCA. She was not only interested in portraying the place but also the people who inhabit it; her exhibition is composed entirely of interior views! Ahmed has been in touch with Bruce Davidson who has been supportive of her work and interested too. He did return to 100’th Street but has not visited for sometime. Ahmed has been a working photographer for sometime and enjoyed the collaboration with others while making this body of work. Her comment on the OCA website was … “This whole experience has been amazing and it has been wonderful to meet everyone involved, they have all done a brilliant job and been exceptionally nice. Thank you also to all the students taking the time to follow and comment on the various posts of my work, I feel like I have a new set of best friends”

My own comment of the website ruuns thus … “What interests me about re-photography is the contrasts that exist between the two times pictured. There seems to be no deliberate attempt on Tanya’s part to emphasise this by, for instance, rephotographing the same places from the same point of view, rather it is about the general atmosphere of the place which appears to have changed for the better.”

To see some of the photos by Bruce Daidson …

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bruce+davidson+east+100th+street&hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&prmd=imvnso&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=4L3ZT46nM4SQ0AXWuIWmCg&ved=0CHoQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=821

For a peek at the book …

http://www.magnumphotos.com/c.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.BookDetail_VPage&pid=2K7O3R182828

He was interviewed by The Guardian about this body of work …

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/apr/24/bruce-davidson-interview-sean-ohagan

Another interesting read is …

http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/4518/releases/MOMA_1970_July-December_0037_97.pdf?2010

Ahmed’s approach is not as different as might at first appear to be the case. Her photographs are setup, arranged beforehand, while Davidson’s photographs that appear to rely on the spontaneity of the moment were often made with a tripod mounted camera. Davidson however, was working with a political brief, showing the way people there were suffering from poor living conditions. Ahmed on the other hand sets out to present the place as it is today, a place she is happy to live in; there is no stigma to what she is doing.

Ahmed has also had her work commented on by Maggy Milner, an OCA tutor, who was struck by the quality of her photographs. She describes them as extraordinary, well made prints, with thorough attention to detail. Ahmed does not give much mention of technique rather the concept behind the photographs and her research. She lets the families choose where they want to be photographed unlike Davidson who approached as a photojournalist yet worked on the project for a couple of years and ended up getting to know his subjects. Her submission to the OCA was not just the prints but also her comments on images via post-cards.

One student, Dewald who lives in China, comments “There is constant discussions going on everywhere, OCA, Flickr and on here, where students are told NOT to produce material specifically for the approval of the assessors.” This makes good sense since I do not think I shall be making the kind of work that the assessors want to see. For instance, photos of the outskirts of Delhi with quotes from the Bhagavad Gita; the assessors won’t know the place and probably find the quotes incomprehensible.

Dewald also says, “This work of Tanya seems to be a combination of an immense amount of research into a photographer and work that has a connection to where she herself is right at this time, not only as a person, but as an artist. The fact that she then went out and got involved with people who live around her, and built that kinds of relationships with them, is admirable in an age where I think very few people bother to even acknowledge other people living in the same building.”

Tanya comments on her submission … “I don’t want to speak for the assessors, but IMHO I think it is more than just the final collection of images that they considered. Obviously they had much more information than just the images about the concept and the way I progressed through the project. The basic premise of which was that I wanted to see if being an insider made a difference to the images produced. I used Davidson’s book as a stepping stone and considered his images against mine to see if what I was doing was different and why. On the face of things we were doing the same thing but in reality we were not. Each time I found something different I looked into it- One example I analyzed how people were looking at his camera, how they looked at mine, with some book suggestions from my tutor I looked back through history at portraits and justified the approach I used. Obviously you and any other audience will only have the final images to judge. The question is will you see the behind the scenes work in the images? Will you see a thread or an approach tying them together? Will you notice a different mood or different focus than in Davidson’s work and is there a difference in the work of an insider compared to an outsider? I hope this little bit of explanation is helpful.”

Tanya emphasises the collaboration that took place between her and her subjects.

Interestingly, a MOMA press release made at the time of Davidson’s exhibition, states …”The antithesis of candid photography, these pictures are the product of a conscious collaboration between photographer and subject”.

John Szarowski who was at that time the Director of MOMA photography said, “he (Davidson) has shown us true and specific people, photographed in those private moments of suspended action in which the complexity and ambiguity of individual lives triumphs over abstraction.”

For me, the parallels between the two photographers approach is striking. The most obvious of these is the use of black and white.

There is more comment on We Are OCA;  I write …

“As someone just beginning the PWDP module and hence occupied with photographing his locality, a rural street, I found this video helpful as well as being a good introduction for tomorrow’s visit.

What interests me about re-photography is the contrasts that exist between the two times pictured. There seems to be no deliberate attempt on Tanya’s part to emphasise this by, for instance by rephotographing the same places from the same point of view, rather it is about the general atmosphere of the place which appears to have changed for the better.”

Tanya Ahmed replies …

“I wrote about rephotography for my level 3 essay. I did take one photo, a street view, that later I realized was in Davidson’s foot steps, it gave me a thrill when I realized it. However, I really didn’t want to go round looking for Davidson’s footprints, I was more interested in my own. I wanted to see whether time and my insider status made a difference to the subject matter and the resulting photographs despite being in a very tiny geographical area. If I had limited myself to trying to restage Davidson’s images I might have got a superb lesson in understanding his subject and technical choices and yes we would have seen easily observable changes but I don’t think my voice would have been there at all. The way I did it was to try to understand his work through comparison with my own. For example, how and in what numbers were children portrayed by both of us- this is one of the biggest differences between us and relates to both our gender, our age and experience in the street. I hope you are enjoying photographically discovering your street”

I then commented again …

“Perhaps re-photography is not the right word to use for describing your work. I can understand you not wanting to “follow” Bruce Davidson since although it might be a learning experience, it could easily result in something second hand.”

In the end, I do not make it to the exhibition and OCA day as the cost of my train fare has more than doubled but am grateful for Tanya Ahmed in responding to my comments.

For her books see …

 http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/hometownimagepress

OIL – an exhibition by Edward Burtynsky

The first exhibition at the newly opened Photographer’s Gallery is called Oil and is a series of large landscape style images; the subject is Oil and the landscapes it gives rise to. Not all images are of land however as a massive heap of road tyres demonstrates.

The exhibition is about the “life cycle” of oil from the place where it is extracted and the impact that it has on the environment towards it’s inevitable demise.

Photographs of oilfields such as those from California and Alberta inform one of a phenomena of which most of us are not fully aware.

The images in this exhibition are presumably made with a large format camera; they are excellently printed with attention to detail although the colour seems a little saturated at times.

His subjects are made creatively so that an oil refinery can be represented by a mass of pipes.

Another photo is of a Volkswagen Lot, a massive car park in Houston, Texas where some 1,0000 cars are represented.

Another photo from 2004 is of Nanpu Bridge Interchange, Shanghai in which one can see a number of levels with cars passing by, while in the background there is a cityscape.

Another photo is of a speedway in which the size of the crowd is emphasised.

My impression of the exhibition is really one of a succession of large extremely striking prints covering a range of subjects relating to oil; they are documentary photographs with artistic appeal.

Liz Wells talked extensively on the subject. She points out that his exhibition prints are matt; the images draw in the viewer with their beauty but the subject matter keeps the viewer at a distance. They are seductive yet allow the viewer to contemplate the scenes depicted.

“Epic” is how I might describe this body of work!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZiKBKnesnU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4mTGP49n4Y&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdQNR1d2Eok&feature=related

Burtynsky is an Eco Hero Award Winner!

“Good art does not have a fixed meaning!”

Suggestion that his work is political – he’s not trying to force a particular view point on people; different people will read the photographs differently. No one way to read his images!

Considers the politicisation of the environment as dangerous

Photography in London

An easy journey up to London and to New Zealand House, a short walk from Piccadily. The event is organised in conjunction with Globalnet 21 who asked for a fee before the day began which made me look into this event a little closer;  the fee requested was not for the day which was free but for Globalnet 21, an organisation that arranges debate platforms.

The organisation running the day is called Photovoice, a charity that concentrates on the way photography can empower people not just in this country but around the world. Here is their statement …

PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which no one is denied the opportunity to speak out and be heard.

PhotoVoice’s mission is to build skills within disadvantaged and marginalised communities using innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling methods so that they have the opportunity to represent themselves and create tools for advocacy and communications to achieve positive social change.

However, there is a political edge to this event that puts me off wanting to become involved. For instance, this day was advertised as celebrating the opening of The Photographer’s Gallery yet there is no mention of the new gallery in the Photovoice space.

The first talk I attend is about Visual Literacy, in particular reading photographs, and is given by Jenny Matthews. More about this on my blog about a digital photography course that I am doing.

There is also a talk about text and photographs; I feel the need to understand photography as a medium as well as be working in it.

In the afternoon, there is a “keynote” panel debate with a few distinguished people such as the photographer Simon Norfolk who I saw last thursday. He however does not appear and there is no apology or explanation given for this; I was also looking forward to seeing the film about Norfolk and Burke but the time of this was changed and so I missed it. Instead, there was a collection of photographs projected called “Imaginario Coletivo” which presumably came from one of the projects arranged through Photovoice.

The keynote discussion is entitled, “What role does truth play in photography for social change!?” I am a little wary of discussions with political intentions but thought it would probably be worth listening to. It might have been but I left near the beginning when one of the speakers started talking, saying that she was in the habit of appropriating other people’s photographs to make her own composites. A photograph was also shown of Tony Blair using a mobile phone to photograph himself in front of fire and billowing smoke; this is an interesting photoshopped image but I think it is incorrect to view Blair as someone who got enjoyment out of sending people to war. Photoshop is being used to enforce a prejudiced point of view rather than truth although there might be some psychological justification for this.

One visitor felt he was mislead and commented, “The quality of the photographs at the various stalls was incredibly amateurish. It doesn’t matter how well meaning or radical you are in your outlook, if the quality of your photos is this bad than it is all meaningless. It was embarrassing. The organizers should hang their heads in shame but somehow I feel that these talentless deluded individuals will regard it as a great success.”

Leaving the Photovoice event early means that I have time to visit The Photographer’s Gallery which is staging it’s opening and what actually attracted me to London on this day. It is not a long walk and I find myself entering the gallery through a new door while in front of me is a digital wall showing large animated GIFFs. A staircase leads downstairs to an excellent bookshop while next to this is the print room.

Taking the new lift upstairs, I visit the present exhibition “Oil” by Burtinsky; more of this later. I look forward to seeing more of the new gallery especially the Camera Obscura room.

Simon Norfolk talk @ Q.E.H Bristol

Simon Norfolk is one of the better known war photographers of the present time. I attended this talk at the suggestion of another OCA student and was glad I made the effort because it did turn out to be an excellent occasion and a welcomed departure from the more academic discussions and events the college arranges for us.

Simon Norfolk studied philosophy and sociology at Bristol University and then became a photographer. His reason for taking a large format camera with him to Afghanistan was simply because it was the cheapest camera he owned; he reckoned that there was a chance his camera might be stolen from him. Working in the capital, Kabul, is possible but far from safe and he is concerned that his guide might suffer reprisals for helping him since threats have already been made towards him.

What was refreshing about this talk was the way Norfolk did not focus on himself or try to sell us anything. He began by referencing his work to the paintings of Claude Lorraine which shows similar motifs of ruined monuments, the marks of civilisations that have risen and fallen. In fact, Norfolk talked about Empire in general terms much of it focusing on the British Empire in the days when it occupied a quarter of the world’s land mass and ruled over a third of it’s people, a remarkable accomplishment for such a small country. Yet Norfolk did not gloss over the days of Empire but also exposed it’s inherent racism evident in the many drawings and paintings as well as photographs that show the white man in positions of domination and superiority over the dark man. A member of the audience later commented that he had not come to the talk expecting a history lesson yet Norfolk reminded us of what an excellent historical tool photography can be as long as the photographs are read with insight rather than being used as the exercises in propaganda they often were.

One particular war photographer from the early days is of interest to Norfolk; his name was John Burke and he operated somewhat off limits by not being the official war photographer during the 2’nd Afghan War of the late 19’th century and as a result capturing many realistic scenes that were made with knowledge of the place and his subjects without the need to represent them formally as glorious men of Empire. In fact, in war there are no winners only losers, a point that Norfolk made not directly but by example.

The evening finished with Norfolk showing us a photograph of a group of people in England in which John Burke is said to be featured; he asked whom we thought was Burke among them.Various ideas and suggestions were put forward but not even Norfolk himself knows which Burke is.

Simon Norfolk talked a little about his way of making a living from photography from the various ways his work is communicated; there are exhibitions, the sale of prints,books,use of his work in publications and of course his website where anyone can see his work particularly in Afghanistan.

It was only after the talk, while writing this blog, that I came to know about the book Norfolk has done about John Burke. I had already heard about Norfolk’s book “For most of it I have no words”, an apt title for a book of war photographs yet also an appropriate title for a book about photography in general; a photographer’s images are there to record what words can not.